"George told me you would be here." Did I just hear that? It's 8am, already 89 degrees fahrenheit, 32 degrees celsius, and we've just pulled up to the El Salvador/Honduras border which is known among motorcyclists as the most complicated and frustrating border crossing in Central America. We're surrounded by 'helpers' and they are all talking at once. I can understand a little bit of spanish when it's spoken slowly, but, right now I'm in a sea of confusion. The helpers are loathed by many travelers. We didn't use one entering Mexico, Belize or Guatemala, but, when we met George at the last crossing we immediately remembered reading about him online from another traveler, took a chance, and negotiated his services. He spoke English, was honest, knowledgable and truly "helped" us through the maze of paperwork and bureaucracy. I turn off the bike, flip up my face shield and look at the helper who just made the statement. "What did you say, Amigo?", I asked. "George told me he helped you and to watch out for you", he said in very, very broken english. Hmmm.. I need time to process whether it's actually feasible that George contacted this guy or whether it is some strange scam. Maybe all the 'helper's' at the borders are named George, and he uses this line on everyone? I walk over to Cat and I share this information. "Should I hire him, babe?", I ask. She's also surrounded by helpers. They are arguing over who has priority claim to the 'fresh meat' on beemers... She's cool and composed as multitasking comes natural to her and she says "Well if he really is George's friend, he's our best bet".
Trying to shake the confusion of all the activity I walk up to some other motorcyclists who are already processing through the border. They tell me they've been there for about 30 minutes working on getting the bikes cleared out of El Salvador and that the official who was handling the process has disappeared. Apparently the other official doesn't know where he's gone or where the paperwork has disappeared. They speak fluent spanish and they are having problems with step number one. On top of it all, one of them is spewing profanities in english at the other official. The decision is easy and I turn to George's apparent comrade and say "What's your name, Amigo?" "Royer", he tells me. "Ten dollars todo for both bikes when we are on the other side of the Honduras border, ok?", I ask. "Si." is Royer's response. He takes charge, tell's Cat to watch the bikes and leads me on the first of many trips between officials, banks and photocopiers.
In concept, crossing the border is a relatively straight forward process with four main steps: 1) Cancel the temporary import paperwork on the country you are leaving; 2) Get exit stamps for the country you are leaving; 3) After traveling across the 'no man's land' to government offices for the next country you get stamped in, and; 4) Complete the paperwork to temporarily import the bikes into the next country. In reality, there can be another five to ten steps as your fumigated, inspected, detected, insured and neglected and you'll need photocopies of each of these steps before you proceed to the next official. On top of that the government, photocopy, fumigator, banker and insurance offices are not well marked and can be mixed into a little border community filled with hundreds of related businesses, money changers, food stands, beggars, dogs, cats and people who seem to just be hanging out watching the circus. Now this in itself is probably enough of a challenge, but, Cat and I like to make it more challenging by wearing heavy and hot gear with fancy names like Cordura and Gore-Tex, that might save our life when we crash, but, is hot as hell and heavy when running around borders. We also have two fancy motorcycles with all of our possessions and lots of high tech gadgetry that we have to keep watch over. Although we know that there are dishonest officials worldwide, we've run into nothing but polite, helpful officials at the borders including the military and police checkpoints inside Mexico and Central America. We actually get waved through almost every checkpoint and can't help but wonder if the GoPro video camera mounted to the visor is acting as a checkpoint deterrent.
We had been told to expect around four hours to cross this border! Two sweat soaked hours later we started across Honduras in the 100 degrees fahrenheit/38 degrees celsius heat. Not too bad really! Unfortunately Cat had to deal with a extremely loud, drunk lady that spent a half hour trying to get Cat to give her some greenbacks to leave her alone. Cat's compassionate and generous, but, belligerent drunks aren't going to get a penny, or under her skin, no matter how long they spend in her grill. It's not just the heat, or the fatigue from the border crossing paperwork and drunk beggars that we're dealing with moving forward, we're nervous! The US Department of State website warns that the level of crime and violence in El Salvador and Honduras is "critically high". El Salvador had attitude, but, we know that since 2010, Honduras has had the highest murder rate in the world. Our plan is to ride straight through to Nicaragua and we'll rest for a few nights in Leon. What we didn't plan for was that we'd soon be seriously suffering from dehydration. While riding we were focused on avoiding the potholes, the missing manhole covers and the traffic. On top of that our bike to bike radio communications have stopped working and our GPS has sent us down dirt roads to nowhere. This always seems to happen when at the worst of times so we try to stay focused on the task at hand and not let it become a distraction. When our GPS has been confused in the past I've had good luck getting directions at gas stations so I pull into the Puma Petrol Station in Choluteca, Honduras and I say to the female gas station attendant in my best quizzical voice "Nicaragua". She smiles, points back the way I've come and I think she says "Agua". Maybe, I've heard her wrong so I say "Nicaragua?" again looking like the confused yank that I am. Once again she says "Agua" and points down a very sketch dirt road that I'm praying isn't the route to Nicaragua. Now, I'm not a fast processor of these situations and Cat is. I hear her calling my name so I pull of my helmet and get off the bike in my best exaggerated 'What do you you want, Cat manner' and Cat says "I think she's pointing at the Agua hose over there". Yep, that's exactly what she's doing but I can't let Cat know that I'm not in control of the situation so I give her my best 'I've got this handled look' and walk back to the attendant. The third time I say "Nicaragua" there is laughter all around at the confusion and she explains to us how to get back on the road out of town.
By 12:30 pm we were standing in line for immigration at the Honduras/Nicaragua border crossing. It's packed with people, it's very, very hot and the officials are all at lunch. The locals are politely looking at us like aliens. Our red faces reveal the heat exhaustion and dehydration we're starting to suffer from. The building is not air-conditioned, there is not air movement, and the pockets of our fancy gear carry important items , so we clasp our jackets tightly while we bake in this oven of a building. I start to feel the disassociation and lighted headed symptoms associated with the situation, but, I'm not thinking clearly. Luckily Cat is and she recognizes whats happening and starts forcing me to consume more water, electrolytes, salt, peanuts and bananas. Over the two and a half hours it took us to get through this border Cat and I both felt pretty sick and it was a challenge to force a liter of water into each of us. The water and food helped, but frankly, it was too little, too late. We suffered through the balance of ride to Leon in the sweltering heat before standing in a cool pool for an hour to drop our core body temperatures and then fighting off the pain from muscle cramps that lasted for days to come Up at 5:45 am, on the road at 7:00am, through two borders and the most dangerous country in the world before getting off the road at around 6:00pm. I think you could say it was a big day and, more importantly, a very important lesson to us about keeping cool and hydrated.