Border Crossings Hiking Nicaragua Photography Ride South Travel

Ride South – Ometepe

Do you ever wake up and have a moment of absolute puzzlement as you forgot where you are? Well, I woke up confused on the edge of the water as the I heard the sounds of livestock and splashing. I’d forgotten where I was for a moment. 


Ah, I am on Ometepe. A farmer brought his cattle to the lake as I rubbed my eyes.

I had two days to really explore the island. A small road circles the two volcanoes, which isn’t longer than 80 kilometers. With the bike, you can easily see it all in a day.


I packed up my camp and almost immediately crashed as I steered the bike in some deep sand on the way out. Fun stuff, sand. The weather today was perfect:

On the east side of the island, the pavement ends and I’m once again in dirt road heaven.



So nice to take it easy and just go sightseeing. I did have a near-accident when I waved at some locals while coming down a steep hill and a dog suddenly jumped out of the brush. He missed my front tire by a few inches at most.

Of course, with the leisurely pace and hot weather I’d left my armored gear at home, so a crash would’ve cut me up pretty bad on the rocky dirt road. That would’ve really had me feeling like a moron.

The roads on the ‘backside’ of the island were described to me as being barely passable and a difficult ride, and I found them a breeze. I suspect it’s highly dependent on the weather conditions, but once again people made things sound a lot worse than they really were.


Looping back to where I started, I discovered there was a spot called Charco Verde, a park and butterfly sanctuary. A good opportunity for some hiking and saying hi to the locals:

RIDEEARTH-1004624 It’s a stunning little park with a beautiful tiny lake. I wish the tiny lake had a small island — that would make it an island on a lake on an island in a lake!


More friendly Ometepe natives:


Lots of gorgeous butterflies here, but they’re rather hard to photograph well. They just won’t sit still!


The longer hiking trail spits you out at a beautiful black sand beach with a view of the other volcano, Volcán Maderas.


Going back on the trail, there’s also a beautiful rocky outlook that overlooks the entire lake.


Some friendly locals chatted with me about my ridiculous oversized dirt bike and gave me a nice parting gift:


As a base of operations for the next few days I figured I’d go a little nicer than a campsite and get a hostel bed. My requirements were simple: some power, running water and a good bar. Little Morgan’s had all of those, and a nice view from the ‘crow’s nest’ tower in the middle of the property to boot.


After dropping off my heavier camping gear I checked out some of the beautiful dirt roads the locals use for their cattle and farming.


Volcán Conception:

RIDEEARTH-1004668It was a gorgeous sunset. The volcanoes seem to always have their head in the clouds.

Volcán Maderas:

Every now and then a farmer would come by with his cattle, amused at the weirdo riding these roads for the fun of it.


They sure picked a great spot to be a farmer!

Some of the fellow travelers at Little Morgan’s told me about pizza night at El Zopilote, a sort of hippie-hangout-cum-hostel that was a short walk up the hill from our hostel. I hadn’t had pizza in a while, so that sounded brilliant!


El Zopilote seemed really nice. It lacked the riveting action of Little Morgan’s bar, though, which was the kind of place where you’d see people from any nationality and walk of life getting drunk together and making terrible life choices. Exactly my kind of spot.

The ‘tab’ system of Little Morgan’s is unique: when you arrive you just kind of open a tab, and then you just pay for all your drinks and food at the end of your stay. It definitely has potential for forgetful-drunk sticker shock, but it makes it very easy to just order a few rounds.


It’s very easy to make friends in a setting like this, which is exactly what I did. I needed a few friendly faces to go hike the volcano the next day!

After far too many drinks we all hiked up to El Zopilote at 5 AM to start our hike. We got a few pre-made sandwiches to pack and hiked out of the Zopilote property and through adjacent farms.


It turns out the forests are also grazing grounds for local cattle!


The dry dirt and low shrub of the rest of the island disappears quickly to lush forests and wet, clay-like mud on the slopes of the volcano. A beautiful view at our first rest stop:


Unfortunately, it was a bit cloudy this morning. These cows don’t seem to mind, though:

RIDEEARTH-1004707They must’ve won some kind of cow lottery to get to live in such a place!

