After leaving Flores I headed South in Guatemala towards the mountain town of Esquipulas.  Leaving Flores and all the way to Rio Dulce, the roads were open and the cloudy day spat ran at me off and on, making for blissfully cool temperatures.  I enjoyed the ride and the scenery.  Tendrils of clouds enshrouded the low hills and mountains in the humid air, making it look like a jungle wonderland.  Rio Dulce was a busy little town, as it is a yachtie stopover and a good hurricane-hole for those voyaging by sea.  I used to do a fair bit of sailing and I remember reading that many yachts spend hurricane season there, where they are safe from the ravages of mother nature.  I didn’t stop though, as I had a fairly long day and wanted to make Esquipulas before dark.   

Not far past Rio Dulce, I came to the intersection with CA-9, and I encountered some horrendous traffic headed Southwest.  Big Rig trucks, interspersed with cars and motorycles, lined the road in both directions for tens of miles.  Being on a motorcycle, negotiating traffic is at least a bit better than being stuck in a car, as long as you have patience, nerve, and situational awareness.  The patience comes in when waiting for a safe break in oncoming traffic to get a little further down the road.  The nerve comes in when going down the right side, outside of the traffic, or making your way between the stopped traffic, sometimes with barely enough room to scrape between to semi-trucks trailers that are both stopped, hoping nobody moves another inch towards you.  And the situational awareness is always important, keeping an eye on everyone and everything that is a potential threat.  

After about 20 miles of this I finally came to an end of the traffic and continued on, now under cloudy but drier skies.  At a gas stop I noticed some guys washing cars and motorcycles by hand to the side, so I asked how much.  It was only about $2.50 for a wash, so since Bella and I were both filthy from the road spray, I had them give Bella a good wash, and spray me down with the power washer.  Of course it started raining again not long after I left the service station.  

Wanting to get off the main highway and having found a small parallel road that went on for about 20 more miles, I took Bella into the hills and found that the small road turned to a very fun dirt road.  The rutted road took me through some beautiful countryside and across several small water crossings.  Occasionally I would come across people walking the road with bundles of firewood on their heads, and also the occasional small motorcycle and rider.   As always, Bella handled it all with no fuss.  She is equally adept on the road and off, and I was glad I had chosen her to take this journey with me.  

We rejoined the paved road at the town of Zacapas, now on CA-10 and winding our way up into the Guatemalan mountains.  The twisty two-lane road wound up and down through the hills and valleys, climbing slowly into the mountains of Chiquimula.  Often I would come upon a big rig or two slowly chugging their way uphill, in first or second gear and barely moving, a line of cars stuck behind them.  As soon as there was a break in oncoming traffic, I would leap-frog my way to the front of the line, pulling away from the line of cars and trucks and happy not to be stuck going five mph up the hill with all the cars.  

I came into Esquipulas, a town of about 50,000 people at about 4500 feet elevation, not long before sunset and rode around in the downtown to find a hotel.  I settled on hotel with secure parking, air-conditioning, and a pool in the courtyard, all for about $30 a night.  Once I had Bella unloaded I took a quick shower to get the road grime off and went out to explore the city.   Esquipulas is set in a valley, surrounded by mountains on all sides.  As the sun set over the mountains the town was alive with activity and music from all directions, chief amongst them, unfortunately, was a loudspeaker and music celebrating the grand-opening of a Little Cesars Pizza, for which there was a long line.  They must not know good pizza there.  

Esquipulas is known for the Basilica of Esquipulas, and its statue of Cristo Negro, or the Black Christ, which is one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage sites in all of Central America.  The Basilica was still open as I walked through the courtyard and into the building.  The hushed atmosphere of cathedrals always makes for a certain feeling of reverence, and, even though I am not religious, I always feel a certain kind of calm in a church.  I am always a little jealous of those who can put their faith and their fate in the hands of an unseen, unproven, and often, to me it seems, uncaring dieity.  I guess I have seen and experienced too much difficulty in life to have that kind of faith, as I see life as being random and, at times, cruel, as it seems to sometimes beat up those who least deserve it and reward those who also least deserve it.   At the very least, In this chaotic life I can understand how many want to believe in a higher power that is omnipotent in order to makes some sense of it all and to have hope for a better life someday.   I sincerely hope they find it.  

