After our time with Tom and Milena right in the South of Costa Rica, we rode back to Uvita where we had left a bit of our stuff so we could travel light for a while. We stayed one more overpriced night in the hammocks and packed up early the next morning aiming for just south of the Nicaraguan border, we had very little interest in the rest of Costa Rica and the swell really didn’t look great for at least a week. We ended up reaching our destination with a few hours of light to spare so decided to go for it and cross into Nicaragua and head the hour or two down to San Juan Del Sur that night. San Juan Del Sur sounds pretty awful, a bit like what Montañita is to Ecuador- a tourist party ‘surf’ town. We hadn’t originally planned to go there but we though it would be our best chance of finding a cheap room and some food for the night and head off somewhere a little more remote the next day.
We reached the border at about 2PM after riding since 7AM and covering a pretty large chunk of miles. When we reached the border we paid the $7 exit fee from Costa Rica and got stamped out in our passports, we then went to the Aduana (customs) and handed back the paperwork for the bikes, stamping them out of the country too. This is the normal way of doing things at these borders; get your passport stamped out, go to the Aduana for the bike to get stamped out, cross over no-mans land into the new country and get your passport stamped in, then the new aduana to get the bikes stamped in. Sometimes the little windows require copies of things, sometimes there is another stamp to get from somewhere else and almost always their is a lot of waiting and messing around. I like to think of it like a challenge from the Crystal Maze; its like a fun test of your Spanish and patience. So far though, no money has changed hands apart from of course Costa Rica who wouldn’t let your bike in without obligatory insurance purchasable only in cash from the border.
So officially in no-mans land, not in Costa Rica but not yet in Nicaragua, we went to get stamped in and just to enter the queue to see the woman you had to pay a dollar. Then to enter the country, it was $12 each, payable only by cash. We stupidly didn’t have cash. The clock was ticking and we had to think fast, we were stuck with nowhere to go. Luckily there was an ATM on the Nicaraguan side so I slid my card in to withdraw some dollars but found out that it didn’t accept chip and pin cards…fantastic. After much discussion with uniformed men with pump action shotguns, I walked back to Costa Rica to the ATM at their border. No dollars.
Sweating in kevlar reinforced jeans in the afternoon sun, I walked back to Nicaragua, passed the men with pump action shotguns and tried to argue with the woman at the window that it wasn’t our fault they didn't accept Visa or have 21st century ATM’s but they weren't going to budge. It was getting late and we only had an hour or so of daylight left and we never ride at night so we were starting to get worried. We decided to quit the whole thing and face the Costa Rican side again to try to get back in for another day where we would have to travel about 100km to the nearest ATM, pretty pissed off to say the least. I quickly stopped off at the ATM again and tried local currency, amidst all the confusion, I had forgot to try this and it worked. I exchanged the money straight to US dollars for what I am sure was a terrible exchange rate but would still be cheaper than the other option or heading back to Costa Rica for the night and wasting over 200ks of petrol.
We rushed back over to the Nicaraguan side, at this point we were just ignoring the guys with the shotguns, they seemed to have just given up on us going back and forth. We paid our entrance fee at maybe 4PM and then started the process with the bikes and the Aduana. More money, $12 obligatory insurance and a particularly painstaking challenge of stamps, nods and signatures. Finally just as the sun went down and darkness drew in quickly, we were free of the border and rode just 2KM to a motel right on the border. It was cheap and the food was cheap so we breathed a sigh of relief and got a good nights sleep knowing we were safe and the day was finally over.
The next day we headed straight to Playa Popoyo, a spot we wanted to check out if there was swell. We knew there wasn’t going to be any waves but it’s always nice to check out these places and see whats been going on and what the surfers are thinking of doing for the next swell. You never know what you might find, as proven by that night when we scored a fun but messy 2-3 foot on a beach break with a really nice mellow crowd out. It wasn’t great but it’s always nice to get in the water and it was one more country we had surfed in, definitely not worth sticking around for though.
We were really looking to spend some time in Nicaragua, we had our hopes pinned on cheap accommodation, good waves and less crowds. As we battled our way through torrential rain from the border motel to Popoyo, we got further and further from civilisation, which is good. Unless the roads are all dirt and it is raining as hard as it was. This was really the first time it had properly hit home how much of a good decision we had made with the bikes we chose, having a 150cc dirt bike through thick mud, through knee deep puddles, crossing rivers and over footbridges where rivers couldn’t be crossed by normal means was perfect. Had either of us dropped a bike, it wouldn’t be an issue and they are so light and manoeuvrable with nice high air intake and exhaust. Riding through the toughest terrain yet in the midst of a huge tropical storm was actually pretty fun.
