My plan meant I’d get to double back and descend the same climb into San Salvador that had been so toasty when I’d arrived a week earlier. The traffic was pretty light as I left shortly after 6am, but the descent wasn’t that fun, mainly because the new tyre handles quite differently and I’m not quite used to it. It’s a lightweight road tyre and has minimal grip, something that had me nearly lose control going over the bump between the lane and the shoulder that would have been unnoticable with my other tyre. I’d not had breakfast before leaving San Salvador so was hungrily looking for a place to eat and got to eat some delicious pupusas, such a wonderful food, while getting looks alternating between confusion and delight from a 3-year-old girl.
The climb to the border involved a decent length climb up to La Palma, a town with a large influence from the local artists with many buildings having murals on them and a popular place to go for those trying to climb the tallest mountain in El Salvador. It mainly involves taking a bus and then about an hour-long hike to the peak. I’d considered it, but was still feeling good to ride and it would probably have meant spending the night in La Palma, whereas I wanted to push on to the border and beyond.
At the border I considered spending a bit on some delicious pupusas, but decided not to. A poor choice, pupusas are glorious and should be eaten every possible time when one is in El Salvador. My non-standard entrance to Guatemala came back to cause a few problems when I tried to leave El Salvador. I guess either when I’d tried to leave the first time or when I actually managed to cross they wrote something in my file as after a quick look on the computer the immigration official vanished into an office and didn’t emerge for 15-20 minutes without saying anything to me. The border control there in El Salvador really take it seriously.
El Salvador is definitely not a country to come to if there is anything at all out of line with your passport. On seeing what I assume were notes left when I tried to enter the first time, the migration officer vanished without notice to the office for about twenty minutes. I knew that there was nothing at all wrong with my passport, but I was still a little nervous not wanting to get kicked back to San Salvador for some ridiculous reason. Thankfully, when he came back out I was given a little piece of paper and told that I could leave.
On the Honduran side I pulled up to the office to get my stamp and rested my bike against the building. The money changers and their friends were looking at my bike and one of them, an older guy in his 50s with a few teeth missing, grabbed the Click-Stand and started waving it around. I asked him to stop and told him to keep his hands off my bike. My annoyance at them lead to them laughing lots. I shouldn’t have left anything outside of my bags, but still they were idiots. I got to pay $3 to enter and was happy to roll away with the idiots cackling away behind me.
The road had flattened out, although both sides of the road had large mountains climbing into the sky. The lack of people was immediately noticeable in comparison with houses taking up any part that is flat in El Salvador. It also seemed poorer, with people riding on horses and a few houses in quite a serious state of disrepair. Apparently the people from Pepsi marketing came down and offered to paint the buildings of businesses for them as long as they could include a giant logo. It seems that many people took them up on the offer as everything from mechanics to restaurants had logos on them.
After a short stop in Nuevo Octopeque, to withdraw some lempiras, the Honduran currency, and to eat something I headed out. There was still a couple of hours until the sun went down and so I wanted to keep rolling. Between me at 700m and the top of the hill at 2000m there was a 20km climb and then a 15km drop to the next town on my map, but when I’d been to the bank the security guard told me there were plenty of small aldeas on the climb up. The bank had two security guys outside of it, one with the standard shotgun, the other with the kind of scanner they use at airports that he was waving at people before they entered. It annoys me when I go through what I feel are too many security measures in airports, so I guess I should just be glad that that level of security doesn’t extend to banks and the like in the UK.
On the steep climb out of town a guy on a motorbike overtook me and then waved me down. He had spent a few years in Texas and so was excited to talk to me. He warned me that I wouldn’t be able to get up and over before the sun came down, and about the dangers in Honduras during the night. Considering how often I’m warned of them, I must be very lucky to not have encountered any. I thanked him and headed off up the climb. The traffic wasn’t too bad, partly because of how steep it was. I would hear a truck and then it would take about a minute of its engine roaring to catch and overtake me as opposed to the normal ten seconds. I passed a couple of women who were running and I was barely going faster than them even though they were including speed-walk breaks. I could still look back and see them some five minutes later.
A couple of hours later I’d made it to about 1500m before thunder started rolling around me. I’d only seen a single restaurant and nothing by the way of aldeas that I’d been promised and was getting slightly concerned that I’d get my first experience of rainy season on the side of a mountain with nowhere to stay. Around 1600m I saw a sign welcoming me to the small village of San Rafael, the rain hadn’t quite started to fall, but it was definitely coming.
