Feb 25 – Mar 8, 2007
Peñas Blancas – Ometepe – Granada – Esteli (Nicaragua) – Choluteca (Honduras) – Santa Rosa de Lima – San Miguel – La Libertad – La Hachadura (El Salvador)
We spent the first three weeks of our honeymoon in three different countries, despite our leisurely pace. Our route followed a line of fire from volcano to volcano, through dry, scorched landscapes, this being the height of their six-month dry season.
Although probably the three least-visited countries of Central America, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador do have a certain tourist potential of their own.
Ometepe was our first stop. This dumbbell-shaped island was formed by two volcanoes right in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.
The whole atmosphere on this fertile island is very laid back and many traditional farming methods are still in use.
It was a lovely change to have a swim in sweet water again and lounge around on both black and white-sand beaches.
We happened to be there for their first music and cultural festival and were lucky to catch and meet famous Nicaraguan musicians like Perrozompopo, Mario Montenegro and Amanahuac. Needless to say our music collection grew as a result!
Back on the road, we bumped into Sophie (French) on an interesting round-the-world trip, without the aid of airplanes. Having walked from France to Budapest, she used various means of public transport across Asia, sailed the Pacific, walked Mexico, picked up a bike in Cancun and is now cycling Central America as far as Panama.
Granada, the oldest town of the Americas was settled by the Spaniards in 1524. On the shores of Lake Nicaragua, Granada was a busy trading port for the Spaniards, who used the navigable San Juan River to connect to the outside world. Today, tourists can enjoy many colourful colonial churches, arcades and mansions, making it the Nicaraguan highlight.
In a very touristy town like Granada, it was very refreshing to find a publican like Carlos in Cafe Sary, who went out of his way to make us feel valued guests. He even presented us with the CD he was playing, as a souvenir of our visit. So it’s Baila Bamba and Besame Mucho for the next few weeks!
Only 20Km from Granada is another colonial town. Masaya, famous for its handicrafts, was a perfect place for us to go shopping for hammocks and leather goods.
Scenes from Masaya
Masaya is also a great base for day trips into neighbouring villages and the beautiful Apoyo crater lake.
Another excursion worth the effort was our climb of the nearby Masaya volcano on the bikes!
This huge cauldron pumps out sulfuric acid as if it were going out of fashion and gives a real feel for earth’s powers of destruction.
Ray, an acquaintance of Darina’s from Ireland, tracked us down in Masaya, while on his roundabout way to see Ireland playing cricket (of all things) in Jamaica!!!
Nicaragua is reputedly the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere (after Haiti). Granada and Masaya do have their share of beggars, but most Nicaraguans work hard to make ends meet. This taxi-driver, for example, sleeps only 4-5 hours a day, so that he, with his wife’s shop’s income, can feed his family and enjoy some modern luxuries like a TV, DVD and the odd family holiday.
Northern Nicaragua, at this time of the year, is extremely dry. The few places with a waterhole look like real oases, where even rice is planted. Nevertheless, the towns do manage to have a functioning water supply and potable water on tap.
On the roadside you can buy fresh live iguana for between $6-11, depending on the size. The 10-year old vendor explained: “You cook it like chicken and it tastes just like chicken.” Crocodile Dundee, on the other hand, reckons “You can live on it, but it tastes like S**%!
If fresh iguana doesn’t appeal, how about a couple of “Hola guapo!” parrots to wake you from your slumbers in the morning?
Darina’s back wheel rim finally cracked on this stretch. We managed another 100km until we finally found a replacement aluminium rim. Marbi and Cesar toiled for 5 hours taking the wheel apart and then figuring out how to put it back together again! And that under a low galvanised iron roof and 38˚C! Total cost: $6 (to date no problems).
We ate very well in Nicaragua, even if the food varied little from the previous countries. There is always rice and beans with beef or chicken, but in Nicaragua we did have a few new dishes like the delicious Jalapeño steak. Here we also had our first tortillas (flat corn bread) as an accompaniment.
Hans from Germany, travels by public transport, but has his 15kg folding bike in his luggage to get him around town fast without taxis.
Many buildings bear witness to Nicaragua’s not too distant past. Sandinista graffiti from the Contra War is a constant reminder of where Nicaragua has come from and 20 years of democracy is a short time frame to recover from decades of war and neglect.
