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January 31, 2006

Keep on Keepin' on

No sense in sitting on our thumbs in Tegucigalpa waiting for Canada to get a replacement passport to me. Willie won´t be travelling with us for much longer and the walls of my prison (the Honduran border), while small on a map of the world, are actually quite large...from a human perspective. We´ve bucked up and decided to do some exploring.

A few bus rides and a little bit of hitch-hiking through the country-side has brought us to an out of the way town called 'Gracias'. It just so happens that the highest peak in Honduras is staring down at us from every corner of this tiny town. We can´t really see the top, as it´s covered in clouds but we hear that it´s meant to be a spectacular two day hike to the summit and back. Brian has started salivating over the prospect of climbing a mountain...

January 27, 2006

Down and out in Tegucigalpa

Now I'm hiding in Honduras
I'm a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan.

-Warren Zevon

It's been more than a couple days since I've posted. I can explain. We've been into some serious adventure. Well, mis-adventure; but as far as I can tell both words mean the same thing; that is, all adventure is actually mis-adventure. If you remember, my memory for hardship is short. This episode is already being filed away in my mind as an experience rather than ordeal. It all cumulated in an unplanned trip to the Canadian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras and a couple visits to the local police. The first visit being a bust because they didn´t have paper... or a typewriter (we needed a report). No paper, just guns on a desk.

We left El Salvador without a hitch. The night spent in lockdown on the border at the old slaughterhouse recently converted into a hotel (the meat hooks on the wall were a dead giveaway) for wayward travellers like us was much nicer than the hotel from the previous night which, judging by the signage in the rooms was much more accustomed to renting rooms by the hour. Either way, it didn't matter, as long as there was a place to rest my head that was out of the sun I was content. I'd been enduring nearly two weeks of heaches, diareaha, fever and occasional puking. Cycling nearly 100km each day in more than 40 degrees of heat wasn't helping my condition and wasn't making for much fun either. Still, it was better for each new day to have a different horizon; The world is big and I didn't want to spend any more time than was necessary sweating it out in some crappy hotel. No we were headed for the promised land.

Honduras was to be a 300km speed bump on our way to better and badder countries, for our sights were firmly set on Nicaragua. The city of Leon was to be our shining palace at the end of the yellow brick road, our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But alas, the mirage at the edge of the desert will remain just out of reach for the time being. 2 days; We were a mere two days from Leon. I could actually see Nicaragua.

It was one of those days where your head hurts to much to bother moving it. Had I moved it a little more, or even been a little more involved in my surroundings I may have realized that at some point during the day I was no longer carrying the pouch with my wallet, passport and camera in it. Had I not resigned myself to simply exist and wait for the next day to come I may actually been able to cross the border into Nicaragua.

We made it to the border, but couldn't cross. There was one sympathetic immigration official who offered to 'talk to somebody higher up' to arrange to have us smuggled over the Rio Negro by night. It would have been exciting, but I'm certain none of our mothers would have approved. We politely declined.

I've spent the last 3 days talking my way through security checkpoints sans identification (surprisingly easy if you have the right colour skin) and getting to the capital in order to jump through all the hoops that one needs to jump through to have a passport issued in Tegucigalpa without the benefit of proof of citiziship or a guarantor. Now all I have to do is way 10-12 working days....

Yes, I'm again without a camera. Maybe I'll start drawing pictures. I think somebody suggested it earlier.

Tick, Tock....

January 22, 2006

Suchitoto and beyond

IMG_2513It´s sort of surprising that we´ve put so many miles between us and San Salvador. I haven´t really been feeling too inspired to post. As soon as Brian started getting over his Dengue Fever, I descended into one, but not before we´d made it to the picturesque town of Suchitoto. At least I think it was picturesque. I was sweating in bed for the two days we spent there. Brian, Willie and Caroline were nice enough to create a photo essay of the town for me. This slideshow is pretty much all I got to see.

We´re in Eastern El Salvador now, racing for the border. As long as our bikes and bodies hold up, we´ll be in Honduras within two days.

January 18, 2006

Dengue Fever

In the end we threw our bikes on the roof of a chicken bus for the ride to San Salvador. Brian had just been diagnosed with Dengue Fever and was in no condition to attempt the ride. San Salvador, with nearly a million people, offered us amenities better suited to a speedy recovery than the backwater town of La Libertad. As for his Dengue, we were told not to worry; "it´s not the bad kind." As long as there´s no sign of hemorrhaging, in the form of nose bleeds or spontaneous bruising, he can look forward to being fully recovered within two weeks of the onset of the fever, which according to our calculations was nearly a week ago. If anybody can shrug off the symptoms sooner, it´s him. He´s already showing signs of improving, though it may partially be attributed to the mysterious pain-killers the doctors have him on.

For all the talk of guns and gangs and war, San Salvador is surprisingly comfortable and familiar... at least in this suburb - Boulevard De Los Heroes. It´s easy to forget that we´re in a third world country. Last night we indulged in the guilty pleasure of a ´meal deal´at Wendy´s; from some vantage points the only obvious difference from, say Guelph, Ontario, are the palm trees out front and the shotgun laden guards at the entrance. Our binge on American culture wasn´t finished there... To help digest the burgers we hit up the local cinema and to our delight Narnia was playing in English with Spanish subtitles. Perfect.

