Our road has been a little rocky the past few days. I had a blog post all ready to go last week, but before we could get it posted to the webpage, something happened deep inside Jalene’s laptop, and we had to restore from a backup we made two weeks ago. So I started this over from scratch. But that’s life on the road now, things happen and we adjust. We do the best we can and move on. I don’t remember all the details, but what the heck, there are still lots of fun things to tell about. About all we lost was one blog post and some photos from an iPhone, as the majority of pictures were still on the camera cards, and most other stuff was saved in Dropbox. But you can bet that the first thing we did once things were back in place was another backup.
Looking back, I last wrote to you in Antigua, and much has happened since then. We’ve ridden across Honduras and Nicaragua, and now we’re in Costa Rica getting ready to cross into Panama. These are small countries, and they go quickly, even when you are in wander-mode like we are. If one wanted, one could ride through them in one or two days each. It’s the border crossings that take extra time, but that’s just part of the package.
We left Antigua and headed for the Honduras border with three other friends journeying to South America. They were travelling at a much faster pace, and we would only be together for a few days. Together we made the Honduras border very early in the day, only to be told that the border personnel would not be there for another 90 minutes. So we cooled our heels on the steps and waited, #26 in line. Don’t worry, there are always vendors with tons of snacks and sodas at the borders. We eventually got through, the whole exercise taking about six hours including our wait time, plus a little extra to go back and get the proper stamp out of Guatemala and all the copies we had to have made of this paper and that. The office with the copier was in Guatemala, so I must have walked back and forth between the two countries 4 or 5 times before everything was complete.
We rolled into Copan, just inside the Honduran border, and stayed two nights there. Copan has a very large Mayan ruin just on the edge of town, and it’s well worth seeing. This was my favorite, as it combines a park-like setting in one part, with big lawns around some of the stonework, and a more jungle-like atmosphere in other parts, with trees and shade around massive ball-courts, residences, and other structures. We spent several hours climbing around and exploring. One feature of this ruin is a wide staircase running up a steep hillside, and every single stone block is carved into a face or figure of some kind. This is covered and shaded by a massive canvas tarp, while they try to figure out the best way of preserving the stones. It seems very slow and careful work. Near the entrance, they keep high trays loaded with fruit and nuts to keep the beautiful red, orange, and blue macaws around, along with lots of other loud and brightly colored birds. They were fun to photograph, and would let you get very, very close. Photos on the wing were more of a challenge.
Leaving Copan, our friends headed straight for Nicaragua, while we elected to visit Laga de Joyoa and D&D Brewery for a couple of nights, still in northwest Honduras. Turned out to be a good call, as a cold front came through and we stayed four nights total while it rained, some days very hard and steady. The temps dropped down to about 60, which had the locals looking like it was Vermont in January. D&D was a fun place, with some local hikes to lookouts and waterfalls, and walks to the broad lake, as well as a big fish-fry one night that fed 7 people for the equivalent of about $18. We kind of liked the rain forcing us to stay, because it was just the excuse we needed to stay and watch the Super Bowl with a whole bunch of non-Americans who tried to follow along, some having an impressive grasp of the rules.
Honduras is a poor country, the poorest we’ve experienced. But still, we felt safe and welcome there. As with everywhere, we stayed on alert for potential thievery or other trouble, but there was none. Jalene did note that at one lunch stop, there was a guy that gave her some lecherous looks. Another time we stopped for lunch on the road in Tegucigulpa, a big gritty working crossroads city, where everything seems to be happening all at once, but even there we felt secure and had no trouble. All through this trip, we learn again and again how kind and friendly regular folks are the world over. Roads were sometimes poor, sometimes great. Often the paved roads would have big potholes, sometimes several feet across and quite deep. Hitting one at speed would “taco” a front wheel, so we had to be very careful on open highways travelling fast. Some roads were littered with them, so our speeds stayed very low, and we did a lot of weaving around. The most dangerous situation was where there was a good paved road with just the very occasional big pothole to catch you off-guard. But being on the bike, we could still travel much faster than the cars and trucks, so that at least was good. Finding working ATMs in Honduras was a bit hit-or-miss, so we made sure we had enough cash on hand. Gas was plentiful and stations were frequent enough for us (always ask for “Super”), but we stayed on some fairly main roads through Honduras, only getting off the beaten track near Laga de Joyoa.
