13 September – Day 53
Antigua, Guatemala to Juayua, El Salvador
Distance: 238kms (time on bike: about 6.5-7 hours including 3 hours at the border)
El Salvador did not make a good first impression on me.
It started in the last little stretch of Guatemala really… The queue to the border, several kilometeres long and three and sometimes four trucks wide (even though it was a two lane road) didn’t help… although we were able to weave our way through to the front.. just. This ‘weaving’ including a section where I walked ahead of the bike and acted as a traffic cop, stopping bikes going off road in the other direction so Adrian could get through, and another section where there was literally less than a hair’s width between us and two semi-trailers, one of which was moving. To get through the last little bit, Adrian had to turn the handlebars and get the mirrors just past the back edge of one of the semis before straightening up again to inch slowly, carefully forward and out of the ‘Lauren and Adrian motorbike sandwich’.
Having made it to the front, we were immediately surrounded (literally) by a group of men saying that they would ‘help us’ with the ‘very difficult’ paperwork to exit the bike from Guatemala. ‘No fee, no worry. I just help you. No problem. You want to change your currency. I help you too. This way, this way.’ Adrian did his best to say no, but there was one very persistent guy who just wouldn’t take no for an answer, and followed Adrian around as he got the paperwork, got documents photocopied (at every border crossing there are a myriad of documents you have to get copied including with an official stamp and without an official stamp– and there are special photocopy shops just for that purpose), stamped, photocopied again, had the bike inspected and finally got the Guatemalan temporary import permit cancelled. I don’t know how much the ‘helper’ actually helped… but we got the stamps etc we needed and then proceeded across the border into El Salvador.
El Salvador did not make a good first impression on me. I had about a two hour wait ‘guarding’ the bike while Adrian went back and forth doing bike import stuff (which was a saga in and of itself – at first, they would only give him a temporary 24 hour transit permit to cross the country but not actually stay here and it took quite a while and lots of negotiation to get the import permit needed. Although my Spanish is better, I can’t do it as the bike is in Adrian’s name).
I think the bad impression was mainly due to constantly seeing emaciated female dogs with terrible, raw angry prolapses. I’d never seen a dog (or any other animal, for that matter) with a prolapse. I’ve now seen several – and it ain’t pretty. It was awful. The dogs were clearly starving. And their insides were hanging out, just dangling outside. I actually felt ill. At one point, a very poor man who was selling (or trying to sell) padlocks, miniature walking sticks, big knives and nail clippers to people in parked cars and those queuing at the immigration building went over to one of the big rubbish bins scrounging for food scraps, which he emptied out onto the asphalt for the dogs to eat. It was such a kind, thoughtful gesture from someone who very clearly had very little himself, I almost started crying.
Welcome to El Salvador.
A little later, while I was still waiting, guarding the bike with my fiercest ‘don’t-mess-with-me-I’m-tougher-than-I-look’ stance (ah yeah: not really), some very friendly Guatemalan ladies stopped to talk with me while they were waiting to get across the border. So that was nice. And while I was talking with them, Adrian returned with the right import papers (we think… the proof will be in our ability to successfully, smoothly exit the country in a few days!!!) so we got going. We took part of the ‘Route of Flowers’ and it was incredibly pretty… bright flowers lining the side of the road, with coffee plantations (and sometimes macadamia or orange trees) lining the fertile volcanic-ash-soiled mountains tucked just behind the flowers.
Our destination was a little town called Juayua and I’m pretty sure that we were two of only four gringos in the entire place. We found a hotel with a lovely view over the several (I think five or maybe seven?) volcanoes in the area, settled in, ate dinner and then drank beer on the terrace looking out at the mountains. It was lovely.
– And I started to like El Salvador more.