After a couple of rest days in Chiquimula, it was time to cross the border to El Salvador. There were several border crossings close by, and I opted for the one of San Cristóbal as I preferred the route profile. I’d have a decent climb in the morning before it got hot and then it’d be gently rolling most of the way with another climb later. The alternate towards Matapan would have had several climbs throughout the day and actually more climbing in total.
My time in Chiquimula hadn’t been without a hitch as I discovered two problems. I have no idea how but somehow 4 of the 5 bolts attaching my chainring had managed to fall out and the 5th one was only hanging on loosely. I tightened the last one and hoped that it’d work until I got to the next bike shop. The other, more frustrating thing, was that my iPod Nano had decided to stop working. In the previous couple of weeks there’d been a couple of issues with its battery, but now it doesn’t respond when charged. It’s under warranty until the 16th of May, but it might have to be sent back to the US to get that sorted out, I’ll find out when I get to San Salvador where there are some stores that may be able to help, hopefully.
I was out early and met people cycling to work in the fields. One group of three seemed to be racing as they passed me so I sped up. I sat behind them for a while as they tried to sprint away, and then when they got tired I stopped drafting and flew past. One of them managed to keep up with me briefly and was panting so hard that I let him ahead of me for fear of him collapsing.
Although my chainring was quite noisily clicking away as I pedalled, the one bolt that was in there seemed to be keeping it semi-securely in place even under the pressure as I spent a good hour ascending into the clouds. By the time I got to the top, my arms actually felt a little cold as my sweat-drenched sleeves had a cool breeze go across them. As the hours passed, and the sun got high in the sky, it got to the normal temperatures somewhere around 35c (95f) and I wished I’d been riding earlier.
I stopped at a bike shop about 20km short of the border and, while he didn’t have the correct bolts, he put some normal nuts & bolts in there as a short-term fix. It doesn’t look pretty, and it weighs more, but it’ll do for me until I get to a real bike shop. The road became kinda bumpy for the last 20km to the border, I’d normally have had some podcasts playing along, but with my iPod issues I spent most of the time running over what I’d be saying to the people at the border about my visa situation. I knew it might look a bit strange, but I had not done anything illegal. I’d spoken to the police and the military about my situation and they’d thought everything was OK so I was hopeful.
As I pulled up to Guatemalan immigration and showed them my passport, I told them that I had a story to tell them. I figured that had to be done, because otherwise they’d look for my entrance stamp and get confused. It was asking too much to assume that both they and the El Salvadorian immigration would just stamp without looking. Even though I explained exactly what happened, they still got confused. Part of it was because I had my entry & exit stamps from my previous time in Guatemala, although they were stamped nowhere near each other – immigration would happen a lot faster if people put stamps in the correct order rather than just opening to a random page. After a bit of confusion, they eventually accepted my story and gave me an exit stamp. Woohoo! I figured all was good. I went to get some food before changing my last quetzales for the currency in El Salvador – the USD.
After eating what I figured was my final meal in Guatemala, I rolled through the border and got to El Salvadorian immigration. I showed them the exit stamp from Guatemala and they looked at me with a lot of confusion. It turns out the El Salvadorians were more diligent and so wanted to know where my entry stamp for Guatemala was. Having an exit stamp from the previous country would probably be fine in most situations, but it’s not in Central America. There is something called the CA-4 which s basically an agreement between Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua similar to the Schengen in Europe. The problem is, I didn’t have an official entry into CA-4 and the immigration officials found my welcome stamp from the policeman, where had written “Welcome to Guatemala!” and near enough drawn a smiley face next to it, quite hilarious. They rejected me.
I asked to speak to the boss, and was allowed into the office. I explained my situation to him, and he listened attentively. He was a really nice guy, who could completely understand things and what it meant to me, but the simple fact was that I didn’t have an entry stamp into the CA-4. I would have to re-enter the CA-4 (go to the border with Mexico or Belize) or go to the Office of Migration in Guatemala City. I told him that being Friday that wouldn’t be open until Monday and that the office wouldn’t be open so either I had to find a place to stay for a few nights or take a bus 400km each way to a border and back. That’s where I had my first glimmer of hope. It was Thursday. Guatemala City was 160km away and so instead of trying to explain any more I headed out, back to Guatemala City.
Every time I saw a pickup coming past, I stuck my thumb out. I wanted to get a lift at least part of the way. No-one stopped. I was getting tired of turning around to see if the vehicle approaching was in fact a pick-up and so just rode with my thumb stuck out when I heard something coming that wasn’t a scooter. Most people seemed to take it as me just saying hello and waved or gave me a thumbs up. I guess you don’t usually see people thumbing for lifts while riding. Ahead I saw a people carrier that had gone past had pulled over. I rolled up to the window, and found that it was full. I explained my situation to the driver, and he gave me his address. He lived 30km down the road in El Progreso and I could stay at his office that night, leave my bike the next day and then take a bus to Guate. Things were looking up.
I stopped sticking my thumb out, and about another 30 minutes later a red car went past. There were 4 women in there and they were waving and cheering me. I waved back and jokingly blew a kiss. They pulled over at the top of the next hill. As I climbed the hill, they had gotten out of the car and were taking pictures of me and cheering more. I pulled over, and we spoke for a while. They had been friends since school and had got together for “el dia de las mamacitas”. They each took photos with me while I explained my situation, and Karen, the driver, said that she had a hotel in Jutiapa where I was welcome to stay. I felt a little bad that I wouldn’t be staying with the man from El Progreso, but how do you turn down a free hotel room? Also, I figured that as Jutiapa was bigger it would have better bus service to Guate. They drove off and I set off up the big climb towards Jutiapa.
Near the top of the climb, I saw a red car stopped at the side of the road. Karen had dropped her friends off and was waiting for me. It was getting dark and I was still about 20km away from Jutiapa so she wanted to give me a lift. Being a small car, I’d normally not have been able to get my bike in, but with the S&S couplings that I got put on in the UK it was a simple case of undoing them and my bike and bags easily fit in. We chatted all the way back to Jutiapa and then I crashed into bed, tired and wanting to get a good nights sleep before my early trip to Guate the next day.