November 6, Antigua, Guatemala,Stop: November 30,
Heredia, Costa Rica,
Distance: 2409 km,
Total Distance: 29578 km [Map]
From Guatemala through Honduras and Nicaragua
to Costa Rica, the short road through Central America. We had
and we had not increased our southbound speed. A hospital visit
with a trip to the sky with diamonds slowed us down, while Honduras
and Nicaragua was nothing more than oval weekends. Border crossings
were getting worse and many as we got closer to Costa Rica.
Guatemala's sad stories
Rosa, my personal teacher during one week of studying subjuntivo,
helps me out when I got stuck on one of the tasks at the
final exam. It felt strange to be back at the school desk.
Our week long class in Antigua was meant to be a boost to our
Spanish, and it was. Not so much to our spoken Spanish, but it
definitely changed our ability to read the language. The difficult
subjunctive tense of the verbs was the main focus, and without
mastering this part of the language, it is very hard to read newspapers
or, as we were carefully moving into, reading books. I say carefully,
since I have carried a short version of Don Quijote with me for
several weeks without getting through it. Now I promised myself
I would, and I intended on getting Bente with me on it.
We learned more than the language though, as the teachers were
also dedicated to educate their students in Guatemaltecan history
and current political situation. Guatemala was by this time four
years into the peace treaty signed between the guerilla and the
government in 1996. This treaty ended a 20 to 30 year old conflict
and sort of stabilized the country. The problems were not over
though. Today Efrais Ríos Montt, the dictator during the
civil war who killed by the thousand in massacres and political
assassinations, was number two on the list over wanted ex-dictators
in the world after Pinochet, but still he was President of Congress,
and furthermore, his daughter was married to the current president
Portillo. Quite naturally, most people we talked to assumed Portillo
was a puppet controlled by Montt. People in the lower levels of
the population were not very satisfied, while the more well off
still supported Montt because he brought the crime levels down
during his violent anti crime campaigns in the eighties. Some
said they would not be surprised if a coup d'etat would happen
For the general tourist, the country is a pleasure to travel
in though, even though some scary stories hits the western tabloids
from time to time. One of them was a story about a Japanese tourist
who got beaten to death in the well visited village of Todos Santos,
some four hours drive from Antigua. The real story behind it showed
a chain of unlucky events that lead to the tragic death of a tourist
and a Guatemaltecan guide. Before the arrival of a group of Japanese
tourists, someone, unknown for which purpose, had spread rumors
about a group of foreigners that would come to the village to
That people would believe such a wild accusation may sound somewhat
incredible to most. However, in Guatemala a lot of children have
disappeared over the last decades, some sold to illegal adoption
agencies - or even to legal agencies presented by a fake mother,
some sold on, believe it or not, the illegal live organ market,
and even worse than that, some have been sold to sexual abusing
freaks. So the problem is real, if not huge in numbers. More rumors
were circulating in the village, saying that a Satan worshipping
group also were looking for children to sacrifice.
When the bus with the Japanese tourists came to the village,
everybody was at guard, just waiting for an excuse to blame these
people for trying to rob their children. They let the tourists
walk through town as normal, but when one curious man brought
his camera to close to one of the village kids, the mother screamed
theft and attacked him. A lot of other villagers joined in, while
the Guatemaltecan tourist guide who where with the Japanese tried
to interfere. The result was tragic. Both men were beaten to death
and left in the street. The Guatemaltecan police went in big time
and arrested fifteen of the villagers for participating in the
beating, including the kid's mother, father, uncle and grandfather.
Today they are half a year into a sentence of fifteen years imprisonment.
The moral behind this horror story is that there is almost always
more to a story than what comes out in black and white half way
across the world. Reading newspapers in Norway can scare anyone
from going to distant parts of the world. Often the news are filtered
down to only containing the newsworthy, in other words the horrible.
