QUOTE(julianco @ Dec 4 2012, 08:12 PM)
I too am thinking of heading south this January. It's a year later and I'm brand new here, but any word from any of these folks on how their trips were?
Eegeefay: how was or is your trip?
Attaching a mail to my other road travelling friends who we caravaned with on the way down last January. This mail is the report of my solo return in September. Too lazy to write a separate mail. Contact me directly for particular questions @ firstname.lastname@example.org. Meanwhile...LIVE IT!
Greetings fellow travelers.
I am writing this primarily to assist Rob, Elizabeth and Max's upcoming adventure, but also to serve as a log for my own memory and for others who might be interested in the tales of our trip, September 14 to September 25, 2012; Pocri, Panama to Paso Robles, Ca.
I have color coded areas of particular concern. Green - indicating a good experience, worth following if presented; Orange to warn of inconvenience, some hassle or warning; and Red to forewarn of pending trouble, risk or excessive hassle/cost. Hope it helps.
Also, this record is meant to coincide with (an attached) the costs spreadsheet which will highlight mileage, fuel, distances, border crossings and hotels. It was created in "Works" as opposed to "Excel", so i hope it opens for you.
I chose much the same route we used in driving down to Panama last January, but varied it mostly to avoid some of the less desirable border crossing between Nicaragua/Honduras and Honduras/Guatemala. Based upon the sage advise of my traveling friends, Rick/Kathy who suggested (rightly proven) that the smaller crossings tend to be less hectic, inexpensive and quicker to cross. This route change eliminated El Salvador, which we could agree, was a pleasant enough country during our trip down and taken to avoid much of Honduras. But, perhaps because of that latter point, that most 'transmigrante' travelers do the same, it seemed a target for opportunistic Honduran border officials and their apparent partnered 'tramitadores' ("helpers") who we found generally more stressful and costly than they were worth.
One other reminder regarding 'the route'. Remember the 'old highway' we took after leaving Leon, Nic.? Where we went straight instead of to the left, trying to avoid Managua and found ourselves on a moonscape called a road? With pot holes large enough to swallow a Volkswagen every few feet? Ended up turning back? Well, i found it again, accidentally, coming back the other way. And before realizing it was one in the same, i covered enough distance to warrant NOT turning back. The absolute WORSE 25 miles/2 hours! ever traveled. Brutal, dusty and exhausting! Go through Managua.
Also, getting through Guatemala City was an expected nightmare. Having previewed that Megalopolis with Jeff, going down (and having some guidance by phone from his contact), i kew it would be confusing. So, thinking ahead, i coerced a truck driver at a fueling station to guide me through as he was headed for the far part of the city and could signal me where to veer off toward Esquintla and points southwest of the city. Worked out great!
Take note at what i considered the longest stretch - opposing the indications on the map, it went on and on and on...; Tapachula to Puerto Escondido! (Also the northern stretches are endless, but due to lack of scenery/trees)
Panama-Costa Rica: Paso Canoas. Nearly unavoidable - especially with a vehicle and a dog. Noisy, chaotic, dirty. Tramitadores in your face. My usual there has been Joel. He speaks good English and is straight forward and calm. However, expect to pay him at least $20. I successfully evaded the tramitadore hounding me this time, stating that i knew the ropes. The procedure (as you may know) is to 1-A) it was suggested to check the dog OUT of Panama, but this (holiday) day the vet office (off to the right BEFORE arriving at the border) was closed, so i ignored it - no problem, 1) check out of Panama with migracion, 2) go to right aduanas window presenting passport and existing permiso, they will then have you hand the paperwork to the inspector, he inspects the vehicle, signs off on it and you return to the same window to get the permiso cancelled. Then to C.R. where you check in with migracion, then (simultaneously to save time) find the agricultural guy (Fito Sanitario) to obtain and pay for the pet permiso ($8.00) and get the required insurance across the highway from the migracion office. Then proceed to the C. R. aduanas office for the lengthy process of forms and ultimate inspection.