After checking out the church I found a local restaurant and enjoyed some meat and rice, before calling it a night and heading back to my hotel for the evening.   

The next morning I was up early as I was headed for the border crossing into El Salvador at Anguiatu.   I had originally planned on skipping El Salvador entirely, but, after talking with a colleague who had done this trip on a motorcycle as well, I was convinced that it needed to be explored.   As I came up on the border, I encountered the well-documented line of semi-trucks that preceded the border by several miles.  I had read to just bypass them, as they are all waiting on commercial inspections, and to just ride up the opposite side all the way to the border.  I later learned that some of these drivers waited up to a week in that line, living in their truck cabs.   I don’t see how any commerce gets done that way.  

The border crossing out of Guatemala and into El Salvador was fairly easy and I was done in under 2 hours.  I found the officials on both sides to be kind and helpful.  I think attitude and patience have a lot to do with successful border crossings.  I approach each one with an abundance of patience and as good and friendly of an attitude as I can have, and I have always found kind officials as a result.  If you are the type who gets mad and frustrated at the seemingly never-ending parade of paperwork and confusion, then you are not going to do well. 

I immediately liked El Salvador.  Maybe it was the nice little coffee shop I found at the first town I came to, Metapan, where I had a cappuccino and a pastry, or maybe it was just the winding mountain roads and low amount of traffic.  Interesting fact that I did not know, they use the US dollar for currency.  I did know, however, that their president had recently embraced Cryptocurrency and you could pay for some things with Bitcoin.  Not having any Bitcoin, I just used my dollars.  

I was headed towards Lago do Coatepeque, a mountainous lake set inside an old volcanic crater, and supposed to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the country.   It did not disappoint.  Coming over the crest of the hill and seeing the lake down below me, surrounded by the mountains of the crater, was breathtaking.  I found a small restaurant perched on the edge of the crater with a gorgeous view, and stopped for a bite to eat.   

After lunch with a view, I rode the perimeter road around the crater, looking for a small winding road that was supposed to traverse the flanks of Santa Ana Volcano, another volcano nearby, and which would take me to the mountainous Ruta de Flora and the small mountain town of Apeneca, where I planned to spend the night.   I found the small road, which was dirt, but did not get very far before coming on some very difficult terrain.  A steep hill let to a rock ledge which I would have to get up in order to continue.  Being that it looked like nobody had taken this road with a vehicle in a long time, and that I was alone on a fully-loaded adventure bike, I decided that I would practice the risk-assessment that I use in my job as a pilot and I ultimately decided that there was too much potential for things going awry and leaving me stranded, or, worse, hurt, in the middle of nowhere.   I don’t mind challenging terrain, but I leave that to my single-cylinder PR7 at home when riding with company, not in a foreign country when alone on a heavy bike.  

I turned around and quickly found a more sane alternate route to my destination and was there about an hour before sunset, finding a small, largely unoccupied, bungalow hotel.   The town of Apaneca is one of five small towns along El Salvador’s Route of Flowers (Ruta de Flores), a 20 mile long winding road through the volcanic foothills which is often lined with wildflowers, giving it its name.  Apaneca was a colorful small town with cobbled streets and a charming town square.  After checking in I wandered around the town for a bit, the only gringo there, enjoying watching the locals on a nice cool evening going about their daily business.   I had some tacos in a small food-court type building, found some churros with chocolate sauce, and then retired for the evening to my bungalow to get some rest.  The next day would be a jaunt along the El Salvador cost, known for its fantastic beaches and some of the best surfing in Central America.