Road signs have become exotic in this part of the world. You just never know what’s going to slither, pound or scurry across the road!
Unfortunately the no dumping road signs go unheeded…
Having spent all of 2 nights in Honduras, we can say that the stretch we took was very hot and very dry,
…with a long 25km downhill.
We enjoyed a hotel with a swimming pool after a long day on the bikes…
…but the food and rubbish are two things we’d rather forget!
One village was very appropriately named El Polvo “The Dust”. Just imagine how hard it must be for José from “The Dust” to be taken seriously!
To end on a funny note, the St. Joseph statue in Nacaome church, to appeal to the local men folk, was sporting none other than a cowboy hat!
Half the size of Switzerland, with half its population, El Salvador is the smallest but most densely populated country in Central America. Our first couple of days across the border led us through more dry, dusty countryside. On the bikes at 6am, oftentimes by 11am it was time to look for a cool hotel room and strategically position ourselves in front of the air-con unit.
We often had to do a trail round town to find a hotel where the first question wasn’t: Do you want to stay the night or …? Hotel California was the best of 3 choices in Zacatecoluca. The little hatches on the door, to order another Champagne, may promote privacy… but reminded us more of a prison.
Pupusas are the local speciality. These cheese, bean and ground-pork crackling-filled tortillas are served with a white cabbage and vinegar salad. At 50 cents a piece, they’re a cheap and tasty way to fill the belly.
We generally grabbed a bite to eat at lunchtime in one of the roadside restaurants. Many are very traditional, cooking on open-wood fires. The food was good and economical, but the temperature inside in the shade was about 5 degrees higher than out in the midday sun! One day in a cyber café the air-con unit was pumping out a cool 35˚C. We daren’t hazard a guess as to the outside air temperature!
The line of fire continued in El Salvador with great views of the majestic San Miguel cone towering at 2,130masl.
From that point on, the landscape became somewhat greener with acres and acres of sugarcane. Men armed with machetes and sporting great hats made their way to and from the sugarcane fields on bikes and motorbikes. The roadside was scattered with sugarcane having fallen off overloaded road trains and a sweet smell of molasses permeated the air.
This fallen sugarcane proved to be valuable bio-diesel for John’s amicable donkey. On the road for 11 months, John (USA) has walked all the way from Oregon. He picked up the donkey in Mexico but has still a few km ahead to hit Argentina.
Our paths also crossed Takeshi from Japan, cycling from Canada to Ushuaia, Argentina.
A common feature of Central America is the use of old US school buses for local public transport. Having served 10 years on the school run in the States, the big yellow buses are sold off. Generally they are revamped inside, spray painted outside and topped off with an elaborate roof rack to carry any cargo/luggage imaginable. They’re generally referred to as chicken buses because of what could be your fellow passenger!
The prize for the dirtiest town in Central America has to go to the small town of Jocoro, where the No Dumping sign was hardly legible because of all the vulture droppings caked on it.
One afternoon carnival music blared through town and we turned round to discover a funeral entourage consisting of a lively brass band on a pick-up truck,
…followed by a coffin in a glass cabinet on another pick-up! The ice-cream man rocked up to make a couple of bob!
…while we got a great kick out of the undertaker’s trading name: The Prevention Funeral Home. Anyone interested in a franchise?!
A few km out of La Libertad, we found a delightful place for a short holiday again. The views from our pool at El Tuncal provided great entertainment with the surfers strutting their stuff off the black sand beach.
As we headed North West towards the Guatemalan border, the road climbed and twisted in and out with spectacular views of the coast. We relished each moment as, having first saluted this great ocean in Patagonia some 12,000km ago, this was our last view of the Pacific on this trip.
These tunnels certainly saved us some climbing
Our final town in El Salvador was called Cara Sucia (Dirty Face). Beats Newtown!
Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador all have a horizontal blue-white–blue-striped flag, with a slight personal touch in the centre. We had a great time in the colonial towns and on the beaches, especially after long hot cycles in between. However, one common issue all three countries have to deal with is most certainly their litter and dumping problems.
Unfortunately, without exception, we found all roadsides colourfully decorated with everything from plastic bags and broken beer bottles to pungent calf and pig carcases. Not a pleasant site, which made it often impossible to find a litter-free picnic spot.