Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: Thu, 28 Nov 1996 07:43:30 -0800
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 961116.rpt
Friday November 8
Left Andre's about 9am. Went into Antigua to send out the email replies
I had composed last night. Had to wait a bit before the line was
available, and then had some problems connecting. Apparently got a
busy signal several times, which I had never had happen before. I'm
not sure if it really was or was some other problem. Then when I finally
connected, the baud rate seemed incredibly slow, but it was a connection
and I didn't want to kill it and try again. It ended up being quite an
expensive transmission. Had lunch, and didn't end up leaving Antigua
until about 12:30.
Rode back through Guatemala City. As long as you are just going from west
to east, or vise versa, it's not too bad. For much of the way the road
is a 4 lane divided boulevard. On the eastern side of the city the route
is on oneway city streets and it turns several times, usually not well
marked. A couple of times I found myself off the route, but by heading
in the general direction with the aid of my GPS I found the route again
and eventually made my way out of the city.
East of the city the road begins to drop out of the highlands, through
mountainous country, that becomes drier as you proceed east. Truck
traffic was very heavy, and I frequently was passing trucks just
creeping up or down the steep grades. Once again I was reminded of how
one must adjust your expectations as to how much distance you can cover
in a day.
Between my late start and the truck traffic, I made it to Chiquimula
by about 4:30 and decided to call it a day. 6 miles south of Chiquimula
a dirt road cuts off, heading southeast 30 miles to the Honduran border.
Cars are advised to allow 2 hours for this stretch, and the border post
closes at 5 or 6pm depending on which guidebook you read.
Got a room, with bath at the Hospedaje Rio Jordan for 25Q, about 4 bucks.
I asked to look at one off the rooms "sin banos", but it was on the
bottom floor and had a strong smell of mildew and toilets.
It clearly is warmer and more humid here than in the highlands. For the
first time since I left Flores over two weeks ago my room has a ceiling
fan. It rained this eveninf so was just cool enough that I didn?t need
to use it. I think that is a first.
Saturday November 9 58276
Temp: 8Am 75F
Left Chiguimula about 8:30am heading south for 6 miles to the village of
Vado Honda where where I turned east onto the road to the Honduran border.
The cobblestone streets in Vado Honda were wet and the more agressive
knobby-like profile of the Bridgestones caused the bike to squirm around
on the cobblestones. Once out of town on the dirt road the Bridgestones
offered great traction and feel.
The sky was overcast but it wasn't raining, though clearly it had rained
quite a bit overnight as puddles lined the road. The sun would poke in
and out behind the clouds, and the road would alternate between wet
sections where it was slippery, and sections which rapidly dried in the
sun and light breeze which was coming out of the mountains to the east.
To the east, in the mountains I was climbing into, the sky was dark and
the bottom of the clouds shrouded the mountains. The road continues
to climb and twist up into the lush, green, tropical mountains.
12 miles east of Vado Honda, as I descended into a valley, I came to the
town of Jocotan. At the entrance to town, the road forked and I took the
right fork, which soon became paved with paving stones and climbed up into
the town. I came into the town square and then tried several streets out
of the square but they all quickly turned to dirt and were obviously not
the road on to the border. I turned around and went back to the fork
at the entrance to town and tried the left fork. It too soon became paved
and passed through the edge of town until it came to a T. I asked a man
there which direction to the "frontiera de Honduras" and he indicated
right. The paved road continued up the hill and I came out in the town
plaza again, my third or fourth time through it. By this time people
were laughing as I rode by once again. I stopped in front of what looked
like a municipal building where 3 men were talking outside and asked
directions how to get to the road to the border. One of them starts
drawing a map on a piece of paper, but one of the other guys crosses the
street, gets on his small motorcycle, and motions for me to follow. I
had a personal escort through the streets of Jocotan. Several turns
later, as the road turned to dirt oncce again, he motions me by and
with a sweep of his arm indicates this is the road. I shout a "Muchos
gracias, Senor" and continue on my way.
Less than 1km away is the twin Mayan village of Camotan. The last
100 yards before gaining the towns paved main street were the worst of
the entire stretch to the border. Foot deep mud in places and the bike
slid around as I gassed through it, needing a well placed foot plant in
one spot to keep the bike upright. Once on the pavement I looked down
to assess the results. The front of the legs of my Aerostitch and my
boots were covered in about an inch of mud. Very good for pose value
as I rode through town.
Between Camotan and the border the road continued to be muddy in places,
usually on uphill stretches, but not as bad as the entrance to town
had been. On one uphill muddy stretch, I rounded a corner to find a slow
moving truck ahead of me, I didn't want to lose my momentum in this mucj,
so I laid on my horn to let him know I was coming, he got over to the
right, and I skooted by on his left, the bike fishtailing a bit as I went
by. The problem during maneuvers like that is that you loose the ability
to choose the best path through the muck, and have to pretty much just gas
it through on the path available to you.
There were several small river crossings, some with a concrete road bed
underneath, others without. I generally just entered and exited where
the tracks showed the truck traffic went. At what was to be the last
such crossing, about 20 yards across, their were two sets of tracks
entering on my side, but both angled to a single set of tracks out the
other side. It was a muddy downhill leading to the stream and I didn't
want to stop, so I picked one and headed across on a diagonal. About
3 yards from the far side I the hit a big hole and powering through gets
me out of the stream, but not on the line I wanted and I'm heading for
the ditch on the left side of the road. Fortunately it's a small ditch
and I'm able to get the bike stopped, still upright, with me on it, and
then ride out of the ditch. A small boy was watching this whole spectacle
and when I sees me laughing he laughs too and gives a big hoot.
On the Guatemalan side of the border I had to pay three seperate fees, in
three seperate offices, totaling about Q30 (US$5), which the guidebooks
had described, and I got receipts for all of them so I think they were all
on the level. A fourth office recorder my vehicle information, stamped
my vehicle papers, and gave me a tstamped transit stub to give to the
guard at the gate, ut amazingly didn't ask for any fee. With that I was
free to leave Guatemala. My visa was actually only valid for 2 more days.
I had been Guatemala for 28 days.
I needed to change money into Honduran Lempiras, but I had screwed up by
not finding out the current exchange rate before I got to the border.
