13th November 2013 The Guatemala side of the Guatemala /El Salvador Border to Playa Los Cobanos
We had spent the night camping behind a comedor (cafe). I think we both slept pretty badly as it was so hot that we were just dripping with sweat in our tents all night, then there was the barking dogs, and then there seemed to be some crazy cockerels that started crowing at 3am, not when the sun started rising at 5am, like they are meant to. And so we got up, the usual routine of making coffee on our stove and we then hit the road. We faffed around at the border for a bit, changing our left over Guatemalan money back in to dollars (El Salvador uses the dollar) and buying food. It was totally uneventful crossing the border, stamping out of Guatemala, but there was no stamp for El Salvador.
I had this feeling as soon as I entered El Salvador that the air seemed lighter, neither of us know why by we felt instantly more at ease, people seemed really friendly and gone were the shouts of ‘gringo’ as we cycled by, the roads were a dream, plenty of hard shoulder. It was a pretty flat but hot day of cycling through the Salvadorian countryside. It gets dark around 5.30 so we’ve been trying really hard to stop by around 4pm so give ourselves a good amount of time to not get caught in the dark. With some local advice we headed to the beach village of Los Cobonos, following a shady tree lined road to the beach, here we rented a cheap little room and had a sunset swim in the bay. For dinner we ate what we’ve been eating for breakfast lunch and dinner over the past few weeks – cold sachets of refriend beans with tortillas but this time with the accompaniment of crema Salvadoreño, Salvadorian cream, eaten with most dishes here, but particularly good with fried plantain.
14th November – Playa Los Cobanos to camp spot near Boca La Perla
We woke up and had another little swim in the sea before heading on our way, after eating a really salty breakfast from the particularly hairy faced woman who ran the place where we were staying. It was pretty hot cycling and the coast road was pretty windy and hilly which meant that progress was pretty slow, but the route was lush with trees and the occasional glimps of the ocean. We stopped that night at a road side restaurant with an amazing cliff view, the owners were really lovely and let us eat our own food whilst we sat there, once it got dark we set up camp, we felt pretty safe that there was an overnight security man sleeping in a hammock with a machete. That night there was a crazy thunder storm, it was so windy and rainy up there on the cliff!
15th November – Boca la Perla to El Sunzal
16th November – El Sunzal
The following morning Leah and I woke up, ate what is a normal breakfast in these parts – eggs, beans, fried plantain, cheese and tortilla. It was at this point whilst looking at the map that we spoke about not riding together. I wanted to speed up to make sure I arrived in Nicaragua in enough time to meet my friends who were due to arrive in 9 days time. This discussion about the speed of travelling through these places led to bigger discussions about things that had been on our minds, about pace and style of riding and how we wanted the trip to be, Leah came to the decision of wanting to ride on her own. We had met other cyclists recently who had wanted to ride with us, so it made sense to make this decision before the end of Central America so that I could organise something. I do not want to ride on my own, but for a number of reasons it wasn’t right for Leah and I to continue together so agreed this was the best way forward.
We agreed to cycle a short distance of 20km to the next village where we could find somewhere to stay. That afternoon we stopped at a school where we heard children playing in a brass band, went into the playground to check it out, there was a dance performance going on too, it was the last day of term before the summer holidays. Before we knew it we were fully involved in the party, we were offered pupusas, cake and milk, we hung around for a while after chatting to the school kids. We arrived in El SunzL and went about making plans for continuing on our own. El Sunzal is a beautiful black sand beach surf spot where we camped in the grounds of a hostel. It seemed pretty developed with some pretty nice resorts and restaurants all the way along the coast line.
Leah and I co-owned a number of things – out spot GPS tracker, water purification stick, camping stove, pots and lots of maps. We divided all of this stuff and made photocopies of all the maps and then divided all of these. We both spent time planning the coming route. I confided in a number of other long distance cyclists some who were blazing the trail ahead of me, and some just about parting ways with another cyclist and going it alone. This is the thing I love about the cycling community, there is such a strong sense of comradeship, understanding and respect. There was a time before this trip that the idea of crossing these 2 countries, with the highest and second highest murder rates in the world, respectively filled us with utter fear. This was not however the emotion that was running through me, I guess everything in your life leads you up to the point where you are in the present, and I felt prepared.
