EL SALVADOR, HONDURAS, 29th March – 5th April 2019
The next morning I watched on as Randy got up and the first thing he did was to fish an old cigarette butt out of the ashtray and light it. He really was an unusual sort of touring cyclist, but quite an entertaining fellow. “Watch out in Peru,” he warned us, “they’ll slash your bags open. Best pickpockets in the world in Peru, they’ve got a school for it there.”
He was leaving this morning, getting a day ahead of us as we took a break, but for once we backed ourselves to be able to catch him up. “I’ll give you one of my Randyisms,” he said before he left. “I like it when I’m cycling alone, because it gives me time to rate myself,” he paused to cough. “And it turns out I quite like myself!”
This from a man who’d just drunk a big beer for breakfast.
Not long after one cyclist had left, another arrived. Woody had caught up to us and planned to take a break here too. He told us more about his kayak-sail-bike-hike trip and how he was funding it by picking up trash. People were sponsoring him, making a monthly donation, and in return he would fill a big bin liner of rubbish from the roadside on their behalf. It seemed like a pretty clever way of funding things, and given the amount of trash we’d been seeing everywhere in Central America it was a good cause, and in return he was getting something like $400 per month. He was also having to pick up a hell of a lot of trash, mind you. He seemed like a nice guy, and we all went to the beach together and had a jolly time playing frisbee (Woody loves frisbee), tube surfing, and Eureka Ball.
The next day we left as a three , for Woody wanted to stay and take a rest day. We were now just following the main highway, and for the next couple of nights we stopped at fire stations, known in Spanish as bomberos. We found them through the iOverlander app, which Ciaran was using to find places to camp sometimes. And they were certainly good places to camp for free, secure, safe places, where we were allowed to use the firemen’s kitchen, showers, and toilets.
The road was generally flat, boring, and too hot. We were escaping into air conditioned gas stations at every opportunity, and at one such stop we noticed Randy sat on the ground on the opposite side of the forecourt. A bottle of beer and a chocolate milk sat next to him, a cigarette dangled from his lips. We went and said hello, and he told us he’d already had three litres of beer today. He was one of those alcoholics who got by alright in the world, who you got the feeling wouldn’t be any happier if he ever managed to get sober. He was even planning to ride on further than us this particular day. “Where did you stay last night?” I asked him. “At a whorehouse,” he said, without skipping a beat. “One of the auto hotels, you know?” We did know, they were everywhere around here, not very discreet drive-in brothels. “They asked me, do you want a girl. No, no, I said. Okay, 17 dollars for the night. That’ll do for me. Only thing on the TV was porn, porn on every channel. I didn’t want to sleep on the bed, you know.”
After our second fire station we rode back towards the coast, which involved a long climb up on a road that looked, like most of Central America, to be sponsored by Coca-Cola. Our goal was El Cuco, and two kilometres from that goal our friend Ciaran got a flat tyre. Of course we abandoned him and hurried on ahead, for we knew that the place where we were staying next had a swimming pool. We could camp here for five dollars a night, and the swimming pool alone made a couple of nights here very worthwhile. Upon arrival we met Chris and Nadia, an Austrian couple travelling south in a van, who we made friends with as we all dived into the pool. It was quite a long time before Ciaran joined us. His tyre was difficult to get on and off, and as he’d struggled with it he was caught up by Anni, a German cyclist who he actually already knew well. She had worked with him before, and cycled with him at the start of his trip in Canada. She’d also met Dea before, when she had been cycling around the Banff and Jasper National Parks without me. We’d all met up with her briefly in Antigua, where she was staying to climb Acatanengo a few days after us, and now she had caught up to us on the road.
So we had a really nice time all hanging out together at this relaxing place for a couple of days, playing volleyball in the pool or going to the nearby beach during the day, and going out for pupusas (traditional food that consists of beans and cheese in between two fried tortillas that had become our staple food in El Salvador) in the evenings.
We left El Cuco now as a four, although we knew Anni was a very strong, fast cyclist, who had apparently been averaging 100 kilometres a day through her trip. It wasn’t long at all before she and Ciaran disappeared into the distance, and when Dea got a flat there seemed little hope of us closing the gap. Our target for today was the bigger town of La Union, where we knew there was a bomberos that allowed cyclists to stay, and it wasn’t until we were on the edge of the town that we saw a handwritten note from Ciaran telling us to go to a nearby gas station. He and Anni had been waiting there for us for a couple of hours, and after a quick ice cream, we all rode together into La Union.
At the fire station we were welcomed by more friendly firemen, who showed us to a place around the back where we could pitch our tents. Already there was a hammock positioned between two trees, and in the hammock lay a familiar face. Woody had skipped the beach at El Cuco, instead preferring to come here and climb a nearby volcano. That wasn’t for us though, especially as he’d taken a truck most of the way up, and we settled for walking to the nearby pier to look up at the volcano, and soak up the atmosphere and another beautiful sunset. This was our last night in El Salvador. We’d been here for nine nights, more than we had anticipated, but it had been a pretty good country to us. Highlights included the beaches, the pupusas and liquados (smoothies), and the good shoulders that made the cycling safe enough, but it was a shame that, as in most of Central America, we hadn’t had an awful lot of contact with the local people.
Woody left early the next morning, but this time it seemed like Ciaran and Anni were going to ride with us, for when I got a puncture after just a couple of kilometres they stopped and waited for us. But before we’d cleared the edge of La Union Dea got a flat tyre as well, and this time Ciaran and Anni rode on ahead. It was a flat, fast road for the 40 kilometres to the border, and we caught up to them at a gas station just before it, and then all crossed into Honduras together.
We stopped on the other side of the border to get my country sign photo in, and as we were making good use of our fingers and toes we were approached by an extremely friendly local man who welcomed us to Honduras and asked if he could pose for a selfie with us. It was the start of something, with friendly waves and shouts of “how are you?” coming at us from along the road quickly dispelling any lingering fears about being in Honduras. But this was not the Honduras we would have experienced in the north of the country, this was the Pan-American Highway Honduras. Whether the country had made a special effort to make this road as good as possible I’m not sure, but it certainly was an excellent new road with a best shoulder yet, and it would continue right across the country in the same vein. As well as an upgrade in road quality, there was also an improvement to the scenery, as we cycled through dry yellow hills past yet more volcanoes.
Once again we decided to stop at a fire station, and this was where the whole cycle gang got together. Woody was already there when we arrived, and Ciaran and Anni, who had again gone ahead, had seen Randy on the road and told him about the place. Sure enough, he soon showed up, pulling two beers out of his pockets and placing them on the ground in front of him. He said he’d already drunk three litres and six small beers so far during the day, but he also told me about how he had worked as a software engineer and he talked about it with passion and intelligence, and it seems he was once quite a successful man.
There was also WiFi at this fire station and I made use of it to do some research into the Caribbean and my planned sailing adventure. One of the first, and most worrying, things that I discovered was that the hurricane season would begin on June 1st and continue until November. It was now the 5th of April, and I realised a couple of things. The first was that I probably should have researched the Caribbean before now, the second that I needed to get there as soon as possible. Where I was going to try and find a boat out to the Caribbean was my first concern, and it looked like Bocas del Toro in Panama was my best bet. It meant I would be separating from Dea sooner than we’d originally planned, but getting to the Caribbean quickly had to be a priority if I was going to make it to my 100 countries target. I estimated that I could be looking for a boat from Bocas within two weeks, and I began to feel quite excited about the new adventure ahead.