April 21, 2010 GMT
Honduras and El Salvador - 4 to 9 January 2010

We exited Nicaragua, imported the bikes into Honduras, raced across the south of Honduras in about four hours and exported the bikes from there into El Salvador. We were very sorry to do this as the country looks very interesting, but the UK Foreign Office had decreed that along with Iraq and Afghanistan, Honduras should be avoided for all but essential travel.

Because of this, we knew our travel insurance would be invalid as soon as we entered the country. If we had an accident, we'd be on our own as there is no consular representation in Honduras. We found it strange that other travellers either knew nothing about this, or just weren't bothered, and were learning to dive here as Honduras is apparently the cheapest place in the world. Maybe we are just chicken.

The road was superb. Apparently all the main roads are excellent – they were built by the Americans who were arming and training the Contras in their fight against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. There's very little traffic as Honduras is desperately poor. Cows and donkey graze by the roadside and there were few people around.

In June 2009, the military in Honduras became fed up with the left-wing President Zelaya and bundled him onto a plane in his pajamas to Costa Rica and installed their own man. Zelaya flew back in a private jet, but was arrested at the airport and deported again. So he snuck back in the boot of a car and holed up in the Brazilian embassy for several months.

The constitutional crisis threatened to de-stabilize the region and was only resolved several weeks after we passed through, when Zelaya admitted defeat and went into exile in the Dominican Republic. Zelaya is a great mate of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, so is missed by few in the Western world and his honesty is in question over a missing $1.5 million, though this could be a smear – who knows?

What we saw of Honduras was completely peaceful, and we were waved through the only military checkpoint we passed, unlike lots of other bike and car travellers we've heard about.

Honduras is one of the CA-4 countries. This is like a mini EU and is designed to strengthen economic and political ties and prevent war between the four poorest Central American countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua).

Interestingly the same endless wrangles go on here as in the EU and Costa Rica to the south dabbles on the sidelines rather like GB in Europe – picking and choosing which bits to join in, rather more successfully overall than we do. Mexico to the north is not interested – far too big and far too allied to the USA.

The CA-4 agreement is supposed to mean free movement between the four countries once you get in to the first one, but of course this doesn't apply to foreigners. We still had the tedious import/export formalities and fees with the bikes, but no nice new entry and exit stamps on our passports! Honduras is also the most expensive country to take your bike into - $42.50 for our 4 hour transit.

Salvador is a tiny country, with a population of just 6 million, a very bad gang problem and the highest murder rate in Central America. A devastating civil war that only ended in 1992, continuing political instability, a terrible earthquake in 2001, a hurricane last year that knocked out many roads and bridges have all contributed to El Salvador not being the top of anyone's list to visit. Lots of people don't bother.

But it's a very friendly place and we thoroughly enjoyed it.


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And it has great vegetation


Once over the border we got off the Pan American Highway as soon as we could and skirted round the San Miguel volcano looming over the town of the same name. We headed south to the Pacific coast down a wonderfully rural little road that didn’t appear to bear any resemblance to our map.

We stayed at a great hostel called El Roble at Playa San Diego owned by Darren from Essex (!) and his delightful Salvadorean wife and had a great sunset walk along a beautiful beach watching local fisherman and surfing kids.


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Sunset on Playa San Diego


El Roble was still recovering from last autumn’s cyclone when the water (they weren’t sure if it was sea or river water) came through the property to waist height. They must have been working hard as the only sign of the catastrophe was that the pool was still out of commission.


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Relaxing at El Roble


Riding north and west we arrived at the unpronounceable Juayua, where we bumped into a lad from Upwey (the village we live in at home). Pat knows his mum! He and his girlfriend had just been relieved of all they carried (fortunately only $2) on a deserted path by a man with a machete and were a bit shaken. We decided not to do that walk…. and instead rode to the even more unpronounceable Ahuachapan and got Pat’s rack soldered.

It had been cracked by the strong man who had lifted Pat and both bikes by their racks, back in Costa Rica. The work still only came to $8 after Pat sent it back for a second go, so for good measure we got the hairline crack on my rack soldered too and the total came to $14.00. Pat then did an oil change on both bikes on the pristine garage floor of the hostel and didn’t spill a drop!

The weather was warm and sunny all the time we were in Salvador and we had a superb ride to the Cerro Verde National Park in the north west. From the top, you can almost see the top of the adjoining Izalco Volcano with its wispy fumaroles floating lazily upwards on the breeze. The ride down is right round the stunning crater lake Coatapeque.


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Izalco Volcano



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Lake Coatapeque


Our final night in El Salvador was in Santa Anna in a beautifully appointed B&B ($20 for our en-suite room) with a charming host who started the evening quite sober but to the evident disapproval of his housekeeper was quite drunk by the end of it all and appeared very blearily next day. His brother is a fanatical biker and was round to meet us in a flash on his shiny GS1200. He told us about a big biker meeting over the border in Guatemala two days hence, and escorted us out of town and onto the right road next day. We could have found it ourselves but it was still kind of him! His mates were all going but his son was in hospital with dengue fever so he couldn’t go. We reminded ourselves to keep taking the malaria tablets. Fortunately we’ve not yet met mosquitoes that can bite through our boots!

Posted by Sheonagh Ravensdale at April 21, 2010 09:42 AM GMT
 
 

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