Biking in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
One year on the road.
Should we include the time we spent at home in the count of our travelling days or not? We subtracted some days for the time we were in Europe for Christmas and New-Year and we will not bother you with the details, but we come to a count of 51 weeks of travelling time. Flying back home for a week on the 14th of May 2018 was exactly a year after we took off on this adventure.
A week at home.
Now the first year has passed. We are glad to go home and having a short social break especially after what has happened in Mexico. We do look forward to Spinning South further, but are still contemplating if we should speed-up to ensure to be in Ushuaia by February 2019, before winter starts or delay it to November 2019.
But now is now and you probably want to know what happened during the past week and a half cycling in Central America and if the social week was as social as we expected.
Leaving Tuesday really early for an uneventful long trip from San Salvador to Amsterdam arriving on Wednesday. Great stay with my parents, on Friday heading with the whole family to Bolsward in the Netherlands to see the inauguration of one of the 11 Frisian fountains made by my brother.
It was heart warming to not only be able to be there but also to share this special moment with family and friends! Thank you all for being there! Here you can find more information on this project; info on the bat.
If you happen to be in the Netherlands, biking/hiking/driving the 11 fountain/11 city route is fun.
The weekend flew by as we celebrated the 80th birthday of my mother and communion of my nephew Conrad! One last evening together with friends topped off an amazing week in sunny Belgium and Holland. We will treasure these moments when being back on the road.
Back in El Salvador.
Touching down in El Salvador we were not only welcomed by the humidity and heat but also by Ramon, the owner of Oasis Azul. As Frank wants to do some maintenance on the bikes and we both want to enjoy the peace at Oasis Azul some more, we decide to stay two nights.
Looks like a brand new bike even after 13.000km. New thermos, essential for some cool drinks in this hot climate!
Enjoying the crashing waves, the empty beach and the good food. And then we are off again. 9th of July we will meet Franks sister and husband in Panama thus we can’t linger for too long.
As it is a flat road and we are kind of rested the miles fly by and we decide to push for the next town. As this day is also dedicated to Krzysztof and Holger I don’t complain when my knees start to hurt.
105 km later we arrive in Usulutan, big town which was hit by a hurricane and an earthquake 15 years ago and never really has recovered.
Still feeling a bit jet lagged we don’t opt for the basic but spoil ourselves by staying in a recently built hotel, one of those that could be anywhere in the world.
The first elevator in a very long time up to the 4th floor. Happy not camping as a huge thunderstorm hits town just after we have installed us in our room.
We wanted to have a swim but the storm is so close we decide to stay in and we finish a great biking day with noodles in the room. The water heather is a life changer! Hope my knees will be better tomorrow as I almost can’t walk down the stairs.
Next day we decide to ride an extra loop following the coast and see if we can camp by the sea.
Biking out of the city we encounter a great initiative: a miss election but dresses need to be made from recycled material. Something for the scouts at home?
It is always nice to meet new people and have a chat, Juan & his friend are from El Salvador, already living + 25 years in the USA and came down for their friend’s wedding.
Rainy season catching up on us
To reach the coast we need to bike over a summit and are following a winding smaller road. We get hit by the rainy season for the first time . Until now it was only raining at night. Lucky there is no lightning involved so we continue biking but with our yellow jackets.
So much water but not cold! Over the summit it seems as if the clouths stayed at the other side and it has not rained here! Reaching the small village of Playa el Cuco.
Bit run down, poor village. We stock up on food as we don’t want to stay in this village but have read about a few possibilities further along the coast. We checked the highly recommended Tortuga Verde but it was too big and we did not feel like camping there.
Adela’s restaurant and camping
Two houses further down the road we are warmly welcomed by Adela. Old run down beach house (must have been beautiful once) with old palm trees, view of the ocean and sound of the crashing waves. Great green lawn offers several camping spots and as we are the only one camping here we can choose.
Important to choose a spot where you cant be hit by falling coconuts or the huge leaves of the palmtrees.
All the clouds did not stay at the other side of the mountain, it started to rain excessively after we went to bed, thunder and lightning but far away. We stayed dry! Sun welcomed us in the morning, even with the burning rays it took almost an hour to more or less dry the tent. But everything remains damp even the clothes we hung in the open aired living room. Breakfast at Adela is baked bananas with eggs and beans. Enough to start biking the dirt road to complete our loop back to the main road. These are really the forgotten corners of El Salvador. With only houses made of corrugated iron. Lots of young people hanging around, greeting us. I don’t feel confident enough to take out my camera. We talk a bit with the cattle farmer who explains that they milk by hand once a day and the milk is collected also only once a day by a truck from the factory. Not refrigerated, like it was with us 40 years ago. Great ride!