There were no official places to exchange money at the border, just the
black market exchangers that you find at every border crossing. The
latest information that I had was that it was about 10.2 Lempiras to
the US dollar in 95. The young man who accepted my stamped transit
stub as I drove through the Guatemalan checkpoint, evidently moonlighted
as a money exchanger. He apparently had a monopoly on the Guatemalan
side as noone else approached me. He offered me 12 Lempiras to the
dollar or 2 Lempiras to the Quetzal. At least the ratio between the two
was right since I knew it was roughly 6 Quetzals to the dollar.
I cashed my remaining Quetzals (about US$50 worth) and US$120 of travelers
checks, for which he would only give me a rate of 11.5. I only had small
denomination US bills readily available and I didn't want to use them.
If it hadn't been a weekend, I would have only exchanged the Quetzals
and waited until I found a bank to exchange the travelers checks.
I still don't know what the official rate is, until I can find a paper or
Trivia: Lempira was a chief of the Lenca Indians, who was treacherously
murdered at a peace talk arranged by the Spanish in 1538. Today Lempira is
a national hero and the Honduran currency bears his name. The one lempira
note contains an idealized Indian face, chosen to represent Lempira.
On the Honduran side, I had to pay L20 (US$1.67) to get my passport
stamped, for which I got a receipt, then it was off to another office for
my vehicle permit. Things were a little more questionable here. The fee
was L371 (US$31), for which I asked for a receipt. I got two forms, one
called a proof of payment, showing fees totaling L271 for things such as
immigration control, vehicle inspection (of course no inspection was
done), and vehicles with non-Central American license plates. When I
asked about the extra L100 they then pointed to the second form, the
temporary vehicle import permit, which at the top said "Value: L100."
I think it was all on the level, but this is another place where better
Spanish on my part would help. Then I had to take these papers to the
police office several doors down, where a police officer recorder my
vehicle information in a large ledger, and gave me a transit stub to
give to the guard at the gate. He then asked for a L30 fee. I said
"Un recibo, por favor," and he replied that he didn't have any receipts,
and some other explanation as to what the fee was for, which I didn't
understand. I repeated "Necesito un recibo, por favor," and he
again gave some explanation as to why the fee was required, but that
he didn't have any receipts and the other forms I had could serve as my
receipt. I replied that I had already paid the amounts shown on those
forms at the other office and that I would need a receipt. At this point
another officer sitting in the back of the office added his two-cents, or
should that be two centavos, worth as to why the fee was required, but
I insisted I needed a receipt. By this time I had all my paperwork
back in my possesion, and the policemans responses to my request for a
receipt seemed to be getting more feeble, so I said "Es todos?", and
he said "Si", to which I replied "Muchos gracias, Senor," and left.
I didn't get shot in the back, so he was just angling for a bribe, and
saw that I was going to insist on getting a receipt for anything I paid.
It was only 7.5 miles from the border crossing to the town of Copan
Ruinas, and within 2-3 miles of the border the road became paved.
In town I headed to the Hotel y Restaurante Paty, which was mentioned in
the Lonely Planet Guidebook, and which Dave and Whitney recommended as
well. By the time I had checked in and unloaded the gear I needed
inside the room it was 11:15 and raining heavily. I didn't feel like
walking around the ruins of Copan in the rain, so I went to restaurant
Llama del Bosque for lunch, hoping the rain would stop. I had a long
lunch, reading up on Honduras and Nicaragua, the next country on my
I plan to pick up the pace a biy yhrough the rest of the
Central American countries, and I think I'll spend about a week in
Honduras, before crossing into Nicaragua. This time through, on the
way south, I won't go north to the Caribbean coast and the Bay Islands.
Hopefully I can catch them on the way back north. The island of Roatan
has some of the best scuba diving in the world, and also is supposedly the
cheapest place to get certified in the world. If I didn't know that
sweetie was so busy with her contract work in DC I'd suggest she fly down
for a week and join me on Roatan.
Tonight reviewing the documents I got today I noticed something kinda
wierd. The Temporary Vehicle Entry Permit, on the front says it is valid
for 90 days, but on the back, written in handwriting beside an official
stamp hat says something like "Fusep de Transito", it says "8 dias para
circular en Territorio Honduras." That seems to imply I have 8 days to
transit through Honduras. Thinking back now, i realize I screwed up and
mentioned that I would be travelling through Honduras to Nicaragua,
something that's not a good idea to mention. The border officials then
sometimes give you a transit permit which constrains how much time you
have in the country. I think this might be what happened. Actually it
won't be that big a deal, since I was planning to only spenda week in
Honduras anyways. But I need to remember that for future border
Sunday November 10 58325
Was at the ruins when they opened at 8am. The ruins are like an oasis, as
the grounds were situated in a patch of secondary-growth tropical rain
forest which itself was completely surrounded by cultivated agricultural
land in the valley along the Rio Copan. The grand plazas among the ruins
themselves were now well-trimmed lush green lawns. When the site was
occupied by the Mayas such plazas were typically paved with stone and
covered with a white, stucco-like material.
>From the entrance, to get to the ruins proper, you walk down a long
corridor through the forest. At the far end you see the green lawn of
the Great Plaza, and a small pyramid in its center. It was heavily
overcast, and as I came out onto the Great Plaza, it was misting. But
somehow that only added to the experience and the mystic of the place. In
front of me was the expanse of lush green lawn, with numerous stone
stelae, some towering 20 ft high, situated throughout. Copan is
reknowned for its stelae, which are among the most elaborate and well
preserved of any in the Mayan world. It is said that if Tikal, with it's
majestic pyramids, is the New York of the Mayan world, then Copan, with
its elaborate and intricate stelae and carvings, is Paris.