The weather let up, and we took off to the southeast toward Nicaragua. We navigated through the maze of Tegucigulpa, where there were few signs to guide us, thank goodness for the GPS and good maps for it. We stopped in Danli for the night just short of the border, and then crossed into Nicaragua the next morning. This border crossing was pretty straightforward, taking about 3 hours in our now-established leapfrog style where one person watches the bikes while the other takes their turn getting processed in or out of the country. I asked what the building under construction on the Nicaraguan side was, and it’s a “truck scanner” for imaging or x-raying whole semi-truck loads, I’m not sure exactly. Nicaragua is a seriously up-and-coming country, and they are investing a lot of money in infrastructure such as this. A new Aduana y Migracion (Customs and Immigration) building will be built in April, and the great big guy at the tiny desk and window seemed really pleased about that. I’ve found that if you can get the officers processing you through into any kind of a conversation that gets a smile, things go much more smoothly – they really do want to help you.
The border was at the top of a low pass, and as we rolled down into Nicaragua, we entered a valley full of big hardwood trees covered with spectacular bright orange flowers, almost glowing fluorescent. It reminded me of New Hampshire in the fall, only I was hot and sweating. What a way to enter a country, absolutely stunning. I turned around to ride back up and shoot some pictures. I find us taking fewer photos from the road, as it all blends together now and there is less that looks completely new and different. We have to remind ourselves to stop and pull the camera out. Our first night in Nicaragua, we stayed at the rather eco-cool Hostel Sonati in Esteli, and wandered into town for dinner. Leaving Esteli, we took a turn to the northwest, and headed up along a line of smoking volcanoes until hitting the Pacific beaches at tiny Jiquilillo. We stayed four nights at Rancho Tranquillo, a perfectly named little place on a very hot beach, with cheap beer and good food. It was nice to chill out and relax, and look at where else in Nicaragua we’d like to go. I found a cool puffer-fish skin and some twine while roaming around on the beach, so I hung it up to dry and it now hangs over the bar. All the guts and bones were gone, leaving just a spiky skin with a fresh smell-of-the-sea fragrance.
We ended up heading for Leon after leaving the beach, now moving along the southern side of the volcanoes, and took an inexpensive room in a downtown hostel just off the main square, which always means lots of fun is right outside your door, with vendors, street food, music, and ice cream right there. The town of Granada was next, and again we found a good spot right near the square, just off the main tourist drag so we could watch the gringo fun. Hospedajie Valeria is run by the tall, bosomy Valerie who welcomed us in with big squeeze hugs. It was Valentine’s Day, so Jalene got a rose and a little white teddy bear. Granada is right on Lake Nicaragua (rare freshwater sharks!), and so there are ferry rides to the volcanic islands and all sorts of things to do, but mostly we took it easy and had fun in town. The heat was impressive, up over 100 while we were there, but it was pretty dry. We’re getting used to the heat now, so it’s not so much of a bother.
Nicaragua is our favorite country so far, edging out Guatemala and Mexico. The roads are great, it’s cleaner relative to other Central American countries (except Costa Rica), the roads are great, there are no topes, the prices are pretty cheap, and, as always, the people are warm and friendly. Daniel Ortega is El Presidente (remember him?), and the government seems to have a socialist-capitalist attitude that is doing good things for their economy. I didn’t have enough time in the country to learn details about the government, but talking to people gave me the feeling that Ortega’s voter base is in the older generation who remember the conditions before and during the Revolution in the 70’s and 80’s with hundreds of thousands homeless and destitute.
While in Granada, with secure internet, we took stock of the spending patterns so far, and were pleased to see that we have what it takes to continue all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. We’ve had some tough moments in Central America, with occasions where one of the other was ready to throw in the towel. But as we approach Panama, and the crossing of the Darien Gap into Panama, we realize that we’ve come too far to quit now, and the challenge of completing this journey has taken on new meaning. We’ve done some tough border crossings, fixed breakdowns, survived computer failures, and many other tests and challenges. We’re ready to go on.