El Salvador South to Panama City

We apologize for the delay in blog post. The crew had a lot going on including side trips with family and friends and we were experiencing some website technical problems that were frustrating. Look for more frequent updates in the future. Thanks for all of the support!

El Salvador y Honduras

We were stoked to see that El Salvador is a very bicycle friendly country. From border to border we enjoyed wide shoulders on the carretera (highway).  The bike traffic increased heavily with many local Salvadorians pedaling around. Interestingly, it also seemed that most people were riding on the opposite side of the road. We were pumped to make it back out to coast in that first day. It was our first time seeing the Pacific since Salina Cruz in Oaxaca, at least three weeks previous. We were welcomed back with a huge swell, slamming giant waves on to the shore with beautiful booming echoes. We spent the first night in El Salvador at a gorgeous restaurant called “El Mirador” perched on top of a cliff high above the waves. We met a group of guys from Boston, Dustin, Chris, Luis, and Willian who treated us to two and a half rounds of beers to celebrate our fifth country.

New friends in El Salvador, (sorry, bad pic quality!)

Our friends from Boston invited us to hang out in El Tunco the following night, and with reports of a good surf break there, we were settled on the next destination. The road along the coast was quite hilly, with curvy ups and downs reminiscent of Big Sur in California and Michoacán in Mexico. Luckily these hills were generally of a very gradual grade. As we rounded a bend of what appeared to be the beginning of a very steep climb we were greeted by a tunnel cutting through the mountains. Four more tunnels on this section of road was a relief for the legs but biking through a dark hole with trucks zooming by was slightly nerve-wracking as well.

Sometimes Andy gets sleepy when we ride.

When we arrived at El Tunco we went straight for the water. We had a fun swimming session playing in the big waves and getting tossed around while fighting the current to avoid getting pushed toward the “El Tunco Turtle” rock formation. Despite the overly large swell, we asked around to see about the possibility of surf board rentals. Sadly, an American tourist had died in the waves the previous day, so the shops were no longer renting boards. Even though we were really looking forward to riding waves again, we accepted the circumstances and realized it was not our day.

We spent two more nights in Salvador staying in the larger cities of Usulutan and San Miguel. The riding was hot but the roads had shoulders and there wasn’t too much traffic when not near population centers. In Usulutan we took our pick of American fast-food restaurants to use the internet and in San Miguel we were able to join a hectic pick-up soccer game with 15 players on each side. I don’t think we wowed these seasoned fútbol players with our skills but they at least got a good laugh out of us. And for some reason Andrew was even given the name Simba by all the locals.

Leaving San Miguel we crossed into Honduras in the late afternoon and promptly asked a restaurant if we could spend the night. Although the location didn’t quite compare to our first night it Salvador, we had an excellent night of playing cards and eating fried chicken and plantains. That day we rode to the largest city on the Pacific side of Honduras, Choluteca.

Cruising through Honduras

We were able to stop in the port city of San Lorenzo and hop in the water for a midday cool down. Our childhood friend from Juneau, Chris Twomley, has been living in Honduras for the past few years. We were really hoping to connect with him but he is living on the opposite coast and with our short stay in the country and his busy school schedule a reunion unfortunately did not happen.

On the road we pedaled, the west side of the country was arid and it appeared to be very poor lands and very poor people. As we moved east the larger towns felt like anywhere else we had been (visiting a Wendy’s for wifi in Choluteca) and the climate seemed to become wetter while the people seemed to have more. Maybe our most memorable experience in Honduras was RAIN! For the first time in three and a half months we biked in the rain! Although it only lasted 10 minutes, it rained hard and these four Juneau boys had the biggest smiles on our faces as we cooled-off and got thoroughly soaked.

Just a bunch of beards in a tree

Throughout all of Mexico and Central America we had been impressed by the quality of the roads in general, especially considering all the horror stories we had heard. All of Honduras had had good roads and pavement until we reached the last 30 KM of highway in Honduras. This is what we had expected of the roads; huge potholes, missing pavement, traffic, gravel – the road was in disrepair. Only suffering some broken spokes and a flat tire we felt we had come off easy. We reached the border for a beautiful sunset and like that in a week we bumped our completed country count up to six.

Welcome to Nicaragua!

That night we ate our first meal in Nicaragua, a 40 Cordoba (<$1.50) plate of chicken, rice, and beans. We had heard that Nicaragua was the cheapest of countries in Central America and we were excited to see evidence of this. To our dismay this was our cheapest meal in the country; heading south and towards tourist destinations the price steadily increased.

The next day we were propelled by a fierce tailwind past the active volcano San Cristobal and into the town of Leon. We were to pay the cost of that assistance for the next three days in the form of an equally powerful headwind ripping off Nicaragua’s two largest lakes – Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua. In those three days we rounded the shores of Lake Managua, skirted the capital, climbed, and then descended to the flats of southern Nicaragua and the surf community of Playa Gigante.

