The El Salvador border at La Hachadura is a couple of hours ride or more from Antigua. We decide to go as far as Guazacapan the night before and get an early start for the border which will then be less than an hour away. As we ride the last 4 miles or so of the highway getting close to the Fronterra/border there is suddenly a long line of semi-trucks parked on the right shoulder of the road. I can’t believe there are so many and that they are just at a standstill. We pull out to ride around them and have enough room at first on the driving lane since most of the trucks pulled over to the right shoulder. But the further we go and the closer we get to the border the more the trucks have just parked where they stopped in the driving lane.
That means having to pass them in the oncoming lane when there isn’t any oncoming traffic. A few bikes ride up alongside us as we do so and motion when they think its clear to keep going. They dart in and out of our bikes and the trucks like hummingbirds and it takes me a couple of minutes, but I finally realize these are “fixers” trying to scout business ahead of the lines. Fixers are local people who offer to help you get through the border crossing process for a small “fee” and some people like them and others don’t. We haven’t used one so far in any of our crossings, but this border is swarming with lines and buses filled with tourists crossing and the dozens (or is it hundreds) of truck drivers from all those trucks.
We opt to work with one this time and see if it makes any difference. George was mentioned in a travel blog that Brian read last night in some advance planning and being the small world it is…George is here this morning in front of the Imigracion Office and we give him a try.
George helps explain the process so we make better use of our time. We get the bikes looked at and our papers stamped as we ride up to the pylons just before the Imigracion/Aduana for El Salvador which is parked in the median between the two lanes of traffic. Then we walk around back to the Aduana office to cancel our temporary vehicle import permits for both motos. We are asked if we have any intention of coming back into Guatemala in the next 90 days, which we do not. However, I’ve been reading on line that some people weren’t aware that Guatemala doesn’t allow you to return for 90 days if you cancel a vehicle permit, and that has caught some returning travelers off guard.
The agent inspects our VIN numbers on the bikes and then process our cancelation requests. That’s our two steps to get out of Guatemala – get processed out by Immigration and get the bike import permit cancelled. Now to head to El Salvador and do those two same things in reverse. We ride up the road and cross a bridge which is actually the border. Trucks are clogging the El Salvador-bound lane just as they have been the past few miles.
We get one last inspection at a tin shed on the side of the road to be sure we and our bikes are “out” of Guatemala before we proceed to the next Immigration office.
Then we inch ahead on El Salvador land to get our permits to enter the country.
Then we ride up another 20 yards to the white and blue Immigration building and park.
We get in line at the window to get our passports stamped. We don’t actually get a stamp and are advised that we are allowed to be in Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) for 90 days so our entry to Guatemala triggered that date and we won’t get a stamp in our passport since they will be using that Guatemala stamp instead. It’s a good thing I hadn’t planned on staying any more than 90 days combined in those countries anyway but I think it could catch other travelers off guard if they aren’t advised.
George has followed us along from the other side on his bike. He has an assistant (I think) who sits with the bikes but we have all our gear locked up anyway since we are both leaving the bikes unattended at the same time. We walk halfway back into the white/blue building to the Aduana office. An armed guard wants to know why we want to enter and George explains we need temporary vehicle import permits. The guard finally agrees to let us in but won’t let George inside.
The agents are really helpful and process our paperwork and inspect the bikes and VIN numbers to complete the process. The agent we worked with advised me that it costs nothing to enter El Salvador and that we shouldn’t pay anything for helpers. And while we really didn’t need to have George help us, I think he was worth it this time. When we came out of the Aduana with our permits complete we walked back by the Immigration window and two buses of people had unloaded and gotten in line. If it weren’t for George having helped us move more quickly I think we would have spent a good two hours in that line before moving on to the Aduana.
This border crossing took two hours to complete, counting both countries processing. And finally we are ready to go on. We pay George the rate we had read on line was fair – $20 USD and thank him for his help.
There is one last guard we meet who inspects our permits and then we have to pay a $5 “road tax” just before passing the pylons and getting onto the highway.
Welcome to El Salvador!