Costa Rica-Nicaragua: Penas (intheass) Blancas.Not much choice here either. The tramitadore rules once again. I arrived on Sunday, which was used as an excuse, i believe, that the 'main' aduanas official was not on duty, nor was the Fito Sanitario guy for the dog exit. The tramitadore ("Charley"-i'm not proud of) convinced me that he could get another official to take care of both issues (for an extra cost). Nicaragua was better, but not enjoyable. Ask them about the two exploded/mangled semi trailers. An interesting story that occurred the week prior to my crossing.
Nicaragua-Honduras: Las Manos. Nicaragua exit was inexpensive and fairly fast, but still paid a tramitadore $10, Honduras entry was time consuming (mostly because of the slow aduanas lady doing the car permiso) and paid a uniformed tramitadore kid another $10. Was entertained by an interesting fellow who made 'spot-on' imitations of various animals. His best and favorite were a large dog, a small dog, a burro and a cow. But also did a rooster, pig and more. Worth watching and listening to during the wait! There was a fee (250 limpiras?) for the dog permit, but of little importance to them as far as health cert., etc.
Honduras-Guatemala: Copan Ruinas/El Florido. The easiest and best of all. Maybe because there were NO tramitadores? Very nice official in Honduras Aduanas (early morning!) completed the permiso cancellation and the migracion official stamped me out in 10 minutes. Both stated that there was nothing to do regarding the dog. Entry to Guatemala was equally calm, but a bit more lengthy as the aduanas official seemed new - asking questions of the others throughout the ordeal. He inspected the truck quickly, asked about the dog and paperwork from Honduras and, when i told him that they told me there was nothing to complete, he too waved the dog on. Great!
Guatemala-Mexico: Ciudad Hidalgo. This is where we crossed in January. Exiting Guatemala was a breeze, but i got there too early and had to wait for them to open. Once the aduanas official did arrive, he was one of the friendliest and calm people i've met yet. Entering Mexico was not quite so simple. An agriculture interrogation and inspection led to the confiscation of the rest of Grady's eggs. Not such a bad thing since, after covering some very rough roads, the carton - long since soaked and useless - served little protection and the remaining eggs had been raw, scrambled for many, many miles. I let them pick through the fruit and egg mess, lightening my load and cleaning out my cooler. Then came that notorious Mexican permiso process. Had to find the highway-side aduanas stop in Tapachula (remember where we were first flagged down, but did not stop until the actual border - miles away - and ended up having to RETURN to Tapachula for that sticker and deposit cancellation?). Had a difficult time finding the place. It's on the highway OUTSIDE of Tapachula as you head north...you can't miss it. It is called "Viva Mexico - Banjercito". Important. Have your copies readied for all crossings.
Mexico-U.S.A.: Sonoyta (Sonoita)/Lukeville. By far the quickest and simplest of all border crossings...with a catch. Waved through Mexico without a blink of an eye! Simple, short questioning at the U.S. side and in less than five minutes we were sailing home, smiling! Then it hit me. The permiso cancellation? S*$#, they have my $200+ deposit! I turned back within 2 miles, explained to the U.S. who seemed sympathetic and let me pass to the Mexico aduanas. (time of day: about 4:30 p.m.) "Migracion" told me that Sonoyta was too small a crossing to have a Banjercito there (but, as i thought later, isn't that where we GOT our permiso when we entered Mexico in January?), that i could not get my permiso cancelled and had to head down the border (U.S. side - later to realize that staying on the highway on the Mexico side would have saved an hour! - Thanks, Grady/G.P.S.!) to Yuma and the "San Luis" border crossing to accomplish this. Determined to complete Mexico THAT day, i headed on. Arrived at San Luis about 9:00 p.m., entered Mexico explaining the issue and was adequately dealt within an easy 20 minutes or so. Cool. Then had to get in a huge line to enter the U.S. again, was pre-interviewed by the b!$@% from hell who kept asking me about my story (returning to the border, having already crossed hours earlier, coming from Panama over land, what i was "doing" in Panama, etc.). Then said i was "different" and sent me to inspection, where Grady and were told to wait in a building while they spent TWO HOURS tearing apart the truck, looking for God knows what and finding nothing. I was pissed!! I was exhausted!!! Let go at 11:00 p.m., i had to drive at least another 2 hours to clear the border area and seek overnight refuge in a truck stop in El Centro, Ca. - 15 hours on the road that day excluding the border fiasco and two 30-minute stops to rest. Never again! At this time, i am fully concious of the whine and smell of a DRY TRANSMISSION crying out for attention...now at midnight in the desert of California!