I spoke to Phil, the English world cyclist we had met in Xela, I had got on really well with Phil and we thought we would make a good pair so he started to make plans to come down to join me. I decided not to tell my family that I would be spending a week going alone, and just told a few friends back home instead.
17th November – El Sunzal to Usulutan
The night before I had decided to pay a little more to sleep in the dormitory of the hostel rather than camping, wanting to make sure I got a good nights sleep before hitting the road solo. Leah had been woken by the cockerels at the crack of dawn so she was already up and almost packed by the time I woke up, she left without saying goodbye, but I understood, she always said she hated them. I made myself coffee and fried up some plantains before I hit the road.
It was pretty strange heading out on my own, just with my eyes fixed ahead, no one in front or behind me. My head was full of thoughts, I thought so much about Leah and our time together and everything that had led me to the point, blazing it down a coast road in El Salvador on my own, of course I shed a tear. When people ask what fills your head all day whilst on the bike, it’s often hard to say; these days riding solo were times of such clarity. On my own I entered a meditative trance, pedalling at speed through the flat Salvadorian countryside. I revisited why it was that I loved riding my bike and why this trip had been so important to me for so long, and why it was still important to me now, there was no part of me that wanted to be doing something other than what I was doing at that time.
I didn’t really stop much that day, it felt odd to stop and take breaks on my own, with no one to witness or speak to. Cycling solo does seem to open yourself up to conversation with other people, I stopped and spoke to some ladies who were selling food and drinks outside a church, I wanted something cold and one of the ladies lied to me and sold me a hot maize drink, I guess she was keen to make a sale.
My face sweating I thought of my old dad, who drinks about 12 cups of tea a day, even during a heatwave, ha ha. That evening I arrived in the town of Usulatan. As I arrived in the city and stopped outside a house, the family who lived there asked me what I was doing, which led to the invite of sleeping outside their home. The family made piñatas in their home, to sell at the local market. The house was full of piñatas at various different stages of completion, and everyone was involved in the process, the children loved showing me the flowers that they had made. The family lived in a small shack with a corrugated iron roof and no real floor, during the evening their pig, which they kept locked up outside escaped, so they ended up tying it up indoors. That night the family insisted I didn’t camp outdoors, and instead I slept in the house.
18th November – Usulatan to near Chirilagua
I can’t say I slept well, the pig was oinking all night, then the dogs started darking, not long before the cockerels started cockadoodling! This was my queue to leave, so I packed up and headed out, finding a cheap roadside place to eat breakfast.
I only had a short distance to cycle that day, about 45km to a warmshowers place. I’d left early in the morning so decided to take my time. I stopped for a while to drink a few bags of coconut water, the family selling me them on the side of the road seemed to take great pleasure in seeing me enjoy them and insisted on gifting me a few more bags! Lucky me. Later that morning there was a huge uphill lasting about 10km which was a bit of a shock after a few days of flat, I was attempting this in the heat of the midday sun, so it was pretty tough, drenched in sweat and shaking I stopped at a little shop, all they sold was fizzy drinks and sweat bread, so there was nothing for it but to eat about 7 pieces of sugary bread washed down with some sugary cold liquid! I hadn’t realised but at that point I had been at the peak of the hill, so after my long rest and refuel I just sailed down hill all the way to Jose’s house.