By midmorning the clouds had burned off and it was sunny. The other
monument Copan is known for is the Hieroglyphic Staircase, 63 steps
telling the history of the royal families of Copan. It is now covered
by a protective awning, which somewhat lessens the impact, but it is
In the East Plaza, south of the Stairway, I met Mark, an American, and
Steve, a Canadian. Mark had been an accountant in Portland, but would
be returning to San Francisco in a couple weeks to begin Grad school
at the University of San Francisco, although he was entering with an
undeclared major. He told me of being thrown in jail while returning
late at night to his hotel through the main plaza in Antigua,
obstensively for public drunkeness, but as the Guatemalan friends he was
with were released, he felt it was more likely because he was a Gringo
and had long hair. He was thrown in a cell with about 30 locals who
robbed him of his money and passport. A Nicaraguan who was also
thrown in the cell, resisted being robbed, and was beaten severely by
the other inmates. He was eventually put in another cell by the
guards, and in the morning the inmates in Marks cell all urinated in
a bucket, and threw it on the Nicaraguan. The guards told Mark he could
buy back his passport from the inmates, but they were demanding about as
much as it would cost to replace at the US Embassy, so he went to the
Embassy in Guatemala City and got it replaced. Mark said it was not
the most pleasant experience of his trip; he had been travelling for
8 months, throughout the world, including Asia and Turkey. And to think
that one evening while in Antigua, I too walked back to my hotel through
that plaza, at about 1am in the morning, about the same time as Mark. It
makes one stop and think.
Altar Q in the West Plaza was a 4x4 foot block of stone with the images
of the 16 great kings of Copan carved on its 4 sides.
By 11:30 I had finished exploring the sight, and Mark, Steve, and I walked
across the highway to a small comedor for lunch. It was kind of funny,
Mark and Steve, though neither were vwgetarians, had basically given up on
eating meat, chicken or beaf, because of having seen it hanging in the
local carnicerias (butcher shops) in the various small towns. The sight
had basically been unappetizing and they were worried about sanitary
conditions. On the other hand, a young Dutch doctor who had been living
and working in El Salvador for the past 2 years, and who had joined us for
lunch, was heartily chowing down the same dish of chicken, rice and beans
as I was. Shoot, if I thought of the things we used to do at McDonalds
when i worked there during highschool, I never would eat there again.
I left around 12:30, heading northeast towards San Pedro Sula, but I
really didn't have any particular destination in mind. I was a bit
ambivalent about how far to go, or where to stop next. There was nothing
major along the route I was going which grabbed me. Lago de Yojoa,
Pulhapanzak waterfalls, San Pedo Sula, some nice rain-forest national
parks,and some other sights, but nothing that was on my must-see list. I
wasn't in the mood, and didn't want to take the extra day, to climb any of
the peaks in the several National Parks along the route I was going. I
decided to just start riding and see what grabbed me.
The road northeast from Copan was equivalent to a good, 2-lane secondary
highway in the US. Very good surface, wide shoulders. There were a
couple of construction zones, but other than that it was in great
condition, probably one of the best roads since Mexico. Initially
it wound through mountainous areas, but eventually entered a long flat
valley, between two ranges of mountains, which was heavily cultivated.
Here the road straigntened out and at 60mph I was getting passed, so I
wicked it up to 65mph.
I came through the outskirts of San Pedro about 3pm, but the sprawl
before me was not appealing, and several travellers and guideboks
said there was no particular overriding reason to stop there if
one didn't have to, so I kept riding, turning south towards Lago de Yojoa,
Comayagua, and Tegucigalpa, the capitol of Honduras.
I was in the mood for riding and the road was a great motorcycle road.
A series od sweepers tok it up into the mountains and past Lago de Yojoa.
While the lake, nestled among the surrounding peaks, was beautiful,
it couldn't compete with the pulse of the bike on the mountain roads,
and I kept on riding, filing away the images in my mind. South of the lake
the road continued to climb to a pass at 5200 feet then dropped down
the other side. I should have stopped in the town of Siguatepeque
for the night, as there was still plenty of light as I rode through, but
I had set my sights on Comayagua, the historic first capital of
Honduras from 1537 until the capital was moved to Tegucigalpa in 1880,
and 19 miles further south.
I got to the outskirts of Comayagua at dusk, and by the time I made
a couple of wrong turns and was navigating the downtown streets
it was dark. Once again I was reminded of why I don't like to pull into
an unknown town after dark, even with the benefit of a general
knowledge of the layout from the map in the Lonely Planet guidebook.
Streetsigns in most most towns I've encountered so far are generally
plastered on the sides of the buildings at the intersections.
But it is by no means consistent, and often the signs are so old and
faded they are difficult to read, even during the day, let alone at
night with no street lights. To make matters worse major street
work was being done and numerous streets were completely blocked by
large piles of dirt completely across the entire street. Of course
there were no signs indicating which streets were closed. I rode over
several such piles, following paths previously made by bicycles or
motorcycles, and around other piles over curbs and onto the sidewalks.
Of course in the process of negotiating all these detours I got completely
turned around and lost and it took another 15 minutes to find an
intersection with street signs so I could get my bearings.
Finally I found the hotel I was looking for. The owner spoke very good
English. There was no courtyard for the bike and I couldn't ride it
into the hallway, but the owner had an unused building across the street
where I could park it and the building was locked up.
Monday November 11 58544
Comayagua has several old churches and in the morning I explored
several of them and the town in general. La Merced, the oldest was
built from 1550 to 1558. The cathedral on the town plaza is a
fine example of colonial architecture. It was built over 30 years from
1685 to 1715 and contains a lot of artwork both inside and outside.
The clock in the cathedral's tower is one of the oldest in the
world and probably the oldest in the Americas. It was made over 800
years ago by the Moors for the palace of Alhambra in Seville and
later donated to the town by King Philip II. I talked the
caretaker into openinf up the vlocktower so I could see the old
clockworks. The view over the town from the belltower was quite
nice as well.
The town had an active marketplace which apparently went on every day.
This one was definitely geared towards the locals and not the tourists.
I left town around noon, heading for Tegucugalpa.
Tegus is situated in a bowl-shaped valley, surrounded by a ring of
mountains. I tucked a small map of the city in my map-pocket on top
of my tankbag and roughly plotted what route I would take to the vicinity
of the city center which is where the cheap hotels were. One in
particular had an enclosed garage. I entered the outskirts on a wide
boulevard and was quickly lost as nothing bore any resemblance to my map.
I encountered cloverleafs which were nowhere to be found on my map.
Finally I encountered an exit with a sign indicating El Centro, so
I took it. I still could not resolve where I was on the map since
only the main streets were named on my map and I wasn't on one
of those streets.
