Salvadorean Paradise

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We woke up this morning in a little paradise by the beach, a day off, sun shining, a wild garden outside our room and a swim in the Pacific. Welcome to playa El Tunco, surfers paradise. We have covered a lot in the last week, leaving Lake Atitlan, stopping off in Antigua and crossing another border into El Salvador. As ever, each day is different to the last.

It was an easy decision not to cycle out of San Pedro, the short climb to the PanAmericana would have taken all day, we had the brakes on fully for most of the descent and the gradient was insanely steep. So we took the shuttle bus, tied the bikes to the roof, and were a little sad to leave tranquil San Pedro. Antigua was a disappointment, a beautiful old city set between three volcanoes, one still active. It seems to have sold out to a particular type of tourist with lots of money and little time. However, we found a nice little posada where all the travelers with no money but plenty of time, boundless good humour and interesting stories seemed to hang out. It is always good to have time to meet people when you are forever on the move.

Gary is a French cyclist who has been on the road for 18 months, heading east from Paris and getting to Buenos Aires, before heading north along the Brazilian coast and ending up in Antigua the same night as us. It was a  fortunate meeting, great to hear his stories and get some good tips for the road. Cyclists are a bit like ships in the night, you could be a couple of days apart for months and never meet each other. And so it is quite a surprise to find ourselves in a room next to three other cyclists, Seth, Chris and Parker, on their way from Alaska to Patagonia. We met them yesterday at a roadside cafe, yet another fortunate occurrence.

El Salvador has been a revelation. It is a place you may never visit due to stories of danger, crime and guns. It is a little gem though, the locals we have met have been so friendly and it certainly has a different feel to both Mexico and Guatemala. However, it is hot. It seems that cycling in this part of the world throws up all sorts of challenges.We have left the mountains behind, as we cycled out of Antigua the one active volcano let off an enormous plume of smoke and ash, an incredible sight. We descended to the coastal lowlands and the temperature rose…and rose. Gary had warned us about this, saying we needed to be on our bikes by 6.30am and that you couldn’t cycle in the middle of the day. This was hard to believe but we soon understood. On crossing into the quiet border peublo of La Hachadura, the temperature had risen to 45c, we took refuge in some shade and waited until afternoon to get going again. By 9.30am the temperature can be in the high 30’s and won’t drop again until evening. It is like working out in a sauna, or cycling in an oven.

I asked myself yesterday a question that many people might consider, "Why are you doing this". There is no answer except why not. Yes, it can be extreme, but the highs are too great and as humans we can adapt to anything. I would rather be riding in these conditions (and feel very fortunate that  I can) than having to partake in the back breaking manual labour that we have seen throughout the trip so far. The land here is farmed by hand, labourers in the fields hacking at the hard ground with ancient tools, trying to coax some life from it.

And so to yesterday, we thought it would be an easy day by the coast on the Littoral, the road that crosses west to east along the pacific. But the landscape is shaped by fingers of prehistoric lava flow, now dressed in vivid green, and the road contours up and down and around these, following a wild coastline with black beaches of volcanic sand. We were close to empty, no food and little water left, midday close at hand, when a cliff top cafe appeared around a bend, offering magnificent views and cold refreshing coke. As we were about to leave, the Alaskian trio arrived, in much the same state. Fortunate for sure. We all finished the day in El Tunco, so like the kitesurfing village of Cumbuco in north Brazil, some of the worlds best waves, surfers riding high under spotlights after the sun went down.

El Salvador is a small country. We are sticking to the lowlands and may visit the islands in  the Gulfo de Fonseco, which borders Honduras and Nicaragua. It would be great to sail across to Nicaragua, but don’t know how possible this will be. Manana, manana, everything happens tomorrow, or maybe next week, or maybe not. So we will probably pass through a stretch of Honduras and head to Noel and Carmin’s place, friends of Nessa. We may be there for Paddy’s Day, but who knows.

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