Category El Salvador

Two borders, one day

I have a good friend down here who rides confidently through Central America with few security concerns but balks at Honduras. This same friend is mulling over buying one of Lucinda’s sisters and has entered a quiet stage on this, which we take to be a good sign.

So, with some time on our hands, but not enough for dithering we decide to blast through Honduras in a day and deal with two borders, which is possible, look at Honduras with an open if paranoid mind and decide the next move from the other side, backwards if need be.

Two borders means four sets of hassle, as explained in another post. My new Guate plates should save me time. But 4 to 5 hours per border with non CA plates is not unusual so we’re cautious and pick a safe fast destination and budget a 10 hour day, hoping nothing goes wrong
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Getting close
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Not many photos or video, I was just concentrating on getting the job done. The first border sign
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Then, same as new American friends I met a day later, I get nailed by this guy. He notices I’m running video and makes a grab for the camera,. I fake turning it off and ignore him. But he asks me for all my documentation and sits down in a chair to read it. Then after about 10 minutes says the Gaute stamp on my title is no good. Bullshit. He’s looking for a bribe. I sit it out, and eventually he gets bored and gives me my papers back. The Americans, I’m guessing from their story are about three hours behind me and he does it again to them. A standard crook in police uniform.  Here he goes

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Then into the mess
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they check you over before you even start. You’re constantly pulling out your passport, licence, title
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Then the ‘helpers’ start in on you. I refuse to use these guys

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then, some luck. An insurance woman is grabbing business at the same time as Lucinda has to suffer the indignity of bug spray. You need all these papers to go further

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Then the tough stuff starts. Immigration and customs. I shut the camera off, no need to risk having it confiscated.  I have a medium-fast crossing, about 1 1/2 hours. Some would think that’s fast but my plate has shaved off maybe 40 minutes

It’s so hot, way over 100F, I’m worrying about dehydration, despite having downed two big bottles of water. I’ve sweat through my suit but it’s my wallet, housing everything so don’t risk taking it off and carrying it. Soaked through
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Then on through some town. Not very happy because I’m so hot, have a two hour drive to the next border, and the town’s streets are all torn up. But we stopped for a pic of this bridge just to have one Honduran shot for the time being
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As it happens, an ADV rider had posted a warning about the road conditions between borders, saying the potholes were bike-busting. The post sounded a bit hysterical so me and others sortof ignored it, Turns out he was right. CA3 was a disaster. The holes were up to 10 inches deep and even the sixteen wheelers were slowly snaking around them
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Small village trucks were filling the holes through corners with a clay mix
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And then on through the Nicaraguan border, too tired to take photos or risk video, which I hoped would be a breeze but was just what we didn’t need, much worse, between 2 and 3 hours, and into Chinandega, Nicaragua, wasted. A typical bad ADV day, nothing exceptional either way and every gringo on a bike goes through this. A rite of passage.

to Perquin and San Miguel

We hadn’t been north in El Salvador and I’d heard that the old FMLN guerrilla stronghold was north of  us, close to the Honduras border. But it would be a long day if we were going there and back again to set up in San Miguel for the Honduran border, so we set off very early.

There’s a connecting road between Chapeltique and Gotera in the track below
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that turned out go through the most prosperous land we’d seen yet in this country. The countryside was beautiful
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Rich people
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Lots of this
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And of course what would riding be in Central America be without one of these in almost constant view
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Then we started gaining elevation, slowly and constantly. We were under time pressure so not a lot of shots of this day. Villagers doing the wash in the rivers. A constant
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Good basic riding

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Up more into thick forest

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To the town of Perquin, which is definitely the meanest town I’ve passed through in the last while. I didn’t take pictures of much because I didn’t want to piss even a dog off. Money here too, maybe bad money, who knows

But plenty of steel doors . Lucinda doesn’t even want to go on the kickstand here. I think this house is an inside joke
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Because this is the norm
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Or like this
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This might even be a B&B
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This guy’s cheering up the neighbourhood with his red steel doors
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Then a long ride to San Miguel down through the mountains
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Laguna

A short ride today but it couldn’t have been prettier. El Salvador’s small like a jewel.

Short because the next fews days require good planning and because major laundry including suit washing has become critical. The high temperatures have activated the bacterial cultures in my suit, helmet, gloves and boots and it’s real bad.

