Tegucigalpa – El Cuco

X tegucigalpa to El CucoToday would be a change of pace. After a month of more than 1200 kilometers of biking, I decided that I’m nearly done.

I bought a ticket for a flight that leaves Managua, Nicaragua on September 6, and decided to use buses to do a detour to El Cuco; a small beach town in El Salvador. It’s a distance that would take three days by bike (plus three more to get back on track again), but this way, I could arrive there the very same day.

I left the hostel at 7:30 to bike the four kilometers to the bus station in La Granja. Once again it was a lot of fun to bike through the city and pass all the cars stuck in traffic.

Bus in Tegucigalpa
Finding the bus station was easy, and just upon arrival, a bunch of guys shouted “Choluteca!” and I basically rode the bike straight into its trunk and I hopped into the bus.

So far, so good!

It left at 8:20 and I paid 73 Lempiras to get off at Jícaro Galan (roughly 3 USD), which is the closest town the bus gets to El Salvador. It was frustrating to be on a bus and have frequent snack/toilet/drop-off breaks and stand still for minutes during trafficy sections. I felt the urge more than once to just get off and bike the rest of the way.

Also, at one point the driver almost drove into a truck in front of us, and had to turn to the side to avoid it, almost making us drive off the road. It was pretty interesting.

Jícaro Galan
Three hours later, they dropped me off in Jícaro Galan, and I waited for a bit in the shade, and then the next bus arrived twenty minutes later. I paid 60 Lempiras (I think 30 for me, 30 for the bike) to take me to El Amatillo by the El Salvadorian border. The trip was roughly one hour long, and it was one of those old school buses that are now used for public transportation! My bike was placed between the seats.
jicaro to border

At 1pm, we had arrived to the border. Everyone wanted to talk to me either in broken English or Spanish, asking for money, if I wanted to change money, if I want to sell the bike. I suggested 100 dollars, but they didn’t bite. But it’s good practice, I’m gonna start trying to sell it from now on!
El Salvador
Showed passport to exit Honduras, crossed the river, showed it again to enter El Salvador. The usual stuff. No fees.

On the Honduran side, they offered 5.20 USD (which is the official currency here) for my remaining 132 Lempiras. On the El Salvadorian side, I got 5.50. Again a slightly better offer once you cross.

I was lucky to get on a new bus (2 USD) just as I was done, and by 1:40pm, I was on my way to the largest city on the eastern half of El Salvador; San Miguel.
full bus

I arrived later than planned, and since the internet had told me that the last bus to El Cuco would depart at 4pm, I only had 40 minutes to:
1. Get my new 60 USD from a Western Union
2. Get something to eat
3. Buy some groceries
4. Find bus

I hurried out on the streets on my bike, asking around for a Western Union. Always people pointing in opposite directions, and when I did find one, a sign said it was not working today.

It was stressful! But finally I did find one in a small shop, and I got my money pretty fast this time, maybe because I explained the situation, and they even knew the hostel I was going to stay at!

Still, it was already 4pm, and I hurried hurried back to the bus terminal, maybe a little too risky, zig-zagging between cars against traffic.

I arrived! Only to learn that the last bus of the day was actually 5:20pm! My info from the internet had failed me!

Bus to El Cuco
Bus to El Chuco.

It was a good thing though, as I could finally pee for the first time today, and get something to eat.

People beg for money all the time here, which I actually haven’t encountered earlier on this trip. People also always start conversations with me, and I’ve begun to automatically say “no hablo español, sorry” so they will give up faster.

The bus played super loud Latin dance music that made my seat vibrate. It felt like the ride kept going forever and I was so sleepy.

Finally I arrived at El Cuco, and the sun had already gone down. I biked in the darkness (though now I had a flashlight that I got from my La Lima host as a present!), and I could quickly find Casa de Canela. It’s a cute little hostel, 10 USD per dorm bed, individual fans. Pool table, towel included.

Also, they have little kittens running around, and one became my friend.
Cats in Casa de Canela 2

I have to say that I feel weird going by bus all day. In a way, it’s just as exhausting as biking, but with biking, there’s some kind of satisfaction to it. Now, there’s just tiredness.

At least tomorrow I have all day to just relax and explore the town and the beach!

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Puerto Cortés – La Lima

T Puerto Cortes to La Lima
My host in Puerto Cortés left early for work, and my co-surfer left for Belize with his motorbike. I was all alone and could relax and just take it slow all morning, which was much needed!

furball
I woke up with this little furball sleeping on my bed.

Then I learnt that my next host Ana Lucia, living in La Lima 74 kilometers away, had volleyball practice in the evening, and I had to arrive by 4pm. I felt stressed, because I didn’t get going until noon!

