Chapter 14
Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras
Don't let my trumpet sound around here like a siren, maaaaaan!!!

Don't let my trumpet sound around here like a siren, maaaaaan!!!


Greetings Team,
Long time no hear. Have been keeping myself amused. Things could be worse. Mustn’t grumble. Could be in Blighty.

Here's the News:

  • Demonstrators blockade UK oil refineries and petrol stations.
  • Paula Yates ODs.
  • The weather in the UK is turning nasty.
  • The Euro continues its freefall against the US$ and is soon to be on par with the El Salvador Colon.
  • Prince William is displeased that a new book describes his mum as an old slapper who was on everything except the Titanic.
  • William Hague gets his maiden leg-over under dubious circumstances in the Palace of Westminster. The procedure involved a garden gnome and/or a corgi.
  • Norman is no more.
  • Hurricane Keith (or is it Kenneth, John, George, Ringo or Paul?) is causing me to get wet more often than I'd like.


Of the above, the latter 2 are of interest and the rest unlikely to cause me to rush to a travel agent to purchase an air ticket to whoosh me back to Heathrow.

Me is be found, maaaaaan

Since the last of my ramblings, the wife and I (sans Norm, who was stolen the day after I sent that report in which I commented that he was attracting a lot of attention) have travelled down Mexico's Sierra Madre, checking the usual things, spent a week or so in Antigua Guatemala getting the bike sorted and learning some Español before setting off for El Salvador and Honduras, where at this very moment “me is be found, maaaaaan” on the north coast island of Utila chilling and soaking up some Caribbean laidbackness. The hotel owner has just told her teenage daughter : 'Don't let my trumpet sound around here like a siren, maaaaaan!!!' (translation: don't let me have to raise my voice, young lady!) The local patwa really cracks me up.

The happenings of the last month or so will be described in reverse geographical order i.e.: Honduras so far, then El Salvador, followed by Guatemala and lastly Mexico. Why? Because I can!

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Español malarkey


Honduras is a very green country, which comes as no surprise. It rains here more than in the UK. The people are pretty cool and on the Bay Islands they speak English (ish), which is a pleasant break from all this Español malarkey. Quite a bit of damage from 1998 Hurricane Mitch can still be seen. Most bridges are temporary structures next to their previously permanent neighbours.

The border crossing from El Salvador was a laugh. We (yours truly and a German named Volkmar on a 1986 Yamaha XT 600 Tenere - No I haven't mentioned the 'W' word yet, but might have to try to get away with it in the near future!) crossed a little used border (never used by gringos) in the east of the country. We received no exit stamp from El Salvador (there was nobody there to give us one) and paid a grand total of 60 US Cents for a 5 minute immigration procedure to enter Honduras (normally +/- 30 US$ and 3 hours). Honduran importation papers for our bikes were not available either. It should be fun trying to get out of the country again!

2 broken mirrors


The reason for this border point being so infrequently passed should have come as no surprise: On the map it was a dotted line. It took us 5 hours to travel 18 km. After learning the hard way (in my case 2 broken mirrors from pretending to be a Paris-Dakar rider...), it was quite easy... 1) Drive along very slowly in first/ second gear over some very slick paths and stop upon spotting mud. 2) Take a walk through the mud and look for the best/ least deep route. 3). Drive through very slowly with the other chap pushing/ giving advice. Through one bit we had the pleasure of carrying our luggage 500m and driving the bikes without the extra weight. A helping hand was still required! We made it unscathed, but both looked as if we'd been on the losing side in a mud wrestling contest. My next RTW is likely be on a minimally loaded Honda XR250 or similar. 300 odd KG of German 'Engineering' including luggage and Mother Earth mixed with copious amounts of water are not 100% compatible.


El Salvador was good. The people we met had an amazing grasp of geography. They knew where places like Tierra del Fuego and England were on the map painted on my panniers and Union Jacks and GB stickers failed to faze them either. Very different from the inhabitants of some other regions of the Americas. The country doesn't get many visitors and we were made to feel very welcome. The population is doing its best to forget its recent history and build for the future. I wish them 'Buenos suerte'. It is the usual story: the more tourists who arrive, the more lazy the locals become in the 'Welcoming Johnny - Foreigner - Stakes'. Antigua Guatemala is a case in point.

Todo el mundo va muy rapido

I would describe Antigua Guatemala as a 'Touristen Puff' and was more than pleased to leave after a week. Institutionalised in some naff Spanish school and staying with the nastiest of money grabbing Guatemalan families tested my alleged new found coolness to the full. However, I did learn phrases like 'Porque yo tengo que pagar?' (why should I pay?), 'Todo el mundo va muy rapido' (everybody is driving at my speed) and ' Nunca he tenido problemas con otros policias en mi viaje. (I've never had any problems with other police on my trip).

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Gun = Power

So far, touch wood, I have had no need to regurgitate these sayings to the Boys in Blue - or green, black, brown, pink etc.. Every roadblock the same format: switch off engine, remove helmet and sunglasses, smile, shake the man's hand and even if you haven't got a clue what the gibbins he is saying to you, you say: 'yo soy Ingles, yo NO soy American' (this always gets a smile!!), yo manejo Palenque - Fronterra con Guatemala (or wherever you're driving from/to....)


Basically all uniformed types (the world over) are stupid. They do however have guns, sunglasses, moustaches and power (gun = power). So the answer is: smile and lie/bullsh*t, while looking them straight in the eye. It is easy if you put your mind to it. I only wish I had learnt this technique earlier in my life...

