Central America

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Central America

Central America
At the limit

Drive once from Mexico to Panama, over that almost ridiculously small land bridge between the mighty continental halves of America. A journey between the worlds ?? between the Caribbean and the Pacific, borders, wars and natural beauties.

Monika Schulz, Annette Johann

06/11/2001

Luis ?? friendly, enterprising, battered Toyota ?? immediately senses a good deal: two tired newcomers, something’s going on. »LTU Cargo? Si, claro. ”He’d be happy to take us there for ten US dollars. We want to know if it’s far. “More or less,” he says, we get in. The rest of the black car is seriously out of balance, the rosary chain on the rearview mirror begins to swing, we are sitting in the back, the Holy Mother of God in front ?? directly above the ventilation. With a jolt the load gets going. “Bienvenidos a Mexico.” The journey takes less than five minutes. Too short for a ten, claro. But long enough to revive all the repressed concerns and doubts about our upcoming tour: Luis asks politely whether we wanted to go over to Chiapas. “No, down to Panama.” The sweet smell of warm, humid tropical air wafts through the half-open window, the man behind the wheel says nothing. “What about Panama, Senor?” “Nada,” nothing ?? only God knows he would never travel all over Central America. Belize, okay. Guatemala, maybe. But Honduras and Nicaragua ?? never. Bingo, the horror flick is running again: murder, robbery, guerrillas, malaria, cholera, typhus, dengue fever. Not a horror scenario that we were not accused of over the past few weeks. The unspeakable homepage of the Foreign Office: “… a multitude of armed attacks every day …” Travel guides listing mountains of essential documents, freight forwarders and insurance companies that prophesied the worst border and entry problems. There were moments when we thought that 14 days in Gran Canaria could also be beautiful. 5.30 p.m. In the last light of the glowing red evening sun, we tie the two DR 650s from the pallets. It’s worked out. The customs officers, who were in the mood for the evening, moved our air-freighted motorcycles out without any problems. We set off, leaving the last major tourist bastion Cancun in the direction of the Belizean border. If things get too tricky, we just turn around. Caribbean beaches that are ready for film accompany Carretera 307 to the south. Brilliant white sand, turquoise water, floor-length palm leaves. Laundry and hammocks sway in the wind. All around an increasingly colorful Mexico. Bars, shops, workshops ?? everything painted shrill. Red, yellow, blue, green ?? it has to shine. And live. Pineapple and banana sellers in the streets. Children, dogs, goats, chickens. And above all the roar of the buses. Shortly after Chetumal the border crossing. We reckon with the worst, but then everything is very easy: One stamps the tourist cards, the second asks “where from and where to”, a third waves us through. Over in Belize, the route and length of stay are recorded, the machines are entered in the passports, xx dollars are asked, and the barrier goes up. Complete change of scene: The people are black instead of brown, speak English instead of Spanish, live in wooden stilt houses instead of low huts? ? with front gardens, lawns, ramshackle garden fences and verandas. Discarded living room furniture and vehicle legs are widely distributed around the house. Nicely uniformed schoolchildren line the path, loads of Chinese restaurants, and the Queen greets them from the dollar bills. Belize, a casual combo of Eurasia and Caribbean reggae rhythm, is part of the British Commonwealth. Between endless lines of packed sugar cane trucks, we make our way through the flat north of the country to Belize City, the lively, dope and music-filled center of formerly British Honduras. 40 years ago BC was still the capital, but repeatedly destroyed by hurricanes, the government moved its business to Belmopan. A godforsaken retort nest in a cleared jungle clearing. San Ignacio, 30 kilometers southwest, at the foot of the Mountain Pine Ridge, on the other hand, is bursting at the seams with life. We check in at the Venus Hotel. In the middle of the city. Stoned Rasta boys with iron on our heels. Clarified Americans and backpackers besieged the backpackers and Eva ?? s internet restaurant next door. At four o’clock in the morning the place tears us out of bed. Chickens cackling loudly make the start. At sunrise at half past five, the other birds join in, almost in sync with the diesel engines and the market women at the bus station directly behind the »Venus«. Around six the first “Union Shuttle” lifts up there to the crescendo and rattles, pulling a deep black