Biking in El Salvador.
Yes, our 5th country flag and more than 13.000km, almost halfway to our goal. Or is the goal being on the road 😊. We do think so. Of course it is good to have a goal to bike to but more important is to not forget to also live in this moment. Don’t look back too much on things we could have done differently and don’t spend too much time planning ahead, as things can and will change.
Ruta de Las Flores.
Sunday the 6th we only start breakfast at 8:00 as we don’t have to bike too far today. We still don’t feel confident enough to do wild camping here, so we bike from city to village where we know there will be sheltered sleeping possibilities. From Ahuachapan the day starts with a nice climb of 900m, some +6% but average 4.5%. We thought we could not sweat more than we already did before, but within half an hour we are totally soaking wet.
Sweat is dripping from my helmet on my legs, feeling pearls of sweat running down my body and we are not even at sea level yet, as we are following the Route de Las Flores.
Not a lot of flowers for the moment but a nice winding road with some good climbs and down hill sections. Looks like there are better cars here, less pollution, you do see once in a while a bus or truck spitting out black clouds when they struggle uphill, but nothing compared to Guatemala or Mexico.
We visit one of the “flower” villages, Salcoatitlan, lunch with a great view (yes again bread with avocado and tomato) and continue to Juayua.
Before the city we meet at one of the lookout points a San Salvadoran family, chilling in the cool mountains for the weekend.
As hostel Casa Mazeta is recommended in all the blogs, we try this one first but it is full. They do agree that if we don’t find anything else we would be allowed to camp in the garden. We check 3 more places ($60: are you crazy, $30: too small and 3rd floor and $20 hostel with shared facilities). As we want to do the 7 waterfall hike with the people of Casa Mazeta anyway, we decide to set-up camp in the hostel. For 15$ a night we do share the only toilet and shower available for 8 people.
Reasonable kitchen with supermarket 4 blocks down the road result in great macaroni and sufficient left over to make a Spanish omelette the next morning. Evening is different from camping or hotel as Frank is writing in his diary while I watch with 6 others Forest Gump. Fun, strange, homely.
Today we hike the 7 waterfall route together with a guide and 6 others. They don’t say what you need to take as they presume you read TripAdvisor or Facebook and they don’t check if you took water or are fit enough: your own responsibility, so we just take off. Within 500m we are in coffee fincas and following a foot trail up and down the mountain.
Coffee plants get the shadow from fruit or black peper trees. First waterfall is sweet, small, hanging garden. Next we all get a helmet and need to climb up a waterfall using a rope in a jungle-like environment. Next two waterfalls are pretty steep and we also climb down these with ropes. Just hold the rope, scramble down and don’t let go.
One part is quite challenging and I am happy the guide is really pointing out where to put our feet.
Thanks Stefan for taking these nice pictures!
Lunch at number 5 and in number 6 we can swim. I do, Frank does not as he is not feeling too warm from the shower under the previous waterfalls. What a great day. You could hike it on your own but then you would only see the last two and you need to go with a police escort as there have been some robberies if you take the main road and not the loop through the forest.
At 14:00 we are back at the hostel which leaves us time to work on the blog and…scrolling through Instagram we are shocked to find out that Krzysztof, whom we met on the 19th of April and with whom we biked a few miles on the 20th, has died. On the way to Palenque his body was found in a ravine together with the body of German biker Holger Franz Hagenbusch. In the Mexican newspaper they indicated that it must have been a road accident, as it is a very winding road, but two bikers in the same 200 meter deep ravine at the same time? Seems that first Krzysztof was found on the 26st and later Holger. Saying he got killed on the 20th but we doubt if he could have biked so far in one day. Wondering how, what, why this happened. He was travelling on very low budget and the only item of value was his bike (very old) and a Go-Pro (and his bike was not stolen!). we have talked with him on what he would do if he would get robbed and Krzysztof said he would give everything and not put-up a fight.
Later newspapers reported they were both murdered. What a terrible tragedy.
We had visited Palenque with an organized mini-bus tour from San Cristobal, as we had decided not to bike the Yucatan loop. What would have happened if we would have biked this road? Was it coincidence that due to the funeral of Carmen’s dad and our planned mid-May short visit to celebrate the birthday of my mother, that we biked straight South?
