We eventually left San Pedro after three weeks, unfortunately still without a tent. Now our only option was / is to stay in cheap hostels and hotels until the replacement reaches us. Anyway enough about boring tent news, I’m clearly dying to tell you about all the other misery we’ve been enduring instead.
We left via launcha to Santiago as we’d been warned numerous time by locals that the road leaving San Pedro was full of bandits and we would 100% get robbed, it’s also really steep so with these two nuggets of local knowledge we decided to leave via Santiago instead. Once out over the hill from Santiago we decended for what seemed like hours, it was glorious! Unfortunately the lower we got the hotter it became, I hadn’t really made the connection between being in the mountains at 1500m for three weeks and the fact the climate was much cooler. Once we were down on the coast it was like entering into a sauna, I completely melted and very quickly became absolutely useless. After a good hour of whinging on my part about dying of heat exhaustion Herbie finally relented and said we could stop in the closer town for the night, rather than pushing on another 50km. It was a wonderfully grotty place right on the edge of town but they did have two industrial fans and a cold shower so it felt like bliss to us.
The next morning we were shooting for the border of El Salvador so got up with the sun to try and avoid cycling in the awful heat of the day. As we were leaving town there was a huge queue of traffic ahead of us, luckily being on bikes we just skirted right up the side of the road and passed nearly a kilometre of stationary traffic. Getting to the front expecting to see road works we were pretty shocked by what we did see. Lying in front of us was a man with a crowd of maybe ten people surrounding him and couple of police officers doing their best to direct the traffic coming the other way. This guy was clearly very dead, luckily he was obscured enough that we couldn’t see the cause of death, there was no obvious pools of blood and all limbs seemed to be intact. Herbie behind me told me not to look but quite worryingly I was both mesmerised but unmoved about seeing a dead body at 7am in the morning. Also rather worryingly the people crowding around him didn’t seem to care much either, some were laughing, joking but making no effort to do anything about the situation. After what seemed like an age a couple of police officers came over and kicked / rolled him onto the side of the road where he was then rather hastily thrown into a body bag. Once this was done our lane of traffic was reopened and off we were sent on our way, for the rest of the morning he was pretty much all I thought about. Had we have left 10 minutes earlier, would we have found him? Was he killed by a car just minutes before? There seemed to be no signs of a collision but it could have been a hit and run. Was he shot and just left there until somebody found him by daylight? So many questions that we will just never know the answer too, but also something neither of us mentioned to each other again all day. Eventually over dinner Herb brought it up again and he too had been mulling his mind over the morning events all day. Herb, being behind me had thought it was a lady and then didn’t look again but kept his eyes firmly down in case he saw anything he didn’t want to. Over the next couple of days we tried to look at the local news to see if anything had been mentioned but nothing at all came up. I guess like only you can do in these situations we hope there was no suffering and his family were notified as soon as possible.
We did manage to cross the boarder that day and for the first time stayed in an ‘auto hotel’. Also called a ‘love hotel’ you can rent rooms for either 4hrs or overnight. It was pretty much our only option as obviously camping was out of the question and there wasn’t anything in town. Being a ‘love hotel’ each room had it’s own garage where I guess you can drive in and park your car inconspicuously. The room was hilarious, it was mostly all ‘hose down’ style cleaning, with a toilet roll dispenser located above the bed and a choice of red, blue or white lights. Although to us this sounds super seedy apparently because most couples live with their parents until they are married, often sharing bedrooms with siblings an ‘auto hotel’ is just a really common and practical solution for young couples. Every day is a school day.
The next day we planned to head to the coast because it was apparently beautiful and flat, well it was definitely beautiful and the first part of the day was indeed very flat. However on our map at one point the road got really wiggly, with a total of 15 switchbacks in about 30km. We couldn’t manage to find the profile of the route so were hoping against hope that it was a jagged shoreline and the road just hugged the coast. Obviously this was not the case, every single switch back was a 100m climb and descent. It took me three of these switchbacks to lose the will to live, it was so hot and humid, I was tired and toys were being thrown out of the handle bar bag left right and centre, if it had known just how hot it was going to get over the next few days then I would have taken my switchbacks every time as at least when you’re descending you get 60s of breeze to help cool off. Weirdly the only thing stopping me from lying down in the road and waiting for the vultures to feast was that we kept seeing the air-conditioned tourist busses full of backpackers roll past. Every time I saw one I felt so smug that I wasn’t being driven around and no matter how slow I was going I was getting a much better view of the country than if I was sat in a bus, even if I was way more grumpy!
After what seemed like days of switchbacks we finally reached a very lovely little beach town called El Zonte full of surfers. If either of us could surf it would have been even more wonderful however we took a rest day to just sit on our bottoms and do nothing, complaining loudly that the waves just weren’t big enough for us that day. (ok, not the last part)
The coast of El Salvador continued to be both beautiful and undulating and its a place I’d definitely return to visit. It’s funny how if i were to be sat in England googling I would find out that El Salvador has an average of 19 murders a day and approximately 99% of them go unsolved. However during our few days in the country I felt completely safe and only found breathtaking landscapes and wonderful people.
We’d heard on the grapevine that it was possible to get a boat straight from El Salvador to Nicaragua. Trying to find out information about days the boats goes and how much it costs was a little bit of a nightmare, with reports ranging from daily crossings to twice a week and the price alternating between $25 and $100. We decided to ‘wing it’ and cycle a 5km detour to the port of La Union just incase a boat was leaving, it was another 7am start trying to avoid the worst of the heat and all was going well for most of the morning until we got to the port and realised trying to find any more information was a little bit like herding cats on a Sunday when all cats were in church. Which it was. Oh well, it was only 10am, option 2 – lets go to Honduras! We continued pedalling towards the boarder and it got hotter and hotter and hotter. There was absolutely no shade on the side of the road and the sun was relentless. By the time we reached the boarder I was in a lot of a state, I’d drunk over five litres of water and couldn’t cycle for longer than 10k before I needed to stop and remember how to be a human. This continued for the rest of the day and only got worse, the last 35km I was stopping every 3-4 kilometres just to drink, lie down, take off my helmet and try to cool down a couple of degrees. It was getting exponentially worse as the more tired I got the slower I became, not cycling fast enough to create any wind chill it was lite cycling on a stationary watt bike, in a sauna under blinding uv lights.
As I’ve already winged a fair amount this blog post already i’ll spare you the minor details of the next four days. We were leaving every morning at 5:45am, by 10am it was too hot to function so the next four hours of the day were spent alternately cycling 5k, then stopping to try and get cool again. The temperature on the garmin was often hovering at 42 degrees. By day three I noticed that i’d stopped sweating completely even though I was still going to the loo and drinking over 6litres of water. I was pretty rubbish at throwing water over myself as most of it ended up sizzling on the tarmac instead of me. After a few tries the most effective and water efficient way I found of mimicking sweating and cooling down was to take a massive gulp of water, spit half of it back into my hand then use this to rub over my face and neck. Yes, I realise this is absolutely minging but it was a solution which meant I could keep cycling for more than 5kms at a time. Honduras I am sure you are very beautiful but I’m afraid I spent most of those miles throwing ‘used’ water over my face and counting down the distance to where I could stop – sorry!