Finally I got dumped out into the area arounf the downtown central plaza
and I could resolve my position on the map. Then all I had to do was
negotiate the mid-afternoon traffic jams, and one way streets, which of
course weren't indicated on my map, and navigate the 15 or so blocks
to the hotel. It was a 3-story tall building with parking garage and
lobby on the ground floor. A single was L80 (US$6.70) plus L10 for
Tuesday November 12
I spent the day doing a bit of a walking tour of the touristy sights
in Tegus. The plazas, churches, museums, government buildings, some old
mansions, and several overlooks offering great views of the sprawling
I found a Miami Herald and caught up on some important current events,
such as Mike Tyson's loss to Holyfield. Other events I had to sort
of deduce by extrapolation (or it that interpolation), such as guessing
that Clinton's cabinet is seeing major changes, from a political cartoon
showing many of the members from his first term abandoning ship in
a life boat.
While walking downtown, I was approaching an intersection where there was
a line of cars behind a motorcycle, a very new 250cc Kawasaki dualsport.
The rider was franticly kicking it, trying to get it started, while the
cars behind were laying on their horns. The guy finally gets it started
and grabs a handful of throttle and wheelies across the intersection.
I was impressed until I saw that was rewally not what he had intended, as
he was out of control, and came back down with the front wheel turned at
an angle, Thr bike veered to the right, he tried to save it, but it was to
late and he highsided, getting thrown into the far curb. He was wearing
an open-face helmet, which is more than most riders wear, and fortunately
was not hurt. I didn't even see any tears in the jeans or jacket he was
wearing. The bike seemed to be fine as well, and he got it started again
and rode off, almost hitting the curb as he pulled away. I think he had a
bit of adrenalin rush.
While I was watching this unfold, an attractive dark haired woman in a
very short, very tight skirt walks by, looks at me, smiles, says "Gringo",
and then purses her lips in a kiss, and keeps on walking, looking back and
laughing as she walks away. I'm not entirely sure what that was
about, but it led to some interesting pictures in my mind. This is
where Noemi chimes in with "Men are slime."
Wednesday November 13 58606
Today was for seeing things in the vicinity of Tegus, but not within
walking distance. I also didn't want to spend another night in the city
so I hoped to make it to Valle de Angeles, a small town in the
mountains northeast of the city.
North of the city, on the peak named El Picacho, high above the large
Hollywood-like Coca-Cola sign on the mountainside, is the Parque de las
Naciones Unidos (United Nations Park), built to commemorate the 40th
anniversary of the United Nations. I rode to the top to take in the
spectacular views of the city sprawled out below.
>From there I was headed to another park with a commanding view of the
city, the Parque y Monumento a la Paz (Peace Park and Monument) atop a
wooded hill near the huge National Stadium on the southeast side of the
city. This meant riding back across town in the heavy traffic, on the
haphhazardly laid-out streets.
It was during this transit that I had my first runin with the police. On
the street which encircles the National Stadium, I ran a stop
sign which I didn't see since I was concentrating on the crazy traffic
around me. Next thing I know 2 traffic cops on a motorcycle are motioning
me to the side of the road. At that point I still didn't know what was
up. He took my license and bike papers, returning the bike papers after
checking them, but kept my license. Then he explained I had run a stop
sign. I explained I had seen it, that I was looking at the traffic and
street signs trying to figure out where to turn. He said the ticket was
going to be L300 (US$25) but made no motions to actually write any
kind of ticket, simply repeating that it was coing to cost me L300.
Now in the US US$25 would be cheap for running a stop sign, but in
Honduras that was about a weeks worth of hotel stays, and besides I
only had about L450 left as I was planning to leave Honduras in a couple
of days. If I paid him L300 I'd have to hassle with finding a bank and
exchanging more money. Besides,I had a feeling the L300 was an inflated
bribe going in his pocket, and for the average Honduran it would be a lot
less. So I said I didn't have L300. He reiterated the ticket was
L300. He said a lot of other things which I honestly didn't understand
to which I always said "No comprendo", and reiterated that I hadn't seen
the sign and that I didn't have L300.
I think he thought I was saying I didn't think there was a stop sign since
he finally said to get back on my bike and he led me back around the
stadium and pointed to the offending sign. I clearly had run it and was
guilty, but I still was not going to pay him L300. We rode back to where
he first pulled me over, and once again got off the bikes. Again he said
the ticket would be L300, but still made no motions to write anything up.
Again I replied I didn't have L300. He said more stuff which I didn't
understand to which I again replied "No comprendo". It was at this point
I began to get images in my mind of being thrown in jail over $25, so the
next time he said it was L300, I said I didn't have L300, but that I did
have L100. I still wasn't ready to pay L300, but L100 i could live with.
Somewhat surprisingly, he basically ignored what I said and repeated that
the ticket was L300.
During all this there were several periods when nothing was being said,
both of us I guess assessing the situation and what our next move should
be. During several of these we actually digressed from the immediate
situation at hand and talked about my bike and my trip. I thought that
was good, since we were relating on more common ground, and on a
When he still insisted the ticket would be L300, I decided to change my
tactics, and said "Vamos a estacion de policia" (Let's go to the police
station). Not surprisingly he basically ignored this as well. We went
through several more iterations of his saying the ticket was L300, and me
saying I didn't have L300, and let's go to the police station. Finally he
hands my license to his partner, who was standing next to me and my bike,
and gets back on his bike. I'm not sure what he wanted; he made some
motions like he wanted me to follow him and said some things I didn't
understand to which I again replied "no comprendo", and initiated a
conversation with his partner who now had my license. In any case I
wasn't going anywhere my license wasn't going. The other guy then rides
away on his bike, leaving the other officer and I standing there by my
Did I mention that this officer carried a submachine gun? Now I had
images of the other officer getting the paddy wagon to haul me away,
leaving the bike by the side of the road for the thieves. A couple of
minutes he was back. He takes the license from his partner, and motions
for his partner to get on the bike behind him. He then hands my license
back to me. I say "Todos?" and he says "Si", to which I reply "Muchas
gracias, senor" and they rode away. Cost: L0.00. I quickly got on my bike
and rode away before he could change his mind.
Basically I think what was going on was that the L300 would have gone into
his pocket, that the official fine for running a stop sign was much less,
and when he saw I was not going to pay the L300 and insisted on going to
the police station, decided it wasn't worth the hassle. Plus our having
related as motorcyclists, if even for a bit, probably helped when he
saw I wasn't going to pay the bribe.