The 8th is a special day as my mother turns 80 today. What a great woman, what an inspiration she always is! Wishing her all the best, feeling bit sad to not be there today but Whattsapp video calling is great and knowing we will be in Belgium to celebrate her birthday, Conrad’s communion and an opening of an artwork of my brother, in less than two weeks makes it ok. Like this she has a really long birthday 😊
As we are a bit ahead of schedule and it looks as if there is a really nice loop around Coatepeque lake we decide to not take the easy straight route to the ocean but detour via Santa Ana. Benefit is also it is a bigger city, where I hope to find some presents for the family. Road to Santa Ana is a secondary, smaller road with very minimal traffic, so green, lush and humid.
Sweating climbing up-hill. Some of these stretches look like nothing but are +7% and with the load and heat they do make you sweat! We find the perfect spot for a picnic.
In Santa Ana we head straight for Casa Verde. THE hostel of El Salvador. We understand why it won this award. Even better than most of the hotels we had in Central-America. OK you pay $30 for your own room with two beds but you have spotless white sheets and towels, your own fan per bed. You can use a professional kitchen, there is a small pool heated with solar energy and a roof top area. Your own section in a profession fridge, with indication which part is yours, so no writing of your name on your food but your section is yours and when you leave things behind when you leave it will be put in the shared section or throw away. Frank falls in love with the rain shower which even has warm water! If we would have more time we would have stayed another day.
Rules are rules.
3 rules: no partying, no drinks from outside and no visitors. Carlos, the owner, even joins us to the super market. He shows me which beef to buy and cleans it for me. They light the BBQ only for us. Steak and Wine on my mother’s Birthday!
Interesting discussion on El Salvador, crime (only between gangs), corruption and his vision for his hostel. Before we leave we do find two presents for my nephews on the market, hope they like it! The ride around the lake is amazing, new road only they did not take in consideration bikers/safety lane. Lucky it is not steep beside the road and when we hear a bus or truck we pull our bikes on the gravel and wait until they have passed. After descending from the caldera to flat land and a nice rural road we bike on a 2×2 highway which has just before Sonsonate road works. 2×2 with a separator turns into a 1×1 with concrete protection for the road workers at our side. This means that we are squeezed between trucks and this concrete wall. If we stop before entering this cull the sack and ask present police if we could bike a detour they advise against it as there would be to many robberies. Getting a bit stressed!
In the city we check-in Hotel Agape, as this has the best recommendations on Google maps. Apparently it is an area with work, social, religious and hotel functions, surrounded by a big fence.
Biking to Playa Mizata is a joy and goes so fast we even miss the left detour and have to bike back 3 km.
Crossing the highway.
At one moment we start to smell the sea. Salt and water in the air.
Reaching the ocean is emotional, last time when we saw the ocean was when we reached mainland Mexico a few months ago!.
We follow the coastline which is not flat as the hills reach right down to the shore line. What an impressive sight it must have been; red hot, running lava flowing right into the ocean, steaming and making the ocean boil! After checking a few places we end in the Last Resort as it has Ocean view, you have your own balcony on the first floor and no direct under, upper or side neighbors. Seems that we are alone! And we get a good deal.
The road to El Zonte is same as yesterday, up/down, even 5 tunnels of which one is +500m long.
When traffic enters the tunnel we stop and squeez against the wall, even if we wear our roadworkers reflectors not everybody will have their headlights on. Are we biking with more precaution now?
Again we are drenched in sweat and drink too little. Should add ginger again to the water to create our own ginger tea. Lots of crabs crossing the roads, they find shelter when hunting them for a photo.
Half way we stop at a fish restaurant as we have not had fish here and order the family size fish. We definitively don’t need to order dinner tonight. Delicious!
We decide to cut the remaining distance in a few stretches so we can bike half days and relax half days to check out the different surf scenes.
El Zonte has a mix of old, shabby, run down hippie surfer places, with next door a 5 star hotel with access to the same beach. We find a hostal for 20$ a night but it is not in good condition. As it has a great balcony and we can cook ourselves so we don’t complain. We could have camped but happy we didn’t as during the night there is a heavy storm.
Each bend in the road revealing a new hidden beach shows that there are quite some people in El Salvador with money, it seems around 2.000 millionaires of which quite a few have a nice house with ocean view.
We need to decide if we stay in one of the surf villages or try to bike as far as possible to the airport.
Puerta La Libertad.
First we check out La Libertad.
To top up the stress of what happened with Krzysztof, we see a victim of gang war, shot on the parking lot close to the sea.
Empty beaches of El Salvador.
We decide that we need to relax a bit before we go home for a week. Spend at least the 2 days left with ocean view. We check a few places and decide to bike out of La Libertad and stay in Oasis Azul. No neigbours, no wifi but great food. 2 days relaxing before travelling to Europe for one week quality time with family and friends.
On Wednesday we return to San Salvador.