Prolapses at the border

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.

Blood on cars, sweat in shoes, dog eat dog

One of the cathedrals in Oaxaca

One of the many churches in Oaxaca

30 August – Day 39

Puerto Escondido, Mexico to Oaxaca, Mexico
Distance: 322km

Today we climbed 2700m and then descended back down to about 1500m before stopping for the day. Suffice to say it was mountainous and a good few hours of up and down… up and down, and around the something like 15 landslides covering part or all of the road. It’s obviously rained here quite a bit recently – a significant amount of the mountain was actually covering the road! Trees and all.

Speaking of roads – Adrian has pointed out that in my post yesterday, when discussing the road chaos, I neglected to mention the fact that it wasn’t just the lovely three lanes of tunnels that turned into two lanes of dirt… it was also three lanes of traffic that had travelled overland to get to the same point. And one of the two lanes was effectively a parking zone, where cars/taxis/trucks etc stopped for reasons unknown to me but which appeared to include (a) to say hi to someone by the side of the road; (b) to pick up or drop off a passenger; (c) to have a sleep; (d) to buy something from a roadside vendor; (e) to have a break. So it was as if you were travelling north from Sydney’s CBD either through the tunnel or over the bridge, and just as you hit the Warringah Freeway, it disappears into a single useful lane, on a dirt road. In peak hour. On a Friday afternoon.

Anyway, back to today. The further we got from Puerto Escondido and the higher we climbed, the cooler it got… so the riding was actually more comfortable than it’s been for a while.. at least in terms of hydration and the lack of sweat running down my back and legs, pooling – and gently simmering – in my motorcycle boots. The windy road through the mountains took us through numerous small villages. We’d been warned, via other blogs, that this was a road on which dogs went after motorbikes, fanging for riders’ legs in fits of frothy, rabid excitement. And so they did. And because we have to ride so slowly through the villages due to the topes (which even cars, that haven’t been lowered, go over at an angle to avoid bottoming out), a couple of the dogs got mighty close. It didn’t help that I’d seen a dog eating a (dead) dog earlier in the day… so I knew they were serious when going for our legs.

Road with lots of cracks - not very motorbike friendly!

Part of today’s road – this was the ‘good’ section of road we travelled on.

When we weren’t watching for dogs, however, the view was just spectacular. A Mexican mountain experience I doubt many tourists experience – and one I recommend. In particular, the terraces of corn lined up along steep mountain slopes like soldiers on parade provided a comforting sense of visual order which is in complete contrast with some of the hodgepodge, ramshackle towns. And it was good motorbiking, too.

We found our hotel after another mercifully short period of Mexican city centre motorbike riding – and, after a walk around the old town to get our bearings, had possibly the worst dinner of the trip so far! If you travel to Oaxaca, I recommend avoiding the local specialty, Oaxaqueno mole… or at least make sure the place where you do decide to try it comes recommended; it’s possible we just had a bad experience. Based on our experience, however – which is all I’ve got to go on – it  looked like a sort of tarry slop, and didn’t taste much better. Kind of a combination of melted dark chocolate mixed with smoky BBQ sauce. Why we both thought it necessary to try the local specialty and ordered a serve each I don’t know… suffice to say that one of us (the somewhat larger one) needed to get a pizza chaser after we left the restaurant!!

We also stumbled across the start of the Rally Sierra Juarez – a road rally through Mexico. You know it’s serious when the driver and navigator have their blood types painted on the outside of their car…!

Rally car

A car getting ready for the rally which started in Oaxaca…. if you look closely, you’ll see blood types for both the driver and navigator on the back window!!!