Bikes, trucks and buses

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A lot can happen in a week! Our alarm clock was reset in Playa El Tunco. Now we would be getting up 5am, hoping to start cycling by six and avoid the worst of the sun. Extreme measures maybe but the heat has been insane. The mornings are beautiful though, a low sun casting long shadows and a freshness in the air that would soon dissipate and the streets are alive with people, fruit stalls and roadside cafes preparing coffee and delicious, bean filled pupusas. El Salvador is certainly a country of two very unequal halves. There are a handful of supermarkets and American style malls in the bigger towns, all catering for the rich minority, prices on par with Europe. Bread is hard to find, cheese impossible. But you learn the ways of the people and we soon realised that the guys cycling by with enormous flat round baskets on the front of their bikes were selling fresh bread. We simply had to catch their attention. Chance encounters like this add colour and life to every day. On leaving the Hollywood Inn, we knew that it was only a few days ride to Nicaragua, with Honduras in between, a big country with a short pacific coastline. Although we would have only one night there, it was going to be our first CouchSurfing experience. So, after less than a week in El Salvador, we were crossing another border.

Border Crossings

You know you are at a border when you are being chased by men waving enormous wads of cash at you and shouting cambio, cambio, cambio….all in unison, each hoping to be the one that gets to change your old currency into a new one, while making a tidy profit with terrible exchange rates. You, on the other hand, are trying to manoeuvre a bike through the congestion, trying to find shade from a beating sun, feeling both sad and happy at what is behind and ahead of you, swapping an old country for a new one, wondering where you have left your passport and trying to remember if you have to pay to get through the border knowing the officials will try their best to get some form of payment off you. Money changers are, at that moment in time, little better than pests. Still, we need them, and eventually you will make eye contact with one, haggle over the rate, threaten to take your business over the border and finally relent. We never have much money anyway, and you can see the disappointment in their eyes when you produce a few crumpled notes, enough to get you to the nearest town with an ATM. El Amatillo was just like that, welcome to Honduras!

Warmshowers in Perspire

The temperature had risen to its melting 40+, we had cycled 63km and crossed a border and it wasn’t yet 11am. And we were done for the day. We just needed to get to Perspire, a beautiful little town just off our route where we were going to spend the night. Warmshowers is like couchsurfing for bike tourists. You get to stay for free in someones house. We contacted Maite a few days before and she was willing to put us up. We wondered how it would be. We decided to hitch a ride, throw the bikes in the back of some truck and travel the 12km uphill in style. This is a common way to travel out here and the roads are full of people laden pick-ups. Even with all our stuff it was easy to get a lift and we arrived, perspiring profusely, in Pespire. Maite is Belgian and works for an NGO in Honduras, helping the local women to set up micro businesses. And she was an absolutely wonderful host. We were given the keys and left to relax at her place while she finished work. We cooked up dinner that night and settled into long conversations about what she is doing, how it was to live and work in Honduras and about our trip so far. Dinner outside under the mango trees, with her neighbours two little kids keeping us all amused, a very chilled evening. We were even treated to Belgian chocolate and freshly baked bread. Thanks Maite.

The Effects of Sunstroke

Another early start, this time fueled by coffee and Gouda cheese. The plan is to get as far as possible in the mornings and sit out the worst of the heat. But eventually it catches up with us. We were both feeling ill, having drunk something that didn’t agree with us. And we didn’t know if there was a posada in any of the towns close to the border, but figured there should be. Although it was early, we had clocked up 80km but were struggling and looking for shade. We spotted a big tree ahead and made for it. Nessa had no sooner stopped when she began to throw up. I was equally exhausted and we figured we should just hitch the last bit to the border. I am sure we both had sunstroke, our bodies had overheated. As sometimes happens, just when things are really looking bad, a stroke of luck and our first encounter with the lovely people of Nicaragua. A woman stopped, piled our bikes on the back of here pick-up and took us all the way to Somotillo, the first town in Nicaragua just over the border, a good 40km ride. She brought us through the border and seemed to know everyone, getting some official to deal with us straight away. And she wouldn’t hear of accepting anything for the ride.

Nicaragua

After a few days in this country we get the sense that the people are the most friendly we have met so far. It is so tranquil and easy going. We got a chicken bus to Leon and took a couple of days off, needing rest. Getting the bikes on the bus was a sight to behold, 4 guys not bothering about unloading the bags, wanting to keep the bus rolling (it rarely stops even when letting people on or off), heaving two bikes onto the roof. In Leon, we stayed in Casa Vieja, a small old house with several rooms around a courtyard and run by a lovely family, quite happy for you to join them at the table when eating and always ready to talk. The first few days here have left us considering spending more time than planned in what is turning out to be a country of surprises.

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