About ten days ago, after I junked the crap Alpinestars armour due to zip and velcro failure after just a month, I put my riding jacket on and:

Claudia: Jeremy, you smell bad

Lucinda: No he doesn’t

Me: Yes. But not at all sure what to do about it

Anyway we arrived at the laguna early
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I try not to post a terrible photo, the others weren’t so great so that will have to do. Lucinda is a little speck to the left of the white van.

It’s sulphurous and the surrounding rock looks like this
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The clay around it is also pretty and looks like this
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But the trail in the jungle around the laguna looks like this!
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Then down 2K of cobblestone
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Then off to Berlin for an explore of the houses on the hillside of town. Nothing huge to report but the beauty of El Salvador and the always good riding
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And the little track
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er, various…

A long excellent day. First of all, the day track below for reference. This is almost half the length of the country. Small, the nearly 7M people make it the mostly densely populated Central American country. Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 5.10.02 PM

So I had to head back to El Tunco this morning early. Something I’d forgotten. There are two ways south down to the plains from the volcano. The way through Santa Maria (the way I came up yesterday) or through Berlin. So off I went for the steep ride down and lo and behold it’s perfect dirt the whole way. But from the top, the morning view down through the volcanoes P1060312

Looking the other way P1060310

Then down quickly into the jungle! Yay! Monkeys (no)! P1060317

Lovely, fast, narrow P1060333

See the house? P1060337

To the bottom, 20 miles later, and another pretty river. There’s a fisherman almost in the centre of the pic, just a bit to the laft P1060345

So I walked down to watch him, and caught his net just before it hit the water. He only casted twice in ten minutes. Patience P1060349

Then, on the flats, navigating cows. For the moment i’d blanked and forgotten how to say *get out of the way you fucking cows!* in Spanish, but they don’t spook easily anyway so we steered through them P1060322

And the ride down was over. So the loop up to Alegria and down, with the connecting main road, is now my favourite all time loop. Why do I think I’ll be back to do it again? Here it is, for your trip down here Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 9.23.01 AM

Then off fast to El Tunco for a couple of hours to get my chore done. Then back again, but we took a diversion about 30 miles down a dirt road, following the Rio Lempa to the ocean, which was just out of sight at the start. It was a dead end so we saw virtually no one. This can be a bad thing, and we had a random incident with a local in a pickup who didn’t think we should be here.

Incredibly lush land down the road
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Exotic trees
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Until we got to the end of the road. No ocean access without a hike and I’m not leaving Lucinda alone

But we were beside the Rio
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Then, tired, we raced up the side of the volcano, pavement side, back to Alegria.

Alegria

A quick note, as this written a day late.

We’re headed for this, Volcan Tecapa, and a small town that sits just several hundred meters from the top, on a shelf, Alegria.
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But first we head across the lowlands, crisscrossed by rivers coming down from the highlands, on our left and we ride south, to the sea, close-by, on our right. Every one is beautiful.

First a quick picture tour of the lowlands
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The war ended only 19 years ago, so there’s plenty of this about. A feature of wartime construction is metal doors in brick walls and it looks damn grim. I’ll remember to get a photo. Lots of grim things in El Salvador from that era.
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A huge river, Rio Jiboa
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A typical town on the way
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Then, after maybe 50 miles, there’s a road heading up to volcano and Alegria. There was just about nowhere to stop for photos on the switchbacks, but here’s the thing: it’s maybe the best 20 miles of asphalt I’ve ridden on this tour, if not ever1st and 2nd gear for most of it! Better, for it’s distance than Dragon’s Tail in North Carolina, better than Devils Spine, Mexico. Unphotographable because it’s narrow, no shoulders, precipitous drops occasionally, blind corners, steep, everything, but i’ll try. A track of a section – what this doesn’t show is it’s steep
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Once you start you can’t stop, and to add to the beauty, one side’s a jungle. But what I’ll remember it most for, other than the crazy view, is the half dozen brilliant chicanes, just flip-flopping into perfectly cambered and perfect -radius bends. Pictures of the view, from another road down to the plains, in the following post.

Into beautiful Alegria
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***
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***
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La Libertad y Lago de Coatepeque

What a difference a border can make. El Salvador is a completely different animal. More on this in a few days.

I’ve read a few ride reports from others and I can’t remember anyone whining as much as I have about the heat. And I can’t use being Canadian as an excuse because some of the others have been too. Oh well.