Some of my newly-made friends mentioned that it was recommended to go on a group hike with a tour because the trail was easily lost. I can attest to that: there were a lot of different trails, and it was a pretty minimally maintained trail up the mountain.

And before you know it, we hit the clouds that always circle the top of the volcano.

Clouds on fertile volcano slopes like this create a unique biome that countries like Costa Rica are so well known for: cloud forests. These kind of jungle forests have an absolute cornucopia in species living in and on the trees. The plentiful water in the air and sunlight creates a veritable explosion of life.


It also makes the hike a fun muddy affair, with high moisture and water dripping off every plant:


One of the most stunning forest hikes I’d ever done. The photos make it look very easy, but it was a very stiff hike.


As I was both out of shape and taking lots of photos, I was at the tail end of the pack, but my friend Nick from Baltimore didn’t mind. He was great company and a nice bright red reminder for me to keep my pace up.


These hiking sticks were very nice on the steep uphills!


The last thirty minutes were extremely cloudy, wet, and muddy. We came on a site of a landslide, which was a fun demonstration in the classic Central-American lackadaisical attitude to safety: when one of the members of our little hiking group asked what would happen if you slipped on the ultra-slippery muddy slope, the guide kind of shrugged and said ‘You’d probably die’.

I guess we should probably not slip then!

RIDEEARTH-1004785After a seriously tough hike we finally went downhill for about 10 minutes to hike into the volcano’s crater, which had a lake in it. Still covered in clouds, the view was… anticlimactic.

But the sandwich was the best I’d ever had in my life. Nothing like hiking for a good six hours to work up your appetite. I even ate the little bag of mayonnaise it came with, which Annina and Nick found extremely funny. They later sent me a love note written with mayonnaise.


My camera got a real workout in more ways than one. I should probably invest in a waterproof camera?


Eh, it’ll be fine. I hope.

I took a quick portrait of one of the hikers on the way down (I forget her name):

And would you know it, barely any clouds by noon. All the hikes tend to start so early because it’s such a lengthy hike down, which would be difficult to do in the dark. Apparently some absolute madmen do a hike of both in one day, which I found absolutely inconceivable.


Nothing but gorgeous nature on the way down:


And here’s the rare image of the guy behind the camera, happy with the mayonnaise in his stomach and the prospect of celebratory beers at the bottom of the hill:


I spent the last night with Annina and Nick from Baltimore, which were a lovely couple of gregarious and wonderful humans. We ate curry at a restaurant down the street and talked about life, Baltimore, San Francisco, and art. There’s so many inspiring people in the world, and I’m incredibly grateful that I somehow always end up making friends with them when I am on the road.


The next morning it was time to pack up the bike and head out of the country. The next day, my girlfriend was arriving in Costa Rica and we’d get started on putting this trip on pause.


I said goodbye to all the chickens, dogs, cats and pigs of Little Morgan’s and paid my tab and rode back over the airstrip:

I got yelled at for stopping there this day. I guess that isn’t the best of ideas.

The ferry back from Ometepe has an additional exit-tax fee that you pay. I felt like I was just getting swindled, but upon looking it up I found it’s really a policy. Just a heads-up!

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Today would be a quick ride, but of course I’d budgeted essentially a full day for the border crossing. This was also the biggest border crossing I’d ever attempted to cross; typically I go for the smaller border crossings where fewer people cross to avoid the crowds. This time, I was right on the Pan-American highway.

The Nicaraguan side’s vehicle administration has perhaps the most bizarre layout:


Exiting Nicaragua was a very annoying and lengthy affair. Some would probably describe it as a pain in the ass. I had to find a customs official and a police officer to sign off on some documents, and take it to a variety of offices to get copies and more signatures before they could cancel my temporary vehicle import documents.

Once I was done with that, they happily stamped my passport and sent me on my way. A military police officer at the border stopped me as I tried to ride out, asking for my new border office signature collection — which they’d taken at the hilariously empty office. A ride back and I got the papers and we were all set to enter the absolute nightmare that was the Costa Rican side:


Ah, Costa Rica was popular! I was astonished to find it entirely different than the previous crossings, however: people spoke English, the offices looked more like a US border crossing, and it was all handled rather efficiently despite the crowds.

