December 2, 2006

Jaco, Costa Rica

We've logged a few miles since the last update and have seen quite a few countries. We left Denise in Guatemala and crossed the border into El Salvador. We were pretty surprised by how clean and scenic the southern part of Guatemala turned out to be. Very clean and beautiful farmland.

The border crossings have proven to be challenging and time consuming throughout Central America. The crossing between Guatemala and El Salvador did not disappoint. It is pandemonium, with loads of people wanting to help you through the process, for a small price of course. The problem for us is, it is not readily obvious what the process is, and where certain offices are. There are typically no signs, and it can be difficult to sort everything out. Typically it takes between two and three hours at each crossing. It is complicated by the fact that we have vehicles. So, not only do we have to see Immigration to have our passports stamped, but we also have to see a few other officials to get vehicle permits. Typically we have to visit about 4 to 6 offices to get everything done. First we have to see Immigration to exit a country. Then another person to check out our vehicles from the country. Then we have to see Immigration of the country we are entering. Then the vehicle people. Needless to say, these offices are NEVER located in the same building, or even near each other. There is always a line at each place. Sometimes there is a fee, often which has to be paid in local currency, which means you have to find the bank and wait in line again. And you always have to have photocopies of everything, so even if you have enough copies, you always need more. In addition, sometimes the motorcycle tires have to washed and disinfected. And of course everything is manual, with very few computers involved. It's quite an amazing messed up process, which only can be dealt with carrying a lot of patience. One of us deals with it, while the other watches the motorcycles, and fields questions from curious onlookers. It is all becoming expected by now. The most interesting office to date is one Doug had to find, which was in a small non-descript building, and he had to squeeze between a telephone pole, just to get in a door. No sign or anything. And this is an official Government office!!!! Amazing.

At any rate, we made it into El Salvador and spent the night in a small beach hotel. Good surf beach and one of the best sunsets we've had to date on this trip. The next day we got an early start and made it into Honduras. We cross the entire country in 2 hours. It took us about 5 hours to get across the borders. Although this area of Honduras was not particularly inspiring, the friendliness of the people was overwhelming. In one town we got hopelessly lost, and at a busy intersection had several people pointing us in the right direction. A lady selling tacos on the corner said to me in perfect English, "are you lost" and then she gave me perfect directions in good English, and said have a great trip. A few blocks later we pulled off the side of the street to confirm with each other we were going the right direction when a truck load of military guys packing some serious firepower, pulled off and all jumped out and came to talk with us. They were slightly intimidating but just wanted to see if we needed help and showed us on the map where to go. In two hours crossing the country we were stopped about 4 or 5 times, and each time, the police and military were extremely friendly and proud of their country, and wanted to just have a little chat. It was all quite impressive and not what we expected at all.

We are slowly resigning ourselves to turning around in Panama, and one of the things we look forward to is driving north in Honduras and really seeing the country.

A few hours before sunset we were into Nicaragua. We made it to the first town, and found one, pretty good hotel. A small town of about 7500 people, and everyone seemed to be on the one intersection in town. Talking, eating, and socializing. Of course we stood out, but we went down and had some spectacular tacos on the street corner from a small barbecue vendor. Another local eating there knew pretty good English, and between that and some Spanish, we had a nice visit and learned a bit about the area.

In the morning we hit the road. And the road looked like it had been through a war. Full of potholes and gravel, it certainly made driving interesting. After an hour or so it got much better, and we were aghast with the beauty of this place. It is lush and green and the entire landscape is sprinkled with volcanoes, some are even active. It was a fabulous drive through the countryside. We decided to bypass the big city and capital, Managuas and took a back road, which was a good choice. It was a one of the most scenic roads we have been on, absolutely stunning.

The same day we crossed another border into Costa Rica, and made it to a small surfing town called Jaco. We are consistently amazed by the change in culture and feel of each country. Costa Rica seems to be the most tropical so far, and the most user friendly. There is less poverty here, and a lot of tourism. Doug and I have both spent time here, so we'll probably stay only a few days before heading to Panama.

I am still doing battle with a bad tire. It has been slow leaking since the first repair. Every time we stop, I have been putting air into it. So, today we rode two hours into San Jose and had it repaired properly. We'll see how it holds up. So far, so good.

I should say something about the police, because we have had several encounters. In Nicaragua we got stopped out in the middle of nowhere by two policeman with radar gun in the middle of the road. We were maybe speeding, but not by much. They wanted to charge us $200 each for being a few kph over the speed limit. There is no way we would pay that. How it works is they ask for your drivers license, and sometimes passport. Once they have that, they make you believe they are going to write you a ticket, and then you have to go to one of the big cities, usually 2 or 3 hours away, to pay the fine and get your license back. The chances of ever seeing your license again is slim. What they really want is a bribe and payoff that they can pocket. They aren't interested in writing you a ticket, as it is too much hassle for them. We have come to accept that it is just how things work in this part of the world.  It's easier to accept it than get angry about it. So, we got hassled for $400, and ended up paying them about $25.

One thing we have learned is that we never give them the real documents, it is always photocopies or fakes. Today we were stopped, again for apparent speeding, and instead of paying $50, we pulled out some bills after arguing for awhile, and the cop pretty much said ok, shook our hands, took the money and handed us back our fakes. I think there was $9 in the stack of bills. Next time it'll be all ones and only a few. Costa Rica has been particularly bad for police. The other countries weren't so bad, and we expected to be harassed more. The other countries seemed to have a lot more guns around and visible, where in Costa Rica it hasn't been so bad. We are not so sure what to expect in Panama.

We have been on the road for almost a month, and yesterday was our first day of rain. Curvy, fun roads have been the norm, and as always, no road rules seem to apply in Central America. We have adapted quite well, and find ourselves dealing with traffic the same way the locals do, with abandon, but safely.

We should be into Panama in a few days.