We ended up on a slide-at-your-own-risk water slide. It was 0-60 mph in a half-second, not sure our bodies even made contact with the slide on the way down and we hit the water at 4Gs shooting my bikini and Ville's shorts to the four corners of the pool as we skipped along the surface of the water at the bottom of the slide. What a ride! But first...
After a roller-coaster of ass-kicking hills of Guatemala, followed by sweltering temps in the hundreds through El Salvador and Honduras low-lands, we coasted into Nicaragua where the temps dropped into the 90's and our spirits lifted. With the soaring temperatures, Ville and I were pounding water like crazy (drinking over 8 liters of water a day), but watching it pour out our pores before it ever made it through our bodies. I had to tackle a super painful bladder infection, "staying out of the sun" (actually biking all day IN the sun), waking up at 4 am to try and beat the heat, struggling to find accommodation during Easter party no available affordable lodging celebration week, riding nasty patched together shoulder-less pavement packed with high-speed aggressive drivers, and all while also struggling with food allergies I haven't been able to eliminate since Mexico. It was rough folks. We took reprieve from the mid-day heat in American fast food chain establishments because they were the only places with consistent WiFi and air conditioning (my refusal to enter a fast food joint went right out the window when we had hit our lowest lows). Our saving grace was the Central American people.
When we were on the side of the road, me in heaps of pain, a family took us into their restaurant and took Ville on their motorbike to get antibiotics. Again when the infection came back on the side of the road, another family gave us a ride to the pharmacy and refused to take payment. Where Americans live in their cars and roads are only for travel, Mexicans and Central Americans live on roads; walking, biking, in horse-drawn carts, waiting for buses, sitting on porches, lying in hammocks, pushing carts, pedaling rickshaws, motoring moto-taxis, sitting in snack stands, selling fruit, soda, water, gas, you name it. Our entire days are filled with passing people, smiling and saying hello. There is the occasional person who looks past me or through me, but most everyone smiles. And says hello. And safe journey. And for that moment when we look each other in the eye and smile, I hope it makes that moment, their day, their week a bit better. It makes this whole ride worth every mile.
Once we crossed into Honduras, we noticed that where the fields stretched out for miles on either side of the road, loads of people had built shacks in the 7 meters or so of land between the road and field to try and sell fruits or vegetables that came from the fields to people passing by. Where stable (or as stable as can be) governments bring investors, which in turn bring tourism and money to some of Honduras's surrounding countries, Honduras has not found the same stability and more of it's people in the rural areas between towns, seem to just be surviving. One would expect (especially if you follow news), Honduras to be super dangerous and many cyclists opt to rush through or skip it altogether. But we found the same kindness from people as we did everywhere else we have traveled.
Once we crossed over into Nicaragua and the roads became beautiful, freshly paved roads with a giant shoulder, we cruised into Chinandega and were tipped off by some locals about a sweet water park complete with a slide-at-your-own-risk water slide. It was 0-60 mph in a half-second, not sure our bodies even made contact with the slide on the way down and we hit the water at 4Gs shooting my bikini and Ville's shorts to the four corners of the pool as we skipped along the surface of the water at the bottom of the slide. What a ride! The next day we rolled out early and had a pretty easy day to Leon. Leon is a colonial city, fairly touristy being close to the beach and volcanoes, but we enjoyed walking the streets and seeing the sights. We were able to catch the Barcelona vs Juventus Champions League Quarter Final game and although Barcelona lost, was nice to sit in a bar with other tourists excited to see the game. On our day off there, we made it out to a shop for me to find a new bra to replace my busted (no pun intended) one. For those following our ride, you may remember the goat trail from hell we ended up skidding and falling down on at Lake Atitlan. Well, on that same glorious day and moment of suffrage, my beloved bra, which had a zipper down the front, decided to pop open thanks to all the sweat rusting apart the zipper and leaving me flopping in the breeze WHILE skidding on my ass down the hill. Oh times we look back on now and laugh at.
While out bra shopping, Ville and I ran into Marie-Eve, a friend we had biked with a bit on the northern California coast and whom we had no idea now lived in Leon! What are the odds we happen to run into her the day before she was flying back to Canada on our one day off in Leon in a bra shop?! Was nice to catch up with an old friend and take some down time before hitting the road early again heading for Managua. We had the plan to find a cheap motel outside the city, but after many failed attempts, we found ourselves in the city, patching Ville's flat tire, going from full hostel to full hostel before the kindest German man, Manfred, at La Pyramide Hotel, took us in and gave us a beautiful room for two nights. He even drove us up to the non-active volcano in town to show us the city. We walked down into town through a park where we watched a full court of guys in wheel chairs playing basketball and a women's basketball game. Was really inspiring!