That illusion of organization quickly fell by the wayside when I had to get paperwork done for the bike, though, which had me sent to a little back office where I had to jump between three different dudes until a trucker helped me with the exact paperwork I needed to get the bike into the country.


I rode to Liberia and promptly broke my camera’s sole battery. It’s a good thing this trip was about to be put on pause…

Motorcycles Nicaragua Ride South Travel

Ride South – Nicaragua

While it wasn’t quite a full day, the border crossing into Nicaragua had taken a bit more time than I would’ve liked. As I mentioned before, when it comes to Central American border crossings, it’s best to assume they’ll take quite a bit of time. I ‘budget’ about a day to cross one; if it takes less time than that, then great; I’ll use that time to explore and find a nice spot. 


So hey: Time to find a nice spot with the time I had. After the border, the terrain changes a bit. You ride through stunning forest on a beautiful road (really, I was shouting into my helmet how amazed I was at the quality of the pavement). Wonderful twisties sling into slowly into lower, drier land and you’ll eventually hit the town of Palacagüina. I made a gas and snack stop and weighed my options. I’d heard nice things about Léon, and it was a fairly quick ride there. 

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It was 2:13 PM. Doable? I guess I’d find out! 

I passed through some areas where the locals were burning fields and it created some very cool light for a motorcycle glam shot or two:


Nicaragua really enchanted me with gorgeous landscapes out of the gate. Things got a lot more monotonous and dry as I progressed south-east, until I turned onto Nicaragua Ruta 26, a somewhat straight-shot two lane road right to Léon. 

Out of many rides through Central American countries, for some reason, this particular stretch really stuck with me. I don’t know if it was the unique, purple and orange light that preceded the sunset that started casting itself on the small, makeshift homes between the thin forests that lined the road or the interesting pockets of dwellings I rode by. It might’ve been the looming turrets of volcanic buttes and mounds that dotted the landscape in the far distance, making for an alien and new landscape, or the entirely-new shade of volcanic brown that the soil took on.


Either way, it felt magical; a really unique, and different place to be riding, which was nevertheless ruthlessly casting longer and longer shadows as I rode through it. 

It wasn’t looking very good for me. I was racing the sunset. It’s not a race I won.
In my resignation, I pulled over and took a few shots of the ridiculous view. I was on a small two-lane road, which a clear view of spectacular volcanoes on my side; the brilliant orange—yellow sunset light creating a for-once harmless conflagration of their slopes, a light-show that defied superlatives. Stars were already visible and barely a car passed by while I sighed into my helmet. 


I kept riding, feeling like a bit of a moron. I remembered how things turned out in Honduras and I decided against pressing on. I pulled into a marked turnoff for a small town. 

I often use previous ride reports, tips from friends and other travelers or something like iOverlander to find a nice spot to stay. I had no data, so this was going to be a fun adventure. I barely knew where I was. That made my first order of business was finding a bit of food and a beer. 

At the restaurant, I asked the locals who were extremely surprised to see a giant space suit wearing gringo if there was a hotel in town. There was one! Just… one. With two rooms. I was happy to have a spot and wandered the town, which was having a religious parade of some kind:

It was impressive and I would’ve loved to find out more about tit, but after a solid 500 km day it was time for some rest.


The sole restaurant / cantina of sorts in town wasn’t open for breakfast so a quick load-up in the blazing Nicaraguan heat and I was off to go to Léon. I could go on the main road, but it looked like there was a trail into town that was dirt…


Easy choice! I did run into some traffic, so some lanesplitting was required:


The road wasn’t incredibly scenic as it was dug into the landscape, but it did have some fun technical bits with rocky parts and deep sand in addition to cattle dodging. In about an hour or so I was in Léon.

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Hmmm, dirt. I love it. I had washed off some of the previous dirt with some low water crossings and it was now time to properly dirty it again.


I made a quick stop for breakfast in Léon and decided to push on for Granada. It looked a bit more fun than Léon, which I didn’t find all that appealing.