We don't know how this particular story was presented, since it
happened about the time we started the trip, all we know is the
rumors we heard in San Diego; Someone was killing tourists in
Gerald, our Austrian biker friend spent a few days in Tikal while
we studied Spanish. When he got back we got the addresses of the
hotels he stayed in for later use. By then I had started what
would be a week long struggle with my stomach, and Bente was about
to begin her fight. The food at the student guest house was not
of the best hygienic quality, and three of the other seven guests
were suffering from the same problems. We had been meeting each
other at every meal and had spoken Spanish only during the meals,
which were organized by the nice couple that ran the place. It
was very enjoyable and educational to practice our newly learned
subjunctive tense, sometimes with luck, other times with total
Among all the tourists, language students and in the middle of
a total lack of street dogs where the homeless. While the wild
dogs who used to roam the streets were now taken care of in families
around the town, the homeless were obviously less important. It
was nothing less that heartbreaking to see a mother and two small
children living under a few sheets of cardboard and rugs along
the sides of the plaza. We should have stopped and given them
help, bought a few more blankets for them or given them food,
but of course we didn't. We did as most other people do in the
same situation, walked around them, felt pity for them and gave
them some pocket money from time to time. Someday we will change
to the better, we keep on reminding ourselves.
Montezuma, drugs and hospitals
Flores, Tepén, Guatemala, is a little village on
an island in the low jungle area not far from the great
Maya site of Tikal. Its sunsets were beautiful.[Large
I had my loose stomach on Thursday. Friday it was Bente's turn
while I was fine. Saturday I was back in business with frequent
visits to the toilets and moments of pain and nausea, while Bente
was fine again. Sunday we left Antigua heading for Flores and
the great Gutemaltecan Maya ruins at Tikal. I was feeling so and
so, while Bente was lousy again. Slowly we were merging together
and feeling more or less equally sick.
We left together with Gerald and said good-bye to each other
in Guatemala City. He was heading for El Salvador and had decided
to speed up a little. He had seen enough culture at Tikal, he
said, and longed for a snow capped volcano. Because he hated the
lowlands with its high temperatures and humidity, he had sat down
the night before and on his map circled every city on the route
south with more than thousand meters altitude. We promised to
stay in touch and try to catch up later.
On one of the frequent stops on the two day trip to Tikal an
old American on a 185cc off road motorcycle stopped and started
a lecture. Without any introductions he started telling us he
was an expert in virtual intelligence, agriculture, and when I
on his request revealed that I had worked in the seismic industry,
he was an expert in this field as well. He could, he said, grow
twice the world record of beans or coffee per square foot. After
being thrown out of Washington for rocking the world economical
balance with his theories, he moved to Guatemala, some thirty
years ago. And, yes, he was an expert in computers as well. And
he had sold his secrets to the Chinese who would flood the market
and change the world now that they knew how to grow coffee and
make money from it. But he had given up on Central America. We
didn't ask why he still lived here then, but excused ourselves
and hit the road in the middle of one of his lectures (where he
tried to teach me that all it took to do seismic surveys was a
light bulb and a recorder, the best method in the world. I had
to promise him I would tell my former colleagues. That should
rock the business, I'm sure).
When we arrived in Flores after an excellently paved 600km road
from Guatemala City, we felt lousy and sick. As a bonus to our
stomach problems, it was hot and sticky. We stayed inside the
hotel day after day, drinking water and eating carefully, trying
to tire Montezuma out. But I said it before, that old emperor
is a stubborn ghost. I felt worse and worse, my energy withering
away every day. Neither had enough strength to visit Tikal, but
neither was willing to leave before we had. So we stayed and felt
On the third day I had reached the bottom. I was nauseated and
had a dump pain somewhere down there that never left. I got dizzy
standing up and tried to avoid it. After we had shared a portion
of French fries in the hotel patio, we said good night to our
neighbors and went to prepare for bed. As I did what most people
do before turning in at night, I looked down into the bowl and
noticed that the pool down there was dark red. I was pissing blood.
My strength must have reached an all time minimum, cause even
though I never liked the sight of my own blood or people sticking
needles in my arms to withdraw that precious liquid, I had learned
to accept it and had overcome my habit from younger years of taking
an involuntary nap in front of an amused nurse. This time, however,
I sat down, felt extremely ill at ease and passed out.
One of the great pyramids of Tikal seen from the temple
of the other.
White. Everything was white; the roof, the walls, the tiles on
the floor, the bed linen, the door. The only exception was the
green leaves outside the window, my pale blue hospital clothes
with two protruding fair skinned legs and the person in the bed
next to mine. It was Bente. The nurses at the local private hospital
had been kind enough to move another bed into the private room
and let us stay together. She was the only positive thing around
me, the rest was completely sterile.
To my right, about one meter above my shoulder, hanging from
a hook on the wall, was a plastic bag with salt fluids. The tube
ran in a loop and came up to my right wrist where it entered into
a vein and filled me slowly up with much needed fluids. The doctors
had told me I was seriously dehydrated from possible amoebic dysentery.
