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Chapter 13 Guatemala to Costa Rica

Start: November 6, Antigua, Guatemala, Stop: November 30, Heredia, Costa Rica,
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

Back to school

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 before long.

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 steal children.

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 Guatemala.

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 failure.

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

Sunset in Flores

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 Image]

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 lousy.

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 attitude changed.

border Guatemala Honduras

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

Maya king at Copán

A Maya king carved in stone at the Copán Maya city in Honduras.

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.

Copán, Honduras

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 the world.

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

San Juan del Caite

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 it.

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.

Making cigars

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 wonderful.

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 as well.

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.

A Sandinista building in Estelí

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 image]

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

Granada rain

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 being is.

The Masaya Vulcano

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 on.

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 mine, though.

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.

Sunset Arenal

The sunset at Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica was a powerful explosion of colours.

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 for years.

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 with his Africa Twin
Jens from Hamburg and his Honda Africa Twin in Copán, Honduras, on his way from Canada to Tierra del Fuego.

Antigua Marked
The daily marked in Antigua, Guatemala.

Granada arches
Granada, Nicaragua in evening lights. The plaza were surrounded by arches and beautiful buildings.

Parking in Danli
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.

Escaleras de Hieroglificos, Copán
The Escaleras de Hieroglificos at Copán still employees hordes of interpreters that come to understand the story of the city.

Trucks at the border

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.

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