February 21, 2005

El Salvador: Cycling away from the Retrovirus


Somewhere between Panama City and San Salvador we switched from being sun worshipping Canadians and became sun shy troglodites. With our shortsleeved shirts and good sunscreen we basked in the blinding tropical light for several days knowing it is cold at home. That is until the sunscreen ran out in Nicaragua and all we found was very fragrant coco beach oily mess with a non-existant spf. Since then the climate has steadily warmed and become very dry. We can now do our laundry, barely wring it out, eat dinner and once we are done eating, take down the laundry. It is definitely the dry season on the Pacific coast of Central America.

Last week (Feb 15) was Armel's birthday in Leon, Nicaragua. Tania and I have discovered that he has a new fascination for Bob esponga (Sponge Bob square pants). We went to see the movie in David, Panama, and his bike now sports a small Bob Esponga mascot. So for his birthday we found a nice Bob Esponga pinata and unveiled it for his birthday at 7am in the hostel courtyard. All the travellers, with reason thought that we were loosing it, whacking pinatas that early, stuffing our pockets with the candy inside and taking off to cycle in 38 degree weather.

Leaving Leon, we found that the nice paved road that followed us out of Managua deteriorated into a dry dusty gravel road for 45km before the Honduran border. I started to feel a small stomach ache that combined with the hot afternoon sun sapped all my energy.
Thankfully, Armel who was feeling fine offered to take the trailer. This is a very nice advantage of the trailer that allows us to repartition the load this easily.
We pushed on and made it to the border town of Somotillo at 8pm well in the dark and very tired after 117km. We unfortunately did not manage to heed Armel's birthday request to finish cycling at least 20 minutes before sunset.

The next morning I woke up with a nasty fever and stomach ache. And despite the newpaper article anouncing a retrovirus outbrake of more than 10 000 people in Honduras and El Salvador, I decided that I would rather brave 50km of hot cycling than spend an another day in a dirty border town.
Without too much trouble we made it to Chuloteca in Honduras by 12pm. Where we saw a large group of students with buckets watering all the plants in the central plaza of the city. Every day at noon during the dry season they come out to keep the thirsty plants happy.
I spent the next day sweating out my fever and after a good day of rest we cycled to the El Salvador border after only 3 short days in Honduras. One thing to mention about Honduras was a marked change in children's reaction to three funny looking cyclists rolling through their backyard. They are very enthusiastic, an we are getting rousing calls and even the three year olds are jumping up and down in excitement as we pass. Tania has also noted that the cat-calling that was almost non-existent earlier is now very frequent: "mamasita, que ricas piernas", "dejas tu a mi cama", "mi amor", "I love you" etc.... Tania can also claim at least five marriage proposals per day.

El Salvador is not very big but the people we have met all have big hearts and we definitely do not feel as if we are in a small country even though after two days of riding we are already half way through. We knew it was coming but our gastronomic discovery of the week is definitely Pupusas. A fried corn or rice tortilla that holds a pocket of chicharon (fried pig skin), beans, cheese, and squash inside. It is very good and packs in a sufficient amount of calories to satisfy even the most demanding cycling calorie hound and it tastes so very good.

In San Salvador we are staying with Philip, a canuck, for a couple days of well deserved rest. However he managed to organize a presentation to half the staff of the Canadian Embassy and a few other friends here in San Salvador. It was the first time we had the opportunity to put together a slide show with a digital projector and all the fancy technology that normally is not available to us on the road. I was a little nervous, not knowing how I was going to summerise 395 days of cycling adventure into 45 minutes... I didn't and the presentation went on for almost two hours.

Posted by gwendal at 11:29 PM | Comments (5)

February 05, 2005

Costa Rica: Into Costa Rica

I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll see if I can still have the energy to stand up after cycling up to the base of a Volcano at 1400m. We started our morning nice and early thanking the firefighters, of Conception in Panama, for letting us camp out in their brigade. Our ascent to the town of Hato de Volcan was our first real climb of the new year. Midway up our ascent, at the Mirador, a lookout, Gwendal and Armel sat down to a well deserved coffee and oatmeal cookies. Twenty minutes later, I finally reached the Mirador where I burst out in tears of shear pain and exhaust. The steady climb had taken us almost three hours and we were only half way up.