When I came to the hospital a few hours earlier my blood pressure
was so low that two nurses and a doctor had to double check it
before they accepted the result. The blood in the urine was a
result of my kidneys failing because of lack of fluids in the
body. Most likely the amoebes were still active, so they added
antibiotics to the salt solution.
The problem I had was emphasized because we had totally forgotten
to take our salt tablets and had been drinking too little water.
I had taken the hit worse than Bente, maybe because her body was
stronger, but according to our doctor it was just as likely that
the bacterias was slightly different and that my height worked
against me. Either way, I was the hospitalized and Bente the supporting
wife. I went in and out of sleep during the next 18 hours, read
a little or listened to Bente reading aloud for me when it was
too hard to do it myself. A small cup of some healthy soup was
all the food I was allowed in the morning.
Sometime in the afternoon the nurses changed the IV bag for the
fourth time, starting on the fourth liter of fluids. By then my
vein had had enough though, and simply blocked off the intruding
liquid. This didn't stop the male nurse who opened up full flow
and moved the needle around inside me to get it going. I twisted
in pain as the vein involuntarily received and protested heavily
from the wrist to the shoulder. Bente screamed for him to stop
but all he could say was "tranquilo" - calm down. After
a while he realized this didn't work and removed the needle in
search for a more hospitable vein. He found one, but the pain
continued until another nurse came in with a long needle which
she injected in my shoulder. A little while later they injected
more drugs straight in my vein and little by little, my whole
Ready for another border crossing. Within months the road
would be paved, they said, and a stack of new furniture
in the office corners suggested they were going to renovate
the rather worn down shacks. In the background is the Immigration
office and Customs office of Honduras at El Florido. The
photo was taken by a French photographer who were going
to Copán with his wife and kid in a four wheel drive
with French license plates.
A tickle started somewhere in my feet and moved up and around
to the whole body. I was lying on my back with my legs slightly
apart, arms down on each side. With the hospital clothing made
for the average Guatemaltecan - i.e. I was wearing something close
to shorts, half closed and blury eyes and a stupid smile, I must
have been quite a sight. According to Bente I was, and I told
her in a slow and dragging voice that I just had an epiphany.
I realized why there was such a thing as a drug problem in the
world. I felt just faaaantaaastic.
For the next two hours I stayed in the same position, staring
at the non moving leaves outside the window, marveling at how
they moved with the wind. Whatever they injected worked, and the
fourth liter of fluids entered my vein without a complaint. I
never asked what it was and never will. Who knows where that knowledge
would lead me.
When we left the hospital in the evening, I felt sick and powerless
again. If I moved too fast I got dizzy, so we walked slowly over
to a pizza place to get some solid food. It was exactly what I
needed to feel good again, and from this point onwards, I felt
recovered. Bente, however, did not. She still struggled with a
stomach which behaved much the same as mine had done, so we both
started eating salt tablets again, and since the prescription
we had for my antibiotic pills were still lying around, I went
to the pharmacy and got another dose for Bente.
Early in the morning the next day we finally went to Tikal. It
was an hours ride and when we arrived, Bente could hardly move
from fatigue. But we took the short tour around the site, marveling
at the huge numbers of pyramids and temples that lay spread out
in the jungle. Mother nature had done a good job in turning the
man made edifices back to jungle, but man had interfered again
and cleared a few of the ruins for the world to see them as they
were thousand years ago. I climbed one of the main pyramids while
Bente rested under a tree. When I got down I realized it would
be the only one that day. My heart pounded and my feet ached from
the light climb, so it was quite obvious I needed more days to
totally recuperate. After a couple of hours Bente had had enough,
and we headed back to Flores where she fell asleep the moment
she hit the bed.
Maya ruins in Honduras
A Maya king carved in stone at the Copán Maya city
We left the next morning. Both felt better so we aimed high.
The goal was to go all the way to Copán in Honduras in
one day. This meant a drive of about 550km, some on gravel and
a border crossing tossed in as bonus. We did well. The longest
stretch between brakes were 160km, quite a feat for Bente in the
shape she was. At two thirty in the afternoon we stood on a gravel
road were road clearing machinery were in motion all around us.