It was all looking hopeful until we pulled into the yard of a hostel to ask about a room for the night and asked about the price. $25USD for one bed in an 8 bed dorm. There is no way we were paying that and no way we could camp with the weather so we kept going. We eventually found a place for $15 per person in a private room and that is where we spent the night; in an overpriced gringo owned hotel. When we woke up, the owner was asleep so we left the waitress with $20 for the two of us, not really our style but $30 for a room with only salt water coming out of the taps, no wifi and no electricity for large parts of the evening doesn’t seem fair either. Deciding that it would be pointless to stay there for a week of little to no surf we made the tough decision to keep moving until we found somewhere more sustainable to stay for a while.
It had been a while since we had experienced any ‘culture’ and we needed to use some internet to try to upload the film we made from Panama and edit the footage from Costa Rica so we decided to spend a night in the city of Leon in Nicaragua. We set off early, riding through the remains of the rain from yesterday’s storm down the dirt roads to the highway. Breakfast that day marked a very important landmark for us as we pulled into the first truck stop restaurant on the highway. Huevos rancheros con Gallo Pinto y Maduro. (Eggs with salsa on tortilla, rice and beans and baked ripe plantain). We are getting closer to Mexico and the food is starting to diversify and get better! That was the best breakfast we had eaten on the whole trip.
Leon was awesome, we stayed at a great little hostel downtown and stuffed our faces with incredible street food between editing sessions. $4 dollars would get two huge plates of food and two drinks; rice and beans, salad, a whole bbq’d plantain and a variety of deep fried vegetables. We stayed in Leon for three nights putting on weight and trying to upload the video but the internet was too unreliable and would cut out before it was finished every time.
We went to an ATM and withdrew a bit of money to see us through the border and into El Salvador for a while. Then i walked past a computer shop and bought a hard-drive to back up all the work to, I’ve been freaking out as one of our hard drives broke and we only have one left now so we needed to buy another to back up to. The next day would be a big one, Nicaragua to El Salvador; straight through Honduras in one day to get to the swell on time. That meant two border crossings and a few hundred KM’s. We stopped at a cheap motel on the border in Nicaragua in a crazy little transit town for the night so we could get to the border nice and early for the long day ahead. We were shattered and both were in the deepest sleep in our air conditioned room by eight PM. Until we were woken up by the room shaking like crazy, everything rattling violently. We had no idea what was going on and both were really slow to react. Sally tried to climb under the bed but our board bags were under there. The power went out and our clothes were lost in the dark somewhere. The earthquake only lasted about half a minute and we finally made it outside to the safety of the street and waited a few aftershocks out with the locals. It was a bit of a wake up call (excuse the pun) to how badly prepared for a more serious quake we would be. Everyone and everything seemed fine, it was a 6.4 but didn't cause much damage at all which was lucky.
Of course we failed at the first hurdle. Out of Nicaragua, bikes out, no man’s land. Into Honduras and we were faced with a $35 temporary import charge we didn’t know about. We would only be in the country for about two hours so it seemed ridiculous we had to pay that much money but there aren’t really a lot of options. We were short, the hard-drive had eaten up the dollars and we didn’t get more out. After a couple of hours of panic in no-mans land yet again we settled on the idea of just speeding past the police and armed checkpoints and trying to get to El Salvador with no papers for the bikes, sounds stupid but there were no ATM’s between the border and Leon, three hours away and according to the customs office, no ATM for an hour into Honduras either. Luckily after much back and forth we spotted another motorcyclist. It was Yehia, the guy who had given us his place in the container we used from Colombia to Panama. We had only met briefly a few months ago in Colombia but he kindly told us he would lend us the money and we would go together to an ATM and pay him back. Cutting a long story short, we made it to El Salvador that night and found a hostel to camp at. Just before we set up the tent, the heavens opened and within just minutes our camp spot was 6” deep in water so we settled for a cheap room. All of this spending money has been freaking us out, our budget has dwindled beyond what is probably sensible or safe to have for the journey we still have to complete but it is hard to avoid it sometimes.
After a good few months of travel have bought ourselves a little bit of time to stay put for a while, Mexico is a huge country which we are really excited to see but we have been ready to stay somewhere and get to know a place for a while. We have been camped up in El Salvador for a couple of weeks now and it has been really nice. El Salvador was one of the countries we were most nervous about; the situation here is not good, with gangs running large parts of the society. Murder rates are really high, police are corrupt, theft is a real issue and many areas are not advisable to travel through. The little corner we have found ourselves in however is quiet and the locals are amongst some of the most friendly people we have met since leaving Chile in October.
We will post shortly about our time in El Salvador, thanks for being patient, our internet access has been very poor and blogs have been hard to upload.