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 1.17.51 PM

Granada is a beautiful town, reminiscent of Antigua Guatemala. I settled on grabbing a spot near the lake to explore the town and relax a bit.



Colorful buildings with volcanic backdrops; the Central-American speciality. Granada has a bustling center, but if you’re staying near the water you can explore it without having to put up with the overly-touristy buzz of the main square.


The weather took a turn for the worse later in the day.


I took the early afternoon arrival to grab local fish lunch, walk around and generally relax a bit. The pace of the last few days had been intense, so it was nice to kick back. At night, I met a few other overland travelers and had a pleasant dinner with them in the touristy-but-fun-bustle-y center of town and even drank a few (good!) local brews.

It’s great that microbreweries are just about anywhere now, which makes for better drinking than a dozen of Nicaraguan’s regular Toña lagers.


Relaxation day was over, and since I budgeted only one day to get from Nicaragua to Costa Rica and my girlfriend was coming in on the 22nd, I had some time to explore something I’d really wanted to go explore: the island of Ometepe.


It’s a quick jaunt down to San Jorge from Granada, where you can grab a ferry to the island. Ometepe is a volcanic island, formed by twin volcanoes that pop out of the massive lake Cocibolca.

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Ferry tickets are bought at the dock.

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This is why you bring your own ratchet straps, folks! It’s worth noting there’s two different ferries, but the other one isn’t exactly great for vehicles; it’s a much smaller boat. You might be able to get a motorcycle on it, but it’d require some skill.

Anyway, for this one the price was 50 cordobas for a person and 420 (heh heh) for a vehicle. After chit-chatting with some of the people on the dock (with a Toña or two) and talking shop about bikes they simply let me on the ferry for free.

They even let me play Captain for a bit:

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I like Nicaraguans.

While it was a bit windy and choppy the day before, today was smooth sailing with some white-heads and rocking but nothing terrible. A beautiful view of the island was paired with intermittent rainbows of light casting through the lake waves the bow was smashing through.


It was already getting a bit late by the time we made it to the dock. Longer shadows cast from the ship and golden light was playing all over the island.

I travel rather spontaneously, so I hadn’t really looked into where I should stay or eat. As the sun was setting, I found myself on a far more important mission: Finding the best possible spot for watching the sun set into the beautiful, vast lake. I rolled off the ferry and quickly zoomed through the tiny port town and onto the ring road that loops around the volcanoes.

I came across the island’s airstrip, which you get to drive on — a first for me!

A short distance down the road from the airstrip was a dirt trail, leading to two farms near the water.

RIDEEARTH-1004576I asked the (also motorcycle owning!) owners if I could pay them to stay on their beach and they happily welcomed me, offering me food and a beautiful spot to pitch my tent and watch the last rays of sunshine lick the faraway mountains as the weather cooled.


This will do.

Border Crossings Honduras Nicaragua Photography Ride South Travel

Ride South – Honduras: Copan Ruinas

I set an alarm to wake up early in the morning to get a solid breakfast in and check out Copan Ruinas before it’d be swarmed by the less dedicated (and more flush on time) tourists. RIDEEARTH-1004205

I had the hilarious privilege of taking a tuk-tuk to the site — I really wanted to ride one and I didn’t really feel like having my bike at a tourist-heavy site where people could rummage through my stuff or steal my jacket. I hopped in one in the main square of Copan and we booked it through town.

RIDEEARTH-1004209I think the reckless abandon of tuk-tuk and scooter / small motorbike riders in places like Honduras is a true inspiration. The guy could really ride, and it felt like really lifted a wheel off the ground in some turns. Other tourists might not appreciate the stomach churning ride as much as I did. I thought it was awesome and over far too quickly. 

The Copan site is a marvelous example of Mayan architecture. While it looks like an overgrown ruin, it was a site of worship from the 5th to 9th century AD. Kind of bizarre to think that as little as 1100 years ago, the site that is now the ruins of Copán was a living city.

At the main site of Copan Ruinas (which is right on the highway as you exit Copan) you pay an entry fee and then walk into the park. Most people opt for a tour, which I’d probably recommend. While there’s signs around that can inform you about what you are looking at, if you’re with a few people the extra background is probably fun to hear about. 



