Advice: The Darian Gap on a Ural?
Scott Schilder is thinking of taking a used 2004 Ural Patrol from Prudhoe Bay to Tierra del Fuego, but first he'll ride it from Dallas to Belize by way of Cancun, then through Guatemala and up the west coast of ...
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#1 Dec 13, 2008
a couple of years ago I roade my Honda Valkyrie with sidecar from St. Louis, Mo, to the end of the road in Darien, Panama. I went down Baja California to La Paz. Then I took the ferry to Mazatlan.
From there, I crossed over the highlands through Chiapas to the Yucatan. Then I went through Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and on into Panama. Great trip, lots of fun, met a lot of interesting people.
I don't know If you've left on your trip yet or what your status is. But, here's my advise:
- Be sure your bike is dead-nuts reliable before you leave. Carry the common spares; spark plugs, compliance fittings, light bulbs, ignition puck, nuts and bolts, and so on. A break down in the middle of no where in Latin America can be a real exciting moment.
- Carry at least $50-worth of local currency in small bills for bribes, er paying traffic fines. The cops are crooked especially in Nicaragua.
- Carry the originals and about a dozen copies of your driver's license, motorcycle title, registration, and passport. These are for border crossings.
- Be patient at the border crossings. They'll take at least an hour, probably two or three. The guys that exchange money can be helpful in guiding you through the process, so don't do the exchange until your through the border. Once the exchange happens he has his profit and will disappear. There's always guides to help you for about $10 if you need it.
The crossing Mexico/Belize and Belize/Guatemala were pretty easy. Mexico has some organization named 'Bajercito' or something that is very difficult to deal with - the people you deal with hate you and want to make everything as difficult as possible. Banjercito collects various fees and you'll end up dealing with them entering and leaving. Say 'hello' for me.
The Honduran officials are okay, but they're everything you imagined a Latin American bureaucrat could be. When I was crossing from Guatemala into Honduras the Hondurans just went to lunch and stopped all border crossing for a couple of hours. Sucking on toothpicks they went back to work.
Nicaraguans hate you. You'll get the full treatment. They even had a drug-sniffing dog hop into my sidecar. Be warned unless you want to write a book about spending time in a Nicaraguan prison on drug charges.
Cost Rica is honest and efficient. Panama is bureaucratic but okay. Be sure to match the license nunmber on all documents to your bike. There's a pair that run a scam. Someone at the border will write the wrong license number on a form. Later you'll be stopped at a police checkpoint and have to pay a bribe ($10) to have the cop write the correct number in ballpoint.
- Don't park your bike on the street overnight. Most hotels etc will let you put in a courtyard. Plan to camp in RV campgrounds through Mexico. They're cheap, some are clean, most are safe.
- Try to speak Spanish, even if you do it badly you'll get points.
- Don't rely on ATMs for money. Carry some U.S. dollars, travel's checks, and local currency along with your ATM card. Most ATMs work with US cards but not all. I didn't find one in Panama that did and I and to rely on traveler's checks.
- The stretch of road in Guatemala from the Belize border to near Tikal is the worst you'll find on the highways in Central America. It's about 20 miles. Tighten nuts and bolts when you're done with it.
If you have an specific questions let me know.
#2 Dec 13, 2008
Hey Peter Just caught your post. It seems sent to someone- dont know who? That sounds like one interesting story!! I tried a trip like it in the early 70's & made it as far as Senora Mexico. I guess that was good enuff from your story & my experiences then. I think it mighta even ben worse back then?? Would love to talk to ya & hear more. I'm too old for that kinda shit now. Do some coastal stuff & cross state, but no real long distance stuff any more. Just enjoy riding my Triumph Bonneville & feeling like I was young again? The Bonneville helps since it was mt 1st bike in 68 & now will be my last! Sounds like one hell of a trip. If we were a little closer- I would say lets meet up sometime for a cold one somewhere in the middle? I am sure the Valkarie did the trip real well- comfortable too? Again way back, I guess one of my claims to fame was to ride across the state of NJ w/o riding on any paved roads- river to shore. Not a biggy compared to what you did. Still got the Honda after all that? Did you have a passenger on the trip? You ssaid youhad a side car? Broke my ankle yesterday so its time to elevate again. Cool story!! Capt D
#3 Dec 14, 2008
I was replying to the teaser on the main page that Scott someone was planning a ride to Darien. Somehow my reply ended up here. Sorry about any confusion.
Hope your leg gets better soon.
My trip was actually pretty good and enjoyable. I'm glad I did it, but I wouldn't do it again. The first time was an adventure. The second time would be routine.
Since he was looking for advise, I told him about where problems can crop up. That may have seemed like I was bitching about the trip in general. Remember border crossings take a couple of hours, but you'll be in each country for a few days at least. Pretty much without exception people were friendly and helpful.
Even though a few cops in Nicaragua were looking for bribes and the customs guys spent extra time checking out gringos, it was still a fun country to cross. I understand from the news that there's political trouble there now, but it's probably still okay provided you stay out of their business. Keep in mind that when you travel in another country you're a guest and they don't want your political opinion anymore than we want their's when they travel here.
I don't know what you want to know about. But I'll answer any questions you have, or at least give me some subjects you're curious about.
#4 Dec 14, 2008
It just sounded like a real interesting experience! I thought if we were close- it would make interesting conversation? My trip to senora Mex was enuff totell me of the possibilitys ahead. Thanks for the reply D
#5 Dec 14, 2008
Well, I'll jabber some more then. Tell me when to stop.
The wet season Central America corresponds to our summer, the dry season to our winter. With that in mind I left St. Louis right after New Year. Froze my ass off until I crossed over the southern Rockies into Arizona.
I camped as much as I could to save expenses. I was surprised by how cold the nights are in Baja California that time of year. I brought only summer weight gear, so sleeping was a bit brisk.
Up until I started my trip, I had a vision of rough-tough motorcyclist blazing the trail. Turns out there are lots of Ammerican and Canadian RVers all over Mexico. So the RVers with color televisons and microwave ovens beat us leather-clad motorcyclists to it! I camped at a lot of RV campgrounds.
There's always a section of the campground packed with Americans. I called it 'Little America.' The yanks welcomed me, always had beer and advise. Some of the Canadians were a bit stand-offish. I suppose they wanted to speak French and weren't interested in me. But don't get me wrong, most of the Canadians were fine. It was just a few of the French speaking ones.
There were a few Europeans in the RV camps. They were pretty much all snotty and offensive. It's funny because I've travelled some in Europe and never had that experience there. And I've met a lot of Europeans in the Carribean and never had an unpleasant experience there either. For some reason, though, the Europeans that travel in Mexico are a breed apart.
I stopped seeing RV campgrounds once I got out of Mexico. There was a sign for one in Belize just over the border, but there was no one there. Hotels in Central America are cheap, though, so it didn't really matter.
All the guidebooks and websites said Guatemala is real dangerous - even the Guatemalan gov't website. So I was expecting a bandit with an AK47 behind every tree. I didn't have a bit of trouble. Even the police just waved me through checkpoints.
A nd despite the horrible road from the Belize border to Tikal, the roads in Guatemala were about the best I encountered on the trip.
You want more? I can babble all day. Let me know.
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