Brian slept. We´ll b here until he feels well enough to continue on... at the moment, he´s insisting that will be the crack of dawn tomorrow.

January 16, 2006

Trapped in La Libertad

La Libertad in the AfternoonTrapped in La Libertad. There is irony somewhere in that statement.

Brian has developed a heat rash from his fever and opted for the doctors office instead of the 2000m climb to San Salvador. She specifically advised against attempting the bike ride, though I suspect she´d advise against it under any circumstances. He´s fine really (he´ll tell you that himself)... we hope to be on the road tomorrow at the crack of dawn.

For now though, it looks like it´ll be another day lounging in my hammock and rolling around in the near-perfect surf. Woe is me.

January 15, 2006

Out of the Frying Pan...

The Beach of La Libertad... and into the lap of luxury. Well not luxury as in five star accommodation. We still don't have toilet seats, hot showers, air conditioning or rooms without other living things sneaking around under the beds. Nevertheless there are days I feel like a king. Thus far in El Salvador, except for one hot and hungry night on a beach, we've stayed in walled compounds. In Playa El Zonte we had the place entirely to ourselves for two nights. Picture it: an open concept terrace facing a lush, green garden spotted with palm trees and a small but refreshing pool as a centre piece. The only others able to penetrate this paradise were the family that lived there and ran the place. They were, at times, almost too eager to attend to our needs. Whether it was cutting down coconuts for us to drink out of, or cooking up giant spaghetti meals... two days of feasting and drinking and lounging cost each of us nearly $20 USD. Wow.

My memory for hardship is very short. While climbing a hill with my laden bicycle I curse myself for choosing El Salvador as a place to start this trip, but as soon as I crest the hill, gaze out on the big blue Pacific and start down again, the pain is forgotten and all is right in the world. The coastal road to La Libertad (pictured) is like this. Up, then down, then up, then down again. The potential energy we build climbing up these hills is always immediately spent as the highway dips right back down to the sea. Up and down again, up and down.

The difficult ride to get here was only the tail end of a stressful two days for us. As I sit here in this hammock in our compound in La Libertad, it's difficult to remember how it felt to lay sweating and hungry in our tents on some unnamed beach, hidden in plain sight under the faux cover of a full moon, trying to fall asleep on an empty stomach, all the while trying to work out how we (all three of us) ended up without any money. This is what I figured out: the Pacific coast of Guatemala is devoid of ATMs. There was no opportunity to 'stock up' on money before crossing the border. We were forced to hang our hats on the hope that the ATM in Cara Sucia ("Dirty Face"), barely 10km into El Salvador, would give us money. It didn't. We were screwed.

The next closest town with any hope of a bank was further than we could go that day. We were suddenly faced with the challenge of finding free accomodation and existing for at least the next 20 hours without spending a penny. There was no guarantee that the next town's ATMs would be any nicer to us. By the time we made it to Acajutla and found our salvation in the form of a yellow and blue ATM machine, we'd just run out of water. I'd been mentally preparing myself for the collect call home to try for the ol' Western Union money transfer.

El Salvador is most definitely 'off the beaten track'. I personally don't know a single person who's travelled here. Surfers do, but I don´t know any. We seem to have the country to ourselves... us and the locals. This makes it a difficult place to travel at times. This is, of course is generally a good thing as far as I'm concerned; it provides endless opportunity for misadventure. For all adventure is actually misadventure with a positive spin.

We're still not firing on all cylinders. Breakdowns continue to plague us and we seem to be taking turns at illness; Willie is better but Brian has fallen. He's complaining of a sore throat and is running a slight fever. Our plan is to rest here in La Libertad for another day before fighting our way up and into the mountains toward San Salvador, the capital.

January 14, 2006

Flashback to the First Day of Biking

The Pacific Slope

We´re alive and well in La Libertad, on the Pacific Ocean in El Salvador. We´ve had some real deal adventures; I´ll post later today or tomorrow morning, all I can think about is a shower at the moment. The picture is from our first day of cycling; Downhill nearly the whole way from Guatemala City to the Ocean. Spectacular.

January 11, 2006

Hunkered Down on the Border of El Salvador

I need to make this one quick. This is the only computer in town and people are queueing to use it... at least I think that´s why this guy is reading over my shoulder.

We´re hunkered down at the "Hotel California" right on the border of El Salvador (I can see the border from where I´m sitting), have been since last night. It´ll be a couple more hours before we move on as Willie finishes recovering from a nasty bit of heat exhaustion and we wait for Brian´s rear tire to get fixed again. This time the rear cassette and bearings blew out while climbing a particularly nasty hill.

This hotel, in fact this entire town, is not what I would call a travellers paradise. There are private showers and toilets in the rooms but no water comes out of any of the pipes other than the sink; Of course the sink is missing the necessary pipes to take the water away. As a result, everything splashes onto the bathroom floor. We can´t complain though, since hitting the Pacific Coast there has been very little infrastructure of any kind. I doubt it´ll be any better in El Salvador.