While looking for a shop, a man on the side of the road waved and greeted me. I stopped and we started talking in English, although it soon changed to Spanish. His name was Darwin and he had lived in the US for a few years, but hadn’t picked up much more than the essentials. I explained that I was hungry and looking for a place to put my tent so we walked to a nearby place where his family were. He popped inside and a minute late came out and directed me to a storage area that he said I could stay in. It was filled with bananas but then a couple of minutes we had cleared the floor so I’d have a place to put my tent. We’d kept chatting during that time, and the rain had started coming down. The walls were made of branches and water was slowly coming through the sides, but I’d have been fine in my tent. Darwin’s brother, Herman, joined us and they spoke together. They were concerned that I’d get wet and so I was waved back down the street to a brick building.
Herman has a small coffee finca behind his house, and he uses the building to store things. There was plenty of space in there, and it was solidly constructed so I’d stay here. After I organised my things, I was invited to Darwin’s house where we spent the evening chatting and having dinner with his wife and young daughter. Although there was no running water, they had electricity and 81 TV channels so I got to get my first taste of Honduran news where there was a story of a woman who had been murdered in the city of San Pedro Sula. They proceeded to show 5 or 6 camera angles of her lying face down on the floor. On the BBC at least that would be proceeded with some warning, but no such thing happened here. Darwin warned me that while this part of Honduras was safe, the rest was not, and especially San Pedro Sula and the capital Tegus (Tegucigalpa).
With a couple cups of coffee to start the day it was back to climbing to the top which was quite chilly in the morning air. I soon got warm as I flew down the other side, only having to break when I saw signs warning me of poor road quality ahead, which varied from a few large potholes to parts where the whole lane had disappeared. Just before I arrived to the town of Lucern where I was going to stop for breakfast there was a police checkpoint and for only the second time in my trip (the first being at the apparently unofficial border of Belize & Guatemala) someone asked me to show them the contents of my bags. Once he had confirmed that my bags of smelly laundry did not in fact contain anything interesting he let me on my way and it was on for a breakfast of baleadas, the Honduran main tortilla-based dish, a large tortilla with beans, cream, cheese and maybe some other things sometimes.
I climbed up, dropped down again and was about to head up the long climb to Santa Rosa when I was waved down by a trucker. I stopped and he told me about how his lorry had broken down. Fortunately he was able to thumb a lift after a few minutes to get him to town. I was about to start again when an elderly lady from the house next to me shouted at me, I thought she asked me if I wanted water and so I said sure and one of her five grandchildren came across and took my bottle. I had a pack of sweets so I gave them each a mint and stood round talking waiting for my bottle to come back. I was starting to get a bit confused as the old lady had opened the bottle, looked inside, closed it and put it on the floor next to her, and then she asked me for some money to buy some tortillas. I said I didn’t have any. At this point I was getting really hot as it was noon and I wasn’t in the shade. I asked one of the little girls for my bottle and she said that it wasn’t mine, but her grandmothers. I realised that the grandmother hadn’t actually offered me water, but had asked if I could give her some, hence her confusion when she’d opened the bottle only to find it empty, although I guess at least happy to have a new fancy looking bottle. We discussed for a few minutes and I finally got my bottle back before saying my goodbyes concerned that they might try to ask me for something else and headed up to Santa Rosa.
In Santa Rosa I had a lovely nap in the main square and got interviewed for a radio station. They were asking “Do you believe in aliens?” and so I got to try to explain in Spanish which was an intriguing challenge. From there it was on to a potholier road and into a stormy wind as the clouds darkened to the west of the valley I was dropping into. The lack of traffic and giant potholes did make it feel very much like a video game with me trying to survive progressively crazier pothole configurations. I aced all of the tests, being able to go into both lanes definitely helped.
2-3km outside of the superbly named Gracias I was feeling really hungry and so decided to stop at a little shop to buy some crisps. Just as I threw my leg over the bike to start pedalling again the heavens opened and I attempted to gracefully look like it was all an act. I then got to spend a fabulous hour-and-a-bit with the family who own the shop chatting about life waiting for the torment to stop. Then it was on to Gracias to meet Sydney, my Coloradan host who was teaching at a private school there, considering my teaching background I found it a fascinating time and got to learn about teaching ESL in Central America as well as meet and chat with some of the students at her school.
Where I stayed
Looking down towards Ocotopeque