Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Crossing From Guatemala to El Salvador With Del and Cal From Saskatchewan – 22 December 2017

22 December 2017 – I cleaned out my room, loaded my motorcycle and turned in my chipped door card at the office. I had the cleaning lady check that I didn’t carry off any sheets or the remotes for the TV and air conditioner. I hated to say good-bye to that room. It was nice, clean and relatively new. All the bedding was white. It was bright white and clean. Not grey. It was nicer than some of the hotels I’ve stayed in……in the U.S.

So, I’m off to the border today. I’m departing Guatemala and entering El Salvador. It’s always a challenge to look like you understand the paper process that takes place a when you process out of one country. Every country is a little different. I pulled up on the border and the semi-trucks were backed up for almost a 5/8 miles / 1 Kilometer with cars mixed in with them. Everybody was fighting to get another car length closer to the border. It’s tooth and nail. If someone thinks you’re moving ahead of them they will try to block you. I tried some creative motorcycle riding with to get ahead. The traffic was jammed so tight I couldn’t work my way through. I tried a side street which got me ahead but I couldn’t get back inline. A taxi cab driver pointed to a street I could use to get back in line. That street was backed up also. I shut my motorcycle off and just waited. While I was setting there, a semi-truck with an enclosed 53 foot / 16 Meters long trailer was also setting in line waiting. Guess what it said on the side of the trailer? Unknown trucking firm, Black River Falls, Wisconsin! Small world. That just proves that a lot of used or aged truck and trailer rigs are sold south of the US border. I took my camera out to take a picture, but just then at that exact moment, traffic broke loose and the truck moved on me. I got a picture but not a really good one. And at that very second my line broke free and here I have my camera in hand. I have to get it back into my pocket, get my gloves on, start my motorcycle and get moving. In less than 5 seconds the horns start blowing. I’m all disheveled trying to get my camera put away so it doesn’t fall to the ground causing more problems. I got everything have put away and started driving. Then the traffic stopped again. I had another moment to get myself organized. I just got my hands back on the handlebars and the car traffic started rolling again.

This time I made it all the way up to the border and was directed to park by one of the border officials. The surface I had to park on was very rutted and angled. That makes parking my motorcycle very challenging. I just got my motorcycle parked and two guys from Saskatchewan rolled in on their motorcycles. One guy was riding a Harley-Davidson and the other a Yamaha, I think. I had to go and get some copies made and I went to the wrong place. When they found out I couldn’t speak Spanish the women were giggling among themselves and the guys were throwing in their 50 cents’ worth. Anyway, I collected up my paperwork and typed in my translator “Thank you for not being able to help me”. I showed it to the woman who was giggling, laughing, and talking the most. She had that look on her face wondering why he would be thanking me for not helping him. I hope if she thinks any more about it she will realize it actually means the opposite of that.

I moved to the next building up where the copying machine was. The other two motorcycle riders were already there getting their duplicate copies of everything. So, I got in line and got my copies. This is when I also met the English-speaking helper / fixer. I can’t remember his name. We then went and got in the Immigration line to get our passports stamped exiting Guatemala and a small slip of paper. There was no explanation for the small slip of paper. From there we went to Customs, getting our motorcycles cleared out of Guatemala and entered into El Salvador. We get the paperwork filled out and the helper guy has my passport, my driver’s license and my original title. He also has the other two guys’ paperwork. I’m setting there constantly reminding myself to no forget to get back your passport, driver’s license and original title. There are so many distractions going on and always in a rush. I had to caution myself about not forgetting something. We probably waited 2 to 3 hours seated on hard benches in an air-conditioned room.

Eventually we get called up. I was first. My telephone number and e-mail was missing from the form and it needed to be signed. Next Del and Cal were called and probably filled in something similar. We then had the VIN numbers on our motorcycle checked. We were given our El Salvador forms, passports, drivers license, and original titles back. The Customs Official said we were finished and could go. We all three asked the same thing: are we finished? Both the Customs Official and our helper said we were finished. We could go. We paid our helper about $20 dollars and parted ways. As the two other guys were leaving our helper was hollering at them to go right or something like that. I was wondering what that was all about.

I got my papers arranged as best I could and left the same way they left. I was about 5 minutes behind the other two. I got stalled out in traffic some but eventually worked my way out of the border area. I said to myself “I’ve got to stop and check my passport to see that I was stamped in to El Salvador.” Just as I broke free of the border traffic here comes the other two motorcycle riders heading back to the border. I found a spot to pull over and checked my passport. Bad news, no El Salvador passport stamp in my passport.  As I was checking my passport, I was parked in somebody’s driveway entrance. It wasn’t long before I had an audience. A young couple in their early thirties and their three children. The oldest son was into riding dirt bikes and they mentioned they like my spare tires I was carrying. They all wanted their pictures taken with me and we parted ways.

