Adam writes on 2014-01-20:

We are currently in Santa Ana, El Salvador.  I am going to backtrack for a moment and then catch up.

JP wrote about our ride back from Semuc Champey to Coban.  To just take you back a bit, this involved us slugging up various tropical mountainous roads.  My black Kevlar mesh motorcycle jacket had white sweat stains on the outside of the mesh, which is the first time I have seen that, because I was sweating so hard.  Not long after exiting these roads, we hit cool rains, and having our rain suits packed away, and not willing to deal with them led to some pretty cold riders.  Keep in mind that we are in Guatemala at this time which is well below the Tropic of Cancer.  I was shivering and probably getting close to hypothermia – albeit, knowing that this was my own fault.

Having craved nothing else but a grilled cheese sandwich (even plastic/American cheese food product) and fries, we decided to stop at the nearby bakery that also serves breakfast and lunch.  Having ordered our sort of ham and cheese (whatever we could rustle from the menu), our toasted-on-a-grill sandwiches arrived and were tasty enough.  Following another visit to the same eatery, I asked one of the staff about the “pink stuff” which was provided for dipping your fries (papa fritas), and also used to butter the inside of the bread.  It is a combination of mayonnaise and “salsa dulce” (ketchup).  I kind of figured this would be the answer, but it is an interesting combination and seemingly popular.  Lines of salsa dulce and mayonnaise from squirt bottles seem very popular, having first shown up in Mexico served on things like roast corn on the cob, and various fried treats.  It seems like this is also a winning combination with Guatemalans and Salvadorans as well.

We saw a strange sight during this much needed warm up “food fest”.  Eating our lunch close to a cathedral, we were direct witnesses to a funeral procession, in that all of the sudden a parade of people passed by with hoisted casket, and various Chapins wearing purple outfits including these forward facing purple hats that were not unlike Smurf hats, and a marching band. I tried to find a direct reference to these purple outfits on the internet, but the only thing that transpired was that they were devote Catholics, but I could be wrong.  Even the casket was enshrouded with a sort of cape and said purple hat.  I am guessing that the dearly departed was fairly important in his circle.

Besides various processioners and at least one hearse, as mentioned, the procession was accompanied by a marching band equipped with various brass instruments, drums and cymbals.  I must admit that this was some of the strangest music I have heard.  In Guatemala, besides popular music you might hear back home, you hear marimba driven music (an instrument something similar to a xylophone), various “cowboy” type bands which are prominent in Mexico, and other types with local flavour.  Now, this funeral music was quite bizarre.  Imagine a procession, with all of the sad people, and a band following up the line playing something almost catchy, but then deliberately mixing in discordant horn lines that just sounded discordant and out of tune.

It is hard to explain, but it almost sounded like a moderately sad song done in horns with various lines being deliberately out of tune as to almost emit sounds of “failure” and “pessimism”.  JP and I discussed this later and both agreed that it almost sounded like “band camp went wrong” but we figure that it was very, very deliberate.  I might not be mistaken when I say that even the cymbals were slightly delayed as if to add tension and possibly grief.  I only wish I could have recorded it to better portray it.

The next day was spent relaxing in Coban as we had several hard days of swimming, hill climbing, and riding.  I was looking for a new rear tire and managed to scope one out.  Although our friends back home generally consider a 650CC motorcycle a very small bike, if not a beginners bike, we have very big bikes for down here.  Most bikes are between 125 to 200 and sometimes 250.  A DR650 is a very large motorcycle compared to what is ridden locally, at least by the general populous.  Our 32 litre translucent plastic aftermarket gas tanks often bring a moment of pause, discussion, and ultimately questions posed upon us (and lots of thumbs up).

The exceptions to the lack of large motorcycles observation is that some police – those not riding 200s – ride Suzuki V-Strom 650s. The other exception to this is that we have seen a quite a number of seemingly wealthy Guatemalans riding BMW 1200GS, which seem to be quite popular, as well as Suzuki V-Stroms and some other bikes, including Harley Davidsons.  It seems that you either cap out at 200-250, or you have 1000CC+.  650 seems to be an awkward size in these parts.  Around Guatemala City we have seen many, many BMWs – I would say that they represent the majority of large bore motorcycles.  We were passed by a bunch of bikes the other day on our way back to Antigua which included a V-Strom, multiple BMWs and some Harley Davidsons.  A little later we ran into some of the guys from this group.  To our surprise it was a BMW GS rider and a Harley Davidson rider pulled over at the side of the road chatting.  This is a first for me.  In North America, BMW and Harley riders do not mingle.

Having found the previously mentioned tire, I decided to sleep on the purchase.  Jenn was a little hesitant to let me do this as she figured it might not be there the next day.  It is simply an odd-ball tire for Guatemala and I was pretty confident that I would find it the next day.  That said, we returned and purchased the Kenda 761 tire for about $100 (apparently prices for tires in Guatemala have increased).  This is a bit of a discount brand tire, but not a “no name” tire, and has a bit of a following.  I takes what I can gets in these parts.   After purchase I had it installed for about US$6.  Deal.  It is between $40 and $60 to get tires installed in Toronto, Ontario.

