Such as life, there are hills and valleys. We are in a valley. Antigua, Guatemala to Chinandega, Nicaragua
When the physical challenges are hard, but you add massive heat, sleep deprivation, bad roads, a tight budget, and health problems it gnaws at your spirit and are the true test of your will to keep going.
Guatemala was beautiful, but ass-kickingly hard. Lots of the steepest climbs and drops we have yet encountered. After the rough terrain and chaos of Lake Atitlan, we made it to a hotel just outside of Antigua. Having been to Antigua before, we were not heart-set on spending a lot of time there, but then finding out it was the biggest, craziest Easter week holiday with the epicenter being Antigua, we opted to take roads around the city and climbed up, southeast, and continued on our way. Partaking in festivities would have been a fun time, but navigating through the city on bikes through the chaos, unable to find a hotel on our budget, is just not an option for us. We did, however, pass a bunch of ritzy gated communities as we passed through southern Antigua, and quite a few American and European tourists or expats who live there. Being one of the "safest" Guatemalan cities with mild weather and beautiful architecture (not to mention a booming coffee trade) must bring a lot of foreigners to this area.
After a decent climb the road seemed to drop in elevation substantially, until we came to the south of Villa Canales and decided to listen to a local police officer who directed us up a hill climb that was THE hill climb of all hill climbs! Not joking, the grade is not found in Western countries. Ville said he greatly appreciates Western Engineers when it comes to building roads after climbing it. It's as if they had such a limited budget, but needed to get the road from the bottom of the mountain to the very top and just slapped the road straight up the side without one switchback. It was three and a half miles and it took us over two hours to climb, profusely sweating and taking multiple breaks on the way up (we were asked by 3 different super kind Guatemalans if we wanted rides, but were stubborn enough to refuse and keep pushing upwards). My speedometer quit registering speed we were going so slow! At the top, we met the highway and coasted down to Cuilapa where we found out the city was named "the halfway point of the Americas"! Yahoo! We have ridden our bikes halfway of the Americas!
The next day we had a giant drop in elevation and rode through a lush, vibrant green valley complete with palm trees and roadside vendors selling bananas and pineapples. We had a pretty easy border crossing into El Salvador; our 5th country. Completely depleted of liquids after days of Guatemala climbing, and after stopping at a roadside eatery, realized I had a pretty serious bladder infection and was in a load of pain. The family there was nice enough to take Ville on the back of their motorbike up the road to a pharmacy for antibiotics (so many acts of kindness on this journey from everywhere) and we pushed on the 9 miles to town. The next day we had a decent climb into the mountains and a beautiful, easy twenty miles of Ruta de las Flores (Route of the Flowers) where we stopped at a lot of the tiny towns along the way to eat mangoes and coconuts.
Dropping down out of the mountains, we hit the wall of heat on the coast and after the thrill of finally seeing the Pacific Ocean again (it had been since Baja), we climbed and dropped the hairpin turns as the temps rose over a hundred. By evening, I realized pretty quick that the antibiotics were not quite strong enough and as I sat doubled over in pain by the side of the road, Ville stuck out his thumb to get us a ride a few more miles to the next town and a pharmacy. As our luck would have it, a super kind family in a truck pulled over also on their way to the pharmacy. The pharmacist recommended I take 3 days of the strongest antibiotic they had, Ville told her we would take 9 days worth (in case I needed more on the road) and the pharmacist looked at Ville very skeptically like, "Um, are you trying to kill your wife?" Oh, and I am not suppose to be in the sun on these antibiotics either. Ya, right. Like that's possible on a bike tour in the Central American blazing sun. So now, even with sleeves, the sunscreen sweats off in seconds and I am fried like a lobster to boot.
As we scoured La Libertad for a cheap motel, we were super deflated to realize this is the vacation place for Salvadorians AND it's still the wild, crazy Easter week holiday! So we found the biggest dive motel in town and were charged double because of the holidays. When we went to sleep around eight with the plan to get up early to beat the heat, a family of nine and their wild children rolled in and parked in the room adjacent to ours. Luckily they headed out to the bars to party, kids in tow, but then came back to after-party at the room around 2 am until we left at 5 am to start riding. It was awful. And as we rolled out of the room, the women were passed out all over the room with the door open and the dudes were passed out in the back of their truck in front of our room. But one guy woke up to stare at us with a look of "if I had a shiv, I would stab you in the face" as we kicked their beer bottles out of the way so we could get our bikes past and leave. Good riddance to La Libertad on Easter Holiday. Any other time, we heard it was a fun surf spot with a decent break, but we had poor timing.
In the coolness of the morning, the miles were easy and pleasant. And the people we passed along the road were incredibly friendly. The beauty of a bicycle as our mode of transport is that we see and experience so much of the countries we pass through. When taking a plane or a bus, you pass by, see views from the bus window and experience the towns/cities, but we get to really experience the in between. I thoroughly enjoy smiling and waving at as many people as we pass as I get the chance to. I get so many heart-warming smiles, "Good Mornings" , "Good Afternoons" and "Safe Journey", and even a few "I love you"s that it makes all the hard stuff melt away.
We spent a total of five days traveling through El Salvador and quite enjoyed the easier riding (compared to Guatemala) and the kind people. We crossed the boarder into Honduras, and had an open mind that even though Honduras has had a turbulent past and current challenges, it was likely similar to all the other countries we were warned about and proven wrong. And that was true, we did meet a few very lively, kind, and generous Hondurans. In San Lorenzo, we met Jose at a cafe and he let us stay in a room in his house for $10 when it was just too hot to push on. Thanks Jose! But for every ten people we passed who smiled or said "Buenos Dias," one would ignore us, look at us with a horrible look, yell something really mean, and we heard more "Gringo" in this country than anywhere else south of the US boarder we have been so far. Not to mention most of the roads were complete shit with no shoulder and we were literally run off the roads by buses and trucks.
That being said, we did only have the time to travel through the very southern part of the country on this trip, spending two full biking days, and have heard great things about so many other beautiful parts of Honduras. Not to mention, we know some very kind Hondurans (Alex Rivera) and plan to see more of the country someday, likely not from a bicycle seat! This morning we had a 30 mile ride to the boarder crossing from Honduras into Nicaragua and after reading all the horror stories from other cyclists, we had another very smooth crossing. There was a huge thunderstorm last night and the humidity even at 5 am when we started our ride was intense, but very easy miles and thanks in huge part to Ville's ever-improving Spanish, the Immigration Officers treat him really well and we pass through quickly without paying bribes we hear so much about. It did cost $12 each to get into Nicaragua however, so the expenses have really been adding up. Sadly, since we have had no luck at all getting a Warmshowers place to stay or a safe place to camp, our standards have been ever lowered at cheapest of the cheap motels and my bent bike frame and inability to shift properly will have to wait until, well, maybe the end of the ride to be fixed.
Once we crossed into Nicaragua, the pavement became a real, nice paved road again, the temps dropped from over a 100 to only 90's and the people went out of their way to come talk to us about our bike and our ride. We pushed a 73 mile day today and are staying in Chinandega, where we were told about a pool and giant waterslide and I was finally able to dig out my bikini after carrying it since Baja! What a treat. From here we will head south towards Leon and then on to Managua. We have a flight booked back to Bend to celebrate our "Halfway" and hope to see everyone at our presentation at Crow's Feet Commons in Bend, Oregon on May 11, at 6-8pm. Until next time, keep on keepin' on...
K.G. & Ville
On a cruise ship, heading north up the west coast to Los Angeles.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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