A rope across the road was the only obvious sign that we had arrived
at the border of El Florido. At the Guatemalan side we canceled
our tourist cards and vehicle permit within ten minutes. The casually
dressed border guard slackened the rope and let us pass through
the hundred meters of no mans land to the next rope on the Honduran
side. Then it was a new round with immigration, customs and a
police registration. It took another 45 minutes and cost us 30
USD, the most expensive crossing so far.
Twelve dirt kilometers later we arrived in the village of Copán
and settled in for two nights. In spite of the long day, both
felt reasonably fine and went for a dinner with a couple of beers
as a reward for the "achievement". Even the fist size
spider and the cockroaches falling down from the roof didn't stop
us from sleeping soundly into the next day.
We came to the Copán ruins an hour later than planned
and entered a wonderful Maya site. The place was different then
the by now five other sites we had seen (Teotihuacan and Chitzen
Itzá four years ago, Monte Albán and Tikal on this
trip). It was more compact with its pyramids, temples and acropolis
interconnected and floating into each other. The most famous aspect
of the place is its immense detailed hieroglyphic stone carvings,
including the tall Stairway of The Hieroglyphs, and the recently
uncovered Rosalia Temple.
The Maya city of Copán was more impressive to me
than Tikal, probably because it was, although far from as
impressive in size, very concentrated and nicely restored.
In the picture is the ball game court, where the Mayas played
religiously and politically important one to one ball games.
The point with the game was to keep the ball moving back
and forth without using hands or feet. The slant sides are
part of the court.
According to the traditions of the ancient cultures in Latin
America, when a new emperor seized power, the first thing he did
was to start a new layer on the pyramid or pyramids and temples.
Under normal circumstances they would tear down most of the exterior
of the old pyramid in the process. Therefore, in Copán,
the archeologics got pretty surprised when they found a complete
original temple below several layers of pyramids. This was the
temple they called Rosalia, and it dated back to the early days
of Copán. It had recently been made accessible to tourists
by way of a little tunnel underground, and the job to uncover
the story about the edifice has just started.
After three hours among the ruins, we headed back to the Copán
village, 15 minutes walk away. When we rounded the corner to our
hotel, a motorcyclist stopped on the opposite side of the road.
He rode an Honda African Twin with the standard aluminum side
panniers, which together with the rest of his luggage gave him
away as another long distance tourer. His name was Jens, he was
from Germany and was basically on the same trip as us, again.
We were by now four motorcyclists, and that includes only the
ones we met - we knew there were more, on the way to Ushuaia from
the States. Jens was 39, had worked for a decade as a social worker
in Hamburg, had been on the steps of squat houses ready to defend
them with fists against neo nazis, loved punk music and had cashed
out his retirement insurance to make the trip possible. He wasn't
really a motorcycle enthusiast, but saw no better way of seeing
As the night approached, Bente, still being tired and fatigued
from the stomach problems, left the boys in peace at a little
bar and went home. Jens and I talked for a few more hours, adding
a few more beers than planned to the check. At some point Jens
asked me if the trip we were doing was the ultimate dream of ours.
I thought about it a little while, and said, "Let me put
it this way; If someone gave us ten million dollars six months
before the trip was about to start, I would still go on this trip.
So, I guess you can say there's nothing else in this world I would
rather do at the moment."
Any cigars for sale
On our way through Honduras, the back road turned to dirt
and the village people in San Juan del Caite had rarely
seen people like us.
We had breakfast with Jens the next day, exchanged e-mail addresses
and promised to keep in touch. Most likely we would meet each
other again in Quito, Ecuador, where he would spend Christmas
and New Year with his girlfriend. We left eastwards. The Central
American continent turned east-west in Honduras, so that Nicaragua
actually was straight east from where we were. We chose a southern
route going parallel to the El Salvador border, a road indicated
on the map as partly dirt. Since the map was old we didn't believe
The road was fine until Gracias, a small town we drove straight
through. After that it was hard packed dirt. The problem was all
the small cracks left by rain water crossing the road in streams.
This made the seventy kilometer ride a bumpy, torturous affair
at times. When we met a few road construction machines after some
hours, we gave them the thumbs up to signal how much we appreciated
the job they were doing grading the road. In Esperanza the dirt
ended, so we made good time once again. But our aim of crossing
the whole country in one day stood no chance of being fullfilled,
so we stopped in Comayagua for the night. The next day we rode
straight through the capital of Tegucigalpa and stopped in Danlí,
just half an hours ride from the Nicaraguan border. We spent most
of the night in our little room, and in the morning we searched
for a cigar factory.
