*though also awfully honky
If you look at a map of Central America you'll see why it only took us 48 hours to transit Honduras from El Salvador to Nicaragua. Some day I'd like to see more of Honduras, but this wasn't the time.
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice: 'Elections in November 2017 led to a contested result followed by widespread protests, some of which turned violent. Over 30 people have died, many injured and over 1,500 arrested. Roads have also been blocked by protestors... Crime and violence are a serious problem throughout Honduras and the country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. You should exercise a high degree of caution.'
In practice our short visit was trouble-free notwithstanding the incessant honking and slightly shoutier men and children than in the neighbouring countries. That southern part of Honduras is low-lying and exceedingly hot. The first night we camped in a firestation garden, the second round the back of a Red Cross.
Via a border crossing involving less hassle than the internet had led us to expect, we arrived in Nicaragua. Our first impressions were excellent: noticeably calm people, lots of women on bicycles, a couple of interesting little towns. As a socialist country Nicaragua endeavours to provide universal free - though undoubtedly basic - healthcare to its citizens. On our first night we camped behind a cottage hospital, where we had the interesting experience of meeting a chap who nightly fumigates the whole town (using a spray mounted on the back of a pickup truck) to combat communicable diseases such as dengue.
Thereafter we had three tough days in Nicaragua mainly, I think, as a result of the route that had been recommended by some Swiss cyclists Claire met in El Salvador whose taste in roads proved about as reliable as the Czech cyclists she met in Guatemala i.e. not very! One entire morning involved 40 exhausting kilometres on a rough stone road. The next was straight into a headwind followed by an afternoon on the Panamerican Highway with heavy, honking traffic, a side-wind and dangerously narrow shoulder. And the third was more of the same.
It was during this period I let Claire know I'd like to set my own rhythm (and a non-linear route) for Costa Rica rather than continue racing towards Panama City. As described in the next post, I learned a huge amount about myself by doing things a different way for five weeks.
Happily, our final three days in Nicaragua were much more enjoyable, being on a much quieter road that even provided some nice scenery! On our way to Juigalpa - where we had a delicious lunch of rice, beans, plantain, smoked cheese, salad etc, plus passionfruit juice! - we were amused to encounter a group of German and Dutch cyclists on a group tour. One older German chap briefly told me the group dynamic was challening, before saying he'd better continue cycling with his wife because 'she's the boss'.
On our penultimate afternoon in Nicaragua I spotted a river on the map where I told Claire I felt sure we'd find soft, flat grass for camping, bathing damsels and an ice-cream vendor. In fact we found a delightful pastor, his wife, her cat, pigs, chickens and singing parrot Rosita, bathers to suit both our tastes and nice grass right by the river, but unfortunately no ice-cream vendor. A truly wonderful camping spot until 5am (8 March), when a male voice literally screaming into a PA informed the village of a fiesta to celebrate Nicaraguan women. The irony was not lost on us, and this was but one example of the extraordinary amount of non-consensual noise one is subjected to in this part of the world.
The next night, camping under a huge bridge (funded - like many things in Nicaragua - by 'the people of Japan') just a few kilometres from the border we were visited after dark by the 'ejercito'/army asking (politely) for our passports. With torchlight directed into my face I complied, but Claire - unable to see who they were - told them there were too many mosquitoes to open her tent - respect!
As with Guatemala our route through Nicaragua took us close to none of the volcanic scenery and colonial towns the country is generally known for, so it's hard for me to form much of an opinion. From what I did see it felt like a country still in recovery, but with a distinctive and quirky atmosphere. I hope to return.
On crossing into Costa Rica the significantly greater affluence of the country was immediately apparent from standards of housing and the range of consumer goods in the supermarket. Unfortunately roads in Costa Rica seem to be either asphalt, narrow, busy and fast, or unpaved. Our first 50kms or so were absolutely terrifying, with at least one of the hundreds of speeding fruit lorries actually touching the foam noodle that extends about 30cms from the outside of Claire's bike. With the addition of rain it quickly became what I call a 'death road'. It was therefore with frazzled nerves that we arrived in Santa Rosa, where sweet Red Cross staff allowed us to camp indoors and have a shower.
The next morning was Claire's birthday so I surprised her by placing little orange cones around her tent in imitation of the ones placed around us in Guatemala, and matching orange balloons. After a three-part breakfast, Claire set off towards the Pacific coastline. And then there was one again.