I was so early (and had no fixed plans) that I was actually the first person at the site. It was marvelously, splendidly, absolutely empty. I was blissfully alone in what looked like an overgrown Mayan temple site. Or so I assumed. A dreadful roar rang through the jungle trees and smaller birds flew off as the roar increased in ear-piercing intensity. 

I assumed it was some god awful jungle predator or perhaps a person being murdered, but it was the combined cries of the scarlet macaws that call the ruins home. Some apparently live in a small fixed home on the perimeter of the site and they’d all flown to the tree that grows out of the top of the largest ruin on the site. Gorgeous creatures to look at, but they make the absolute worst sounds.


I wandered around the site and really marveled in some of the preserved details and massive scale of it all, with beautiful views of rolling jungle from some parts of the temples, until I left the site in a sort of roundabout way.



It was interesting to fantasize about how differently things could’ve looked if the Mayans had developed their cities in parallel with ours and weren’t destroyed so thoroughly by many factors; Copan, like many other Mayan sites, fell before the Spanish conqueror even appeared.

RIDEEARTH-1004317 RIDEEARTH-1004345Some theorize it was because of a catastrophic famine, but there are many theories abound. It’s interesting to think that in a different parallel universe, these temples stand tall, pristine, in the center of a large modern town like the magnificent cathedrals of Europe. 



That looks out over rolling jungles.


A small walk East of Copan’s main ruins site is a much smaller, still-overgrown site you can visit for a very modest fee. This is a site that is under active investigation and excavation, with small portions of it excavated and visible. It’s fascinating to me to see how people work to excavate and preserve this crucial piece of human history, and I’m happy that even in an exceptionally poor nation like Honduras people seem to understand the gravity of sites like these and the need to protect them. I hope it stays that way. 


Next to the site, it’s life as usual.


Who knows what still lies buried beneath the adjacent fields?


It was getting hotter and the sun was rising in the sky, so I decided to grab a tuk-tuk back (weeee!) and ride out. Right after Copan, the highway gets… fun. Dirty and fun. 


The truck here didn’t have as much fun as I did. 

Given my short time and reading a bit about the rather high homicide rates in Honduras, I decided to kind of skip Honduras. Outside of Copan, Honduras does offer some great spots with wonderful nature, great scuba diving and more, but I wanted to get to Nicaragua and take enough time to cross the borders ahead. 


I was somewhere halfway in Copan when it finally happened: the cops stopped me on a long stretch of road. Observant readers have have noticed that outside of some military checkpoints in Baja and near Matzlan we haven’t really had any encounters with cops. Many people have horror stories of being extorted or having to bribe their way through countries in Central America, but we’d been spared — so far. 

The car appeared in my mirror and flashed its lights. It was an official looking vehicle with some heavily armed military police toting machine guns, so I was cautious but accepted being pulled over. As it happens, around the bend was a checkpoint with a bunch more military police looking types. 

I had been making good time across Honduras. Really good time, actually; I was going pretty fast. I enjoyed opening up the throttle on empty and clear stretches, where I could safely use my 1200 cubic centimeters of engine which usually just weighed me down on fun trails. 

“Hola amigo!” I yelled, all smiles as I took my helmet off and the cop walked up. He fired off in rapid Spanish: “Do you know how fast you were going?”. I laughed a bit and answered “No, sorry. Is there a problem?” 

Some of his friends spilled out of the car and they rapidly surrounded the bike. His friends at the checkpoint had also taken an interest at the scene and were all walking over. I was doing mental math in my head. I wasn’t sure if I had enough cash to pay all of these guys off if they wanted a bribe. And who would I even bribe? I was such a newbie at this stuff. I’d probably screw it up and end up with a mess on my hands. 

Without answering my question, the cop asked me “How many CCs?” with a curious look thrown at the cylinders sticking far out my bike. The crowd of seven or so military police was circling my bike like a group of curious sharks. “M- Mille dos ciento!” I said enthusiastically. Twelve hundred! Questions were now being fired at me from all directions. How fast does it go? What brand bike is this? It’s super fast isn’t it? Where are you coming from? What is this? What does this thing (my Spot beacon) do? We chatted a bunch, and it seemed they were all just getting a kick out of this weird gringo on his giant bike. They offered me a cigarette and I declined and asked if I was OK to leave. “Si, si, claro amigo! Buen viaje!”