plume of smoke behind it, towards Belize City. At seven at the latest it is as loud as if you were standing on the Ruhrschnellweg. At eight we turn onto the Hummingbird Highway. Our plan: over the jungle track of the Southern Highway down to Punta Gorda and from there by ferry to Guatemala. The problem: nobody knows whether the boat is transporting motorcycles. People yes, cars no, maybe bikes. Anyway, we’ll give it a try. Immerse yourself in the tropical green of the forests, which span entire mountain ridges and rivers with shimmering palm trees, huge Ceiba trees and lianas. Monkeys, hummingbirds, fantastically beautiful, and after 80 kilometers ?? Bulldozer! The jungle has been cleared for miles, the stretch is a single cloud of dust: the Southern Highway is currently being expanded to become a motorway. For an hour we sail almost blindly over the runway and finally turn off for Placencia. A small, cozy coastal town on the tip of a headland. Here we definitely learn that the ferry does take motorbikes with it, but only “one by one” ?? so one every day. For 175 marks. A charter boat, on the other hand, could do everything at once for 650 marks. Or the mail boat, but only in four days. 18 hours later, Belmopan sees us for the third time, shortly afterwards Benque Viejo, then the Guatemalan border. This time exit and entry procedures cost two hours and xx dollars including disinfecting motorcycles. We hide money and papers as best we can, and drive towards Tikal with mixed feelings. “The Federal Foreign Office points out that armed robberies took place on the route.” It was a while ago, however, and we feel more comfortable with every kilometer. The clay piste swings through gently rolling terrain, women are doing big laundry on the river, merengue music splashes from a bar. Behind the next bend a tiny capuchin monkey is doing gymnastics on a tiny, crooked trailer, with a lion cage on it ?? inhabited. While the king of the beasts is dozing in the sun, the tire is being mended. A traveling circus with a car breakdown. Then: Tikal. Probably the most breathtaking archaeological site of the Mayans. In the middle of the jungle thicket, the mighty, millennia-old temples push up. Up to 64 meters high. We quarter in the Jungle Lodge in order to capture the mystical magic of this surreal world for a while. The generator is switched off at around 11 p.m., after which it is completely silent. Suddenly a bloodcurdling roar. Jaguars. Right behind the lodge. How good that we didn’t camp. With the daylight the courage for adventure comes back. About the CA 13 go down to the Lago de Izabal. Listed in the travel guide as a promising jungle slope, in “real” an inhuman asphalt lane, the jungle cut down a long way away. The heaped highway divides the small villages like a dam, and children play relentlessly on the edge. After about 200 kilometers we land in the incredible place Rio Dulce. Total chaos on the streets, a crush of fruit sellers, shoe shineers, shop displays, construction sites and vehicles of all kinds. Even with motorbikes there is hardly any getting through. But then the CA 13 suddenly swings up into a high arch over the Rio Dulce and releases us into freedom. With an unforgettable view of the palm-fringed tropical river. At night, in a hotel room on the lake, someone tampered with our door. The silver knob turns back and forth like a ghost. Palpitations. Fear. What to do? Scream! A declamation of southern German strong expressions helps. The perpetrator runs away. We also. Course: Guatemala City. Only now are we really noticing the multitude of armed civilians. Every petrol station is guarded by a shotgun as a minimum. In Rio Hondo the world is looking friendlier again, a few colorful “comedores” invite you to eat on the roadside. With daily specials for three or four marks, these small restaurants ensure the livelihood of entire families as well as the survival of the eager Central Americans. We stop at “Milena”. Inside on the walls Bacardi and Alkasel acquisitions, next to them Jesus at the Lord’s Supper. Three of the six tables are occupied, one of Milena’s teenage daughters plaiting Rasta braids. Towering stacks of CDs around them, roaring disco music from the boom behind them. It’s Saturday afternoon, the girls are getting into the mood for the weekend. The meal is chicken with rice and pickled vegetables. Splendid ?? As always. Behind »Milena« the highlands begin. On Carretera 17 we first drive through desert-like area and then twirl through fragrant pine forests up to Salamá. The district capital is a »plaza« with countless shops around it. The pivotal point: the mighty colonial church. There is a church service inside. It takes a moment before we identify what is going on. With rhythmic rumba beats, the casually chatting, shopping-bag-hung congregation is receiving the host. Oh I see. In particularly intensive rituals, wrapped schnapps bottles are sacrificed and crackers are ignited. According to the traditional Christian-occidental doctrine, rather unworthy, just like the belcherene Bimm-Bimm-Bimm- from the bell tower. Not far from here, a slope to the Lago de Atitlán should branch off. Also warning level ten at the Foreign Office. But we won’t make it anyway. The incredibly steep, sometimes deeply furrowed pass to the neighboring village is not the problem, but the signposting. Because there are none. Instead, 17 friendly pieces of advice that lead in 22 different directions. After the fifth attempt into nowhere, we paint the lake and drive to Honduras. The border crossing is nerve-wracking. We are sent back and forth for a full three hours until the stamps finally pop into the passports. From El Salvador, only 20 kilometers away, a ray of sun flashes over the mountains. A few days ago a terrible earthquake killed around 1,000 people down there. Honduras was largely spared. In almost forgotten inclines we rush up into the cloud forest. The roads and curves are perfect, the reasons for that are rather dubious. Because it was the Americans who put their hands and money here to pave the way for the military during the Contra War. It goes up higher and higher, cold and wet pull into the collar of your jacket, veils of fog cover moss-covered trees in a mysterious light. Shivering, we poke through the cobblestones of the pretty colonial town of Santa Rosa de Copán. A room with a hot shower somewhere. Awesome. Armed civilians are less common in Honduras, but there are police officers at every major intersection. On the further journey through the highlands, navigation becomes difficult again. Signposts are in short supply. We orientate ourselves on buses or ask around. Asphalt and gravel alternate, sparse forests, poor, increasingly deserted villages ?? a couple of banana trees and chickens for self-sufficiency. People carrying heavy bundles of firewood on their backs or dragging them home in patched up soapboxes. And again and again these vices. Mighty forty-tonne trucks roaring down the inclines at hell’s speed, roaring their horns clear of the way, between pedestrians, donkeys and ancient pick-ups overloaded with hitchhikers. “No fear,” it says on their windshields. Behind the capital, Tegucigalpa, we come across a bridge destroyed by the earthquake and take detours to the most difficult border crossing of the trip: Nicaragua. The country, which has been completely shattered by the civil war and the US embargo, is not exactly considered to be particularly interested in tourism. Brave approach to the barrier. Four hours later we are thirty dollars and a number of illusions poorer. The corruption was undisguised. And suddenly everything changes. Rubbish and billboards for international aid projects line the way: Denmark is building the roads, Japan is building the bridges, the Germans are organizing “Water for Matagalpa”, the building is being organized by the Federal Reconstruction Agency. Pro Famlia is also there. The first begging children of the trip at the gas stations. “You have learned that it is enough to hold up your hand,” a resigned German couple explains to us later in Managua? Old leftists, as they confess, and long-time supporters of the small socialist state. After the failure of socialism, the contested bridgehead land was completely disoriented. In the highlands, old IFA trucks wheeze through endless coffee plantations, in the traditional Sandinista strongholds of Estelí, Matagalpa and Jinotega the black and red flag is blowing, and the residents blatantly show that travelers are not welcome here. On the Pan-Amerikana, the road connecting America from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, we rush past the huge Lago de Nicaragua. There is nothing that could hold us here, no matter how overwhelming the sight of the volcanic ensemble Conceptión and Madera rising from the middle of the lake. On Saturday, January 27th, we will cross the border to Costa Rica: well-protected, since eternity “Switzerland of Central America” ​​ruled times democratically. It’s like coming home. The eternal garbage on the roadside disappears, instead huge iguanas scurry into the undergrowth, scold howler monkeys in the treetops and there ?? actually a toucan. Truly a little paradise that we literally soak up in us. Panama has to wait. Because we have the secure feeling of having arrived, the connection of the American continent, the seam between above and below, between headlines, disillusionment and new hope behind us. Without dengue fever and without an emergency call to the Federal Foreign Office.