So the plan was to head up to altitude to escape it for a few hours.

Next to El Tunco is a town of 35K, La Libertad, which seemed like a good place to explore.
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So I rode around the backstreets on my way to the Lake this morning. Here’s the town behind the waterfront

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Then off. John 3:16. Uh oh, looks like he means it.
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Up to the mountains. The road around the lake was superb
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Our first view. It’s a massive volcanic caldera and new, about 60K years old.
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A few miles of  pavement down from the crest, then dirt for a few miles around the lake. It’s a continuous community

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We arrived at a tiny restaurant over the water.
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The water, according to all reports is supposed to be cool. It isn’t, it’s like a bath. Back to the temperature thing. My usual greeting to people isn’t *Buenos Dias*, it’s * Mucho color. Es normal?* which translates roughly to *Christ it’s hot. Is this normal or what?*. The Latinos are pretty intuitive and reply, kindly, * no it’s not normal* which means *as your host in this country, since you’re obviously suffering, I’m going to be tactful and pretend this is abnormal*

After lunch, up to the caldera rim and back onto this beautiful road
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Here’s the riding perspective

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With great views of the lake below. Lucinda insists on hogging the photos, showing off her new Rotopax, which she thinks is very ADV’ish
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On the other side of the road, the landscape is gorgeous, and mostly farmland. El Salvador is tiny, only 8K square miles, with 6M people. But it doesn’t appear that densely populated so far
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Closer
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Then back to the coast. A cop pulls me over, mostly just curious again. Things are slower here for the most part and he reads the registration word for word. Patience…
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Then the ocean
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The track. Yup another wrong turn in there
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Back to hot

Track: to El Tunco, El Salvador. Note the overshoot midpoint. The same as on the Las Guacamayas track. It must be the heat.
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It is so hot right now, here on the ocean. The same punishing full-humid 105F+ we tried to endure in Las Guacamayas, MX. The thunder of the surf, not welcome for the first time ever, feels like a hammer and I wish it would back off. The mosquitos are brutal. There’s nowhere to hide. It hasn’t been the best day because of that, but we’re headed south and we rode alone, and that’s all good.

We headed for the El Salvador border early, headed for the ocean, which always calls. A few weeks ago ago we were on the Caribbean , now it’s the Pacific. We chose the low border crossing because we didn’t want to go through Guatemala City. Enough of that in the last week, and the northerly start to hold off the heat as long as possible.

But first, Lucinda. Taz built a bracket for a single Rotopax yesterday. I’ve always been concerned about our range and this is a first step. I’ll add a second stack when I can find one. This one was used and hanging around his shop. To appease the Gods of ‘light’ I jettisoned more gear late last night. I ditched the armour. The duffle is down to a token gesture. I have tools, spares, insulation, tech, and a few clothes. Washing will be every night now as there aren’t any duplicates. I wouldn’t think about that factoid if I was you. It really can’t get any lighter than this…
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Lots of small towns to navigate first thing. This is typical and always interesting riding
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After the towns we descend
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Through more towns
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And into the country. The heat haze is building
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We stop and chat to a Guatemalteco out for a Sunday ride for a few minutes
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Then to the typical border town. The heat is building like crazy. It’s through 100F
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And the border. Sure enough, our new Guate plates mean no aduana, but their’s a new vehicle permit thing going on and it costs us an hour

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Then further towards the ocean the country side opens up and it’s beautiful
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Cattle everywhere
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This guy wouldn’t move. He was eying up the brunettes above, trying to decide. I considered his problem. Not easy, they were pretty close.
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Through miles of canopies

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Open glades. A guy on a bike said these were sugar cane fields.
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And miles of fields that were burned-off but had stands of palm. A mystery but pretty
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Then the road veered off towards the ocean. I was looking forward to this. The riding was excellent and twistied along the coast through five tunnels. We love tunnels and bridges. Immature, we know
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Then the twisties got closer and opened up to the ocean. Magnificent. An ocean with a tunnel
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Looking down
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Then 30 miles of this. I’d lost time at a border again, and stopped for photos a fair bit and had to press on to find somewhere  to crash, and we I was tired. The heat.

We rode into El Tunco, after the first two prospects said no WiFi. No WiFi ahead is like potentially missing a tax instalment. Worrying
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The view of this surf haven. Black sand. And super hot
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