And with a wave and some laughter from the cops (and a few stickers lighter) I roared off, taking extra care to really rip as I departed. Sometimes your encounters with the police can be fun. I’m sure others have had nightmarish encounters, but I felt like my friendliness and being utterly unintimidated probably helped me a bit. The other part that helped was having a fast bike. Fun times! 


Honduras wasn’t quite as small as I’d assumed, and I was forced to retire my lofty goal of making it across the country in one day as it got dark as I was riding out of a gorgeous mountain pass near Comayagua. 

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The roadwork had delayed me quite a bit, and I felt tired. I’d gotten in two near-crashes that day, which were my only ones so far, and I felt like I was pushing myself too hard. On top of it all, I was too generous in estimating my progress for the day, so I ended up riding after sundown in a crappy outskirt of a larger town. It was sketchy-feeling, and the gas station attendant told me to get the hell out of that area. After getting a tip from him (a very friendly local) I rode up out of the barrio and found a decent hotel with safe parking near the town square of Comayagua. 

I think on any motorcycle trip, regardless of your pace or schedule, you’ll have days where you feel like you’re pushing yourself. It’s entirely OK to do so, but there’s also times where you realize you push yourself too far. For me, this day was one of those days. In an unknown country, which already had  many risks, I basically traded more risks for getting somewhere a bit faster. That tradeoff is simply never worth it. Don’t do what I did. 

The border was three more hours of riding away. I hit the bed and instantly passed out. 



Still on the early-morning rhythm of my Copan trip, I woke up nice and early the next day and rode out of town quickly. The road to the border was a quick and easy shot straight across Honduras, and some nice scenic curves spit me right out near an absolutely massive procession of trucks that probably went on for miles. 


When I run into traffic like this at a border, I just ride up past them. Trucks and other traffic usually gets a different type of treatment than ridiculous motorcycle touring gringos, and if they don’t they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms. My assumption was correct. 


The Honduras/Nicaragua border is a fairly straightforward affair, but you do have to take some time for it. On the Honduran side, I ran into what must’ve been the biggest pack of ‘helpers’ I’d seen on my trip so far which I had to practically swat off. Once at the passport control, I met a rather unmotivated team of customs and border control people that weren’t spectacularly happy to tell me what to do or how to go about it.


Regardless, after about an hour of talking to various desk jockeys I got myself stamped out of Honduras — less than 48 hours after getting my entry stamp — and I was on my way to Nicaragua.


I met a jolly bunch of helpers on the Nicaraguan side which I only used to find someone to change my Honduran money into something Nicaraguan. For once, I had no data service, so no way to check the exchange rate. I just went with what the guy suggested as a rate and later found out it was surprisingly reasonable. 

The basic Central American business is done entering Nicaragua: a ‘quick’ passport stamp (there was a line of perhaps 50 people this time, and they took a break halfway into processing them), and vehicle import work. They once again diligently checked the VIN on my bike and all the paperwork. They made errors three different times on the documents, forcing me to ask them to fix the VIN and my name until it was completely accurate. Never settle for a slight inaccuracy of one character on your document as it can cause a huge headache down the road as you try to exit. 


Nicaragua also had me go to a set of tents to get fumigated (well, the bike did…) and to get insurance. With insurance and a fumigation paper I went back to the vehicle import window and they quickly processed my paperwork. “No copias?” I asked, incredulous. No, the customs officer said with a smile; he’d do them himself, no need. That was a first. As he copied the paperwork I snuck a Ride Earth sticker under the window and I rode off. 



Thumbs up!

Total time for the border crossing: three hours. 


I rode off from the border, grabbing a drink from some friendly merchants who were selling refreshments to the tired truckers trying to make their way into Honduras, and smiled as warm Nicaraguan forest air flowed through my helmet. This was going to be a good country, I could feel it.