After our much needed rest day in paradise (thank you SO much Manfred for your kindness!), we were back on the bikes and decided on an easy day into Laguna Apoyo, where we were excited to finally get to swimmable non-polluted water south of the American border! We climbed up to the crater and had a steep decent to the water where we, again, went door to door at "obscenely priced eco hostels" that wanted over $40 USD and up a night, and only allowed camper vans, not tents, to stay at their places. Lucky for us we ran into David, hitchhiking backpacker from Germany, who helped us to find a no-name place that quoted us $10 a night for a closet with a mini-fan. As soon as all our bags and bikes were jammed into the closet of a room, she told us it would be $10 each, and as we packed up to leave, she felt sorry for us and allowed us to stay for $10.
Sundays are family days in Latin American countries and since it was a Sunday, the locals beach was packed with drunks and families and we thoroughly enjoyed our refreshing dip in the lagoon (although give it a few years and that place will be completely unswimmable and dead for sure). It was pretty depressing to see how the handful of hotels and hostels have claimed the beachfront for only tourists in their establishment, pushing the locals to the one completely separated beach we swam at. We could feel the resentment from the locals and who can blame them? We did enjoy watching the wild howler monkeys swinging from the trees above hucking mangoes at rooftops, feeding the baby squirrel at our place and even Ville enjoyed conversing with a Giant Macaw who was able to say, "Hello."
Since our closet room only had a tiny bed, Ville slept on his blow-up mattress on the floor and at dawn as the howler monkeys started growling like lions, we packed and had a very humid, sweaty couple mile ride up to the rim of the crater. We did pass a bunch of locals walking down the hill dressed in resort shirts on their way to work and because we made the move to say Hello, most of them were really friendly. It was a short easy downhill into Granada this morning and after watching a school parade, we are staying out of the heat and catching up with all you fine folks out there. Because Costa Rica will be quite a bit more pricey than Nicaragua, we are planning to spend a few more days here in this country before crossing into Costa Rica and making our way to San Jose where we will fly to Portland and Bend for a couple weeks to celebrate our making it to the "half-way" point of our journey. YAY! And for those not in the know, May 11th, Crow's Feet Commons, Bend, Oregon, 6-8 pm. Be there or be square! And until then, keep on keepin' on ya'll...
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...
First day in Guatemala, and we had a serious butt-kicking day long hill climb! This kid passed us with the bed of his truck stacked obscenely high with massive bags precariously roped on. A while later, we ride up to where a few bags have come loose, busted open on the pavement, and he is trying to scoop up the remnants on the side of the road. Of course, we pulled over to help. And that is how we ended up with about 7 lbs/3 kilos of unroasted coffee beans.
, on empty Leaving San Cristobal De Las Casas and Edu's place was rough. We enjoyed the time off with a cool guy in a really neat town. Was like ripping off a Band-Aid. But easy-peasy rolling hills, lot's of elevation dropping into Comitan where we camped a night at a Warmshowers host's yard, complete with a pack of dogs, chickens and even ducks, oh boy! We rolled out early and had another pretty hot, but easy day into the border town, Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, where we got a cheap hotel to spend the last of our pesos before heading to Guatemala.
The next morning we rode to the Mexico Immigration to stamp out, and was the first time we were yelled at and treated poorly by any Mexicans! But it was fast and then the hill climbing began, immediately leaving Mexico. And since we waited to get breakfast until getting to the Guatemala side after finding an ATM, the climb was straight up hill for three miles and even passed the city garbage pile before finding Guatemala Immigration, we were pedaling on empty growling stomachs. But Ville came out of Immigration all smiles because the man working there was super friendly and had a great sense of humor. Good start to Guatemala. We found a working ATM somewhere in the chaos of the border and a nice place to grab breakfast before the climb commenced.
The climb was intense, but incredibly scenic and we climbed through numerous small villages where all the women were out in front of their homes weaving on looms and in the yards were hundreds of varying ages of coffee bean plants. When we rode up to the kid who passed us in his pick-up, trying to scrape some white things into a broken bag, we pulled over to help. I pulled out a bunch of Ziplock bags and Ville pulled out his knife to help sew the large broken bag closed. As we said goodbye and rode away, he insisted we take two of the giant Ziplock bags full of unroasted coffee beans. He said they were really expensive, on their way to be sold to Starbucks and we would surly be able to find a coffee roaster in Quetzaltenango. With still a long way to climb, we gladly accepted the bags, stuffed them into our panniers, and climbed up to just outside Huehuetenango where we scored a not super cheap Auto Motel.
