One Week: Guatemala to Nicaragua

Lunch breakLunch break
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Lunch break
 

Guatemala:
I have become somewhat unexpectedly adept at starting out on a bike. Four different times I have pushed the first pedal down, swayed with the foreignness of the loaded panniers, and aimed my bike south. One would think I would be good at it, yet each time posses new challenges, and puts me on a new road. My body is familiar with the bike, but it starts out as punishment. Each new restart trims about a week off the adjustment period, so I have another week before realizing my rhythm. Guatemala became a home, and leaving was as charged as my first departure 18 months before, in the tundra of the north. I spent two days in San Pedro looking out at the sun reflecting on Lago de Atitlan and the volcanoes that surround the lake. It went right through me. Getting there was a battle I almost lost, and it was two days of stunned, sedated relaxation to set me right again. The road, this trip, is mine; that is liberating, large, and frightening all at the same time. In San Pedro I was sifting through these emotions (a complex coupling of fear for the road ahead, and sorrow for leaving good behind in Xela) and readjusting my view of the trip.

Aboard the ferry for SantiagoAboard the ferry for Santiago
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Aboard the ferry for Santiago
 

When my head seemed squarely back on my sore shoulders and pointed in the right direction I caught a boat for Santiago and began the descent out of the Guatemalan Highlands. That drop lasted until my bike computer was reading 100 degrees and I was my own waterfall, which just happened to coincide with when I met up with the Pacific Coast Highway running through the southern lowlands of Guatemala about 50-100 km from the coast. Soon I was careening along filtering the black death of tailpipes and reacquainting myself with semis (which I have decided I prefer to most other road traffic, they spit blackness into the air 10 ft above my head and away from my lungs). Two hot, but uneventful days later, and I was in route to leave Guatemala the same way I initially entered 4 1/2 months previous; by bike.

El Salvador:
The most densely populated country in Central America came with a proportionate amount of roadside trash and a return to the smell of rotting flesh – pushed along by searing heat it permeates straight to your gut, which knots up and makes you gag. Temperatures maintained a demonic brutality, but that led me to a new first for my trip: an auto hotel, or love hotel. My day had begun at 5; I was on the road by 6. I spent an hour negotiating the border and deciphering the multitude of Guatemalan entry and exit stamps (6 by the time I finally rode out of the country), when I finally made it to Acajutla in look of respite from the heat. It was 1 in the afternoon, over 100 degrees, and the sun was blazing with all its might. The port town had nothing to offer. Dry-mouthed, I back-tracked to the intersection with the highway and rolled into the auto-hotel. I was playing with heat-exhaustion, and didn’t want to experience anything worse. I had to stop, and this was my only option. This was a classy establishment, not a by-the-hour kind of place, just a joyous 12 hrs. They pondered my predicament, maxed out their math knowledge in calculating a new rate for a longer duration of stay, and soon I found myself in my own private love shack. Clean white sheets and mirrors everywhere. Weak air-conditioning and love making music (if I was interested). Cheap plug-in air-fresheners and a TV (complete with un-dubbed american porn). I was not given a key; I entered through my own garage. Soon a knock came from a box hanging on the wall. It was large enough to hold a serving tray and had a hinged top but no random holes for peeping or other perverse purposes. When I opened the top I found a fresh towel, soap, and my remote. A voice spoke through the box asking me for payment, for the room. The scent of the air-freshener in the room was both too strong and too cheap, but it was what it was meant to cover up that had me on edge. Abruptly, I took off my shoes to replace the stench of air-freshener with something I was familiar with. I cleaned up, and soon found the experience rather entertaining, with the exception that the mosquitos also had a secret entrance to the room. Annoying, but also funny to picture heaving white asses getting attacked my mozies. The thought had crossed my mind that I may need a day off to avoid injuries to the poor legs (4 months of near slothliness), maybe laying on the beach, but that dream was shattered when I found myself in this love shack. So the routine continued. Alarm at 5, on the road by 6. My day to the capital, San Salvador, was everything the challenge I had expected. Leaving the coast meant adding hills.

A lovely couple at the love hotelA lovely couple at the love hotel
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A lovely couple at the love hotel
 
Plaza Barrio, San SalvadorPlaza Barrio, San Salvador
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Plaza Barrio, San Salvador
 

San Salvador sounded threatening and challenging, but was rather easy to negotiate. I lodged up in the old historic part of town. It is a bit more decrepit than some of the newer westernized neighborhoods, but felt familiar to me. The blocks and blocks of market stalls kept me amused for the evening, and introduced me to traditional Salvadoran papusas. A papusa is like two doughy tortillas packed together around a mystery meat filling and then fried. My meal consisted of two papusas and a cold bottle of coke for the staggering price of one US dollar (the currency of choice in El Salvador).

Plaza Barrio, San SalvadorPlaza Barrio, San Salvador
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Plaza Barrio, San Salvador
 

Here we get to the shocking part of the story, so please read while sitting comfortably. The morning after I arrived in San Salvador I boarded a bus and zipped through two separate borders on my way to Managua, Nicaragua. Plans are laid to meet a friend in Panama for the boat journey to Colombia, and then after that I have plans to visit a cousin in Ecuador by a certain date. None of that needed to include a bus with my original calculations from Guatemala, but once on the road and the real calculations began, I realized I had made a significant error. I had converted the distance from kilometers to miles twice, unaware that I had already made the conversion. So, a 1200 mile journey was always an easy 750 miles; something that seems ridiculous now, but didn’t give me second thought at the time. Anyway, decision made, a week of hot and generally monotonous and boring riding was saved. I don’t regret the decision a bit.

A hot looking Honduras as seen from the bus - No regretsA hot looking Honduras as seen from the bus - No regrets
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A hot looking Honduras as seen from the bus - No regrets
 

Nicaragua:
I skipped out of the Nicaraguan capital the following morning. A process made all the more challenging by a complete lack of road signs. I had a mental map of what roads I was looking for, but had to stop at every intersection to inquire if I was indeed headed towards Granada. Signs finally appeared when I was on the 6 lane highway linking the two cities. My short 30 mile ride to Granada has introduced me to a few Nicaraguan habits. First, 1 out of every 10 cars will pass you and then immediately pull over and stop in front of you. This applies to trucks, buses, taxis, cars, bikes, mopeds, airplanes, horse-drawn carriages, dog-sled teams, etc. Second, when people are crossing an empty road they will time their pace to land directly in front of you when you come along, and then look shocked that you are there. Third, I spent the morning riding into a decent headwind which was more or less like riding straight at the world’s largest hair dryer. That will probably be the theme for Central America, and since I have a planned sailing trip to Colombia representing my carrot on the end of a stick I have a hard time really focusing on it because of the hair dryer that is positioned between it and myself. I also feel inclined to add my opinion to the debate about the two colonial gems of Central America; Granada, Nicaragua is pretty, but Antigua, Guatemala is majestic.

GranadaGranada
Main square, AntiguaMain square, Antigua
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Main square, Antigua
 

With my extended stay in Guatemala, and my future plans, I am forced to simply be in transit through the remainder of Central America. I am generally on a bike, which allows me a closer proximity to the climate, smells, tastes and textures of this part of the world, but I am simply not trying to do much exploring. I plan to put the head down and ignore the hair dryer to the best of my abilities and zip quickly on down to Panama. Then, I will be just a sailing trip away from a new continent, from the Andes, and the relief of cooler climates.

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