The handbook told us the factories were numerous and could be
visited. This was something we really wanted to do, but we had
been put down by an Austrian we met in Copán who said there
was no way this could be arranged. He had tried with faxes, telephones
and letters to the administrations of several factories, but was
never granted a visit. As we knocked the door of Honduras American
Cigar Factory, we had no real hopes of getting in there. The man
who opened was a regular worker who happened to sit closest to
the door, and when we smiled our best smiles and asked politely
if we could have a look, he said that of course we could. "Come
in and take a walk around." We entered and two hundred pair
of eyes moved from the work in front of them to the two fair skinned
intruders at the door. I asked carefully if it was OK to take
photos, and continued to do so throughout our visit. Everyone
said sure, I could shoot away, so I did just that while Bente
probed and asked all the questions.
The Honduras America Cigar Company in Danlí, where
the workers seemed to have free access to the cigars that
didn't pass quality control. The smell in the building was
The tobacco was imported from Cuba and the final product was
sold solely outside Honduras. Every cigar was hand rolled, and
every cigar was checked by a supervisor for the right tightness,
shape, size and finish. The internal tobacco was rolled then pressed
manually with wooden forms, before a final layer of tobacco was
put on as a finishing touch. People worked in a frenzy and the
average production from one "finisher" was 400 cigars
a day. The final cigar went to a huge dryer to get just the right
humidity in it before it was packed, sealed and shipped off to
the US or Europe.
We had asked several of the supervisors about buying cigars for
ourselves, but they said they couldn't sell because it was all
marked for export. One of them, however, went away for a little
while and returned with eight different cigars which we received
as gifts. This did not satisfy a woman who seemed to be further
up the ladder, who took them away and returned with ten properly
packed and labeled, king size Consuegra's. We just smiled and
thanked her for the generosity. When we left, we did so with about
two hundred smiles around us. It was a truly interesting visit,
and with ten high quality cigars in my pocket, it was rewarding
A Nicaraguan puncture
We arrived at the border at noon, the worst hour to arrive at
any border in Central America. On the Honduran side a whole gang
of tramitadors - handlers - stormed us offering their services.
The handler takes care of everything for you for a few bucks,
and sometimes it makes life simpler to use one. Since this was
the exit side of the border, we declined and I went to the offices,
leaving Bente with about 20 young men around her asking how fast
the bike could run. Their curiosity about the bike was soon replaced
by machoistic bravero, and they tried to convince her their red
uniform jackets in reality was a proof of their connections with
the matadors. One young man gave off a few moves to add more proof
to his words, but was quickly made the fool of the gang when Bente
laughed and said he had no style and far to little sway in his
back. The rest mocked him but no one came forward to show off
again. It was all pleasant and kept in a light tone. Bente was
enjoying herself, I knew.
Twenty minutes later we crossed the border and entered the immigration
office in Nicaragua. They had lunch, so only one uniformed man
was behind the desk. He didn't bother to look at my documents
before I had leaned on the counter for twenty long minutes. He
probably had had enough of me by then and suddenly took my papers
and started to work on them. Another hour and the copies were
made, the bike permit ready and we left the custom guys waving
and smiling at us.
The Sandinistas were very visible in Estelí, one
of the Nicaraguan towns who got badly hit during the revolution
in 1979, when the Sandinistas overthrew General Somosa.
Today the FSLN, the Sandinista party, struggle with internal
problems, while a sinking economy, Contras and Recontras
have made life hard for the average Nicaraguan. [Large
The roads were suddenly worse than in a long time. Every few
hundred meters the pavement would be replaced by a gravel section
and often we had to make a detour through the bushes. Road construction
was everywhere and my guess was that in a couple of years this
section of the Pan American Highway would be in perfect shape,
given that no more Mitch like hurricanes would hit the region.
Soon after the border we stopped because Bente said she felt the
back wheel wobbling in a very puncture like manner.
We had a look and she was right. We had ourselves another puncture,
the first since the end of the four day puncture spell in Mexico.
The tube still held some air so we made it to a gas station twenty
kilometers further down the road. In the shadow of a three and
with on and off seven children as spectators, we went through
the by now well rehearsed drill of replacing the tube with the
spare and patching the punctured one. With a few breaks and access
to pressurized air it took us a little over an hour. We rode into
the city of Estelí just before dark and found a hotel by
the main plaza.
