Western Honduras to Nicaragua…in only two days

Sitting on the crowded bus, I marvelled at how quickly the miles passed and yet how I was missing all that was happening on the road. I could look out the window, but it wasn’t the same as seeing everything from the seat of my bicycle. But when the bus slowed to a virtual standstill, the driver ragging the gearing to get into first, I did feel slightly happier that I wasn’t riding up some steep mountain roads.

My few days in the Santa Rosa area in western Honduras were really interesting. But time was running out and I needed to make tracks towards Panama. It meant some long bus rides lay ahead. The first of which was getting to the Honduran captial, Tegucigalpa.

Santa Rosa parque central. Lovely square, nice church

Leaving Santa Rosa was a bit of a panic. For all the ‘laid-backness’ of the people in Central America, when it comes to bus travel, they somehow get over-excited and the bus ‘shouters’ make you feel like their bus is the most important place to be in the world. “You have to get on, now! (Even though we’re not leaving anytime soon…).” So I got into a bit of a tizzy trying to get my bike around to load her up, dumping my bags on the ground and making sure they treated her well when loading her up. I didn’t count on the blind taxi driver then driving over my bike bag. Argh! All a-fluster, I managed to get on the bus but then had 8 hours ahead to calm down…

Tegucigalpa was a place I wanted to spend as little time as possible. I heard negative things about it and the bus terminal was not in the nicest area of town. Arriving late afternoon I hope to be on my way first thing next morning. I didn’t get to see any of its nicer spots, unfortunately, so my experience is one-sided. I did get to wander about a little bit, but I was on edge almost the whole time. It’s a shame that I wasn’t able to see its good side, which it does have. My hotel was perfectly fine and safe, but I was glad it was a quiet Sunday morning when I left. I needed Plan B, as the bus to Managua, the Nicaraguan capital was full. It meant a bus to the border, skipping over and more buses from the other side. Not ideal, but getting to Esteli was do-able in a day.

Except…I get to the bus stop and they tell me they can’t take my bike. Unbelievable! I thought these bus people could take anything. Not this time, even though I waited for another bus. Eventually they pointed me over the road, to catch a different bus. It got me going, though not quite as far as I hoped. Eventually, after another bus ride, I was close to the border. I fancied cycling the remaining 15 km, even though it was uphill and I didn’t have much time that day. But it felt a lot easier than juggling the bike and the buses.

The border was its chaotic self. I even smiled at the $12 ‘tourist’ fee. Money changed, I saw the Nicaraguan bus. Relief! It was a “school bus”. This typically means anything goes, and with little fuss Edna was loaded up on the roof. We drove through more coffee country and I felt quite at home; the bus was packed, sweaty and jarring. But it was short, and I transferred to yet another bus in order to get to Esteli, my stop for the day. I timed it perfectly, after paying for tickets and toilets we were on our way again. This bus was a proper coach, so I got to sit back and reflect on my chaotic day. Four buses, a border crossing, an hour of cycling…and, very relieved, I made it to a simple but very nice hotel in Esteli just before dusk.

Nicaragua! The usual border chaos, but it was pretty straightforward

I was very relieved to get through El Salvador and Honduras. I’d heard plenty of negative things about each country, and though my experience was generally good, I always had a sense of caution in the back of my head. When even local people urged caution, as in El Salvador, it made me take notice. A couple of other cyclists I’d met in Mexico had their trip ended after later being robbed in Honduras. And though I was cautious, I had some very good experiences in both countries. The people were generally very welcoming, friendly and hospitable. Each country has a lot to offer visitors and I often felt that we listen to the media too closely when it comes to travelling. Sometimes you just have to put that to one side. The best way is to get out there and experience it for yourself.

Leaving Esteli...I was out before dawn

El Salvador: watch out for hungry money-changers and ATMs

Getting across the border took a little bit of time, but luckily was straightforward.

Before then, I’d already been fleeced by the money-changers. My fault; my maths calculations took a nosedive when I was surrounded by four sweaty blokes shouting and waving in front of my face. But at least I didn’t pay them for the ‘passport stamp’.

On to Ahuachapan though. And after arriving there I needed some new currency ($US, strangely enough). I couldn’t figure out why but a few unsuccessful attempts to withdraw money at the ATM and my card was gone. A wee problem. Next morning, with some help from an English-speaking customer I figured out it’d be more than a week before they could fish it out. Luckily I had a backup and the card hasn’t been cancelled so I should be fine once I get it back. Assuming all goes to plan when I go back there to pick it up…

The upside is that it doesn’t change my plans too much and doesn’t leave me stuck in a one-horse town for several days. This area of western El Salvador is a large coffee-growing region and so there’s opportunities to visit a finca or two in the next few days.

Adios Mexico, hola Guatemala

After a long, long stretch in Mexico I’ve made it to Guatemala. I probably spend twice as long in Mexico as I first thought and for quite a while I was looking forward to getting here. I did like Mexico, but it took some getting used to early on and I found the cycling quite tough at first, so I was happy to move on.

The other thing for me is that Guatemala is my first ‘new’ country on this trip. I’d been to Mexico before (albeit briefly) so it was refreshing to get to a completely new country. New money, of course, but essentially the same as Mexico. Or is it…?

Well it’s hard to put my finger on the little differences, but in my first couple of days I noticed a few things. Drivers here seem to be in even more of a rush than in Mexico; the stares I get are a little more friendly – there’s some cheerfulness in their demeanour and I even got an encouraging hand clap on one of the many hills; ‘agua’ means a soft drink, not water (‘agua pura’).

Otherwise it seems much the same, but I’ll notice more as time goes by. The other big difference are the mountains. I didn’t spend much time in the mountains in Mexico, but Guatemala is dominated by them. Big, green, fierce and beautiful, they make for spectacular scenery and lung-busting ascents. I got my first real taste on my way to Jacaltenango…

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