4th - 10th September
Today it has rained most of the day, but that suited us. Denise got the blog finished and uploaded and we spent the rest of the day with South America maps, guidebooks and other peoples websites, planning our trip South from Ecuador – all very exciting stuff, although the bit about shipping the vehicle across looks a bit daunting at the moment. At least Denise is getting the opportunity to speak a bit more Spanish and is frantically looking up vocabulary which may help with all of the documentation etc!!
A new visitor to the website – Kevin Whales from TTS – great, how is everyone finding out about us. Good to hear from you Kevin. Cilla Black is Coxy’s IT specialist and web designer – thankfully she doesn’t have to sing!
After a good 3 day rest we are on the road again. The constant rains have badly damaged the roads. In many places they have been washed away and the steep banks at the sides have not fared much better either. Between Acayuacan and Matios Romero the conditions were very poor indeed and the trucks were all keeping to extremely slow speeds. Repaired potholes had been washed away all along the route resulting in the traffic in both directions looking for the best way through, regardless of which side of the road that was on. No need for the endless topes today – the condition of the road is controlling our speed. JC did manage to stop to take a picture of John Deer tractors on flats just for Rob and Mark at Consort!!
A long day on the road today in time, we had only covered 260kms by the time we stopped around 3pm but we are finally on the Pan American Highway which we will follow down South like many overlanders before us! After trying several hotels, looking for secure parking, we finally came upon Hotel Guiexhaba which is on the road to Oaxaca. Great place with excellent restaurant and the best Margaritas yet. Only downside was the orange pebble dashed walls and ceiling coupled with the bright blue paintwork. Made you wonder if you had had a few Margaritas too many!
Away from the hotel at 0830am so that we could be close to the Guatemalan border crossing tonight and cross over tomorrow. The road between la Ventosa and Santo Domingo was like a wind tunnel – no wonder they have built a massive wind farm there with still more wind turbines being erected. JC nearly got blown off his feet when he got out to take some photos.
Futher east we covered some of the rally route and called in for breakfast at Hotel/Restaurant Flora where we had been with Nikki and Paul – didn’t have patatas fritas this time or buy any CDs you two!! The landscape looks a lot different now than in May – its all very green and the dry river beds are now torrents of rushing water! We have had our worst weather today – driving in torrential rain for most of it. The famous Pan American Highway looks very sad today – lots of roadworks, damaged bridges, diversions and flooding – even the truck drivers have given up and parked at the nearest COMIDA. Glad that JC was driving – plenty of experience with this kind of stuff and never lets anyone push him to drive too fast or take risks!! We were both glad to see our stop for the night at around 4.30pm today – at least it has finally stopped raining.
As we reached Tapachula, our last stop before entering Guatemala a young boy stopped us and told us about handing our car permit it – about 20 kms before the border – good job he stopped us or we would have had a long trip there and back for nothing. We explained that we were not crossing out of Mexico until the following day and arranged to meet him at 0800. Hotel tonight made up for the bad day in the rain. We watched Mexico vs Jamaica and win 3 – 0 – Sven still not looking very happy.
Away from hotel at 0730 the next morning and our helper was as good as his word. There he was waiting for us. Problem was the office did not open until 0915 (alledgedly 0900) so that was the start of a hair raising day! By the time we left there we had two boys on our one back seat for the trip to the actual border. As we approached the ‘frontera’ we were swamped by other boys wanting to help us, kids asking for money, men wanting to change money, car park attendants and “security” personnel all wanting to get a dollar for something or other. Our boys urged us to drive on through with the windows up. When JC went with them to get our exit stamps in the passports we picked up yet another “helper” and he too got on our back seat – getting a bit crowded there! Then it was time to import the vehicle into Guatemala and along came George whose first words were “Hello, Liverpool”. He was in control from then on – a Nicaraguan who spoke very good English – got the other three sorted out and of went JC into the nightmare of immigration and customs, whilst Denise stayed in the vehicle with one of our other “helpers” making sure he didn’t nick anything whilst he was “guarding” it! An hour later we were on our way – thank goodness. George had done a great job keeping all of the other beggars and hangers on away from JC and supposedly arranging for a vehicle permit which should take us all the way through to Costa Rica. JC queried this with customs and then confirmed all OK but JC thinks they are all on the make and time will tell! Sorry no photos of this – thought we might get the camera nicked!