Was I really going to make the whole distance within 4 hours?

road from puerto cortes
I had forgotten that I used to avoid biking during the hot midday hours, because it had been cloudy and rainy for several days. But of course today, the sky was clear blue! The sun combined with the initial steady climb of the highway made me exhausted already within an hour.

But after that, the landscape leveled out and it turned out to be a very easy route, except for all the big trucks that insisted on driving very close to me. Minutes and kilometers flew by!
puerto cortes straight road

At 3pm, I didn’t have much distance left to bike, and I stopped outside a Pizza Hut for their free WiFi, to brag about my accomplishment. “I did all 74 kilometers in less than 3.5 hours!” I planned to write on my blog.

I had avoided the center of San Pedro Sula, because it’s considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Wikipedia explains it in a funny way in its tourist section:
“It has a cathedral that was built in 1949. Besides that there is nothing else unless you want a bullet to the head.”

la lima
I did bike through La Lima though, which is quite a cute town that also happens to have a Western Union office, which I will try to get money from tomorrow. I haven’t had any money for two days now, so it’s about time!

The last stretch was out in the country again, and my Google Maps app didn’t even show the road! (I will complain another time about how the app is lacking a lot of roads compared to, say, the Facebook map.)

football field
I had been told to look for the second house next to the football field. I was getting close!

And then I found them, standing outside their gate, just as the clock turned to 4pm. I don’t know what had happened to my estimated 3.5 hours (there was a lot more traffic and streets to navigate though), but 74 kilometers in four hours isn’t bad either!

I said hello to the parents who only speak Spanish, but the two daughters went to a bilingual school, so they speak English perfectly! Or well, almost perfectly. 🙂 🙂

They live in a wonderful old wooden house, and the whole family is working with banana transportation. They taught me things about bananas.
bananas
In Honduras, these are called platano, banano and manzano.

Then we went to their volleyball practice, and it was uh… okay! I brought my kindle, so I could keep myself entertained.
volleyball

All in all, they have been so nice and welcoming! I will tell more about that tomorrow, because I will stay here for a while.

San Ignacio – El Remate

M san ignacio to el remate
I left San Ignacio at 11am (it was cloudy, so there was no rush to avoid the midday sun), and though hilly, it only took 40 minutes to reach the Guatemalan border.

xunantunich
The Xunantunich ruins are located halfway to the border, by crossing this river, but I skipped it. There are more impressive ones in Guatemala!

I had 95 Belizean Dollars left to exchange, and by searching online, I had found that they were worth 345.5 Guatemalan Quetzales. I also found comments saying that haggling for a 5% fee would be doable, so I was set to get 328 Quetzales for my 95 Belizeans.

But nope. When asking around outside the immigration building, they all offered only 285 and not a dime more. So much money lost!

I stood there for a while, not sure what to do, but decided to not let them get their way. I went through the immigration fast and easy (It costs 40 Belizean Dollars to exit, no charge for entering Guatemala), and a guy on the other side offered 300 for my 95. Still not a great deal, but at least it was better, so I accepted.

Pro-tip: Avoid changing money at borders, just plan ahead and use up what you have!

And have a credit card with you. Credit cards are good.

crossing to guatemala
A river between Belize and Guatemala.

I was now in Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala. Because I lost my credit card in Mexico, I had once again sent money to myself through Western Union. This time proved to be more problematic than expected:
1. As usual, the Western Union locator website is way off, and it took a while to find the office in the town.
2. I needed two phone numbers from Guatemalan contacts since it’s my first time withdrawing in Guatemala. And I had no numbers at all!
Luckily there’s a plaza with free WiFi nearby, and I managed to get a few numbers from Couchsurfing.com contacts. It’s good to make online friends!
3. They were extremely picky, and I had to sit in their freezing office for more than half an hour while they were tapping away on their computers. They asked me to write my signature twice, and compared them carefully to the signature in my passport!

So suspicious, for the value of 60 USD!

Finally I got my money, and I went back to the the “plaza” (an unusual one because it’s actually inside a building), and ordered a nachos and quesadilla combo for 15 Quetzales (about 2 USD) to calm my screaming stomach. Because I was starving.
quesadilla y nachos
Lots of food, though not much vegetables included, just a few squares of tomato.

Bought some water and juice (6 Quetzales!) at the supermarket, got my tires re-pumped for free at a bike repair shop again, and got going around 2:30pm.
nice guatemalan roads
This first Guatemalan part might have been my favorite so far! The roads are finally nice again, and there’s so much beautiful scenery and life. Occasionally it reminded me of a Legend of Zelda game, with little houses on the hills, women washing clothes in the lake, pigs, cows, horses and chickens running around along the road. Very idyllic!

After 20-30 kilometers came the greatest physical challenge so far. A loooong steep hill. I admit I had to start walking after a while, especially because my lowest gear is not working. I need to fix that when I get the chance.

After walking uphill forever, sweating and breathing heavily, I finally got up and sat up on my bike. Only to see that another equally steep hill came right after the first.
More walking.

And then of course it started raining. Luckily not too much, but once I got up from hills, I was met by this sight:
guatemala dirt
For no reason, the nice road turned into dirt road!
guatemala dirt 2
Let’s just say I got very muddy.

I had to bike very slowly, but after a kilometer or so, proper road came back again.

After that, it was mostly downhill, but the uphills were slowly killing me. A particularly big hill (surely not that impressive compared to other hills in the world) with 10 km to go made scream out an “ARRGH” as my last bits of energy was consumed.

I had expected to arrive by maybe 5pm, but once again, the sun went down on me, and it got very dark. To be fair though, the sun sets very early here, before 7pm.
Peten itza sunset
Sunset over lake Petén Itzá.

I biked through the tiny village, but as I got closer to where my hostel should be, it got near pitch black again! I wasn’t sure if I had gone the wrong way or what was up.

In the darkness I saw what seemed like candle lights and a human, and I asked where Doña Tonita is. “Right here,” he replied!

Turns out they had a black out, and I was lucky to have found it at all!
candlelights
Candle lights lighting up the stairs to the bathroom.

So far (I’m still in darkness though), I really like the place! It’s only 50 Quetzales per night, and the dorm is above the restaurant, just a straw roof and open sizes. The beds are big queen sized beds equipped with mosquito nets.

I watched the latest Game of Thrones episodes and went to bed at 10pm, unable to update the blog or tell anyone I’m alive.

I hope you weren’t worrying too much!!

Update:
I suddenly realized that my fancy Playa del Carmen baseball cap is gone! I had put it in the bike basket when I arrived to the town, and it must have fallen out.
RIP HAT

Corozal and the Sea Breeze

68 belize
The road from the Mexican border to the closest Belizean town, Corozal, is narrower than the ones I had biked on in Mexico. There was barely any room for me if cars met, so I felt a bit in the way when cars occasionally had to slow down.

It was a windy but short ride, and I arrived within 30 minutes.

71 Corozal
It’s hard to pinpoint what it is, but coming to Belize feels like being in a completely new country! That might sound silly, because it obviously is a new country, but normally when crossing borders by land, the difference doesn’t feel as big, at least in Latin America.
But here, they speak funny English, they look different and have darker skin, and the prices are twice compared to the Mexican east coast, even though it’s at least as simple and dirty, at least in this village. Worse roads too.

The daily broken tire update:
I had to stop and pump the tire on the ride to Corazal, so something is definitely fishy. As I was biking through the town, I saw a bike shop and asked if they could pump my tire, and the friendly and chill dude (I imagine Jamaicans to be like this, though I haven’t been there, yet) said no prob!
When I explained the situation, he said “must be a tiiiny little hole!” and the way he said it was just hilarious! He said he’d fix it for 2 Belizeans (≈1 USD), so I’ll definitely go back later. He didn’t want money for pumping my tire.

Money problem update:
Since my credit card is gone, I had checked online to see that three stores in Corozal deals with Western Union, and as I arrived, I immediately saw “Fry Store” along the road, which was one of them. “This was easy,” I thought.
69 fry store
But of course it wouldn’t be easy. They had stopped offering WU services.

Two more places to try… Would I have to stay the night hungry on a park bench?

The locations map on Western Union’s own website turned out to be very inaccurate, so I kept asking people and biked around the entire town, also looking for the cheapest hostel.

Then suddenly I found Doony’s Instant Loan, far from where I had pinned the address on my phone. And success, they are still WU certified!
70 doonys
Would it be that easy? Well no. Just showing my passport wasn’t enough; I also needed a long MTCN code, and I didn’t have it. The lady said I could get free WiFi in the park nearby, so I went biking once again.

The park turned out to have great WiFi, but only for 1 hour per day! Luckily it was enough for me to find the code, and I returned and got my very first 117.5 Belizean Dollars! I’m rich!

74 Sea Breeze Hotel
Turns out there are no hostels here, only private rooms in hotels. By now, I had asked around for prices, and for 45 Belizean dollars per night, The Sea Breeze Hotel was the cheapest option.

