El Salvador

Summary: El Salvador is a lush green and vibrant country. It greeted me with the sight of a terrible bus accident on my first morning, a stark reminder that traffic in Central America remains an unpredictable danger. After just two days I left my bike at a small hotel and embarked on a bus journey North towards the mountains to climb both El Pital and also Las Minas, the highest mountains of El Salvador and Honduras, respectively. Not sure which is the bigger adventure – bus ride or mountain hike – I was glad to be back in one piece and continue my bike ride along the Panamerican Highway in scorching heat into Honduras.

Photos: El Salvador and Cerro El Pital

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Daily Notes:

Wednesday, December 2

Santa Ana to Aguilares

93km / 11895km; 4.5h / 646h; 840m

Fixed flat tire right outside of hotel in the morning and inflated at nearby bike shop.
Then bad bus accident on Carreterra Panamericana at 15km. Seeing the bus smacked into the pillar of a pedestrian overpass and imagining the many fatalities this accident had caused makes me very sad.
Some hills, but more downhill than uphill. Stop at 40km for lunch at intersection to Quezaltepeque. Chicken and tortillas, followed by a pineapple which I share with the four women there.
Ride through lava field of nearby volcano – on the other side of which is the capital, San Salvador.
Nearly missed turn-off to Apopa (poor road signs). Searched for hotel there, but found only very shabby motel. Have a coke and banana, then buy a gallon of fresh water; I notice that I wasn’t drinking enough, so I gulp down more than a liter right away.
The remaining 19km to Aguilares starts with a few uphills, but then a beautiful 200m downhill on perfect road, just slightly inclined. By pedaling in the slipstream of passing mini-buses I cruise down at speeds between 40-50km/h, to the amazement and obvious enjoyment of the bus passengers.
Reach Aguilares at 5pm and find cheap but central hotel. Get some Internet access, but only for 10min as they close down for the night.
Then Chinese food for dinner. Then more email and trying to find another Internet place (unsuccessful, all closed). To bed by 9pm.

Thursday, December 3

Climb of Cerro El Pital;

Bus trip to Santa Rosa de Copan (Honduras)

Friday, December 4

Climb of Cerro Las Minas;

Bus trip from and back to Santa Rosa

Saturday, December 5

Bus trip back to Aguilares (El Salvador)

Aguilares to Suchitoto

22km / 11917km; 1.3h / 647h; 300m

I leave at 4pm, the latest start to a cycling day ever. But I wanted to get to the next town since Aguilares isn’t very welcoming. Nice paved road with no shoulder, but also very little traffic; flat for the first 10km or so, then some hills and eventually steep uphill, more than I expected.
I arrive when the sun goes down. There are bad cobblestone roads here in the little town. I realize there is some jazz festival going on – I lucked out on that one! I’m checking various hotels for rooms and prizes. A tourist town, clearly; some hotels have stunning views over the (man-made) lake below.
I end up at another hotel where I talk to the owner about my project as he shows interest in my bike. He then offers me to sleep in my tent on the rooftop terrace for just $5, including a hot shower in a communal bathroom. I also get a tip regarding a good restaurant nearby where I head for dinner. Before and after dinner I check email and change my SPOT page from two coffee shops at the central plaza with wireless Internet. I collect my fresh laundry, have a final coke and brush my teeth. I get to sleep in my tent at almost midnight.

Sunday, December 6

Suchitoto to El Triunfo

115km / 12033km; 6.3h / 654h; 1800m

Long day with lots of hills and very hot (up to 35C). I break down my tent and have breakfast at the restaurant at the plaza. Everything is right here, even am ATM right across from the hotel. I have two breakfasts and check email while I’m at it. I start riding just before 9am. (Should leave earlier to get a few cool hours in the morning, but with email and tent it’s always hard to leave very early…)
First there is a section of 27km to San Martin to connect back with the main CA-1 highway East of San Salvador. There are hills and I need to gain another 300m or so, but it’s steady and not too steep. I get to San Martin at 11am. I just buy a coke and continue after a short break. The km are flying by and I wave to lots of cars and pickup trucks with people on the back. Then there is a very long descent from 900m down all the way to 200m – I reach nearly 74km/h on good road, it’s exhilerating! I stop at 90km to eat some water melon fruit and drink some more coconut-pineapple juice and water. Very refreshing.
I’m reminded of my Blog entry on techniques to stay cool during hot days. I need it on the next 350m climbing in 35C heat! After crossing the river just below the dam which creates the lake Suchitoto overlooks the road climbs back out of the valley. It’s beautiful but extremely hot. The next 5km take up 1/2 hr. I stop and drink 1.25l coke with two pieces of sweet bread. I’m looking at a maximum of another 1.5 hr of daylight. Not enough to reach the next city (San Miguel), but enough for some extra km. I finally decide to stop in El Triunfo at around 5pm after 115km. I check in a small hotel, take a shower and then proceed to the nearby Restaurante La Joya for dinner.

Monday, December 7

El Triunfo to San Lorenzo (Honduras)

154km / 12188km; 7.3h / 661h; 1450m

I set the alarm early at 5am. That’s actually a bit too early, as the sun doesn’t come up until about 5:45am. I’m ready to ride and on the road by 6am. Beautiful low angle sunlight illuminates the surrounding volcanoes, in particular the symmetric cone of San Miguel. My first goal is the town of San Miguel. I stop at the hotel Florencia, where they offer a breakfast buffet and wireless Internet – Bingo! So I get to check email and my SPOT pages while feasting over multiple plates and 5 glasses of pineapple juice and as many cups of coffee, plus 2 yoghurts, fruit, cookies and a plate of hot food, incl. plantains and beans, tortillas etc. Hands down the best buffet since Fast Eddie’s in Tok, Alaska.
At 10:30 I resume the ride. Now fresh and fully nourished the ride feels great. It does get very hot, but that’s par for the course here. The next goal is to reach the border to Honduras. Near the town of La Union the road turns sharply to the left towards the border. I run low on fluids. So I decide to stop at the next store, no matter what. I come upon a tiny little shack with only a very old woman there, but it has a promising coca cola label outside – indeed one of the most widely recognized brands in the world! Once I make myself understood, the old lady produces a mini bottle (197ml) of coke – that’s not nearly enough! Then I see big bottles in the room, 2.25l to be exact. I buy one such bottle of pineapple / coconut juice: Rarely did a juice taste any better, ever! And since it’s room temperature and has no gas, I can drink more than 1l right away pretty much in one huge gulp. Awesome. The rest goes into my Nalgene bottle for the road.
Fresh juiced up I reach the border at near 100km for the day. Again, water and coke, that’s my mix… Now the border crossing, which poses no problems. From various reports I always expect these crossings to take up a lot of time, but so far I hardly ever waited more than 10-15 min.
I start using the iPod for additional motivation during the many hills Honduras still has to offer. I feel good and it is still about 3 hr to sunset, so I push on towards San Lorenzo, some 55 km after the border. I realize again how much attention my unusual bike is drawing from practically everybody along the road. At times it can get too much, especially when I’m tired and thirsty, and not always in the mood to smile and wave and greet hundreds of people… I get to San Lorenzo at sunset and check out two hotels. They charge 600 Lempiras per night, roughly $35, which surprises me as really nice rooms in Santa Rosa de Copan were only half that. I don’t commit and instead buy a coke at a small store. When I get to talk with the shop owner, he spontaneously offers me to pitch my tent in his home! He lives there with his kids and one grand child, but no wife (separated). A very friendly man named Barto. I accept and offer to invite him and his son for dinner in return. We all have a fish filet with garlic sauce – yummy.