San Cristobal Volcano and Smooth Flat Roads

Max’s sister Rose and her friend Eleanor met up with us and we spent the next few days relaxing in the sun, catching waves, and checking out the surrounding area.  We then split ways for a bit, taking a vacation from our vacation lives.  Chris took off for Costa Rica to meet his family and girl friend Elyse and Max went for the Caribbean with Rose and Eleanor. Kanaan and Andrew weren’t ready to leave Playa Gigante yet so they decided to stay for a bit longer. Luckily our gracious host John was happy to accommodate, since his house was being renovated and the downstairs wasn’t fit for rentals anyways.  We can’t say enough good things about this place, incredible area with great surf and an awesome mix of locals and world travelers.  If you are ever looking for an awesome surf trip destination, this is the place!  Be sure to check out our buddy John’s place in Gigante Bay if you decide to head that way! We were incredibly thankful for the crash pad and happy to exchange a bit of labor for the lodging.

Good times in Gigante

Elyse and Chris' side vacation

Kanaan and Andrew finally got a chance to connect with a project that we had been hearing about for months, the lure that actually attracted us to Playa Gigante in the first place. Project Waves Of Optimism, or WOO, is a nongovernmental organization that has been involved with the local community for years. Their main goal is to help the community of Gigante organize a base of communication for themselves so that they can be empowered in future development decisions. Additionally, the NGO mobilizes tourists attracted by surfing towards volunteer projects to improve the ugly footprint that surfers often leave behind in coastal Central American towns. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for our film project so, after a mess of emails back and forth, we finally connected with the managers, Bo and Lisa.

Kanaan Dropping in for a Ride

Our first day working with them was spent in a morning reading circle with the local kids of Gigante. Volunteers came to interact with the kids by reading to them or listening to them read. It was just a great opportunity for the kids to have access to books they do not usually have. In between collecting footage of the local area and recording interviews with involved individuals, we attended a health care committee meeting, helped teach English at the local school, and contributed to the new paint job on the school building. We also spent a significant part of each day taking advantage of the awesome waves thanks to a great board rental deal from our landlord, John. Our time at Gigante was packed with action and fun. We definitely stayed busy, and were happy to take advantage of such an incredible place.

Amarillo Beach Sunset

Finally we decided that it was time to move on and so we bid Gigante ado and headed to Ometepe Island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. After hustling to make the last ferry of the day, we were pleased to see that our Swedish friends that we had met at Gigante were on the same boat. Vida, Johanna, Agnes, and two new friends had plans to visit the north end of the island so we decided to join them. Our first few days on the island were spent mostly relaxing, swimming in the lake and chatting with other tourists. We had previously been in contact with a permaculture farm/hostel called El Zopilote, and so we went to check their property out and ended up staying for a few days. We enjoyed our time on the property and met all kinds of interesting folks. We took a bike ride around the island with our Swedish friends and hiked Volcan Maderas with our new friend Lee. We also met the famous German family that we had been hearing about for months. Ronja Speth (~18 months old), and his parents Gregor and Lea are doing the same bike trip as us, from Alaska to Argentina. We were super impressed by their motivation and resilience. Check them out at www.family-pedaleros.blogspot.com.

Andrew, Kanaan and the Swedes

German Family biking South

Fully relaxed after a week of island time, we were ready to roll again. The day after leaving Ometepe, Kanaan and Andrew made a move for a new country and crossed the border into Costa Rica. We scored a break from the officials and didn’t have to pay a tourist visa fee, since we were traveling on bicycles. Just after crossing the border, we met a cyclist heading north and shared some stories. Turned out that he was on his 6th continent, coming up from Buenas Aires and working for a television series in South Africa. He is raising awareness for bicycle transportation by demonstrating how much carbon dioxide has not been emitted to the atmosphere as a result of his transportation choice. After some unexpected hills to start the country, we spent the night in La Cruz for our first night in Costa Rica.

A monkey's love for watermelon overcomes its fear of beard

Our next campsite was one of the most refreshing in a long time. It had been a while since we had actually camped, as we normally find more secure places to sleep. Max had recommended a cliff drop into a river canyon that he had visited with Rose, so Kanaan and Andrew decided to check it out. It turned out to be a perfect spot for a night in the wild. An almost full moon filled the sky and after weeks of either indoor or restricted living, we were happy to cook on the fire again. The next morning was spent jumping off the cliffs and swimming in the canyon. It was tempting to stay for another night, but eventually we reminded ourselves that we wanted to get back into bicycle mode.

Bus stops make excellent snack stops

We trucked along for the next couple days, crossing the hills of Costa Rica and finding our way to the ocean again. Among the highlights were five flat tires in less than one kilometer; meeting a new cycling friend, John, who joined us en route to Jaco; watching Fast and Furious 5 in Spanish at the Cruz Roja station;, experiencing our first torrential downpour of the rainy season; and getting stuck in limbo for 5 hours trying to find a place to stay in Quepos. Finally we made it to Dominical, where Max was waiting for us after sending Rose off back to Juneau. We had an awesome afternoon surf session and had a great night camping with our new friend Seth, a Hopi hitchhiker from Arizona on his own adventure to Argentina. Somehow we finished preparing dinner and set up the tarps just before the super soaker rain hit, and were fortunate enough to hear about Seth’s experiences walking the Mosquito Coast in Honduras and cultivating sacred corn in the land of Hopi.