The next day, we had a lot of very scenic ups and downs on a very deteriorated road, littered with potholes, and crazy traffic. My shifting had been off the entire previous day and now was continually getting worse. We pulled over to adjust it numerous times, with no luck, until finally not too far away from Quetzaltenango, I hear a loud SNAP and look down to see my chain on the ground. Damn. We dig out the Quick Link to fix it, and no luck. My chain was shot and so we stuck out our thumbs and hitched a ride really quick (everyone in Guatemala seems to be incredibly kind) with Celestino. We strapped the bikes in the back with the trash and crammed into the front bench seat. As we hit the road, we both quickly realized we must be riding with a professional race car driver, because no one corners like Celestino. I mean, NO ONE. I don't know how my pants stayed dry. It was completely terrifying! We almost killed 3 dogs, 2 motorcyclists, and had near head-ons with multiple giant trucks and buses. Very nice man, appreciate the ride, but not sure if I was happier to know people like that are on the road with us. After a quick stop on the side of the road, Ville got out to help with the trash, and realized after packing every piece of his own garbage to a garbage can, he was helping this guy just chuck giant plastic bags of garbage down the hillside (not in a designated garbage site). And then after Celestino drove the truck tire into a giant hole, floored it squealing out and back on the road, we were back heading for town. My fingernails firmly planted into the dashboard and Ville's arm.
He dropped us outside town and we walked our bikes to a safe spot for me to sit while Ville rode around town to find a bike shop (unfortunately these bikes take a special size chain), and then we walked a ways to the shop where we were greeted by some great guys at BiciCasa. They had my chain, put it on, and even gave us a discount. Thanks BiciCasa, great stop for bike parts in Guatemala folks. We then headed to a friend of a friend, Lucy's, house. After planning to only stay a couple nights, we stayed three. Lucy and her daughter, Leah, fed us, walked us all over the city, and I even was given a Spanish lesson! Thanks so much for all the hospitality girls, plan on another visit soon! We also found a great coffee bean roaster, Tostaduria Grano de Cafe, where they kindly let us help roast the beans and explained all the steps. And now Ville is carrying four and a half pounds of coffee until we can bring it to Oregon. Will be the best dang coffee in the world.
We had been warned that climbing up to Lake Atitlan would be rough, but we had no idea what we were in for. We left early from Quetzaltenango, and started a slow easy climb that turned into a very steep climb, but had a spectacular view and rode through more villages full of very friendly indigenous Guatemalans. A cop rode by us and invited us back to his house to give us some avocados and play us some tunes on his guitar. After the climb, the drop down into the lake was extreme. We had to take a few breaks our hands hurt from gripping the breaks and we happened upon a car that had lost control on the downhill into a concrete wall (everyone was ok). And then, we took a wrong turn.
Google Maps has been awful in Guatemala, and boy did we really learn a lesson on this one. After heading straight downhill a few miles on the wrong road, everyone we asked said we could not continue the way we were heading. But we were sure they just didn't understand what bad-ass cyclists we were and we decided to forge ahead and rely on Google. We figured the dirt road was what they meant was not passable. Then the dirt turned into switchbacks straight up hill. Then we came to a giant overlook where Google told us the "road meant for a car" went over the cliff and landed in the town about a mile and a half down. For about 30 yards, the trail appeared to be a really rough mountain bike trail, and then the boulder field started and the trail turned into, at best, a goat trail of boulders, burning plants, where we took turns helping each other lift the bikes over rocks on the cliff. We honestly debated tying rope to the bikes and lowering them down the hill it was so steep.
Three and a half hours later and nearly dark now, we were both completely drenched in sweat, madder than hornets, and covered in bloody wounds, but luckily no irreparable bike-trip ending damage. When we finally made it into a town, past the town's garbage dump, we were told not to go that way. Uh, ya, noted. And then back on the bikes we still had a mile over the hill into San Pedro and up some steep hills to a hotel. After the best showers of our lives, we were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow at 8pm. We took a mandatory day off to explore the very touristy town and agreed to leave the next morning heading to Antigua. We had beers with Nile and Andrea (another cyclist couple we met up with again after seeing each other in California whom also started in very northern Canada) over looking the lake with the surrounding volcanoes towering around us. Lake Antigua really is a beautiful place, touristy, but beautiful.
We got up early this morning, all four of us loaded our bikes on top of a boat taxi, tied them on, and once we arrived in Panajachel, began our insane climb up and out of the lake. The views from the top of the rim were stunning, and as the road turned to a cratered mess straight downhill, we realized were in for a roller-coaster day of the steepest roads we have been on so far, for just about the entire 45 mile day. At one point the road was completely washed out and we rode through a cute waste-water stream to get back to a road. By the time we hobbled into this cheap hotel on the outskirts of Antigua (there is a giant week long pre-Easter festival going on in Antigua, filling all the overpriced hotels and we are gladly going to stay away from) we are both so sore we can't climb stairs or bend over. I feel like I'm 90. So this is what I have to look forwards to? Except how I abuse my body on goat trail cliffs with a fully loaded bike torpedoing downhill, I will be dang lucky to make it to 50.
Tomorrow we are heading through Antigua, will plan to stay somewhere at about 50 miles. And should have another day to the border before we will cross into El Salvador. After Mexico, I feel like we are flying through countries now. Well kids, I am off to bed. Thanks for reading, following, and supporting us. 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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