I had been pulled over 20 yards from the turnoff for the road up the hill
to the Peace Park, so I was at the top shortly. At the top is a large
concrete monument to peace, and from the plaza one looked down onto the
soccer field in the National Stadium, and across the city towards El
Picacho and the Coca-Cola sign where I had just been earlier.
>From there I rode south out of the city, on the highway to the Pacific, to
the village of Ojojona, nestled in the mountains surrounding Tegus, about
15 miles south of the city center. Ojojona is a picturesque 16th-century
Spanish minimg town, with several old churches. A small stream cascades
through the town, beside the main church on the plaza.
>From Ojojona, I retraced my route back to the city's southeast outskirts
where the huge Gothic Basilica de Suyapa dominates a hillside in the
village of Suyapa. An immense cemetary, with many flowers and a
well-manicured lawn covered the gently sloping hillside in front of the
Basilica. The Basilica itself was huge, with two towering bellfries on
either side of the front fascade. I arrived just as it was reopening at
2pm after lunch. Inside was spectacular. Six large stained glass windows
lined each side of the sanctuary and numerous other stained glass windows
were at each end and in smaller rooms off the main sanctuary.
Construction was begun in 1954 and finishing touches were still being
added. One of the workmen, who was currently painting the interior of the
bellfries, unlocked the door to one of the bellfries and guided me to the
top, from where there were spectacular views of the surrounding
countryside and Tegus in the diatance. I paid him L20 for the tour as
he went out of his way to point out some interesting photo opportunities,
and had told a small boy to watch my bike for me (although I don't think
it was necessary because there was hardly anyone else around.
The Virgen de Suyapa, a tiny statue only a few centimeters high, is the
patron saint of Honduras. For most of the year she is kept on the altar
of the small, old church on the main plaza of Suyaopa, several hundred
meters behind the Basilica. She is brought to the Basilica only for
holidays, especially the annual Feria de Suyapa in February. I walked
down to the old church, but there was some sort of ervice going on, so I
only got a look inside the church and did not see the statue itself.
>From Suyapa I was headed into the mountains east of Tegus, but to get
there I had to ride back to the city center to pick up the road headed
east. Actually by this time I had ridden around the southern and eastern
portions of the city enough times that I was figuring out the layout. I
actually retraced my original route into the city and knew where it would
take me. On the south side of the city, there were a series of
expressways, connected by cloverleaf exchanges, which tied the western,
southern, and eastern suburbs together. These were not shown on any of my
maps, but I had captured the layout of some of them on my GPS which came
in handy as I navigated around the city.
Not long after leaving the outskirts of Tegus and starting the climb up
into the mountains I came to an army checkpoint. At this one I was waved
over to the side. All through Guatemala and Honduras I had been wondering
when When I'd be stopped at one these checkpoints. I had passed through
numerous ones and they all seemed sort of lackadaisical. In Mexico, at
such checkpoints, the officers would be stationed at both sides of the road
d in the center as well, and would wave you through or hold up
their hand to stop. In Guatemala and here in Honduras the officers
would be standing well off to the side of the road, there would often be one
more vehicles stopped and being interrogated, but they would rarely
acknowledge me as I slowed while passing. I was never sure if they saw me
and were ignoring me meaning I could proceed, or if they hadn't seen me
and I should stop until they motioned me to proceed. Several times the
vehicle in front of me would pull to the side at such checkpoints, but
I hadn't seen if it had been motioned to do so. I would slowly proceed
by while they apparently ignored me. A couple of times, busses I was
following and getting ready to pass, pulled to the side as if it were a
bus stop (which more often than not it was), and as I accelerated around
them on the left, I saw in fact that it was a checkpoint. In such cases,
and when ignored, I would just proceed and watch my mirrors for waving,
shouting officers. It never happened.
At this checkpoint, staffed by a combination of army and civilian
personal, the officer in charge checked my papers and asked what was in
my saddlebags and topcase. He knocked on the zippered stuffsack I have
on the back of the bike and which was stuffed tight with the bike cover,
and asked what it was and I told him. Then he wanted to look inside my
tankbag, which I opened and shuffled through, showing him the items
inside, which satisfied him. A female civilian police officer was
more outgoing and asked about the bike and my trip, and that seemed
to end the official part of the inspection. They indicated I could
11 km east of Tegus I stopped briefly in Santa Lucia, another 16th-century
Spanish mining town perched on a mountainous hillside. Clouds had moved
in and it had begun to mist, so I didn't hang around long and pressed on
to my destination for the night, Valle de Angeles, 11 km further up into
Both my guidebooks said there was only one hotel in town, with singles for
US$5.60, but didn't say much else. When I found it I was surprised at how
nice it looked from the outside, and even more surprised when told the
price for a single was L100 (US$8.33), my most expensive hotel room yet in
Honduras. For L100 the room was cramped and marginal, though it did have
a private bath.
I had asked a man near the town plaza if there was another hotel or
hospedaje in town and he had said no. I should have kept asking, because
at dinner that night, in a small restaurant on the town plaza, I met two
women, Laural from Victoria Canada and Natalie from France, who had found
a little dive of a hospedaje for L25. I probably would have gone there
since my supply of Lempiras was getting low. We compared travel
experiences for almost 2 hours over dinner. Laural was an ex-accountant
turned waitress because she said the money was better and it gave her a
more flexible schedule for travelling. I seem to be meeting a lot of
accountants during this trip. Rita, I'm not sure what that means.
I also found out from Laural and Natalie why there were so many army and
police squads patrolling the downtown area of Tegucigalpa, although at the
time I didn't know if that was normal or not. Evidently last Saturday a
bomb exploded outside the courthouse, I believe killing a couple of
Thursday November 14 58704
Spent the morning exploring the town and writing in my journal, before
leaving around noon for La Tigra National Park, about 15km further up into
the mountains. Just out of town I met Laural and Natalie hiking along the
road. They had said they planned to stay another night in Valle de
Angeles before heading up to La Tigra. I stopped and we chatted for a
After about 11 km I came to the small village of San Juancito, seemingly
nestled in a crevasse along a small river on a mountainside at the foot of
some towering peaks. La Tigra Park is at the top of those peaks in a lush
cloud forest. I located a small hospedaje on the edge of town that the
owner was still putting the finishing touches on. In fact he had just
poured the concrete on the front deck, and I entered the room to look at
it on planks laid over the setting concrete. The room was bigger and more
cheerful, with a fresh coat of pink paint and a blue floral bedspread,
than my room last night, and while it didn't have a private bath, it was
only L25. The toilet and cold shower were in an outbuilding out back. I
told him I might return that evening but I wanted to check out the
possibility of camping up at the park. I spent about 20 minutes showing
and explaining my GPS to the proprietor and 2 other men. I showed them my
route of the previous day, from Tegucigalpa, to Ojojona, Suyapa, Santa
Lucia, Valle de Angeles, and finally San Juancito. And we talked about
the bike, before I left to ride up to the Park.