In addition, we also bought a gallon of Shell Rimula diesel oil and did an oil change at the same little place.  Oil can be a complicated subject.  I already have a mental image of some of our readers as they start to cringe.  There are over two million “which is the best oil” forum posts on the internet.  Ok.  Who’s counting?  But you get the picture.  For our non-motorcyclist friends out there, I should mention that one shouldn’t just use “any old oil” in a motorcycle, especially ones with a “wet clutch” (submerged in oil).  Some automotive oils, arguably most in the developed world, are known to contain various additives marketed at aiding efficiency, extending engine life, and the like but many report that these oils cause your clutch to slip.

South of Canada and the US, it gets trickier to choose oil.  There are motorcycle specific oils but it is hard to get a picture on “whether they are any good”.  For example, they might be fine but they are generally used in much smaller engines which are not running a heavy load.  A fair number of motorcyclists in Canada and the US use various engine oils which are intended for diesel trucks.  The rationale for this that they don’t contain additives which are harmful to wet clutches, tend to be cheaper especially when bought in bulk.  Most importantly, they are also known to be chemically stable for hard working machines in that they are reported to last longer with hard working, large single cylinder engines and don’t break down and become thin quickly.

My casual observation here is that some of the “motorcycle oils” we are using in Latin America seem to be thinning out too much.  Don’t take this as an empirical statement, though.  So while Shell Rimula is not available in Canada and the States (at least through regular channels), it seems to be similar to Shell Rotella, which you can’t get down here, so we are giving it a go.  Note that while Rotella has been used in motorcycles for quite some time, it has recent been officially approved for use in motorcycles, at least it contains the JASO certification on the bottle.  While the Rimula bottle contains no such designation, I am hoping that its formulation is close enough to Rotella.  With that being said, I have used it before without obvious ill effect, and using decent fresh oil is sure to be a better choice than running used oil too long.

Joking with the gentleman who’s shop we were using, I saluted the pretty much done rear Avon Gripster tire and feigned a tearful gesture.  “Respect” the man said in Spanish.  It sounds silly, but it is hard to give up a tire which has been so many places with you.  This one had a little life left, but eventually one has to make a decision in that I might as well get it when I can, as if I leave it too long, I could run into issues.  Kudos, however, for Avon Gripsters.  Front tires always last longer.  I am sure that both of our front tires will last into South America.  Jenn’s rear tire, I am quite confident will finish Central America as well.   I am heavier, my load is probably heavier, and I ride with a little more “zeal”.    I think +13,000km was a decent run for the Gripster.  I am sure I would have got another at least another 1000km out of it, perhaps 2000km, but there is not reason to delay the inevitable and make for unsafe riding.  The Gripsters were always intended to be a high mileage tire for us which would be swapped out in South America for affordable, made in Brasil Pirelli tires.

Incidentally, we chose Gripster for their reputation of being a high mileage, relatively inexpensive tire.  As well, with Heidenau K60s being such a fashionable tire, we decided to “go retro” – if Gripsters were good enough for Austin Vince and Mondo Enduro back in the day, they are good enough for us 🙂  Had we used K60s would we have been changing them out now?  This is a good question which we can offer no tangible answer.  K60s are also know for being a high mileage tire.  Having a set installed currently installed on my KLR650 back home, and a set on Jenn’s old DR650 which was sold with the K60s, my gut instinct based on remaining tread was that we weren’t getting high mileage results out of them. YMMV.

For those who might be reading this blog for your own trip planning, remember that with a little planning, tires are available everywhere.  You might have to do some work to find your size, and definitely don’t expect to find your desired model, but I don’t personally think a specific tire model is going to make or break your trip.  We have been having a great time with these Gripsters.  We also see all sorts of Latin American motorcycle riders booming around on their small bikes with a vast array of different tires and they don’t seem to be bothered on most of the unpaved road surfaces we find.  During my previous trip to Latin America, in the US I installed Continental TKC80s (a well known 50/50 tire) thinking that I “needed” them.  They are a nice tire.  I like them a lot.

That said, their mileage sucks and I burned through a rear between New Mexico and Guatemala City.  Incidentally, I had left on a pair of Mefo Explorers which were the bees knees before K60s became popular and they were melting in the the summer US heat – cracking and shedding layers like a snake and I had to get rid of them pretty early.  So, ask yourself what you really need.  Are you riding Dakar?  Are you going to be doing serious off-road with that heavy bike, or riding a lot of mud and sand?  Probably not in Central America, nor a lot of South America, unless you choose to, such as taking more out of the way routes.  Later on during my last trip, I was pretty happy to have purchased very affordable Pirelli MT-21 aggressive tires for use in Bolivia, but I chose to ride some fairly sandy tracks but probably could have gotten away with something milder had I chosen more common routes.