Jose is one of these warmshowers host which gets a steady stream of cyclists, around 1 group every 10 days! There are only one or 2 ways to pass through El Salvador so he ends up meeting most people who make this journey. He also drives for his job so ends up crossing paths with the cyclists who don’t stay with him. Hearing his stories of world cyclists, tandem riders, someone who was climbing every volcano en route I felt pretty mundane in comparison! I’d arrived really early so spent the afternoon mainly with Jose’s 2 year old daughter Xochithl (the name of the national flower of El Salvador) my language skills often seem that of a small infant, so we got on well! We went for the best pupusas I have eaten in El Salvador, it was lovely chatting to Jose, he has a really interesting story, his family fled to Canada during the civil war 30 years ago, he lived there for 20years and then about 10 years ago he made the journey on his bicycle from Canada back to El Salvador. He planned on staying for just a year, but 10 years later it doesnt seem as though he will be going back. He is the first real long distance cycle tourist that I have stayed with.
19th November – Chirilagua to Nacaome
Jose cooked up some liquidised beans and plantains for breakfast and I hit the road, posing for my first solo photo. It was another 65km to the border, thee first half through hills and villages. Annoyingly along that road I experienced my first flasher in 6 months. I was sort of anticipating this happening as saw him do his trousers up on the side of the road, his attempt quashed by another passer by, but then a few minutes later down the road when he deemed his coast was clear he was waiting there with his trousers dropped. I gave him the middle finger and hold him ‘chinga tu madre’ before swerving into the mechanics just up the road, I stayed there until he drove past, and then just up the road I rested for an hour drinking loads of coconut water. The last 35km of El Salvador were pretty dull, a case of just powering through. $2 to enter Honduras, this was the most noteworthy event about crossing the border. I met a Canadian motorcyclist at the immigration office, he was riding from Canada to Chile. He was heading for the town I was planning to make it to that night, so we made a plan to meet for food later that evening.
I’d spoken to a few cyclists friends who cycled through Honduras, Phil who has cycled around the world said to me ‘it’s not that bad but just a case of putting your head down and cycling, try and get through by just spending 1 night there’ my friend Johanne was less diplomatic, she described it as dirty, bad roads and unfriendly, again she got through with just 1 night there. However as I blazed it through the early evening I noticed no significant changes. Something I have been loving about the last few weeks of flatness is that there are so many more people riding bikes, there are lots of kids riding up and down, who seem pretty excited to see us on the road, and so it goes, they start cycling along side me, and then I shout ‘carrera!’ (race!) and then we bomb it down the road, sometimes I let them win, sometimes they are so fast it’s a struggle, one kid rode with me for a number of kilometres!
I bumped in to John the Canadian motorcyclist that night, we stayed in the same cheap hotel, and went out for some food. I asked the guy running the hotel what the typical food of Honduras was, he said ‘cheese, plantain and beans and tortillas which is what I’d been eating constantly for the past few weeks, I pushed further, I asked if there was any cakes or baked goods I needed to try, he couldn’t think of anything. So that evening I drank a few beers with John and ate some food from a local place. John spoke no words of Spanish and was getting by through gesturing! He was a creature of habit and had only been eating foods he recognised, he hadn’t eaten any food like that before.
20th November – Nacaome to Somatillo
I didnt set off until 9am as I wanted to wait to check emails in the internet café and let some friends know where I was. I wouldn’t like to make a judgement on a country based on a day of being there, but the countryside that I did see was pretty unremarkable. I stopped at a petrol station for food, attempting to bypass the city, this led to a pretty depressing lunch of biscuits, peanuts and fudge.
Taking the detour round the edge of the city of Choluteca was a mistake which added quite a bit of distance. After the detour I experienced by second sex pest in as many days, a man in on a moped stopped on the side of the road, he asked me to stop and I said I must keep going. He then cycled along side me, I couldn’t really hear what he was saying as his voice was muffled by his helmet. This resulted in him shouting at the top of his voice, he was saying ‘sexo, sexo, coger, coger’ I thought it best to pretend that I could still not hear or understand, I had my pepper spray in my hand this whole time. I was determined to keep on peddling and a few minutes down the road I bumped in to Leah, the guy had stopped her too! It was real timing bumping into her like that! We caught up over the past few days and then I said ‘shall we put pedal to the metal and get the hell out of this country?’ and with that we pushed on through to cross the border before dark.
view more photos here
- on the road