A steep dirt road snakes its way 4km up the mountainside to the abandoned
mining town of El Rosario, sight of the rangers station and small visitor
center of La Tigra National Park. The last kilometer was one of the
tightest, steepest switchbacked roads I've been on.
Old abandoned wooden buildings and homes were perched on stilts on the
mountainside. One concrete or stucco building appeared to have been a
hotel in its day. Several of the buildings were now in use as the ranger
station and housing for the 7 or so who lived here and ran the opeeration.
There were however other small farmhomes hugging the mountainsides in
At the ranger station I discovererd that to pitch my tent would cost US$5
(L60), and to enter the park would cost US$10 (L120). These prices were
specifically for foreigners. Hondurans paid about L1 and L5 respectively.
I hadn't planned on any major outing here, but simply to do a short 2-3
hour hike to a nearby waterfalls. However, for a 2 hour hike, this was
too much for my tastes; it would have used up over two thirds of my
remaining Lempiras. So I opted to explore the olds buildings scattered
around the hillside and take in the great views of the towering peaks
shrouded in clouds and mist, and of the valleys and towns below. By 2:30
the clouds had dropped considerably lower and I was in a fine mist so I
rode back down to San Juancito where I had a late lunch at a small
restaurant on the town "square". Several small streams cascaded down
through the center of town, and children were flying kites from a large
2-story tall rock overlooking the "square". Another cheaper (L15)
hospedaje was one block up from the restaurant, but the proprietor was not
home at the time so I could not look at the rooms. I hung around until
after 5pm, chatting with the woman running the restaurant, variuus men who
stopped by to look at the bike, and the numerous kids. Several teenage
schoolgirls commented on the single seat, and when I asked them if they
preferred that it had a seat for two, they giggled.
Saw more ex-school busses from the US, still with lettering on their
sides, like "Unified School District of Whitley, Colorado", which are
used for public transportation. This was a common site throughout
Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. They don't have big fleets of
municipal busses like in the states, but rather issue permits to
individuals to operate busses over certain routes. That person or
business uses privately owned busses on those routes, Consequently,
one sees a lot of ex-US school busses still in their original yellow and
black colors, or they have been repainted to the owners whim, frequently
with glittery metalic paint jobs, and usually with slogans lettered on
the back, either praising God or Jesus, or (I'm guessing) giving the name
of the driver or his girlfriend. Other popular motifs seen on the
back of busses were silver stencils of cowboys on horses, or the
stereotypical reclining buxom babe with chest thrust forward.
When by 5:30 the proprietor of the other hospedaje hadn't shown up I rode
the quarter mile back to "El Hotelito" for the night.
In the evening the wind began to pick up. It would come and go. It would b
calm, then all of a sudden the wind would blow through the streets,
kicking up mini dust storms and banging loose shutters and sheet-metal
roofing. It would last for 5 minutes or so, then die down for another
half hour. As the night wore on, the wind picked up.
Friday November 15 58716
I was woken at 4:30am by the sound of a diesel truck starting up. Its
driver had stayed in the room next to mine for the night. I got an early
start, leaving at 6:30am. I was going to have to ride back around the
National Stadium to pick up the highway southeast to the border, and I was
hoping I wouldn't encounter my friendly motorcycle transit cops again.
Especially since I had told them 2 days ago, to support my claim that I
didn't have the L300, that I was headed to the border that day.
In the Tegus suburbs I spotted a Dunkin Donuts shop in a portable trailer
so I stopped for a quick breakfast and sugar fix. I was on streets I
had taken several days ago, so was familiar with their layout and was
able to find a slightly different route which avoided the traffic circle
around the National Stadium and my transit cop buddies. They were
probably still in the Duunkin Donut shop (of which by the way, I had seen
at least a half dozen in my transit of the city, and I'm sure there more)
at this hour of the morning.
Buoyed by my success at avoiding the Stadium, it then took me the next 45
minutes to find the highway leading southeast out of the city. The
road which my guidebook indicated would take me out, ended in a
road construction zone of unfinished bridges and cloverleafs at the
foot of the Suyapa Bascilica where I had been several days before. I
remembered seeing signs for Danli, a city on the way to the border, and
at a T intersection I quickly spotted a sign pointing left to Danli.
The only problem was that coming from the direction I was coming, I
couldn't see the sign indicating that a detour redirected traffic back
the way I was coming from. I ended up doing a big loop before coming
back to this intersection from the other direction from which I could see
the detour sign and finally made it out of Tegus.
Once past the last major Honduran town, the last 12 miles of road to the
border was in poor condition, heavily potholed and rutted. A bit
surprising as all the other major paved roads in Honduras had been in very
good condition. I guess the corrolary can be extended from cities and
towns to countries; road conditions are always worst entering and leaving
I made it to the Honduran/Nicaraguan border at 10:15 and was promptly
surrounded by 4-5 young boys either offering to watch my bike for me or
pointing to the official-looking badges identifying them as official
border crossing guides and offering their services. An older gentleman
holding a large wad of cash offered to exchange money. I told him later
after I had taken care of the formalities on the Honduran side since I
didn't know how many Lempiras it was going to cost my on the Honduran
side. I fended off the young boys, as I locked and covered the bike, by
saying, "No necesito." Entry to Honduras had been straightforward, so how
hard could leaving be. As I headed to the Immigration Office two of the
young border guides tagged along, offering their advice nontheless, saying
it would cost me L25 which I already knew. I got my passport stamped,
paid the fee, and received another small yellow piece of paper with a
stamp on it. From previous crossings I knew this was what I would hand to
the official at the actual border gate as I rode through. Then it was to
the office labeled "Salida de Vehiculo" where I got my bike papers
stamped, and returned to me, and a second stamp on the yellow piece of
paper. All this time my unsolicited guides were tagging along, despite
my "No necisito"s, offering advise and directions. They obviously knew
something that I didn't or had no other better prospects at the time.
