Things I wish I had Known Before I headed South Of Border

In no significant order, these are things I have noticed and learned along the way and from anecdotes of other riders.

  • Drinking the water or getting drinks with ice in them can be a gamble. Get bottled water if in doubt.
  • Double check the seal on that water bottle. Listen for the ‘crack.’
  • Remember the lettuce in that salad is rinsed with tap water.
  • There is a hell of a lot more good people down there than bad people.
  • Slower is nearly always better.
  • Stay off the Pan Americana at all costs. That’s where the cops and tourists and higher prices are.
  • Keep good tires on the bike.
  • A heated patched tube is as good as new if done right, and there are tire repair places everywhere.
  • Always negotiate the price if you think it’s too high.
  • Use the smile often and wave more.
  • Don’t plan much of anything.
  • Open your visor or take your helmet off when talking to cops.
  • Keep your real wallet hidden somewhere.
  • Have a throwaway/drop wallet handy. Throw it on the ground and run if your sixth sense tells you to get the hell outta there.
  • Make sure your bike numbers (VIN/motor number) match your paperwork every time you do official paperwork. One wrong number can cause a lot of headaches
  • Make sure paperwork won’t expire before you get back or you have a way of updating it.
  • Not all gringos are your friends.
  • Sleep in a hammock near an ocean breeze.
  • Try hard not to leave your bike on the street at night.
  • Take wet ones.
  • Think about the gas. The next gas station may be dry
  • Be respectful.
  • Get to know when the cops are trying to bribe you.
  • Realize you’re not on a tour.
  • Ask local people what to see; they might know some hidden gems.
  • Read all you want, but be aware you know almost nothing compared to what you’ll learn by experience.
  • Always carry spare bearings and brake pads (easy to replace sometimes hard to find).
  • Take as many dirt roads as possible.
  • Learn how to fix the bike yourself.
  • Empanadas are a great snack food.
  • Learn as much Spanish as you can before you go and take classes along the way.
  • Travel slow, see more, spend less.
  • Speed bumps/topes at the entry point to most Mexican towns, a lot of the time not painted, are a good way to get flats or busted suspension.
  • If there are topes coming into a town then there are usually some on the way out too.
  • Long day’s riding may lead to hitting speed bumps full speed that seems come out of nowhere. (see above)
  • Latin women will steal your heart.
  • It doesn’t matter how little gear you have with you, YOU HAVE TOO MUCH!!!
  • It’s difficult to pick up a 500+ lb. bike in the sand at 16,000 feet.
  • You will have the time of your life.
  • Get off the bike from time to time. You relate to people differently when they aren’t in awe of your motorcycle.
  • 99% of the folks you meet mean well, so give them a chance.
  • Don’t treat the twisties like a racetrack. There could be a chicken bus on your side of the road around the corner
  • Always greet everyone BD, BT, BN before asking for anything.
  • Buenos Dias
  • Buenas Tardes
  • Buenas Noches
  • Understand the use of the center lane.
  • Avoid backpacker-trail hostels whenever possible.
  • Familiarize yourself with the use of the HORN!!!
  • Do not be scared to tap the horn all the time. For example, blind bends, tunnels, overtaking, cars too near to you, before or around traffic roundabouts, intersections, ramps, uphill, downhill, buses, etc. Get over your North American/European stigma of horn usage. 99% of the time in the US a horn is used in anger. South of the border, a horn is used in anger, in greeting, in advising another of your presence, in scaring animals out of your path, telling your riding partner he/she took a wrong turn, etc. Use it often. Don’t be shy with it.