In Palenque in southern Mexico, the wife's rear shock absorber decided to begin giving up the ghost, which caused a most displeasing 700km ride south to Guatemala City with a spring, but no dampener. The oil ejecting itself onto the back wheel luckily didn't cause a fall off. I can live with this component failure. A chappie at Bracken BMW in London reckoned the thing wouldn't make it 30 miles south of Calais. Well, it made it 30 thousand miles south (and north, west and south again) of that northern French port.

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Not carrying a fire extinguisher


So boys and girls: don't believe everything strange men tell you about looking at puppies, respecting you in the morning and BMW shock absorbers. As if to add insult to injury, while sizing up the doorway to the hotel in Palenque (I always park the bike off the street) the wife felt it necessary to deposit about a litre of 110 degree Celsius motor oil over my right leg, a 300-odd degree exhaust pipe and the road. It was quite spectacular, I suppose, but not carrying a fire extinguisher caused me a little concern. One of the hoses on the oil cooler had ruptured! Being, by now, a bit of a dab hand at fixing broken BMWs, I fished out my oil cooler bypass, modified it so that it didn't leak, attached it, replaced the lost engine oil, visited the local Mayan ruins and drove the afore-mentioned 700 clicks to Ciudad Guatemala with a purely aircooled engine. As it rained most of the way, it was actually a water-cooled.

The nice people at the BMW car dealership in Guatemala's capital city made me some new oil cooler hoses and the owner flogged me the shock off his own (private) R100GS. Unfortunately this also leaked dampener oil, so now I have his old original, rusty shock. Let's hope it holds at least a few miles.

So far in this epic episode you have heard of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. There follows a quick synopsis of Mexico.

Mexico was generally good: Cool people, cool climate in the mountains, great biking roads -except for the 'Topes' (speed bumps - these are what finally killed the shock), litter, totally insane bus drivers, 'Bimbo' bread and 'Fart' taxis.

I'm not sure whether the white crosses that are found on every corner/curve in the road came first and then the road was built to follow these crosses or vice versa. The road probably came first. Here follows a case study of how these Christian symbols come to be placed along the roadside, in order to commemorate the people met their maker there.

Bus No. 507


I forget the name of the bus company, but the bus was red and white and its number was 507. No. 507 and myself drove the 600 km south from Abaca to San Christobel de las Casas together. He overtook me downhill, round corners and on the straights and I took him out on up hill bits, of which there were many. After overtaking me and approaching an up-hill, right-hand curve (people drive on the right in Mexico) he decides it is time to overtake 3 huge trucks in front of him. It doesn't take a total genius to realise that trying to pass one very large motor vehicle (let alone 3) uphill, on a blind corner, in a diesel powered bus, carrying 50 people who have entrusted their lives in you, might not be the most appropriate course of action!! Luckily the oncoming car managed to do an emergency stop, as did the bus, and Jose El Loco, the driver of the bus 507, and his passengers continued on the correct side of the road, for a little while at least.

Give myself a 'high five'

My first major stop after the border crossing with the USA at Agua Prieta was in Creel, near the Copper Canyon, where I even managed to spend a whole day not riding the wife and went for a walk instead. The following day I drove the wife fully loaded down the switchback hillside hugging track to the base the Copper Canyon at Batopilas. That was scary! It was hot and steamy and being a mild, fair-skinned English sort, I cut a trail again the next day. On the way I had occasion to let out a great whoop of joy and to give myself a 'high five'.


The reason: I had struck one back for all motorcyclists, bicyclists and postmen. Some nasty, rabid dog took it upon himself to run next to me, bark like a berserker and try to bit my leg. However, just as he was about to take a nice, tasty chunk, my left steel toe-capped paratrooper boot was propelled with the force and accuracy of a Rob Andrew Five Nations winning penalty, into his scull. I definitely heard a crack over the sound of the wife's engine, as he was propelled backwards off the cliff. I didn't stop to check whether he could swim or even had the inclination to want to continue life in this world or in dog-hell.

The silver towns of Patzcuaro and Tasco to the south west of Mexico City were good, but Abaca was disappointing considering the rave reviews I had heard. In Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city, I contacted Estefan through the BMWMOA and he allowed me to do a full service on the wife in his garage. I got more than I bargained for:

Dodging the clouds as instructed

He asked me what I was doing the following day and offered to take me to Pacific Ocean port of Puerto Vallarta for lunch. I was a little confused as I knew that it was 5 or 6 hours drive to the west. It was however only 45 minutes flight in his private 4 seater aircraft. The fish tacos were great. On the way back I flew a short bit, dodging the clouds as instructed. It was exhilarating, but the status of my underwear shall remain undisclosed!

Norman Memorial Tour


As you have already learnt, Norman, my little 3 inch tall Toglosh/ African good luck charm from Malawi who was riding shotgun on the wife's front mudguard is MIA, presumed half-hitched by some nasty shit at a road block where my attention was distracted. I'm not exactly sure where, but there was only one real opportunity for him to disappear. It is unlikely he fell off as he was very firmly attached, but brute force would easily have ejected him from his perch. From now on, the wife and I are on the 'Norman Memorial Tour' and are in a permanent state of mourning.

If anyone is going anywhere near Nhkata Bay on Lake Malawi, I can tell you exactly where to go to get me a replacement Norman. He only costs 2 bucks, but you'd be doing me a monumental favour.

So team, over and out. Hope all is good at yours. Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama follow, before I have to decide whether I head straight for Ecuador or try my hand avoiding the ELN in Colombia first.

Norman RIP

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