The highlight of my time in Gracias wasn’t the pretty colonial architecture, but the fun hanging out with some of the primary school students who came to visit the house. They reminded me of my students in Korea, except being at a school where they’re taught everything in English they could express their natural inquisitiveness more easily.
The road out of Gracias continued through the mountains, and I set off with the hope of getting to San Jose, the first town along the way for a late breakfast. I was making good progress and then found myself descending a part where the paving, up to that point quite nice, filled up with giant potholes and my earlier success meant I went down quickly. I mistimed one part and smacked my wheel into a hole and felt my tyre was flat. I cursed my stupidity and pulled over in some shade to fix the flat. I found a small piece of metal had penetrated my tyre and so it wasn’t actually my fault, more the fault of the tyres, but I was still annoyed. I set to fixing it aware of how it was getting hotter and I had a long long way to go. My frustration wasn’t helped by a young boy and his older brother who spent the whole time staring at me in complete silence. If I’d been in a better mood, I’d have greeted them, but as it was I just got more annoyed with their seeming desire to be statues.
My tyre was eventually ready and I put it back on but without reconnecting the cable to my dynamo. My bike slipped and I grabbed it and in doing so the front wheel span, the cable got hooked on and got ripped into two pieces. You can imagine that didn’t do much to improve how I was feeling. I took my annoyance out at the two statues by staring at them in silence, which probably made them think that cyclists are crazy people.
Setting off I calmed down on arriving in San Jose and realised just how much of an idiot I’d been to the kids who were just showing a natural curiosity, and were probably too nervous or shy to say anything. I don’t blame them, I probably had a foul scowl on and didn’t look at all approachable. I tried to pay for my 30 lempira ($1.70) breakfast with a 100 lempira ($5.50) and found out they didn’t have the money to give me change so I was undercharged. I’d read about problems spending 500s outside of big places, but I’d figured my 100s would work wherever, especially in a restaurant that had already been open for a couple of hours.
Leaving San Jose, the long climb began and with the sky being remarkably Englishly overcast it was broken up with several heavy downpours. I managed to escape a couple of them by fortunately being near shelter, but that wasn’t always the case but with my jacket and Sealskin waterproof socks life was OK. Even though it’s the main road through the area, there is a 15km stretch of dirt road, including the worst part I’ve ridden on yet. The rain, combined with the clay to make it so slippy that traffic coming the other way couldn’t make it up the hill and the people told me I had to walk my bike down. I’m really glad they did because otherwise I’d have gone flying off – it was bad enough walking.
The mud spraying everywhere made me wish I had my mudguards, but I don’t. I left them with a guy called Cesar in Cancun who had helped me lots and let me leave things with him both when I went to Cuba and also to the UK. When I turned up again in late April he forgot to bring the mudguards with him, but promised me that he’d get them to me over the next few days while I was hanging out in Playa del Carmen. When that didn’t happen, he said he’d definitely get them to me in Tulum. Since then, he’s not responded to any of my e-mails and so I’m now getting the fun of going through rainy season with crap being sprayed all over my bike.
I got to La Esperanza, the highest town in Honduras and another downpour started. I’d originally figured I’d stay there, but it was cold, wet and miserable looking. The storms meant that any field I found would at best be like a sponge, and at worst resemble rice fields. I considered getting a hotel, but I’ve not stayed in one of those by myself since just before I crossed the Everglades in January 2012. The rain was still going, but became slightly less torrential and so I set off to climb out of the small bowl that La Esperanza is in and then onto the longest continuous stretch on this trip without pedalling as I dropped from an elevation of 1800m to 800m in 20 glorious kilometres that only got spoilt near the end when the twilight set in and insects came out. Hurtling down a mountain at 60km/h I had the choice of sunglasses which I couldn’t see much through, or eyes nearly closed to stop the countless insects flying into my eyeballs. I went with sunglasses, but I still had to be careful not to eat too many, no matter how hungry I was feeling.
The town of Jesus de Otoro, found in the valley between La Esperanza and Siguatepeque, has no fire station, but there is a police presence and so that’s where I asked for, and was given a place to put my tent. There was a shower which meant I could clean up some of the dirt that had been flung all over my legs, before going out for baleadas where I met a lovely lady and spent the evening talking about the Mayans, her speciality.
I started the day with another climb to leave the current valley which lead to Siguatepeque and the main road between San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras, and Tegucigalpa, the capital and largest. They also had apparently been rated two of the most dangerous cities in the world, surely makes them exciting to visit! The road from there to Comayagua, home to the second oldest clock in the world, was lined with shacks that didn’t seem in any way inhabitable.
On my day off in Comayagua I had the pleasure of meeting a man called Max Boulle who randomly started talking with me while I was taking pictures in front of the cathedral. He has been living in Comayagua for a couple of years, and warned me about going to Tegus. I had never heard of him, but his son apparently is on the TV in England on some reality TV show. Having not watched TV for a good few years, that’s not too surprising. He has lots of friends in Comayagua and so we wandered round, seemed to say hello to a large number of them and then he escorted me home after telling me I definitely should never go to Tegus.
Comayagua to Tegus is doable in a day, with a couple of decent climbs, however at the half-way point, and the top of the first climb, is Zambrano. I’d never heard of Zambrano until someone called Jorge contacted me and invited me to pass some time there on my way to Tegus. I was in no rush, and the hotel that he has constructed with love since the late 90s sounded fantastic.
On the climb up to Zambrano, I had my first experience grabbing on to a truck (apparently called skitching). It seems a common thing for cyclists to do in the area, and Peter had been a big fan of it whenever the opportunity struck. I’d always been a little nervous, but there was a lovely shoulder and minimal traffic so when the truck pulled up next to me, honked his horn and signalled for me to grab on so I did. He was driving slowly because one of his twenty-something tyres was fading badly and close to blowing. I managed to skitch for about 5km, before the knot that I was holding onto came undone. By that point my arm was tired and I was struggling to hold on much more, so when the truck pulled over to sort things out I said it was OK and was going to keep cycling. He however wanted to chat and so we balanced my bike between the cab and the load, apparently a perfectly safe place, or at least at the speed he was going at on such a smooth road. It was a blast talking to him on the way up the hill, especially as it meant avoiding the torrential rain that started not long after I got in.
Heading up to La Esperanza