The next morning I woke up with a fever, this time caused by
a simple cold I had been carrying a couple of days. We decided
to stay in town, even though it was not at all inviting. Estelí
was one of the towns that got the worst hit during the 1979 revolution.
I don't know if this had anything to do with anything, but people
were not very friendly, the shoe shiners were too intimidating
and the town dirty. Maybe it was a reaction to my fever as well,
that caused my impressions to be of such a bad sort.
Granada; heat, humidity and a great city
When it rains in Granada, it rains hard. It only lasted
half an hour or so every afternoon and was more refreshing
than bothersome. When we were in the town, we heard news
from back home that poor Norway was slowly being flushed
into the North Sea by torrents of heavy rain. During the
last four months we had driven about 48 minutes in rain.
We hardly dared say.
The second morning we drove 200 kilometers south east to Granada,
the namesake of our favorite town in Spain. For some reason, we
missed a turnoff and ended up in the outskirts of Managua, so
by the time we came to the shores of Lago Nicaragua, sweat was
pouring down our backs. The town was totally different from Estelí,
with huge open areas around the plaza, lots of travelers and lots
of cafés and bars. The temperature was constantly around
30-35 Celsius and the humidity fairly high, although far from
what we experienced in Los Mochis in Mexico.
Either way we was sweating like pigs, to say the least, and had
to drink water the whole day to keep up with the losses. The first
night was spent in a lousy and too expensive hotel, selected solely
because it was too hot to keep searching. In the evening we looked
at the different alternatives and agreed upon a hostel closer
to the lake. We continued the walk to the lake shore, and as we
got closer the number of mosquitos increased towards the unbearable.
The last fifteen meters to the lookout by a pier was torture,
and we just touched the railing, shot a couple of snapshots and
turned around in a hurry. The vendors lining the avenue looked
at us and laughed. So be it, we had to get out of there.
We spent three more nights in town and loved the little hostel,
where we got our clothes washed for almost nothing. We used the
opportunity to wash the riding jackets as well, for the first
time since Livingston, Montana. In four months my jacket had changed
color to fading red where the sun had access, it had a huge selection
of dead bugs splashed on the shoulders and chest, and the collar
was discolored from many liters of sweat. The second day we took
Rocinante for a trip to the Masaya volcano, a volcano where a
road lead all the way up to the crater, which was still smoking.
On the way up we drove through the lava streams left from the
last outburst. The sight on the top was extraordinary, with huge
amounts of smoke coming out of one of three craters. It was a
powerful sight, a place that proves how small and fragile a human
The cross at the Masaya volcano was erected by a 16th century
priest who tried to drive off the evil demons in the crater.
Since the crater still spewed smoke I guess it's natural
to assume he failed.
On Saturday the regulars in the hostel gathered around the dinner
table and shared a bottle of rum. We joined in and chatted with
real hippie backpackers from Italy, Chile and Spain. Long beard,
rasta hair, loose worn clothes and a leftist political standpoint
ruled. After numerous beers and a couple of Cuba Libres we headed
for La Fabrica, a live music bar on the other side of the plaza.
On the way the gang stopped in a dark part of town and shared
a joint, looking carefully around for the police.
We sat and watched them, having supplied them with a lighter
that for some odd reason none of them had themselves. When we
came to La Fabrica the mood was high and we negotiated a cheaper
entry fee for the whole gang. Inside was a Nicaraguan band with
a bare chested, energetic vocalist doing stuff from Pearl Jam
and Héroes Silencios, the band of our favorite Spanish
rock artist Bunbury. It was raw and brutal, and very good. Pitcher
after pitcher was carried to the table and consumed in a bar packed
with young, hippielike and pierced backpackers
The worst border crossing yet
After a very quiet Sunday we left early Monday morning for Costa
Rica. The drive along the Pan American was warm. Around a bend
two kids were playing with a kite. The kids stood on the left
side of the road while the kite was carried by the wind high over
the cars to the right of us. It seemed pretty safe so I kept the
same speed. Just as we were about to pass them I saw the kite
dive suddenly and rapidly, while the expression in the face of
the kid who held the rope said everything. It was twisted with
fear. We hit the rope, and of all possible places it got me in
the throat. I braked with one hand while the other tried to get
hold of it. Bente hadn't seen the kite or the kids, looking in
a total different direction, and wondered what the heck was going
By the time we stopped the rope had left the kite. The kids were
long gone into the woods, probably scared to death what I would
do to them. My throat was sore, and a ten centimeter long rift,
not even penetrating the skin properly, was the result as the
rope had been dragged from one side to the other. It was more
like a burn than a rift actually. Some days later the rift would
be wide and visible. It was a scaring experience, and we had our
separate worst case scenarios flowing around our minds for the
next hour. If the kite had been bigger and the connection stronger,
if the kid hadn't immediately let the rope go, the outcome could
have been a lot worse. Bente's terror fantasy about a head rolling
on the pavement and the bike freewheeling into the bushes beat
After two and a half hours we came to the border, or so we thought.
