Archive for the 'El Salvador' Category

Border crossings and lots of new pals

Kilometers this post: 541

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We’ve crossed three borders since last we posted, and have lots of stories and impressions to share. We spent our last days in Guatemala back down in banana-growing country, riding through the south-eastern corner at a lower, hotter altitude. During our last few days, we had the good fortune to run into several bike tourists. At the same time! Luis from Mexico City is taking a year to ride South (see his blog at, and we hope to meet up with him again down the road, since we got along like peanut butter and bananas. Barbara and Achim from Germany arrived on the scene as we were hanging out with Luis, and we all rode together for a very little while. Chatting with these folks in the shade, though, inspired some ongoing musings about how many bike tourists there are around us at any given point, and how many different ways there are to do a trip like this. Some riders stay on dirt roads 100% of the time, some stick to pavement. Some ride only mountains, others only flats, and still others take a bus any time there’s a climb. There are those who ride over 100km every day, and those who average more like 40km, and everything in between. We may still be in the process of trying out different styles to find one that fits, or maybe our style is simply to change it up a lot. In any case, we’ve been through a lot of phases.

El Salvador was our HOT phase. We stayed along the coast road almost the whole way through, which meant lots of mangoes collected by the side of the road, ocean views and swims, and plenty of breaks in the shade to escape the 100 degree afternoons. So many people, (bikers, backpackers, locals, friends of all kinds) had told us to avoid El Salvador altogether, but we’re very glad we didn’t. The people we met were enthusiastic and friendly, and never shy to say exactly what they wanted to us. This made for some pretty fun interactions. One guy asked us how to report a crime in the US. Another told us a story about how he almost got a ticket for peeing against a building in the US but got off with a warning when he explained that he didn’t know because in El Salvador, cops don’t pay attention to that! A woman munching a delicious corn fritter-like thing broke off pieces and handed them to us when we asked what it was she was eating. When we were eating a (giant) watermelon in the shade, a man pulled over in his car and handed us a book that turned out to be about the philosophy of the gnostics and said it was “for our journey.” We left that one behind. But still, it was given with such kindness. Of course, some of the young dudes who felt they could say whatever they wanted to Aran grew extremely tiresome, but they were generally quickly forgotten.

Seven days of riding later we were at the Honduran border, which was the most hectic we’ve experienced, but we hit it early in the day, so we weren’t too tired to deal with the crowds, lines, money changers, folks who wanted to fill out our forms for us, etc. We then had our hottest and longest day yet, making our way along the Bay of Fonseca to Choluteca, where there is a terrific French-Canadian named Simon, who is a former bike tourist working for an NGO, and has opened his house to cyclists passing through. We overlapped at Simon’s house with Sarah and Geoff from England, who are great fun, and we spent an extra day resting in Choluteca, swapping notes and stories, cooking, patching tubes and planning our next leg. We headed out of Choluteca, ready and eager for Nicaragua, but needed to make one last stop at a store for some sun block. It was one of those lucky stops. While Aran was inside the store, Andrew struck up a conversation with a Honduran who was very curious about our bikes and our trip. We told him we were heading to the northern border crossing, and he told us he had a vacation home along our road, and explained exactly how to find his house. We had gotten a late start and it was a long climb, so when we arrived at Ramón’s house it was late enough to call it a day, and of course he was thrilled to invite us to camp! We spent an excellent evening walking around to look at the sunset, drinking some wine, and talking and talking until bedtime. It felt great to speak so much Spanish at once, when so many of our recent interactions had been a bit short and superficial. In the morning, after playing on his swingset, Ramón sent us on our way with a good breakfast and a recommendation for a bakery to try down the road.

If the Honduran border was overwhelming, the Nicaraguan border was the opposite. The border officials were relaxed and patient, and glad to have some people to talk to. There were no truckers, no lines of impatient people, and only one very helpful guy who took us to someone who could change our money at a reasonable rate. We are enjoying the hills of Nicaragua, as well as the approachable, relaxed culture. No one is working this week because of Semana Santa (holy week), which means tons of people are sitting on their porches or down by the rivers in large (often drunk) gatherings, so we get lots of loud, collective hellos. One of these groups, a family, yelled to us to come join them by the river. We did, of course. We swam with the kids, and the adults offered us a fermented corn drink that tasted a lot like salad dressing and burned a little. As we were getting back on our bikes, the police pulled up and piled out of a pickup truck with billy-clubs and submachine guns and told us we needed to be careful of people who wanted to rob us. They were far more intimidating than anyone else we’ve met so far. Don’t worry, friends and family, we are not cavalier. We are careful to read people’s faces and sometimes we do indeed move along quickly to avoid something uncomfortable. It is just that, those aren’t the fun stories, and they take up far less of our time. So we don’t dwell on them. We are now in the charming northern city of Estelí, where everything is closed because it is Easter. Tomorrow we’ll go a bit further north to a cloud forest called Miraflor with 200 kinds of orchid and more than 200 species of birds. Then we’ll return to the heat of the Pacific coast once again.

Roadkill highlights: