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Without such as a peek from any bandido’s, pickpockets, scoundrels or thieves Kate & Will were more than pleased to discover that the Central American ‘Bad Boy’ countries truly didn’t live up to their less than glowing reputation.  Everywhere felt safe, the weather was lovely and the locals were friendly so why didn’t they love it?  They’ve both done a fair amount of adventuring before in all sorts of places so they’re not sure what was wrong. Maybe it was just too damn hilly?

Below is part 1 of some edited extracts from their blog to give you a flavour of their 3 month adventure….  If you’re interested, their whole blog is here http://bicyclingbetty.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/here-we-go-here-we-go.html

13 December 2015

I’m not really sure how to describe Guatemala City. Our first impressions are good. It’s no way the ‘in ya face’ dirty, hustling, thief ridden den of iniquity the guide books would have you believe. OK, we’re staying a bit out of the centre but we’ve walked into town every day and to be honest it feels pretty safe. Even riding the bikes in from the airport felt OK!

On the walk down into town we pass lovely old colonial buildings. Some converted into trendy bars, some in a total state of decay, some converted into corner shops. Not that you can go in though. No, here in GC you just point at stuff though the heavy metal bar/grill and the owner scuttles around behind in safety, picking up the items you point at. That is unless the place is a bit fancier and can afford a guard, then you can enter, under the watchful eye of a heavy looking dude tooled up with either a pump action sawn off shotgun or a semi automatic rifle.

14 December 2015

Phewy! What a way to start our adventure. I don’t think there is a nice way to cycle out of the city. We used as many of the back streets as we could to avoid the main choked up periferico but eventually we had to take it. Flippin eck it was horrible. A fast, aggressive 3 lane highway with no shoulder that was full of exhaust belching manic buses and trucks.

Guatemala City sits at 1500m and we’d been going up a bit all the way out of the city. The really climb started though just as we joined this monster road. To be honest, I think it’s the worst road I’ve ever cycled on. I’d waited years to experience the Pan American Highway. All romantic notions of riding it’s full length from Alaska to the bottom of Argentina were demolished in seconds!

I tried to focus on the good bits and not the trucks hurtling past with crazy loads – the local ladies walking at the roadside with huge parcels balanced on their heads. The road sign to Mexico. All the little things that made the ride worth the terrible conditions.

Eventually a narrow shoulder appeared so we could actually get out of the way of the hurtling traffic. The climb continued relentlessly. We peaked at 2100m, so a total climb of 600m, which I’d estimate 400m of it was done over 15km.

Then it was down, it was bloody steep in parts. We’re in the lovely old town of Antigua now, back at 1500m. We were braking all the way down but I still got to a max of 62km/h over the 10km 550m winding jungle descent.
This place looks promising. Loads of lovely old buildings and cobbled streets (great to look at, horrible to ride on). So, enough blogging, better get out and explore.

23 December 2015

That slightly nauseous feeling I associate with travelling was with us at breakfast. I quietly gagged on my scrambled egg & flimsy toast. I just knew I had to eat it as the day ahead would certainly require some fuel.
We had about 70km to ride with an overall descent of about 1000m but also some short punchy climbs (that added to about 500m in total) that would remind us that we were mere mortals.

We saw what looked like vultures feeding on a roadkill dog. I swear that later on in the day during one particularly gruelling, hot climb those buggers were circling me, waiting for my spindly legs to give out.

25 December 2015

The scenery between Uspantan and Coban was beautiful (especially through the window of a bus with our bikes strapped to the roof) – lush jungle and huge mountains, it all looked a bit like Jurassic Park. We bumped our way through some little villages. It was real subsistence living out there. A basic shack to call home, a few scrawny chickens pecking around and the odd halve starved dog.

It really made me think about what we as westerners have got and despite all we have the fact that many of us just want more and more. I imagined the excess of food soon to be eaten over the festive season and the amount of money that would have been spent buying ‘stuff’. Out here (and so many other places like it) there are so many people with virtually nothing. I know we’ve all thought it and said it before but seeing it especially at this time of year really brought the feeling of how mixed up this world is home to me.

 

27 December 2015

Roadworks had left a not so lovely road covered in marble like gravel. The sun was hot, there was no breeze and the climb was steep. Could this get worse? This certainly didn’t seem much like the continuation of the lovely road we’d missed out on the day before.It did get worse, much worse.
By lunch time we’d only covered about 18km. The road, although extremely scenic, was bloody awful to ride on.

“Tarmaco?” we asked any passing locals we saw (yes, before you snigger, that is how you say it in Spanish). We had various answers ranging from 3km, 15 and a 25, this was beginning to be hard work. We stopped to hide in the shade of a church. This was the first village we’d seen and there’d barely been a vehicle past, and when it did it was full to the brim.

We were hungry and there was no food around but luckily we managed to talk a shop owner into opening up so we could at least buy some water. We discussed our options. We had 3. Ride back – no way. Wait for a vehicle – not very inspiring or ride on in the hope one would come along. We rode on.

The broken, rocky surface was really horrible. Our skinnyish tyres slid about all over the place. The front panniers slowed our steering and the drop handlebars made braking & general control much harder. Going downhill was actually worse than going up. Thank god a truck came along. We bundled in and for £5 between us he took us about 8km until he reached his turn off. Back to it then……

By about 4pm we turned a sharp corner and knock me down with a soggy tortilla, tarmaco! Sublime, super smooth tarmaco. The best we’d ridden on anywhere in Guatemala. The road wound now its way through jungle and farming land. A village came into view. The kids crowded round again as we devoured dry bread rolls and bottles of cold coke.

31 December 2015

“Welcome to Africa” said the hostel tout as the boat docked at Livingston jetty. The Guatemalan people here are descendants of African slaves and I guess the relative remoteness of the place has kept their appearance true to their ancestors.

We’re on the edge of the Caribbean Sea here and the whole place has a very laid back vibe. It’s a bit of a shanty town and actually it’s the first place in Guatemala that I’ve instantly warmed to on arrival. NYE was spent in a bar watching the rain – The locals wish for rain, they say it washes away old the old year, I quite like that sentiment.

3 January 2016

Our speedboat was heading for the town of Puerto Barrios.  After a while it started pelting down with rain and in true ‘form follows function’ style, El Capitano handed out some big sheets of thick black polythene. The locals knew the drill and within seconds we were in an almost surreal scene of skimming across the Caribbean Sea, hiding under a giant bin bag. Flipping hilarious

It’s funny. Usually when we cross a border I wax lyrical about the immediate changes in everything just due to an arbitrary line scored by some politicians in a board room somewhere. This (for us anyway) was not the case when crossing from Guatemala into Honduras at the Corinto border.

The only change that struck me immediately was the buses.  Gone were the characterful, colourful ‘rides’ of Guatemala, now sadly replaced by super naff Hyundai Coaster buses and worst of all, roof racks were definitely not in fashion. Now I have to say that I’m a bit of a roof rack man, especially when travelling in a mountainous country on a heavy bicycle….

6 January 2016

The ruins at Copan were actually a really nice and peaceful place to visit.   It was about this time last year that we were at Angkor Wat and despite the ancient civilisations being totally different, the modern day remnants are remarkably similar except here it was so much calmer and more peaceful.

As with Angkor Wat, huge 400 year old trees half hold the place together and half break it up in a kind of “I don’t care which civilisation you are, I’m a tree and I’m in charge” kind of way. The archaeologists think that this site was abandoned by the Mayans after they over populated it, deforested it causing drought and basically wiped themselves out. Sound kinda familiar???

8 January 2016

It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security regarding the heat when all you’ve done is sat in shady cafes for a few days. Our research told us we had a 66km ride back to La Entrada.  We’d had a hearty breakfast (yep, rice n beans again) so felt in pretty good shape for the challenge.

A couple of hours into the ride we stopped at a rare roadside stall for some drinkies. We had water, all the other local people who stopped as we sat there had Pepsi, sweets and shite crisps/snacks. There’s trouble brewing for this regions health…..

There was no proper food at all on this stretch and we began to feel a bit desperate. We were now overheating as well. We knew we should stop but also wanted to go on in search of food. There were quite a few stalls but they only had drinks, mostly warm Pepsi.
Finally at around 3pm we wobbled into La Entrada. I was beginning to feel sick and weak. It was around 32 degrees and in that sun it was all a bit much.
We stumbled into the first half sensible restaurant we saw and ordered up some pollo fritas and bloody good it tasted to.

12th January 2016

Today started with the ubiquitous El Salvadorian Pupusas – a tortilla ‘sandwich’ filled (more internally smeared) with refried beans and melted cheese. They’re served up with shredded, lightly pickled white cabbage & carrot along with a mild tomato salsa sauce. Perfect fuel for a long day in the saddle

We began with a 7km climb that included a short steep descent giving us a quick burst of 55km/h.  More hard but manageable ups, more blasting downs. The only thing that really bothered us was the horrible rough Tarmac surface, littered with potholes that hid in the shadows.

A big downhill and some short climbs led us to an early lunch of tasty n cheap burritos. I’d peered into the empty restaurant, thinking it a bit cheeky to wheel the bikes inside but seeing the owners motorbike was already in there, in they came, no worries.

From here we took a lovely quiet road to our final destination of Suchitoto. The road was like riding a country lane in Kent. Short, punchy climbs and matching descents. Hard but nothing to make our lungs burst or hands ache from braking. In Kent though you don’t get roadside stalls selling sliced pineapple & watermelon for 20p

14th January 2016

We decided to skirt around San Salvador instead of going into it. The big capital city has a less than great reputation. “Left wing radical art galleries, pumping night clubs and an apparent high number of muggings” didn’t really appeal…Mind you the ride wasn’t that great either. We got into heavier traffic, steep hills and big roundabouts.

More hills, more nutter buses, more roundabouts. We were already hot n tired from a big day in the saddle but had to push on. I know it’s when you’re tired that accidents happen but I just couldn’t be bothered to think about it any more

Hadn’t we been down this street already? No, they just all looked the same. Chicken shops, tyre shops, exhaust fixers… Most with an armed guard outside, his arms resting casually on his pump action shotgun. I waved, they waved. They actually all looked quite friendly, well I don’t suppose that we looked much like enemy No1.

Then, out of the blue a cycle path appeared. Bit potholed, few low hanging branches to duck under but a protected cycle path it was. It didn’t last long though, in fact it just stopped. We needed to go straight on down the fast moving dual carriageway but had 2 big sweeping exits one after another to get past. “Let’s just get some speed up and go for it” I said, heading off first. The driver who swerved across in front of me clearly hadn’t been paying attention in their ‘be kind to cyclists’ lesson. It was a pretty close thing…

The roundabout we needed to turn right at was all dug up. It was more like riding through a building site than a major road junction in a capital city. I knew we had about 6.5km to go after the turn. My computer said 58.3. As I bumped through the dirt heading for the exit ramp my brain stuggled with the simple arithmetic. The ramp was steep,, my legs struggled with the gravity. Quick glance over my shoulder, yep, Kate’s back there, just starting the climb.

Pedestrians walked in the road.  The pavements were clogged with parked cars, building materials and god knows what else, making it impossible to walk or ride there. Some of the local ladies were almost the width of a small car, forcing us out into the ‘fast lane’ as we passed them….

San Salvador sits at about 1000m above sea level and seeing as we were heading to the sea it didn’t take a genius to predict the rest of today’s ride. The only route we could find to get us away from  the city was a big main road.

Luckily a hard shoulder appeared. Well I say hard but sometimes it was soft where dirt road side turnings wash themselves onto it leaving sand and rubble to negotiate. That’s not too bad. Throw in a few makeshift shops that set themselves up on there, lots of parked cars and trucks, sleeping dogs, a man walking along with two 12 ft long logs on his shoulder who decided to do his best impression of the film ‘The Plank’ just as kate rode past, forcing her to duck & swerve and I don’t really remember what else but lots of things, it didn’t make for the most relaxing descent.

One thing I forgot to mention about riding around San Salvador was the lack of manhole covers. They have the manholes alright, bloody great big storm drains about 4ft x 2ft that sit in the gutter, ready for the seasonal downpours. No covers though. Get that wrong and it’s going to hurt…

On one particularly steep bit of the descent, a truck was crawling down the hill in the slow lane, it’s brakes visibly smoking as they held back the weight.
Checking over our shoulders we veered out into the fast lane to pass it. Anywhere else it may come as a surprise but here? I’m not too sure. In the middle of the fast lane was a manhole and, yep, no cover! This one was only a mere 2ft diameter and carefully positioned in the centre of the lane where it would cause no problem to a car or truck. For us though, going at about 50km/h, it would have made a very ‘interesting’ addition to the day if we hadn’t seen it.

Finally we made it down to the ocean and along the coast to the fantastically laid back & lovely resort of Tortuga Verde (www.tortugaverde,com) for a well-earned bit of R&R

To be continued…

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