When we stopped at the immigration office we were waved on down
the road. As we continued we passed hundreds of trucks waiting
in line for the crossing. At the border we first got charged a
little over two dollars for what seemed to be a municipal tax
from the local township, for what reason we didn't know. Then
they waved us on into a zone of buildings with no signs and a
confusing number of trucks parked all around. A tramitador came
rushing towards us, faster than his colleagues and told us to
meet him on the other side of a building to our left. When we
parked we were surrounded by young guys sticking papers into our
faces telling us to fill them out and let them help us.
We figured we might as well use the first guy to help us through,
something we later were glad we did. To add to the chaos that
followed, we were out of money, with only a few Cordobas left
and two small dollar bills. Of course, when I surrendered the
tourist cards, the woman wanted four dollars, in dollar bills
and nothing else. So I went to the bank, where they couldn't give
me dollars directly in exchange for my travelers checks. First
I had to buy Cordobas at the low rate of 11,50 to the dollar,
then I could by dollar at 13,50. I fumed and probably annoyed
the woman behind the counter, and my mood wasn't improved by her
criticism of a few spots on of my traveler checks. She just couldn't
say for certain if the cashier would accept the check, that would
be up to her. The cashier sat next to her and overheard the heated
conversation, but said nothing until I walked from one desk to
the other, then she looked at the check and at me and probably
didn't dare say anything. I got my money.
The next twenty minutes was a confusing rush from office to office.
One problem they had was that we didn't have a receipt for the
Nicaraguan road tax we should have paid on entry. We, of course,
had all the papers we had received at the last border and I, by
now steaming of anger and struggling not to burst out and shout
at everyone, made it very clear to the tramitador, who of course
had no saying in the matter, that I would not pay the road tax
once again. He went from office to office explaining that the
receipt was lost, while I followed and explained that we had never
received it. Finally I was granted the stamp we needed and we
left for Costa Rica. Bente saw my mood and suggested she took
care of the papers on the other side of the border. I cooled down
a little and replied that I was ready for the next struggle. But
this had been the worst exit of any country so far on the trip.
After another confusing zig zag between trucks we came to the
Costa Rican immigration office. More tramitadors rushed towards
us, some of them no more than ten, eleven years old. This time
I wanted to try without one, but quickly resigned when I had been
in the same line twice without getting any further. One of the
kids followed me around and pointed me in the right direction
whether I wanted him to or not, and when I had ignored his warnings
and filled out my entry card with Bente's card underneath, resulting
in all the text being transferred to her card as well, I sighed
and let him take over.
Line after line, some of them more than once, then customs and
cashier to pay the insurance, vehicle permit and tourist entry
fees, and at last the custom inspection. It was a rather strange
inspection, since all the officer did was to read thoroughly through
the small prints of the vehicle permit document issued by his
colleague, and casting a look at the bike twenty meters away.
He took his time while I held my breath and tried to look casual,
knowing that what he did was totally useless and fruitless. At
last he nodded pleased and let us go.
The sunset at Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica was a powerful explosion
As we entered Costa Rica we drove passed several kilometers of
trucks lined up in what in what we believed was several days of
waiting for their papers to be inspected. But later we got told
that the real reason for the line of trucks was a strike that
by then had lasted five days.
Everybody had told us the roads in Costa Rica was the worst in
Central America, so we were surprised to find this section of
the Pan American in fairly good state. We made good time and decided
to head into the mountains towards the active volcano of Arenal.
The road to Lago Arenal was in even better shape than the highway
and soon we arrived and stopped at the village Nuveo Arenal. Viejo
Arenal was abandoned because when they dammed up Lago Arenal,
the village ended up below the waterline.