I drove back to the border to get my passport stamped. The semi-trucks are lined up 5/8 of a mile / 1 Kilometer long. So, I drive into on-coming traffic to get back to the border. I met probably 10 cars coming at me. I get as close as possible to the semi-trucks and the cars move over enough to let me through. So, life goes on. When I get back to border there sat the other two motorcycle riders. The first thing I asked them was, “I bet your passports weren’t stamped, were they?” They said, no and pointed to where I should go and get my passport stamped. They said you’ll need that small piece of paper they gave you when you got your passport stamped out of Guatemala. They said “don’t worry about your bike, we’ll be here when you get back.”

I go and get in the passport line. There were about 20 people in front of me. It went pretty fast and soon I was at the window. I handed the lady my passport and small piece of paper. She made an entry in her computer and gave back my passport. I asked her if she could stamp it? She said, El Salvador doesn’t stamp passports anymore in a time saving effort / or just moving out of the dark ages. So, I’m good to go. As I was standing in line I figured out what our border helper / fixer was hollering about. He wanted us to stop at Immigration to get our passports stamped. Well, everyone said we were finished and we took it literally but in reality, we were finished with Customs and not Immigration. I was asking myself while I was standing in line why our helper didn’t tell us to get our passports stamped at Immigration before we all were on our motorcycles and leaving the border. Immigration was less than 35 Yards / 35 Meters away. I’m guessing there will continue to be some mysteries in this trip. The fact is if the three of us had not caught that mistake we may have had to drive back across El Salvador to get our passports fixed before they would let us exit El Salvador, or pay some fee to get our passport fixed. You can imagine how blue the language would have been upon hearing that news. I’m still learning.

I went back to Del and Cal and chatted it up some with them. They said, they need to find an ATM and weren’t having any luck with their GPS. I know the feeling having had to work with both Matilda in Russia, and Blanche here. They can be quite bull headed when they have a mind to. I told them I could check my GPS and find a Bank or ATM. Sure enough Blanche located five ATM’s. One of the banks had an ATM / Automatico so that’s the one we headed to. Del asked if I wanted to ride with them and I said, “you guys ride too hard for me and I’d never keep up and I don’t want to crash with my heavy load.” We had to drive 11 Miles / 18 Kilometers to get to the town. I told Del more than likely the bank will be right downtown / El Centro. He said, no problem, we need money. So, they rode ahead and then waited for me to catch up. They were about 5 miles / 8 Kilometers out of the city waiting for me to arrive. Once I got near the city I programmed Blanche to lead us into the city. What looked simple on the GPS was about a 3 Mile / 5 Kilometer trip into the city.

We entered the city sometime after 3:00 p.m. and rush hour was starting up with stop and go traffic. We did our best to work our way through the traffic but sometimes you just can’t get through. So, you sit and idle. When you’re driving air cooled engines, this wreaks havoc on them. I could feel their pain. On the plus side, I never missed a turn with Blanche. She even dragged us through some side streets, a sure sign she’s lost. When she did that I reprogrammed her, and let continue leading us. Again, I never missed a turn, but then another side street and I was thinking the worst. I looked at her map and it showed the bank on the corner. Everyone was relieved when we pulled in there. Del said his Harley was running really hot and so was Cal’s motorcycle. I’m sure Cal’s bike was water cooled.
The security guard went on alert when we pulled in. We were under serious scrutiny. When we all got our money and just sat around talking he wasn’t as concerned as when were withdrawing money. We talked it up some for over thirty minutes and then parted ways. As far as I know they’re heading for Columbia. After those guys left, a young guy pulled in with his car alongside my motorcycle and told me he just loved my motorcycle.  He wants to get one but just can’t afford it right now.

I headed back to the PanAm Hwy / CA1. I found a hotel that wasn’t an Auto Hotel and typed in the GPS coordinates. Blanche took me right to the spot. I pulled into the hotel and it’s under renovation. They recommended an Auto Hotel 1.5 Miles / 3 Kilometers down the road. They said, when you see the gas station with the smiley face, you’re near. They were right on the money. I drove into the hotel. I spoke with the lady, and for 18 Dollars I could stay until 9:00 a.m. She asked if I would need anything. I asked for another blanket and three bottles of water. She also said they have a menu that included hamburgers and french fries. I ordered 2 hamburgers and fries. Those hamburgers tasted as good as McDonalds. I couldn’t eat both of those hamburgers, it was just too much to eat. I waited a couple of hours and ate the other. I worked on my directions for tomorrow and wasn’t having too much luck for some reason. So, I gave it up for the night and went to bed.

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