If you choose this route through Sonoyta/Lukeville (and i recommend that you do), the Mexican Aduanas pointed out that one should stop at the Banjercito in Caborca to cancel the permiso there before arriving to Sonoyta. I was given a post-it with a more descriptive name on it but have not yet located it. When i do, i'll pass it on. It might be known as "Viva Mexico, Banjercito" as well.
Other (unimportant) observations:
Saw a cow next to the highway, on a sloping shoulder, tethered by its back leg downhill. It (as most ruminants do) believed the grass was tastier the further up the hill and closest to the highway. So there it stood on three legs, stretched out with its nose nearly on the highway and rear leg jutting outward, while cars/trucks zoomed by. Guess you'd have had to been there.
Amazing to see brand new, state-of-the-art highways in Guatemala with all the latest in paving, signage, lighting, drainage; traffic taking advantage of the higher posted speeds and yet still...cattle come streaming across the lanes at free will. Odd sight.
As a book i have states quite accurately, "speed traps are common in Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua." We know about Panama (have been nailed in the past). Found out about Costa Rica...got nailed for 100 km/hr in a 60! and "fined" $40. Another stop in Nicaragua had this pathetic officer trying to find something on me. He turned away with license and passport in hand mumbling something about 'falsified' permiso or something, stopped in his tracks within 10 feet, came back and said i could go. But before i could drive off, the sad man simply said (in Spanish, of course), "could you give me some money...for gas for my (Police!) motorcycle? I'm poor!" To which i simply said, no. That i too needed the gas to get to the U.S. It is interesting how these guys often appear out of nowhere; seemingly from the bushes, with a radar in hand and no vehicle in sight!
Must have seen 10 military or police check points in Honduras, a couple in Guatemala and a dozen or so within first 150 miles of the borders of Mexico, but almost never was stopped. Nearly always waved through or ignored! They seemed more focused on large trucks.
As i approached Acupulco, i suddenly realized that i had forgotten to buy (on-line) the required automobile insurance! Not wanting an excuse for the the corrupt police nor an accident (now that i was conscious of the fact!), i bought it for the remaining days in Mexico, the moment i could find a WiFi connection. Don't do the same! Interesting that i was never asked for it.
Pulled over to nap in Honduras along side the highway under the shade of a tree. When i awoke and crawled out of the truck, i noticed an older woman (mid '60's), her grown son and her grand-daughter (maybe 12 years old) walking down the highway in the heat of the mid-day sun. The man was pushing a wheel barrow. I proceeded to feed Grady ignoring them until they stopped to rest under the same tree. I greeted them and acknowledged the heat. The woman spoke up, agreeing and pointed out her wares to me. She was selling "loofahs" 4 foot long 'bath sponges/scrubbers" originating from a cucumber related vine. The equivalent of one dollar, i bought one and made a friend...and her day. Very nice experience.
I dare you to count the topes in Mexico. Must be over 400! I only yelled aloud, "Oh S*$#" about ten times. Not bad considering how well most are hidden by shade and unmarked. Every town has at least 3. You just barely get up some speed and here comes another town!
In general, i believe people are friendlier the more north you go (until Mexico). Also, more litter conscious, and environmentally aware. Saw evidence of this in small crowds where even children excused themselves if they bumped into you, many signs promoting litter control, beautification of parks and natural areas and discouraging/prohibiting hunting and deforestation. Mostly in Honduras and Guatemala, but also in Nicaragua and Mexico. (and, of course, Costa Rica). When will Panama wake up?
Enough with my rambling. If you have questions, write to me. Good luck in your travels, hope this helps and please do let me know when you head out and, stay in touch as possible.
Cheers and best wishes,
Joe and Grady