People transport between villages often means standing in the back of a truck.
End of the road in El Salvador
We arrive in La Union where we will try to find a boat crossing to Nicaragua as we don’t want to bike Honduras. Seems that the situation in Nicaragua has cooled down so we feel OK to bike there.
La Union is a strange city. Not a big fishing village and not a beach town. Run down. Smelly. Finding a place to sleep is not really easy and we finally end in something which looks like a love hotel but is very clean and recently renovated with new mattresses and enough space to put our bikes inside and hang all our stuff out to dry.
We check with the harbour captain and Hector from immigration on travel possibilities. No official ferries. Mario’s boat is one of the possibilities but he will not cross tomorrow, only on Tuesday if he has enough people. Did you know Salvadorians see Pollo Campestre as their traditional food, when they have been away from home this is the first thing they want to eat. As we now almost leave the city we try it out, looks like Kentucky Fried, looks like a take away but you do have your own waiter/waitress and the portions are huge. Good chicken, now we know why people in the larger cities are big.
Monday we sleep in and around noon start to check-out the city. Hector contacts Mario and we now know we need to be at the harbour tomorrow morning at 6:00.
Green mango is a delicacy, with salt and chilly and lemon.
We try to find a place for lunch and can’t understand the ridiculously high prices in the restaurants. How can people afford this? We find a small place with good ribs, in the evening we cook in the room.
Can we make it to the other side?
A long day starts at 5:00 am with a lot of waiting, searching for Mario, then we understand that the people he first had, have cancelled their trip to Nicaragua. We have to wait if others show up, otherwise he will not go. If not there is Lucila’s boat crossing tomorrow.
It is fun to watch morning activities.
Hanging around we see people leaving immigration and understand they will cross to Nicaragua. But their boat is too small to take two extra people and two fully loaded bikes. At one moment we see a gringo with a surfboard and a local entering migration. Is it our lucky day? Seems that Anibal would be able to take us to Nicaragua but with one stop in-between, Isla Meanguera where they live, and we could sleep for free at his place. An offer we can’t refuse. They only still need to shop but are able to leave around 13:00. As there is no quay bikes are carried to the boat and stuff is rolled to it. Having fun with the porters.
We will be leaving El Salvador (21,041 km²) which is 0.56 times as big as the Netherlands (37,354 km²) and has 6,3 million inhabitants.
What we have seen is that they have lost their indigenous looks and are way taller and bigger than Guatemalans.
We will cross with a lot of supplies for the island (2.300 people), Anibal and his pregnant wife Gaby and 3 other ladies. Calm sea, no rain.
Meanguera del Golfo
1 hour and we are at a harbour of the volcanic island where the trees are touching the water.
We will sleep in hammocks for the first time but first walk a bit around and have a drink and something to eat at the only hotel.
Happy we have a hammock. Have to say that it slept better than expected. Pulled the sleeping mattress cover over me to protect against mosquitos as we sleep outside.
Next day up at 4.:0 as we leave at 5:00 to do the final stretch. Bit of rain but no thunder so the boat is leaving after we have passed migration, yes even on this island with only 2.300 people they have a migration office.
No lights and documents are checked with the light of the migration officers phone. Seems that the light went off as bugs have eaten through the electricity wiring.
Landing in Nica
This time a smaller boat which bumps and flies over the water. Sunrise over a stormy sea. After a 1 hour we arrive in Nicaragua. No dock, small immigration office. Have to pay $24 but get only a receipt for $8 ☹.
As it is so remote we don’t want to put up a discussion, are we cowards? Anibals wife escorts us at both migration offices. Anibal shows us a place where we can exchange $ to Cordoba. As we find connectivity important we buy straight away a new SIM and inform home we are safe. Don’t expect a bank or exchange office, it is just in a “hotel” which is also offering building materials etc. They let us take a shower, water is even warm as they tap from the hot springs around the corner. Refreshing!
As we arrived at a remote and sparsly populated peninsula, where most of the area is a natural reserve, the ride to the mainroad is beautiful.
Seems that the rainy season also has reached Nicaragua and that it is even wetter here. As we don’t want to go straight away to a bigger city but want to better check the situation in Nicaragua, we bike to El Cielo, a bit of the main road.
El Cielo lies on top of a hill with a refreshing breeze and a distant ocean view. Run by 2 French people. Already there for 10 years and did an amazing job. Basic cabana. Porch with two rocking chairs. Shared bathrooms further down. Swimming pool. Almost feels like a holiday. We only meet one of the owners very briefly and he says there are no issues to travel through this beautiful country as long as you don’t enter Managua. Feeling happy!