Six months on the road
On Saturday November 25th, in Granada, we celebrated our first
six months of the trip. This meant we were about half way, timewise,
although probably more than half way mileage wise with 30 000
km on the clocks, and it was time for a little summary of the
journey so far. It had developed slightly different than what
we believed before we started. More time was spent in the States
than planned and less in Mexico. Some Central American countries
had taken up very little time, with only four days in Honduras
and six days in Nicaragua. But all in all we were where we should
be at this time, and had a fairly leisurely schedule ahead of
us. The last couple of weeks had been slightly less interesting
than what we had believed, most of what can be blamed on stomach
problems and a hard dying cold. We longed for a little brake again,
and loved the aspect of a Costa Rica where we would not be looked
at as strangers from another planet or rich arrogant tourists.
Not that that was the general impression from other countries,
but it was part of the picture.
The bike was still in ship shape, running very smoothly and consuming
less gas than ever before on this trip. All the luggage boxes
and bags were as good as new without a rift or a bump. Our riding
gear showed some sign of bleaching by the sun, but was otherwise
fine. The helmets and intercoms were fine, except for the covers
for the loudspeakers. They were ripped to pieces and needed replacement.
We even still wore the same sun glasses, two pairs we had had
I had not lost a single piece from my tool box, which now had
everything we needed for the bike but still took up little space.
We would stock up the spare parts we had used while in Costa Rica,
which wasn't much. The Scottoiler still lubricated the chain as
when it was new, now using engine oil instead of the original
Scottoil. The crash bars had yet to be tested, since the only
two times the bike had gone down was due to clumsy handling at
stand still with the aluminum boxes taking the load.
Our luggage was by now smaller than when we started. Along the
road we had given away some things, while others had been sent
home. The amount of clothes were almost at a minimum, but there
was still stuff in there we could, if we had to, get rid off.
This meant the top box was only two third full at all time, relieving
some of the load of the rear wheel. The thing that could change
all this is if we buy camping gear for Chile and Argentina.
The techno gear still worked and looked as new. The laptop was
well protected, wrapped in a fleece bag inside a hard foam box.
This again was packed in soft helmet bags and rested on a net
in the lid of the top box. The PC came with a ethernet card which
had proved very useful when connecting at Internet cafés.
All the extra gear, CD-burner, cables and floppy drive, was well
secured in fleece bags inside more hard foam boxes. They were
tucked away in the tank bag to move some weight forward. The digital
camera was kept in its bag in a belt around my waist, well protected
from the shocks and shaking of the bike. With two set of rechargeable
batteries we never needed to charge them on the bike, it was sufficient
to charge during the night every once in a while.
All in all, the technical solutions, the bike and the luggage
worked extremely well, and we saw no reason to change anything
in the future. That is of course with the exception of the tires,
a couple of useless street tires not at all made with the dirt
roads in the Andes in mind. Since they have proper tires here
in Costa Rica, it is very tempting to ignore all the thread that
is left and buy new ones.
As for our selves, we still enjoyed the trip immensely, even
though we had felt a bit low lately, having problems engaging
our selves in all the nature, cities and people around us. It
would change, and given the length of our journey, we had foreseen
that we couldn't keep the same intense interest day after day.
Moneywise we were way over our budget. The budget had been vague
and we sensed early that we would spend more than planned. Due
to our relatively expensive habits from home and a strong dollar,
the US part of the trip had been an economical disaster, but we
had made up for some of it during the last four countries. There
was no doubt, however, that our total budget would need to be
altered, be allowed a little more latitude, as they say.
Costa Rica is as different from Nicaragua as two countries can
be. The poverty on the other side of the border is replaced by
small towns with paved streets, clean bars and people with proper
clothing, mixed with North American fast food chains and hordes
of foreign tourists and residents. Half a century of peace has
brought Costa Rica way ahead of its civil war stricken neighbors.
The next few weeks will decide how we enjoy it.
Jens from Hamburg and his
Honda Africa Twin in Copán, Honduras, on his way from
Canada to Tierra del Fuego.
The daily marked in Antigua,
Granada, Nicaragua in evening
lights. The plaza were surrounded by arches and beautiful
When we arrived at the hotel
parking in Danlí, Honduras, this was a normal garage,
although with lots of shoe boxes and clothes lying around.
When we left the morning after, the shop owner had to move
half of the store to let us out on the street.
The Escaleras de Hieroglificos
at Copán still employees hordes of interpreters that
come to understand the story of the city.
Several kilometers of trucks on the Costa Rican side of
the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. This wasn't normal, as
we had believed, it was due to a strike.