The scenery is spectacular and people are more than friendly, often running out onto the road to shake our hands or to cheer us on. As soon as the tire is ready to go, we´ll spend our remaining Quetzales on water and head into El Salvador... hopefully toward some beaches.

January 09, 2006

The Pacific Slope

Now that I'm relaxing on the endless, black sand beaches of Monterrico on the Pacific Coast, I can admit that I was more than a little anxious of this whole venture. Until two days ago, I don't think I'd ever ridden a bicycle more than 50km in one go; and here I was, flying to some crazy jungle to bike through a region known for it's steep mountains, oppressive heat, reckless traffic and bandits.

Cycling out of the largest city in Central America is, to put it lightly, an adventure; it's something I'm happy to have done, but wouldn't recommend to anybody. we navigated the swirling mass of bus fumes and crowds with as much caution as possible. The urban centre is the poster child for your typical chaotic, congested and polluted third world city. It's not much more than a shapeless, swelling metropolitan mass, ringed by shantytowns, all set in a highland basin surrounded, of course, by volcanoes. Admittedly, not the most ideal starting point for a bunch of beginner cyclists; the shoulders were narrow and littered with glass, tires and dead dogs.

Now, I had a vague idea that we'd be heading downhill to the Ocean, but what I didn't realize was that this 'Pacific Slope' would be so consistently downhill. We must have coasted for 40km at a speed of nearly 60km/hr down an arrow-straight, toll highway (bikes go free) with giant shoulders. Aside from an initial climb to get out of the city, it was ALL downhill. I love bike touring. This is great. I have trouble reminding myself that we have yet to do any significant hill climbing. My tune may change.

This isn't to say that the start of our trip hasn't been without it's kinks. We've had a few mechanical problems; in two days, we've blown two tubes (Will and I), and had to replace one rear tire (Brian) which mysteriously shredded. Physically , while it's been pretty easy, each of us still has our share of minor pains and aches and we're all happy to be out of the belching city and back to the breezy coast. We've traded concrete and smog for hammocks and smoothies on the beach. This is another place I'd love to stay at forever, but alas, there are no banks in Monterrico and we've only enough currency to stay the night before we need to move on. Apparently VISA isn't everywhere you want to be.

Note: No banks, and apparently no computers with anything more modern than Windows 98. Which means that I can't upload any of the spectacular photos from my USB drive without installing the proper (and seemingly non-existent) driver. I'll post the photos as soon as possible.

January 05, 2006

Adventures in boredom

San Jose International AirportWow, two posts in a single day. I can explain... As I near my 22nd hour of loneliness in San Jose International (Costa Rica) I have to admit I'm starting to get bored. There's only so much sleeping and sitting one person can do. I've tried to break up the monotony with periodic visits to the Burger King in the food court and now my belly hurts. One more hour until I get on that stinking plane. I'd better stop taking photos; the world is still a little over zealous about airport security. Maybe I'll go brush my teeth again... tick. tock.

And back again....

Another long day spent on the concrete floor waiting for ticketing agents to let me into the land of food vendors and departure gates has come and gone. In 8 short hours I'll be on a plane, zooming back to Guatemala City on the last leg of my Christmas hiatus to pick up where I left off. I'm hoping that Brian meets me at the airport armed with a vehicle that will fit the bicycles (note to Brian or Willie: regular taxis won't do the trick, we need a mini-van with folding seats)

So far I've managed to remain blissfully ignorant of all the untold horrors that the bicycle boxes are surely suffering on their way-too-long trip to Central America. I've heard too many horror stories and realize that I'm not lucky enough to escape unscathed.

I am, however, happy to report that the only noticeable damage incurred thus far appears to be focused primarily on my wallet.. Despite my best attempts, the bicycle boxes ended up overweight and wouldn't hold all the luggage; I was forced to check a third bag.

The powers that be are surely smiling down on me as they prod me at my weakest spot; my wallet:

  • Mini-Van Taxi with folding seats: $65

  • Special Airport plastic wrap: $22

  • American Airlines overweight luggage: $60

  • American Airlines extra bag: $109

  • American Airlines 'bicycle bags': $20

  • TACA Airlines luggage surcharge: $120

  • San Jose departure fee: $30

Ouch. I purposefully haven't added it up; I prefer the general feeling of dread to having the full weight of the exact cost sear into my brain. I don't mean to complain, I'm still mourning the fact that I'm no longer earning a regular paycheck. There are people who are far worse off than I. Besides, any hardship I've endured is completely self inflicted.

It's almost a given that we'll discover something broken or missing/forgotten after settling in Guatemala and reassembling the bicycles. The fun part is trying to anticipate what it is. After sitting with myself for 18 hours now all that comes to me is that, in my haste, I neglected to let the air out of the tires of Brian's bicycle. It didn't occur to me until we were at a cruising altitude of 31,000 ft somewhere over Cuba; too late to do anything about it. Does this mean they'll explode, implode or will they be fine and good as new when we land?