Tuesday, 9 October 2012

CHAPTER. 33


Well normal transmission is about to resume. Last night I had 11 hours sleep and guess what. - I am a new man !

Actually normal transmission will be interrupted again shortly as in two days time we front up at Carti in Panama on the Caribbean side to have our bikes loaded on to the Stahlratte, a 255 tone motor sailing boat that is 105 years old. About as old as I felt yesterday ! Then we have 4 days on the boat sailing to Colombia via the San Blas islands where we spend two days on sandy beaches snorkeling,fishing barbecuing on the beach and drinking rum as the sun goes down. More details will come later but the reason for this teaser is that for the 5 days on the boat we will be off the air.

Anyway now we are in Santiago in Panama with about 250 km to run to Panama City tomorrow. It will be a 6 am start to beat the thunderstorms that come regularly every afternoon here. We copped one today!

Actually it was not a thunderstorm. Let me explain dear reader. If you look at a map you see that the Panamanian isthmus is shaped like the proverbial S bend as on a toilet. Well today at Santiago we are right at the bottom of the S bend as tomorrow we head north. So what really happened today at lunchtime was not that it rained but that simply someone from above " pulled the chain ! " Hence there is some truth in the expression " It was simply pissing down ! "

To extend the metaphor further let me say that if Panama is the S bend then Nicaragua is the toilet pan! Furthermore Honduras is the " bottom" that sits on the toilet pan. However please note I did not espouse this theory whilst still within the borders of these two countries !

However this is perhaps being a bit harsh. Everywhere we went the people were friendly and the hotels nice. However the roads were some of the worst I have ever seen in my life, some of the driving was the worst I have ever seen in my life, but the real reason for this description is the corruption at the border crossings.




The border crossing from Mexico to Guatemala was reasonably fine although hot, long and tedious. We were helped by a "helper" whose service in helping us with the paperwork were reasonable .

The problems started the next day going into El Salvador. It was very hot and the queues of trucks were enormous. Apparently the computers were down. Again a " helper " attached himself to us who then proceed to " take over" and help us thru. "Certain money will have to change hands " to speed up the process " we were told. Faced with a 4 to 5 hour process we agreed to the speeding up process. We got thru in 2 hours. Then the fun started. We were presented with outrageous demands for money paid across as bribes. It was a heated Mexican standoff at the side of the road. With much wailing on their part and much gnashing of teeth on ours we left half an hour later and many US dollars lighter and quite a bit wiser.




At the next crossing however it got worse. Relatives of the last gang from the day before attached themselves to us and indicated if we did not pay then they would get the officials to slow down on our behalf and it all might take up to 6 hours instead of 3. Then dear reader it all degenerated further ! I got stopped at the start of the border bridge by three policemen who wanted to see my ownership papers for the bike. But I only had registration papers for the bike.

"Not good enough " they said

"But I only needed one document to get into the country"

" But you need two documents to get out "

"That is ridiculous "

"Aha , however if you give us $US 120 for each bike we can overlook
this little problem"

So now I have a problem

I went to walk away in disgust

The policeman reached for his gun

I had a sudden change of mind about walking away in disgust !

A quarter of an hour passed with many words exchanged

I was not going to give in

Asking for their name rank and " cereal number " did not work as
suddenly they could not understand me and could not understand
my English

A long time seemed to pass

Neither party was going to give in

I repeatedly used the "C" word. ( Corruption that is )

That did not work

Another 10 minutes passed

Then they blinked ,

There was a sudden change of mind. - we could go now - no problem any more. Little misunderstanding all over!

Well, the system stinks ! It is about touts and officials working scams together and with the tremendous array of guns on every hip in sight one's options are a little limited in dealing with this nonsense.

Note to self ? Must check sometime to see it the Reviti protective pants and jackets we wear cover protection for bullets as well !




Well there were another 5 border crossings after this. Fortunately Costa Rica does not allow this nonsense nor does Panama so these crossings were slow and bureaucratic but tolerable.

Combine all this border nonsense with 35 degree temps, high humidities , rough roads and long days riding. 300 km minimum each day and you can see the reason for the fatigue. Our longest day in this whirlpool was 13 hours including the last bit in the dark.


But there were some lovely bits too. El Salvador was very nice. Costa Rica is delightful and certainly not third world ! As mentioned the local people were all very friendly.

Nice bits too-



So tomorrow we cross this little canel thingy and technically I think we are in South America Hooray !



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