I began to have doubts of my ability to continue cycling on my own two wheels. But, with a little consoling and switching of the configuration of our panniers and trailor, I sucked it up and we were able to reach the town of Hato de Volcan for lunch. After climbing 1400m, we thought we were in for a easy day to the border town of Rio Sereno considering it was at river crossing. Touché said the topographic gods, we ended up climbing and descending 800m before reaching Rio Sereno. We were however rewarded with an amazing view of the Panamanian coffee region.

A bumpy unpaved road and a policeman sending us up a hill the height of the Eiffel tower for an 8 km detour the wrong way!!!! Unbeknownst to us the two incidents were only a prelude to what was to come in Costa Rica.

Luckily, our first day in Costa Rica was a Sunday, a day when most trucks stay off the road and if there was a soccer game, the roads would have been silent. According to our National Geographic map of Costa Rica, this unique country sits at the crux of two continents effectively creating a biodiversity that it is most famously known for. A country that has had little political turmoil, compared to its neighbours Panama and Nicaragua, Costa Rica enjoys a very developed tourism industry. People from around the world come to explore its twelve ecological zones, taking in treetop tours in the rainforest, river rafting down one its numerous rivers or surfing its Caribean or Pacific Coast.


We cycled along the coast, searching for a spot to rest and maybe surf. As we stopped in Dominical for supplies, I felt like we had just road into page 453 of some travel guide book. The beach itself looked like it needed some TLC and the town was overun by backpackers. So, we moved on to a quieter beach along a 40km stretch of gravel road. There we found Matopalo beach our first free public camping area that had everything a cyclist needs: fresh water and waves to put you to sleep. Unfortunately, it also had everything we didn't need: noceums, ants and more unidentified biting insects. In the middle of the night we were surprised by a flash rain and were forced to get up in the rain and set us a makeshift tarp city.

For us, the development of Costa Rica is a bit of a shock. With development comes its own set of social problems. Over the years foreigners have bought up much the land not designated as parkland, reserve or protected area (27%). Few Costa Ricans live on the coast. For that reason, a new generation of Costa Ricans have grown accustomed to the onslaught of tourism and some have decided that working is just not.

After two days of insects we were ready for a rest from them and took refuge in a small hotel in the town of Parrita. There in the middle of the night, a few items we left drying outside (not one metre away from Armel's bed in the gated parkade) were stolen. Gone were my beloved bike gloves, Gwendal's Canadian flag bike socks, along with a toolkit attached to Gwendal's bike. We were left dumbfounded and descouraged. It was also small reminder that our belongings would have to stay a little closer to us, even if it is only our dirty laundry.

To my liking, Costa Rica has been for the most part very flat. Seven days has brought to within 75km of the Nicaraguan border. For the past two days we've been cycling on the Inter-American Highyway with a very strong side wind that has more than once blown my bike and me right of the road. To our dismay, this highway is innondated with 18 wheelers with one lane, no shoulder and ashphalt that also needs some TLC. But as always, rough roads never fail to introduce us to extremely friendly people. On our lunch break in Bagaces, we were treated to tortillas and marinated beef, a refreshing local drink called Chan, coffee cakes and chips by a local agronomist named Gabriel. Here in the region of Santa Rosa marks the southern reaches of the Aztec Empires tax collection and where in 1856 US military adventurer William Walker from Tennesse invaded Costa Rica with his army of newly aquired Nicaraguan slaves.

Today's goal is to reach the Nicaraguan border where we will be making our wayt to Lago Nicarugua, home to the world's only fresh water sharks.

Posted by tania at 06:45 PM | Comments (0)