Tiffani's Yamaha FZ-07 Tour: Central American Border Crossing

Chapter 3, Part 14.

We left the city of Hopkins in Belize, still riding high from scuba diving and reveling with the people of the village. Our route took us back across the Hummingbird highway toward San Ignacio. We had gotten an Airbnb in San Ignacio, which ended up being a bit more effort to find than we had originally bargained for. At 102 degrees with 88 percent humidity that day (according to the forecast anyways; I’m pretty sure it was actually 200 degrees and the air was physically boiling), I collapsed in our room immediately upon arrival. That night the weather shifted to a full-on thunderstorm including a dazzling display of lightning with enough cloud cover and spurts of rain to cool everything down. The weather down here might be more schizo than Colorado.

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Within the compact confines of Central America, it’s easy to nail down rapid border crossings as we continue southward from Belize through Guatemala and deep into El Salvador.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

The next morning was something pretty special. It was a year to the day that I met up with Hollywood in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and a year ago to the day that we sort of unofficially became travel partners. I always planned to go this alone, and I never in my wildest dreams even imagined I would ever have someone by my side through all this. Sometimes I can still barely believe it’s all real. Life is funny like that. As a good friend told me “It seems you find the perfect partner while doing what you love.”

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If I had to sum up my feelings on Belize in a single picture, this would be it. Nerd life has taught me that proper warrior training requires you sit under a waterfall, anyways. A road warrior is basically the same as a regular warrior, right?Photo: Tiffani Burkett

Belize had been such a breath of fresh air and a boost to my morale that I wanted to continue to celebrate the good times. And how better to do that than visiting a 1,000-foot waterfall and a national park that were, coincidentally, right next to town. We headed into the park, starting with the attractions at the farthest end, figuring we’d make our way back. Our first stop was a spot called Rio Frio cave. We hiked around the cave, checking out the pools and stalagmites before turning our attention to the Rio pools. Rocks enclosed a series of natural pools fed by the river that runs through the cave, creating the perfect way to cool off. We sat under a small waterfall for a bit so I could feel like I’ve finished some manner of epic training regime, then left as another storm rolled in. The rain in Belize seems to be random and in concentrated little spots, so after getting through the downpour we made it back to dry dirt roads and continued on to the 1,000-foot waterfall.

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The Rio Frio Cave was a very rewarding detour, made that much better since we had the whole place to ourselves. Just Indiana Jones things.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

The road in was impressively rough, but the waterfall on the other side was well worth the trek. They had us sign in on the guide book, where we learned that at 3:00 pm, we were the second group of people to show up that day. This was one of the coolest parts of this whole thing—we basically had the entire park to ourselves. Unlike in the States where every national park, while beautiful, is so crowded you’d be lucky to get a photo of much of anything without 20 strangers in the way, in Belize, you’d be lucky to find another person at the most famous attractions.

After a successful celebration, it was time to move on. We woke up early the next day and headed to the border of Guatemala. We paid our exit fee, cancelled our vehicle permits, got our money changed over from Belizean dollars to Guatemalan Quetzals, and then did the routine of fumigation, entrance stamps and vehicle paperwork. Another hour or so and we were back on the road. I had heard a lot of horror stories about these borders, between getting ripped off by “helpers” and missing paperwork. But so far, the hardest part was really just trying to keep sweat from smudging my signature after waiting in the hot office lobby all morning. This is a lot more simple than people told me it would be.

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Think this could tow my race bike to the track?Photo: Tiffani Burkett

We cruised through Guatemala, back to Spanish signs and marketplaces (it had been so nice to speak English for a while), and made our way over to a city called Flores. The roads in Guatemala are even worse than those in Belize, with a few segments on the main highway suddenly dropping off to dirt and deep holes. But this was par for the course at this point. I think I’m finally a master of motorcycle pothole slalom.

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While stopped for lunch at a small roadside eatery, we were joined by a rider from New Zealand who had spent the last many months exploring South America before riding up to Honduras where he decided to put his trip on hiatus for a while to work as a Dive Master. We were lucky enough to meet him as he was passing through Guatemala so he could renew his visa. Crazy how plans change on the road! Sometimes I wonder what I’ll end up doing down the line.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

Flores was a cool and authentic little lakeside city in Guatemala. We explored the markets, had a nice dinner on the Island of Flores, and met up with our friend Tree, the cyclist we had met on the ferry to Mazatlan and again in San Cristobal. (Is he stalking us? Or are we stalking him? Should I be embarrassed that we’re keeping pace with a dude on a bicycle?) After a couple of days, we headed out to start making our way back south towards Panama. We stayed the night in the town of Rio Dulce and then grabbed ourselves a love hotel right outside the El Salvador border. While love hotels are conceptually sketchy at best, it’s hard to beat bug-free hotel rooms with discreet garages for half the price of your average hotel.

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While it’s really hard to pick a favorite with all the twisty, crazy roads we’ve come across up to this point, the CA-3 in El Salvador made a strong and lasting impression with its flawless pavement, mild mountain temperatures, majestic scenery, and the perfect rhythm of fast sweepers and tight technical turns. I was having so much fun, I didn’t even realize we had already almost crossed the entire little country.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

We got to the border on a beat-up old road, overtaking a long line of trucks in the customs line. Crossing into El Salvador was a bit more time-consuming than getting into Guatemala, but after sitting around for a couple hours, sweating out probably more liters of water than my bike holds in fuel while waiting for our vehicle permits to be stamped and signed, we were treated to one of the best rewards imaginable: The CA-3. The pavement on this road was flawless. Freshly laid, pothole-free pavement for the entire stretch of El Salvador, climbing through twisty mountains with tolerable temperatures, and skirting around gorgeous elevated views of valleys and lagoons. There were, of course, still plenty of normal Central America things along the way, like dodging rock slides, broken-down trucks, pedestrians, motorcyclists, herds of cattle, stray horses and dogs, but as established, that’s just another day in the life, so let’s focus on the pretty blacktop.

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Cattle drive! Just another day in the life in Central America. What El Salvador lacked in pot holes, it made up for with obstacles!Photo: Tiffani Burkett

The only real problem with the road was a lack of stops and places to sleep, so eventually we veered off toward San Miguel to get some rest and prepare for yet another border crossing. Honestly though, I really love riding in El Salvador so far, so I’m almost sad we’re passing through so fast!