Customs Office, Guatemala City Each of our four motorcycles now had 31 pages of documentation, ranging from photocopies of passports to typed forms with VIN and registration numbers. Thirteen people at 13 desks had to stamp each sheet. Mercifully, not all of the agents needed to be bribed. The strain began to show on our faces, along with the sweat. Maybe we had made a big mistake.
Our motorcycles could be stuck in Guatemala City forever and I'm thinking we should have just ridden down through Mexico. In the planning stage the idea had seemed simple enough - buy four beater $ 300 motorcycles, ship them to Guatemala, and ride as far south as we could in five weeks - but sometimes things don't go as planned.
The story begins for me in 1988. Having returned to the United States from riding around Australia, I started working on a new motorcycle adventure to South America. An industrial accident requiring two major spinal surgeries waylaid the trip but not the dream. Fast-forward to 1995. While working at Precision Cycle in Sarasota, Florida, I formulated a new ride plan. Ron Klima, the owner of the shop, Dan Ricker, Joe Erdei, and I bought four Kawasaki 550s and made sure they were mechanically sound before sending them ahead to Guatemala City. We used the shipping time to get our shots, passports and other details together and, after our wonderful Latin American paper chase on arrival, we saddled up and hit the Pan American Highway.
El Salvador to Panama City
Nightfall of our first day's riding found us on the border with El Salvador. A miscommunication sent us pounding down 30 miles of incredibly rough road after dark, costing us two speedometer cables and two sets of fork seals. We certainly couldn't afford too many mistakes of this nature. Things settled down the next day, but by the time we arrived in Costa Rica we became a trio when Joe succumbed to the wiles of a charming young waitress.
The following day we made the outskirts of San Jose by lunch and stopped in a little bar south of the city, and there we lost "Little Joe." Young, shy, and very pretty, she told him he was beautiful...and then we were three.
With a plan to meet Joe in Panama City, we headed for the mountains and began climbing to the clouds, before crossing into Panama and back to sea level and the Panama Canal. On arrival we booked our passage to Colombia and took a day to attend to domestic duties.
So here we are in Panama City, a multiracial crossroads, doing our laundry and waiting for our ship to Colombia. The body needs a rest today. Sitting here in this Panamanian Laundromat, catching up on my writing and looking out at the world going by, evokes a contentment hard to describe, an intense feeling of living in the present, right NOW, with the senses constantly bombarded. A noisy, brightly decorated bus flies by. A horn honks. Two beautifully dressed women catwalk past. Washing machines rattle and roll as if agitating their last loads. The black-and-white TV blares a soap opera as the laundry ladies chatter. Dan and I sit writing in our shorts (no clean clothes yet). A boy in a crisp school uniform comes in with his homework...He's learning English.
With a troupe of Russian dancers and a moderately sized storm for accompaniment, Ron, Dan, and I steam through the night before disembarking into a golden sunshine-filled Colombian day portside in Cartegna. We cleared customs, made our way out of town, and headed into the green mountains feeling our journey had finally begun. Latin America had been fairly hard on us: We lost Joe in Costa Rica, Dan crashed and fried his wring harness in El Salvador and the bikes were looking decidedly beat. But, we felt confident and the world was a beautiful place to travel on that sunny morning.