It’s a nice place right next to the Caribbean Sea. Good showers, free drinking water, air-conditioning if you pay extra. The next morning I asked for a place to buy groceries, but the owner said she’ll make breakfast for me!
75 Belizean Breakfast
I can only assume this is a typical Belizean dish. Tortillas, beans, fried eggs with tomato and cheese on top. It was pretty good! Fresh papaya juice too!

Food in Corozal:
In the evening I went out to find something affordable to eat, but was surprised by the costs. A pizza seems to go for 20-30 Belizean dollars!! A small burger for 10. Are people actually rich here, but just dress and live very simple?! I’m confused by this country.

The supermarkets are similarly expensive, with a bag of potato chips being sold for 12-14 Belizeans, a tiny bag of nuts for 6. The only affordable thing I could find were bananas, sold by a woman on the street. 8 bananas for 1 Belizean is nuts!

I asked around, and apparently Chinese food is the only thing that’s affordable. (And there are tons of Chinese restaurants and takeouts here, and most supermarkets seem to be run by Chinese as well.)
72 china food
At Perfecto Restaurant near the park, the most affordable meal was chicken sweet & sour for 10 Belizeans. It was alright, and definitely filling!

The final broken tire update (I hope):
Before leaving Corozal, I went back to the bike repair shop (also near the park) to fix my tire once and for all. Turns out it had four tiny holes!
He said that in this heat, patching so many holes will not work, and that I’ll get a new tube for 5 Belizeans. I agreed. 7 Belizeans (≈3.5 USD) for the whole reparation would have to be worth it.
76 Bike repair
The bike repair guy was a cool dude.

Now I was ready to continue my journey!

Mahahual day 2

f mahahual
Today I biked to the neighboring village Costa Maya to withdraw money with my friend’s credit card, because Mahahual has no ATM.
(It was for her, and also an additional loan for my last days in Mexico. I have successfully transferred money via Western Union, to be picked up in Belize, but I’ll tell more about that further down in this post.)

It was a short but sweet ride. The best news is that I had the wind at my back, and it was so much nicer to bike this way! Tomorrow I’m biking back from the coast, and I’m hopeful that it will be a much more pleasant ride without constantly struggling against the wind.

Costa Maya was an odd experience. I’m pretty sure someone thought “hey, let’s make this the next super tourist resort!”, but something has gone wrong. All the buildings had “for sale” signs, and it was like a complete ghost town.
43 costa maya inn
You could wonder why this of all places had an ATM, but there is ONE place that is alive; a big 4 star hotel named Costa Maya Inn that seems completely out of place.

It was a nice little trip, and I got to add 6 km to my totals.
44 reading
Except for just relaxing on the beach, reading, writing, one may also do some snorkeling! For 250 pesos, you’re taken out to sea, you get fins, snorkel and mask and get to swim a certain distance with a guide.

In this case, he was a super enthusiastic Mexican-American hotel manager named Marcelo, who needed a change and was now swimming with tourists instead. I think either you’d love him, or you’d find him to be “too much”. Whatever your preference is, he’s certainly a character.

I had not done much snorkeling before, but it was alright! A little grey at times, but very clear sight, as I saw the bottom at a 20 meter depth. Occasionally there were corals with lots of fish of all sizes, which was cool, and the highlight was swimming right next to a huge green turtle (one meter long surely), and it felt like something right out of Finding Nemo.

My two favorite restaurants in Mahahual are Loncheria El Primo  and  El Salsero Mayor, both on the main street, Huauchinango.
The former has this super tasty burrito (left food pic) for 45 pesos, tacos for only 10 pesos, and a whole liter of fruit juice for 30 pesos.
The latter has a lot of variation, and it’s all less than 70 pesos per meal. In the middle, we have chilaquiles; some kind of nachos covered by sauces and more. On the right, gringas; wheat tortillas with a bunch of ingredients. You could say they are like tacos, but bigger and more filling.
I’ve also tried enchiladas (almost pancakey tortilla rolls covered by sauces) and burgers there.

Money update:
Now I have enough Mexican pesos for my last few days here, but I will need a good amount of Belizean dollars upon arrival in the new country. So I tried using Western Union, sending 500 SEK + the fee of 25 SEK (a total of around 65 USD). For this, I get to withdraw 117 Belizean dollars at any shop that deals with Western Union. There are three in Corazal; the city closest to the Mexican border.

I compared the currency conversion at XE.com, and learnt that 525 SEK is currently worth 129 BZD, so it’s not too bad! I lose 6 USD on a 65 USD transfer, which seems similar to the fees and conversion fees when using regular ATM’s.

I’ll tell you next week if I managed to withdraw those Belizean dollars or not!