The weather has been kinder today but the roads are twice as bad as Mexico and the Sunday drivers are a nightmare. We had not breakfast, no coffee a poor lunch at the side of the road and were both very glad to pull in at the best hotel we could find at around 3pm. Simple, bit damp but friendly, pool and cold beer with the smell of food cooking on the barbecue in the open kitchen – no salads tonight and plenty of deet. At least we are back in Toyota Territory.
Early start again – another border into El Salvador. As we were checking out of the hotel, a van delivering eggs arrived to bring supplies and out jumped an armed security guard – eggs must be expensive here! Roads are as bad – along the road today we saw a vehicle whose 2 rear axles had fallen off and his load was strewn all over the place and another where the chassis had cracked and they were welding it up at the side of the road, no cones, no goggles and just a tree branch to warn oncoming traffic. This is Central America! Missed by pass around Escuintla and got caught up on the Monday morning traffic. Very busy, buses all over the place, lots of people, men waving flags to get you into dark and dingy cafes – no hotels that looked safe enough – glad we stopped early yesterday!
After the town, the road was like velvet – tarmac all the way to the border (remember tarmac is better than sex for an overlander!). We could have been in another country, bright green colours, volcanoes towering above the road, farming on the side we could have been driving along a leafy lane somewhere in England – apart from the volcanoes of course!
At the border today it was not as chaotic as Talisman. We spotted a likely looking helper in Victor – clean, tidy, spoke a bit of English – he must be worth a dollar or two! Exiting Guatemala was OK – just checked our vehicle permit and stamped our passports. Victor came with us to the El Salvadorean side and guided us along the way. The usual hangers on and beggars followed us around, a midget constantly pinched JCs legs shouting “ he he”. Believe me he came very close to being even smaller before he eventually realized that he wasn’t going to get anywhere and gave up. We paid a larger guy to watch the vehicle and off we went to start the process. On the way to import the car, we passed the border lock up – actually a stinking toilet with a weld mesh door. Three guys were being held – Victor said it was because they were “crazy for sex” – not many women about here so make up your own mind! The whole process was quite painless really but as we queued amongst the truckers for our papers, there was a lunch time shift change and the computers went down! All in all though we were through the border and on our way in about two hours – not bad BUT we did have to buy another vehicle import permit, despite the papers from Guatemala having been stamped on entry here too. Not sure what’s going on here?
Crossing into El Salvador the country looks poorer even than parts of Guatemala. Everyone seems to be living alongside of the CA2, that includes horses, cows, people drying their corn.
Coming into San Salvador was a challenge, traffic all over the place, no city map and no real idea where we would stay. Denise just headed for the centre and we navigate around the strange one way system to make it to the highlight which was the Inter Continental Hotel! She knows how to pick them! Called Roberto and Brian whom we had met on the rally and arranged to meet them the following day to sort out the Toyota’s altitude sickness!
What luxury – all the washing done, no damp, AC doesn’t sound like a Jumbo Jet taking off, swimming pool clean, soft pillows, internet and even Heineken – with a happy hour from 6 – 8 JC can drink his fill!!
Next morning Brian and Roberto were right on time. They had sorted out a small garage to fix our problem and JC went with them to meet Mauricio Hernandez who had previously worked as the service manager for Land Rover. Spoke great English and we felt happy to leave the vehicle there for him to work on. Had great lunch with the guys – Italian food – fantastic – no re-fried beans today! Then we went back to the garage where they were just finishing off. JC, Mauricio and the mechanic went for a couple of runs around and kept on adjusting things until JC was happy to go and test it up the nearest volcano – 1900 metres. Feels good – bit of black smoke but Mauricio had advanced the fuel a little bit because it was running a bit lean and they tell us that it will still meet the emission requirements for Central and South America – doesn’t look like they have any really. Runs like a different motor and we are so grateful to the guys for helping us with this and for giving us some tips and maps for our onward journey to Panama.
Stayed another day to enjoy the rest and get the web up to date before we leave tomorrow early hoping to get through two borders ( Honduras and Nicaragua) to stay in Granada but we will see how it goes – never presume is what we have learnt along the way!
Not many messages folks!!! Are you still reading this or am I wasting my time?