So getting back on track here… having completed our mechanical work, we got ourselves organized for departure the following morning.  Coban isn’t that far from Guatemala City.  On the the down from Coban to Antigua, we decided to change things up a bit and try a different route as to avoid going back through Guatemala City.  We opted to take the CA5 (CA being short for Central America).  Our map indicated that it was partially unpaved.  We went for a while and after a while, slightly unkept asphalt led to mild gravel surface, and shortly mountain dirt tracks.  If you have been following our reports, this wasn’t nearly the sort of inclines as on the way to Semuc Champey, but noting that we had three hours of daylight left before arriving in Antigua with 100km remaining, and average 25km/hr, it didn’t look promising that we would make it to our destination before sundown.

We continued bit by bit, always questioning how far we had to go before we reached the “path or no return”, i.e. we have gone too far to warrant turning around.  We found ourselves in some pretty remote places, from time to time

following various local pickup trucks, and buses, and passing through some pretty removed rural villages.  The ride itself, while only moderately challenging (this is relative, of course), led us through some road construction areas which including some slightly squirly sand areas, and various mud-on-an-upward-switchback sort of conditions.  (Note again, no real problems at all doing this with mild mannered Gripsters plus my new Kenda).

After some time, the desolate mountain track turned into active “road work”, and after almost too long, it became asphalt again.  We made it back to Antigua with

enough light to pitch our tent.  Being our second visit to Antigua, and really a transit stop, we opted to crash for free on the premises of the tourist police.  This is a service offered for free and especially appealing to those on a tight budget, as well as those who would like to park an RV, car, or truck and camp.

We had a pretty basic dinner, went to bed and packed up for the ride to the border with El Salvador.  Things were going pretty well at the border — borders are always a bit of a pain – but nearing what we thought was the end of the customs part for the bikes, Jenn caught a spelling mistake with her name.  And then with her nationality.  And then we noticed that the forms cited bike models differed from that on our title documents.  We were literally holding up

more than a couple of guys wanting to process more than a couple of tractor trailer importation documents each.  Not our fault though.  If it takes three tries to get an officially stamped document correct at the expense of having issues leaving the country later, then so be it.

We arrived in Santa Ana without issue.  I have been here before.  We decided that we would look for the hotel I had stayed at before, however, we had just gone through my previous blog, as a refresher, which hadn’t cited the name of the hotel.   I had two landmarks, one being a fast-food restaurant and the other being a supermarket.  We found both and I was sure that we were in the correct area.  With the process of elimination, we passed by the area several times, carefully navigating the grid pattern – many streets being one way.  During this process, I was realizing that something wasn’t right.  I wasn’t finding what I was looking for.  I was considering that a lot of things can change over three years, but a fully functional hotel?  At the same time we heard whistles.  And as we cycled back around the blocks, more whistles.  And then a car horn.  Eventually we were met by a gentleman at an intersection.  I proclaimed “Orlando?!?”  Like an old friend (I guess we are), we were ushered past the hotel gates and led to our room from where I write.  I was thrown off as it looked different.  It turns out that our host had moved the location of the hotel (now across the street from the old location) and the old one is now a local government office.

After a quick shower, we were whisked off in Orlando’s car for dinner, and we soon arrived at a nice “pupuseria” – in this case a fairly nice restaurant which makes pupusas on a natural wood fire hearth.  It seemed that Orlando knew half of the people in Santa Ana and spent a good deal of time chatting with various people as they came and left.  We devoured our nixtalamized corn cheese, bean and mixed pupusas under Orlando’s attempted English guidance of “attack!!!”.

Having finished dinner, we heading back to Orlando’s hotel.  Besides being a hotelier, he also sells cars, as well as is trying to get into the business of importing old school buses from North America to El Salvador for use as public transit.  Actually, on the way to dinner Orlando proclaimed that “that was one of his” as a bus rolled away.  At the hotel, we spoke with his daughter who spoke pretty good English – but a type of English which was hadn’t seen a lot of practice with native speakers in a while.  She explained to us that she had private English lessons an number of years back, and kept in practice by watching US TV programs, but with becoming married and having a child, all of this had become out of practice.  As sort of a surprise, she revealed that she is a lawyer, and that her father Orlando, our host, is also a local judge.  Huh.

I think we are both happy to be here, have had some unexpected happenings, and I think that Jenn has been a little thrown with regards to her preconceptions of what El Salvador would be like versus where we lay now.  It was a very interesting day.

Today we did regular travel stuff like wash some clothes, clean our riding gear and took some time to rest.  We later had pupusas, coffee and a banana liquado for breakfast, and headed around town for a stroll through the markets, bought a few local soda pops, ate some pastries (as is

apparently our thing), said “hi” to some local daytime prostitutes while looking for a Lonely Planet recommended cafe which we decided to “not bother”, and eventually made it back to the hotel.

We are taking off tomorrow without much of a plan, so far at least.

Our Cobán to Antigua via CA-5 photos can be found here.

Our Santa Ana, El Salvador photos can be found here.