At this point things became a little more muddled, as I still had the bike
papers which I presumably had to turn in somewhere, but it wasn't clear
where or to whom. Upon entry to Honduras no inspection or verification of
the bike itself had been done. Now the young guides came to my rescue and
saying insepctor, led me back past my bike to a man who was inspecting and
sealing several semi-trucks lined up ready to cross. When he finished
there he took my bike papers and checked them against my bike, took the
main copy, handed me the carbon copy and put a third stamp on the little
yellow piece of paper.
I thought surely I must be finished now, but the two small guides insisted
I neeeded two more stamps on my yellow slip, so back to the row of offices
I went, now readily following the guides. One office stamped my yellow
slip and while they recorded something in a ledger, the guides took my
passport and yellow slip to another office and got both stamped as well.
When they returned they indicated that I was now ready to proceed.
Outside the office door the older man was waiting patiently for me with
his wad of money. I paid each of the two guides L5 (US$0.40) which seemed
acceptable to them (I know, big spender), and then exchanged my
remaining L185 (US$15) into Nicaraguan Cordobas. I knew I had at least
US$27 of fees on the Nicaraguan side, so I needed to exchange some dollars
as well, however, except for the dollars staashed under my starter motor
cover, I was down to only US$4 in cash. The rate offered for cash was
8.4 Cordobas to the dollar, but for Travellers Checks it was only 7.5.
I thought I could probably get a better rate at a bank, so I only
exchanged a $20 travellers check. Then it was on to the Nicaraguan side.
This all took only about a half hour. Not bad, but not as straightforward
as I thought it would be.
Several sources had said that of all the border crossings in Central
America, the Nicaraguan border was the most confusing, and all recommended
using one of the border guides which would descend on you as you
approached. As soon as I approached, an official in a small booth waved
me over. As I parked a man with an official-looking badge identifying
himself as some sort of border/immigracion official (though it didn't say
guide) approached and hung around as the official in the booth filled out
an immigration card for me and wrote some information on a scrap of brown
paper. I guessed (correctly, it later turned out) that I would turn this
in at the border gate. He than indicated to proceed to the immigration
office, and as I left the other man headed in that direction and indicated
to follow. He still hadn't actually offered his services to me so I
didn't know what his function was.
I knew from the guidebooks that the fee was about US$7, but what they
didn't say was that it was in two parts, C15 (US$2), payable in Cordobas,
and US$5, which could only be paid in US dollars. I repeatedly asked if I
could pay the equivalent in Cordobas, but they said no and showed me the
form they had filled out for me which stated its value as US$5. Now my
problem was that I only had US$4 in cash on me. On the way through Danli,
foreseeing such a problem, I had actually stopped at a bank to see if I
could cash a travellers check for dollars, thinking I might be able to
since it was near the border, however they wouldn't even cash travellers
checks for Lempiras. So I walked back towards the no-mans land between
the border gates where the money changers hung out to exchange some of my
just-obtained Cordobas for a US$5 bill. My unofficial "guide" accompanied
me. It cost me a C50 bill, US$6.67 at the rate I had received for my
travellers check several minutes before, to get a US$5 bill. Then it was
back to the Immigration office where I paid the fees and received my
stamped passport and a tourist card.
Then my unofficial guide accompanied me to the "Entrada de Vehiculos"
office, holding a form which he indicated needed to be filled out with my
vehicle information and Drivers License information. I mistakingly
started to fill in the license plate number where they wanted my drivers
license number and he quickly says no, takes the form from me, and starts
filling it in, asking me for the various doucments in turn. Then he calls
for Julio an inspection official to come inspect the bike. It was the
first border where they wanted to see the motor number as well. Back in
the vehicle office, while one lady entered information from the title in
her ledger, my "guide" took my passport to another official who filled out
another form, which the lady supplied him with information for by calling
out my vehicle registration and plate numbers across the room. They in
turn yelled out my passport number to her. Then the form was taken across
the room to a third official whose sole job it seemed was to verify what
the other official had written. Then it was back to that official who,
reading from the form he had just filled out, typed out another form which
served as my official vehicle document. Then I paid the C160 (US$20) the
guidebooks indicated would be required for a vehicle. As I walked out to
the bike I offered C10 (US$1.25) to my "guide" and it must have been in
the ballpark of being an acceptable amount since he didn't protest. I
always wonder, when giving guides tips like that, what they're really
thinking. Probably "Cheapskate gringo." The Nicaraguan side wasn't
nearly as bad as the guidebooks had made it out to be, and I probably
could have figured it out on my own, but my "guide" undoubtably helped me
get through quicker than I would have on my own. The Nicaraguan side took
a little over 45 minutes to clear and by 11:45 I was headed south into
Road conditions in Nicaragua are worse than in Honduras. The road was
heavily potholed, and would remain so for the rest of the day. I got to
Esteli, the first major town of about 27000 people about 1pm, where I
hoped to cash some more travellers checks at a better rate than at the
border. The various fees had left me with only C35 (US$4.40) and I needed
money for a hotel tonight and for gas since I had over 350 miles on this
tank and didn't like pushing it beyond that if I didn't have to.
There was one intersection with a bank on every corner and another bank
several doors up the street. I parked across from that bank, locked and
covered the bike and began a frustrating 2 hours of trying to obtain
money. I first went to 4 of the 5 banks and tried to exchange my American
Express Travellers Checks for Cordobas. I ultimately also hoped I could
cash some for dollars to replenish my supply of those as well. None of
the banks would accept American Express Travellers Checks. Several would
accept Visa or Mastercard Travelers Checks, but not American Express. One
bank suggested a Travel Agency down the street and I had to wait until 2pm
for it to open. They wouldn't accept them either and said that only a
bank in Managua would cash them. Now my guidebook had said that Nicaragua
was the only Central American country without an American Express office,
but it also said that "all banks will cash travellers checks".