Info

Central America is not an uncomplicated travel destination. While Yucatán and Belize have been luring with Caribbean beaches, millennia-old Mayan culture and Costa Rica with great natural wealth for decades, the other countries have been entangled in political problems for too long to create a tourist base. But anyone who grapples with these adversities will be rewarded with a highly exciting tour.

Arrival This tour can only be driven with your own motorcycle. There are no machines for rent that are suitable for travel in the regions, nor are they allowed to cross the numerous borders (see formalities). The airline LTU proved to be the ideal transport company, which maintains connections to Cancún in the north and San Jose in the south and was able to arrange an open jaw flight. The motorcycles have to be brought to the airport (several German cities) three days before departure, and almost always travel on the same plane on the way there. And, since only the battery is disconnected and the tank can be quarter full, you are quickly ready to go at your destination. The passenger ticket cost around 1600 marks at the time of travel, the motorcycles xxxx marks. The shipping company can take care of the formalities. More information in the travel agency, on the Internet at www.ltu.de, the LTU Cargo offices in Dusseldorf, Frankfurt or Munich as well as the Fly agencies & Bike (phone 089/66002160) and GS-Sportreisen (phone 089/27818484, internet www.gs-sportreisen.de). Travel time and equipment For a route through all of Central America, only one month is ideal: January. Then there are pleasant travel temperatures and you drive away optimally on (north-south course) the different rainy periods of the various countries. Nevertheless, rain gear and a thick sweater should be on board, as it can get quite cold in the mountain regions.Route and fuel supplyThe choice of the route was based on the conditions of the slope, scenic or cultural attractiveness and safety. Maps and travel guides provided an indication of the condition of the slopes. For example, how long the bus has been on the road. If he needs new hours to cover 60 kilometers, the piste is rather bad. Unfortunately, the issue of security is an essential part of this, as warnings are issued about some routes because of attacks (see Security). Petrol stations are shown on the maps and there are plenty of them in densely populated Central America. Even if we have hardly had any negative experiences, the routes marked as dangerous by the Federal Foreign Office and in the manual should be taken seriously. Due to the recent civil wars, many weapons are in circulation and are used in robberies (also on tourists). This roughly applies to the north coast of Honduras, various highland regions in Guatemala (around Tikal, Cobán and Lake Atitlán) as well as the old rebel strongholds in northeast Nicaragua. Before starting your journey, inquire about the latest status at the information points mentioned. Night drives are also generally dangerous. Formalities A passport, driver’s license and vehicle license are all you need to enter the country. The international version should be included, but was never requested. (Make sure to make copies of everything.) The German motorcycle insurance / green card are not valid overseas. We therefore recommend that you take out travel vehicle insurance. Can be purchased either on the go or in Germany (except for Mexico) from American International Underwriters, phone 06122/15646, fax 8993, or Tour Insure phone 040 / 251721-50, fax ?? 21. A 650er costs from 420 Marks per month (with fully comprehensive insurance around 765 Marks). Six border crossings cost time, patience and money. On average, two to three hours must be allowed for when crossing the border. The costs are completely different and range from xx US dollars in Mexico to an incredible xxxx in Costa Rica (entry and exit). All in all, in four weeks we paid xxx marks per person with a bike to the customs officials, and certainly not all of them were legal. But there were no real problems anywhere, instead our request for transit was granted completely as a matter of course. The base currency in all countries is the US dollar, which can always be used to pay in an emergency. In normal payment transactions, however, the local currency is always used, which is bought and sold at the borders. The exchange rates of the local money changers are mostly acceptable and leftover currency can only be exchanged with them. Traveler checks in US dollars and credit cards are usually accepted without any problems in banks and larger hotels, but hardly in the country. Accordingly, you cannot avoid carrying a certain amount of cash with you, but you should hide it well from the risks mentioned (for example in money belts worn directly on the body). Overnight accommodation / camping: Overnight accommodation is not always easy to find in more remote regions. The recommended Central America Handbook proved to be an indispensable helper, as it spared us many nerve-wracking searches with its neighborhood tips. The prices start at around 35 marks for simple rooms and end at 150 marks in noble hotels. Tips: the jungle lodge in Tikal for 150 and the hotel Tezuluthán in Salama / Guatemala for 35 marks. Camping is difficult because campsites are rare and mostly unattractive. Two particularly beautiful ones: in Belize on the road connecting San Ignacio and the border crossing to Guatemala; Organized tours in Costa Rica on the northeastern shore of Lake Arenal Anyone who wants to get a taste of Central America can book a tour through Guatemala and Honduras from 2002 with the MOTORRAD ACTION TEAM, which covers parts of the route described here. The details are currently being worked out, you can find out more by calling 0711 / 182-1977. Literature There is only one choice when it comes to travel guides: The Central America Handbook from Gisela Waltther-Verlag for 49.80 marks ?? a German Lonely Planet translation with 830 pages of really EVERYTHING you need to know. Route information, sights, history, hotels etcetera. Mexico is unfortunately missing in it, so we refer to Stefan Loose’s Yucatan chapter “Mexico” for 44 marks. The best maps come from the publishing house “International Travel Maps”, which offers both the overview map “Central America” ​​in 1: 1.8 million as well as single sheets for each country in 1: 350,000 – 800,000. Information on formalities, safety and health issues knows that Federal Foreign Office notification, phone 01888170, internet www.auswaertiges-amt.de. In addition to the family doctor, the tropical institutes in particular answer all questions about vaccination and prophylaxis. For example in Munich, phone 089/333369, as well as the internet service xxxxxxxxxx. The international department of the ADAC is well informed on the subject of vehicles, phone 089 / 7676-6331. Tourist information is available from the Latin America Association on 06298/929277. Otherwise: See literature. Distance driven: 4000 kilometers Time required: four weeks

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