He also confirms why the cows are still so skinny even if everything is now green. Seems that until 3 weeks ago they have had the longest dry season ever, all hills were brown. Remember when we were in Mexico and could almost not imagine that rolling brown hills would ever turn green, now it is almost the opposite. How strong nature is, recovering so quickly. The festive feeling is completed by the best pizza in a long time. Also strange as this could be anywhere.
Frank makes a perfect oatmeal breakfast with thanks to Willem! And we take off to Leon. Second largest city. 76 km but doable as most of it is flat. After some small roads we hit the HW 12 with almost no traffic and enough space to bike.
Only after the traffic from Honduras joins HW 12 it starts to be more busy. At Chinandega we want to take some secondary road but after 20 minutes we arrive in the slumbs and Franks gut feeling says to return to the main road, which we do.
Good choice as not much later the first shower hits us. We are offered shelter at a small house and after rain slowed down we decide to continue biking. Real biking lane around El Viejo.
Flood gates of heaven
When we see a bus stop with shelter we have a great lunch with the pizza left overs. Yes we try to look after our budget 😉and then it starts to rain with very close lightning. We decide to wait until the thunderstorm passes and some local motor cyclists join us. One of them explains that he is concerned about the current situation in his country and the recent killings. My Spanish is not good enough to understand how recent, thought he said yesterday?? Biking further we see the effect of water, where the creeks were earlier dry river beds they are now brown fast flowing rivers.
Leon and mixed feelings
Arriving in Leon we look for Casa Abierta, it is very quiet on the streets and already a lot of shops are closing, it is 5:00 so maybe this is common?
We are welcomed by Louisa from Belgium, who is very concerned about the current situation and has not left the hotel after she has seen police chasing people in the hospital across the road and has seen people jumping out of windows of the first floor to escape the hunters. She even suggests to leave the country as soon as possible. Still we need to go and do some grocery shopping as the restaurant is closed and we don’t want to walk the streets when it is dark.
We don’t feel unsafe and the few people on the streets are friendly. In the supermarket people are not stocking up on food but looks like they are doing their normal grocery shopping.
Back in the hotel we spend some time chatting with Louisa. Seems that what is on TV is censored by the current government. Protests have started end of April when the president wanted to reform social security and pensions. Protests were violently repressed and he waited too long to recall his initiative.
Yesterday, during mother days, there was an other protest by the mothers of the killed students which was again violently repressed while it was a peaceful protest with children and elderly people. 12 people were killed in Managua. More road blocks are erected. Strange to be here, alone, in this beautiful surrounding. What to do next?
Next day we meet Jesus who started in Antigua with his biking trip, we met him in Antigua when he was searching to buy a bike. We discuss route possibilities with him and with the Dutch owners of his hostal. Decide to not take the coast road as this is a remote area and recommendations are to stay on the more busy roads as gangs take benefit of the unrest to roam around.
Tourism is affected, most hotels are almost empty, where Leon was normally a vibrant town it is now almost deserted. Still we visit the cathedral, which is the largest of Central America and where you have a beautiful view from the white roof top.
Museum centro de arte, fundacion Ortiz Gurdian is a must see. Not only the collection is remarkable but especially wandering through the different rooms which were once 6 different houses is bringing you back in time. Wondering how it was to live here in the colonial era.
In the morning I enjoy the best swimming pool we have had during our whole trip. Casa Abierta is owned by a Belgium couple (now in Belgium) which built the low-rise with local materials, trying to use as much as possible recycled materials and the swimming pool uses a salt system to provide a clean swimming environment.
Biking out of Leon we do see more police but they say everything is safe. Long day with quite some climbing and headwind. Fun start as we are passed by Marcel, Swiss and alone on the road.. We are his first bikers he sees after La Paz in Mexico. Biking now 2 months and already here! Well done.
Aims to be in Usuahia in December. With his legs it should be doable. Wants to bike to Granada and did not hear about the issues in Masaya which he would be passing on his way to Granada. We exchange contact details and look forward hearing if it is as safe as in Granada. Still can change our route 😊.
Close to Managua
We reach our goal and find a secured hotel with road works in front just before Managua.
Don’t think there will be riots here. Marcel seems to be staying 7 km further downtown and confirms it is definitely not safe in town. He decides to skip biking past Masaya to Granada and will go South to do some surfing.
Tomorrow is Sunday, what will we do?
oh yes: today we got a great mango when drinking a Coca Cola in a very small road shop, and a few kilometers further a car slowed down next to me and offered me a cold Cola on the move. Touching 🙂