An anecdote from a fellow rider:

“…What you have to understand is that in North America or Europe, you use the horn to tell someone they have done something stupid. In Latin America we use the horn to tell people we are about to do something stupid

  • Be as respectful and as courteous to all military/police officers as possible, unless they are trying to scam you for something, then just act as dumb as possible.
  • Eat street food, particularly wherever there are cops or truck drivers eating.
  • Follow your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
  • Buy good gear that is waterproof before you leave, and make sure you don’t lose it! Riding through the rainy season in Central America in a pair of Mexican hiking boots because your good boots got stolen sucks.
  • Outside of good quality moto-gear, you can buy everything else on the road.
  • Don’t be afraid to stop, take a detour, or forge your own path. This is a journey (YOUR journey), not a destination.
  • Anything that can be done in Costa Rica can be done in Nicaragua or Honduras or Guatemala for 1/4 of the price and without annoying, self-righteous “eco-tourists” scolding you about your motorcycle’s carbon footprint (after they flew down on a jumbo jet).
  • When you see something you have been looking for or needing for a while, buy it right away. Do not assume that you will find a better, different, nicer, cheaper one down the road.
  • Haggle!
  • Ask for help when you need it; you’ll get more help than you’ll need.
  • Eat home-cooked (vs. restaurant) meals when possible.
  • Watch for incredibly deep and dangerous potholes. They’ll destroy a rim in nothing flat.
  • You’d be surprised what local mechanics can fix.
  • Don’t skip something and tell yourself you’ll do it the next time around.
  • A smile gets you a smile in return.
  • You don’t need to be a great Spanish speaker or a great rider. You don’t need a fancy bike or knobby tires.
  • Take more photos.
  • The adventure doesn’t begin until your bike won’t start in the middle of nowhere
  • Bring a picture of your family. It’s a great conversation starter.
  • Give small gifts, toys, candies, stickers, or business cards to people you meet. The interactions you have with the people you meet will stay in your memories far more than the beautiful scenery, the twisty roads, and the tasty food.
  • Slow down. Stop. Absorb what’s going on around you. Talk to the guy in the rubber boots leading his horse along the road. Even the most ordinary person or place can provide a memory that will last a lifetime.
  • Don’t get caught up in the moment and get drunk with people you don’t know, tourists, or locals.
  • Leave all that crap on your list behind. You will need the same stuff you use frequently here, plus your passport
  • Allow lots of time to acclimatize yourself to the altitude changes if you are going to high elevations and staying there for a while
  • A smile and a friendly greeting go a long way.
  • When you ask for directions, realize that the person giving them may never have left their neighborhood.
  • When someone tells you how bad a road is, just smile, say thanks, and continue on. It’s supposed to be an adventure after all.
  • Latin America and especially Mexico is a whole lot better than its reputation.
  • Expect border crossings to take a full day and be happy when it takes only 5 hours and super excited when it takes just 2 hours.
  • Do the border crossings yourself. It’s a lot of fun and you’ll make a lot of friends.
  • Check the papers thoroughly before you leave the border. Your name spelled wrong or incorrect VIN can be a lot of trouble exiting a country
  • When the police stop you. Get off the bike and take off your helmet, shake their hand and smile. Mostly they are really nice guys who like bikes too. Remember to get a photo.
  • Buy your maps before you leave home.
  • Enjoy breakdowns. This is when you meet the coolest people.
  • Don’t be afraid to take photos of people and things. If they don’t like it they’ll tell you about it
  • Keep an eye on the dates of festivals. South Americans love them and they’re a lot of fun.
  • Be respectful to people who take an interest.
  • If you’re interested in a girl then don’t tell her you’re leaving tomorrow.
  • Empanadas work well for breakfast.
  • Don’t buy drinks for strippers. They cost a fortune for some reason.
  • A smile and hand gestures work amazingly well if you can’t be understood. If in doubt draw it, pictures are universal
  • Shouting and adding an ‘O’ to the end of every word doesn’t “mean you can speak Spanish.”
  • Enjoy the experience of “completo” food. That includes hot dogs, churrascos, and anything else on a bun.
  • The extra fixture in the bathroom is not a helmet cleaner.
  • Bring cash. Credit is not that common.
  • ATM machines don’t take every card. Walk around and find the right bank.
  • A big bike gets you attention; a small bike gets you inside.
  • Ride like a local, which usually means on the far right side of the road.
  • It is not necessary to “fully speak” the language, but it is necessary to “attempt to speak” the language. It will always lead to better accommodation, food, drinks, and experiences.
  • Asking for help, directions, or suggestions is not an indication of weakness. It is an opportunity for others to participate in the journey.

feel free to add your experiences in the comments, especially if they are funny.

 

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Thank you for subscribing!
This email is already subscribed.
There has been an error.