I next decided to get an advance on my Visa card and returned to the bank
which said it would accept Visa Travellers Checks. They would not give me
an advance on my Visa. I made the rounds to the other banks I had visited
earlier, and none of them would give me an advance on my Visa either. In
one last desperate attempt I went into the one bank I hadn't been to yet
and asked if they would give me an advance on my Visa. The teller said
yes. Somewhat shocked, I hesitatingly asked if they would cash American
Express Travellers Checks. She said yes! Wouldn't you know it, The fifth
of 5 banks I tried is the one and only bank in town which would do what I
needed to have done! I made sure to note down the name, Banco de
Finanzes, for future reference if needed. I was even able to cash a
US$100 travellers check for dollars, though they charged a $10 service
fee. By that time I was just happy to get money so I didn't mind. Later
I thought it might have been cheaper to first exchanged it for Cordobas,
then exchanged those for dollars, since a sign indicated they bought and
sold cordobas and dollars and didn't say Anything about a fee. I got a
rate of 8.33 Cordobas per dollar for my travellers check, compared to only
7.5 at the border. The official rate at the bank for cash was 8.8
Cordobas per dollar. I left Esteli at 3pm after buying a cheeseburger,
fries, and coke for C18 (US$2.05).
>From the border the road had gradually dropped, and Esteli was at the northw
t end of a wide flat agricultural valley between two ranges of mountains. A
I rode southeast, dark rain clouds hovered over the mountains to both sides
d over the mountain away to the east where I was heading. At the small town
Sebaco, where the road east to Matagalpa split off, a celebration of some k
d was in progress and a parade with a small marching band was crossing the r
d. I snuck through during a break in the parade.
In the various small towns I passed through along the highway, baseball
diamonds were more common than soccer fields. In contrast to other
Central American countries, baseball is the national sport in Nicaragua,
and Denis Martinez, a pitcher in the big leagues in the States is a
Here was the first gas station I passed since I got money where I remembered
before I passed it, to fill up, and it took 9.7 gallons. It still had 2.1 g
lons. That's what I like best about the large tank. Not that you absolutel
need it, but rather it gives you more flexibility as to when to stop and dea
ng with situations like not having any money to fill up with. At 384.8 mile
since the last fillup I was getting 39.7 mpg. Considering that a good porti
of that was at 60-65 mph that was exceptional for this bike. At the bank e
hange rate of 8.5 Cordobas per dollar the gas was US$2.46/gallon. In Hondur
it had been about US$1.98/gallon, in Guatemala about US$1.90/gallon, in Bel
e about US$2.54/gallon, and in Mexico about US$1.20/gallon. Those prices are
r premium or Super, which I buy when ever its available, which has been ever
time except a couple. Actually this fillup in Nicaragua was with regular si
e that was all that was available, so for comparison with the other countrie
Nicaragua is even higher. I honestly can't remember what the price for Pre
um in the States is since I just fillup and pay for it with my credit card
d don't really pay attention to the price. But Nicaragua definitely wins th
gas high price award.
About 20 miles from my destination of Matagalpa, as the road climbed into
the mountains, it began raining heavily. I put on my Aerostich pants,
covered the tankbag, and for only the 2nd or 3rd time used my modular BMW
Goretex raingloves. BAter having through the hot and humid Yucatan and
Belize, it was becoming increasingly difficult to put on and remove my
lightweight BMW Goretex gloves because the liner would be soaked with
perspiration and would stick to my fingers, pulling out of the gloves when
removing them and getting all bunched up when putting them on. In Belize
I carefully cut through the liner where it was sewn to the leather glove
at the cuff. I could then remove the liners. However I kept the liners
and by putting them on first, then pulling the gloves on over them, I had
a modular waterproof glove system! In addition, sans liner, the gloves
were much cooler in the hot humid weather. The only disadvantage I had
found so far, was if I failed to put in the liners when it rained, my
hands emerged from the gloves black from the leather dye.
By the time I arrived in Matagalpa the rain had stopped and I got a room
in the Hotel Plaza, right on one of the towns two main plazas for C25
(US$3). They had an interior secured courtyard for the bike. The room
was very basic, and in fact the walls between adjoining rooms didn't go
all the way to the ceiling, but then I had no amorous prospects so it
wasn't a problem. Baths were shared.
Strolling the streets that evening, many tiendas (stores) had Christmas
decorations uo, as they had in Tegucigalpa, and one would occasionally
hear recognizable Christmas music being played.
The two Cinemas in town had seen better days and appeared to be closed.
Saturday November 16 58947
I decided to just hang around town today, though there weren't a lot of
specific sights to see. The main place I had planned to visit, the Museo
Casa Cuna Carlos Fonseca, the birthplace of the father of the Sandinista
revolution, was closed on the weekend unfortunately.
After finishing lunch of fried chicken and gallo pinto, a common
Nicaraguan dish of rice and red pinto beans, at a local restaurant, a
small boy who had been watching from the front doorway approached the
table and asked if he could have the chicken bones I had piled on the side
of my plate. I said yes and he grabbed them and the piece of lettuce they
were sitting on and retreated out the front door. This was not an
uncommon occurance either here in Nicaragua, or in Hondurasa or Guatemala.
Generally would wait until it was clear you were done or were leaving
before they would approach.
One of the frequently seen, and heard, sound trucks with large
loudspeakers on top drove by blaring the song Jingle Bells.
Late in the afternoon I decided it was time to try my luck at getting a
haircut so I prepared a small cheat-sheet with the Spanish terminology I
would need. However when I got to the barbershop, which had not been busy
earlier in the afternoon, all chairs were occupied, and a half hour later,
after an icecream cone, they still were. I guess everyone was getting
ready for their Saturday night dates. Since I didn't have any date lined
up I decided to postpone my haircut.
It rained heavily several times during the day, usually for a half hour or
so, after which the sun came back out.
That evening, while watching a local TV show in Spanish on the TV in the
sitting room downstairs, a loud parade went by in the street out front.
We went out on the front porch to watch it go by. Everyone was in
vehicles, mostly pickup trucks and cars, but they included a band and
numerous people waving large flags. Fireworks and rockets were being
fired into the air from some location. I asked the proprietor of the
hotel what it was about and he said it was to celebrate the election of
the President which took place sometime in '96, but I'm net exactly sure
when or why the parade was occuring now.