The next day we said goodbye to Seth and turned our bikes up the hill to head inland for the mountains. We had set up a WWOOFing opportunity at Finca La Puebla in Rivas near San Isidro el General, and were excited to get up there. We knew we were going to gain some elevation, but we weren’t quite prepared for the steepness of the road to San Isidro. It took many grueling hours of steep climbing into a rain cloud, but we finally made it to the summit. Just before we got to the top of the road a prankster motorcyclist told us we were only halfway, and that we shouldn’t plan on getting to Rivas that day. Exhausted and unsure, we were surprised to see the town below us ten minutes later, if we ever find that guy again we’ll have some words to share with him. Eventually we made it to Finca La Puebla, tired and soaked and just before dark, but the beauty of the place helped us forget all of our hardships to get there.

Frank, the owner; Walter, the garden manager; Leslie, the volunteer; and Christain and Ronnie, the employees, showed us an awesome time in our week on the farm. The days were spent with a few hours of work in the morning sun, followed by hours of relaxing in paradise. The garden and fruit forest on the property are immaculate, and we were granted full access to the harvests. With some basic ingredients supplied in the kitchen, our meals were deluxe creations of fresh organic fruit and vegetable dishes. Sweet potato-yucca cakes, banana-moraberry-fennel smoothies, and the garden medley stew were among our favorite creations. We had a practically infinite supply of bananas from the fruit forest, which we took advantage of hourly. (A conservative of estimate of the amount of bananas consumed by the three of us during or five day stay would be over 100.) We also discovered our new favorite fruit, the heavenly birriba, which looks like a goblin and tastes like a god. Surrounded by food growing in all directions, we had some happy bellies.

Posing with Leslie at the Finca

Our free time was spent mostly relaxing in the beautiful surroundings, a few exploration missions to the river and through the forest, a bit of bike maintenance, reading from Frank’s epic library and writing from time to time. We also enjoyed the pleasant company of the residents, and shared some awesome conversations and laughs with them. In the final days of our stay we collected some incredible footage for the film project, both with interviews and lifestyle shots. Our friends at the farm could tell that we didn’t want to leave after our week there, but we knew that Chris was waiting for us in Dominical, so with our bags full of bananas and cacao; we pedaled back up and over the mountain for the coast.

Chris greeted us in the exact same place, exactly one week later, as how we had reconvened with Max. But Chris was also dragging a new friend along, Darcy Ruddy from Jasper, BC. Darcy had been traveling around for a few weeks in Costa Rica with a few small bags and a fold up bicycle. After meeting Chris he decided that he ought to join our voyage for a few days, so after a night in Dominical, we got back on the road south with a group of five. It felt great to be back in a big group again after such a long period of separate missions. We all had plenty of stories to share and were happy to hear about all the latest news from the last month. Just before leaving Costa Rica, Darcy gave his goodbyes, folded up his bike and hopped on a bus for the Caribbean.

Darcy and his funny folding bike

We progressively worked our way toward Panama, excited to get into our final country of Central America. The contrast of the countries was very interesting after spending weeks in Costa Rica. To some it seemed like we had taken a vacation, and now we were back in generic Central America again. The prices were instantly cheap again and the trash on the side of the road returned. Road signs to indicate how far to the next town essentially disappeared. And the eco-exotic-adventure advertisements and flocks of tourists disintegrated. But the afternoon rain storms kept coming and the jungle was still deep and green and lush so we knew we hadn’t gone too far.

After Kanaan caught up with the group from a brief solo mission in the Costa Rica mountains, we left our bikes at the bomberos station in Sona and hitched rides down to Santa Catalina in search of some surf. An international professional surf tour was holding a competition there, and despite small swell, we got to watch some impressive performances by the world’s best. The next day we got our own piece of the action, catching great waves and growing some impressive sun burns. For some unknown reason we ended up hopping in the back of a truck and going back to Sona, rather than staying for another day of surfing. Sometimes it takes a while to understand how things happen when you are just going with the flow.

We continued the next day EAST, no longer on A Trip South while we are in Panama. A few days of event free biking brought us to the 6 lane highways heading into the city.  A policeman escorted us across the Bridge of the Americas, a huge spanning bridge at the entrance to the Panama canal, and across into the beginnings of the city.  After braving some intense afternoon traffic, we made it onto the bike path where we instantly ran into our friend Seth and two others we had met in El Salvador.  Small world!  The last few days have been spent trying to hitch a ride through the canal and checking out Panama city.  Hopefully we will find a way across and then on to Colombia…..

Thanks Policia Nacional for the escort into Panama!

 

Puente de Las Americas

The metropolis of Panama

March Photo of the Month

Aside

The March photo of the month goes out to Above and Beyond Alaska (ABAK), our local kayak gear sponsor.

Wishing we had kayaks at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala