Sunday, 31 January 2016

Quick update

Very limited wifi but conscious we've not posted for a while and thought some people may be getting worried about us? Hello? Anyone?........
Hmm, guess not then...

Kate chilling out with Mr Rivers who is lovely but looks way too much like Chilli to not be a bit upsetting...

We're currently staying at It ends cold up here in the mountains, jackets and trousers in eve & morn. Lovely scenery though around part of the world. Place we're staying at is a bit weird n whacky but more of that later.

Before that did a great day trip down Somoto Canyon. No photos of that but you can google image search it if you like...

Got to go, about to get our 
Mayan Astrological signs read....
Not quite how I expected it to work but
Go to

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Making it happen

This blog entry is what I consider the most important of all the entries we'll make on this whole trip.
Our friends John and Jane who we met whilst motorbiking from UK to Oz (they were motorbiking around the world) have just made major steps towards their next adventure. Major as in buying their vehicle and handing in their notice. Why do I mention this? Because they have inspired me. I know we're 'out there doing it' but once on the road it's easy to forget how hard it is to actually get here. Selling or renting your home, quitting your job, not seeing friends & family, being away from home comforts - it's all hard to actually kick into gear and make happen. But they are doing it. 
They're not the only people we know who have broken their mould and 'gone for it'. We have other friends that have quit their jobs in Oz and are currently mountain biking in NZ and plan to do the same all over the European mountains this summer. Others have ridden UK to India and are there right now. Many more friends through Facebook & forums are out there now, doing it or have been out in the recent past. All of them made the massive effort to do it and I applaud them.

Now 'getting out there' doesn't need to be a massive trip to exotic foreign lands. That can be too much or too hard for many especially if kids, uncooperative bosses, unkeen other halves etc are involved. But my message, and I think it's a very important one, is to please follow your dreams to some degree within your parameters. Try to get to your dream or at least get a slice of it. Worst way, at least attempt to sort out the things that aren't 'doing it for you'. 

If you fancy a few days away then go. I'm sure your partner, kids or boss (not necessarily in that order) will survive without you.
I've got a colleague who's just quit his good, safe, comfortable job and taken a bit of a gamble on a new position with a different firm. He now has a position that will hopefully allow him to grow and achieve more. Bloody good on him for taking the plunge.

So, enough waffling, I'm sure you get the point. Whether you desire is to decorate your dog in decoupage, sample a short summer semester shucking shellfish in Shanghai or are moved & motivated by a Masters in Macramé in Margate, stop sitting there reading this and bloody well do something to make it happen cos it sure as well won't happen all by itself will it?

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Head for the hills!

We'd heard about a nice river canyon to visit near the town of Somoto back up near the border with Honduras (don't worry, a different bit of Honduras from before but we are going back on ourselves a bit). Apparently there are also some lush pockets of rainforest to see as well. Let's go!

We saddled up and rode out of town, all the way to the bus station! We'd studied a topographical map on the wall of a bar and by cross referencing this with info gleaned from other cyclists blogs learnt that there was a 110km hot, barren plain to cross first. We didn't fancy riding that and certainly weren't going to do it just to keep you lot happy :-)

We installed ourselves on the back seat of the bus and got ready for a jolly old ride

2 and a half hours later we were still going and the enthusiasm had waned a tad.

We did see a smoking volcano though which goes down as a first in my book. That perked us up a bit

3.5 hours after setting off we finally arrived at the dusty junction town of San Isidro. We now had 30km more to go to reach the town of Esteli, our destination for the day.

To claw back some meagre credibility Kate encouraged us to ride although I wasn't really feeling much like it. "C'mon, porky pig fatty" she said in a 'text book' encouragement way. "All you've done for 10 days is sit about waffling to people, put some bloody effort in you lazy buggar". Kate, as I'm sure you'll all realise if you know her didn't say a word of the above, she just looked at me with that look and I had a little talk with myself.

It actually turned out to be a nice ride. 3 hours in total of enough uphills to 'earn' a beer or 2 and enough downhill to remind us that Newton does still love us.

Funny isn't it? If I had anything more interesting and important to say I could have summarised the above in one sentence, sorry!

Oh, the only other thing I can add is that last night at dinner we saw a local bloke tipping salt into his beer. The food here is all very salty and I guess things begin to taste a bit bland without a little dash of sodium chloride. Whilst on the subject, they can't believe that we choose the drink the coffee without sugar....

They also seem to choose some pretty odd things to tie their stages to


For those of you who couldn't read it

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Vive la Revolution!

Ok, just before I get started waffling on about Leon I wanted to do a quick 'status update' and hopefully set the record straight about one thing - travelling in Central American and the associated security issues. If you've heard or read negative things then I suggest you buy a packet of these snacks I saw in a supermarket

We've now 'done' (I hate that term) should I say briefly travelled through and seen some of 4 of the Central American 'Bad Boy' countries with not such as a peek from any bandido's, pickpockets, scoundrels or thieves.  Everywhere has felt so friendly and safe. No one we've spoken to (not even the single ladies) have had any hassle. We've met one German bloke (who was pretty weird anyway) who seemed to be super paranoid about security (still doing it though) but apart from him, no one has really even mentioned it except to say how surprised they were that it was all good. 

The second thing (that I don't feel so happy to talk about) is this 'mighty' 1000 km we've managed to ride. Whilst sitting on my skinny white arse on that air con bus the other day I worked out that if we'd not come here at all but had actually ridden to work 5 days a week for 6 weeks that we'd have covered 750km. Ok, it's not quite the same (I have to say I've never ever had to stop half way up the Old Kent Road to sit with my head on my handlebars and wait whilst my lungs try to burst out of my rib cage) but I'm sure you'll understand what I'm getting at. Maybe we should cut back on those 'guilt free' ice creams & cakes or we may actually come back porkier than when we left!

So, finally, what's the city of Leon like? It's nice. Nice? Is that it, my only description? Pathetic!

Whilst deciding where to go out one night we consulted 'The Oracle' otherwise known as the Lonely Planet. Which one d'you think we headed to?!

In typical LP style though, the oldies bar was popular with no one and the night club looked as if it had closed down...  

One thing it did come up trumps with though was somewhere to eat. Yes, yet another BBQ street stall cafe. This one is a bit different though. Here there are loads of tasty items to choose from. Once you've struggled to work out what they all are or might be, you wait for them to be cooked and served. The strange bit is when you come to pay after you've eaten. The boss'll ask the ladies who served you what we had, they'll look over blankly at us (how would they ever remember, they've served another 20 people in that time?) so it's down to you to not only remember what you had but also how to say it in Spanish so they can tot it up.  For those of you reading this who are old enough to remember it, it's like a scene from the Generation Game but unfortunately there's no Teas Made or cuddly toys involved, just the added confusion of whether you want to pay in dollars or local Cordobas or even a combo of both. Phewy!

Anyway... Back to Leon.... This place has had more revolutions than Lance Armstrong pedalling up a volcano in granny gear. It used to be the capital and has been fought in, over, round and about for centuries. It certainly has some energy, soul and atmosphere. There are plenty of western travellers here but it's still a country town going about its business. There are some pretty nice old crumbling buildings and plenty of museums and street art to remind you of its troubled past

This statue in the main square is here to poke fun at the Spanish invaders. Apparently the Spanish women were seen as super tall and it would appear that other parts of them also 'stood out' to the indigenous people!

Whilst on that subject, we visited a museum of 'Legend & Tradition'. Check this little lady out
And the apparent explanation

Some of the other exhibits were a bit more macabre 

There was also some information on the various barbaric torture & suffering caused by the various dictators and marauders that have put their mark on the place over the centuries. This actual tank featured in a great b&w photo from 1979 in which it was cruising down Leon high street followed by a bunch of high waister, flared Jean wearing Che Guevara lookalikes.

Now what with all this revolution stuff, I've got inspired and am thinking of going for a new look. What d'you reckon?

And while we're on the subject of doing things differently, how cool is this? It's a hand wound mechanical orange peeler! 

As per the photo, the peel comes off in 1 continuous strand. If we had more space and it weighed less I'd have to have it. This is defo something you can't get on eBay...

It was good to see that Steptoe & Son are still live n kicking over here

Getting arty on a rooftop tour of the cathedral

Gotta luv a church n Volcan combo

Complicated confessions were around the corner in the second booth....

Something for the weekend sir?

Don't worry, we're off again tomorrow and will hopefully have a bit more to talk about. Seem to be doing a lot of sitting around for a cycling trip.....
Oh no, she's doing it again....

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Ahh, feeling much better...

Our 4 days at Tortuga Verde were lovely and just what we needed. By the time we left my guts felt normal, my brain felt normal (?) and my energy was back to its usual (I think I can just about be arsed to do that) level.

Why was it so nice there? It was the little things that made the difference - Comfy bed with nice sheets, nice soap, a shower that squirted the water where you wanted it and not all over the whole bathroom floor, nice towels... I could go on.... I think I will.... Lots of places to hang clothes (and said towels), a shaded room that didn't get too light as the 5.30 sun came up, no barking dogs, no roosters, a bed side light, clean nicely decorated room, nice healthy food, great atmosphere, OK, Ok, you get the picture I'm sure.

We basically did nothing for our whole time there. This photo'll give you the daily rundown

The only thing missing from the list was releasing baby turtles. Now this isn't a euphemism for anything and thankfully has nothing to do with 'dropping the kids off at the pool'. 

The baby turtles come from egg sellers who dig up the eggs to then sell them to restaurants or in this case, the kind owner of the hostel. I'm sure his heart is in the right place but also sure that the whole thing is a marketing ploy....
It wasn't quite the emotional 'Attenboroughesque' experience you might wish for. Basically the little critters were carried to the beach in a big washing up bowl and then lifted out by excited backpackers who then giggled and "ahh'd & ooh'd" as 'their' one waddled its way towards to surf, only to get knocked back and washed back up the beach by the waves. One American girl was giving her one a serious motivational speech that was quite hilarious to listen to. We watched this on 2 days (told you there wasn't much else to do) and a total of about 40 turtles made it into the sea. Apparently in the end only about 1 in 100 make it to adulthood, I don't suppose the trawler fishing boats on the horizon helped with the breeding programme....

Another lasting memory of Tortuga Verde was Lewis, our Aussie yoga instructor. What a great guy! He brought yoga down to a really 'normal' and accessible level. Sometimes (although I am far From being an expert in the subject) yoga is either so 'out there' or so far up its arse that I just can't get into it. Maybe it was the sound of the waves or the swaying palm trees or maybe it was the ever smiling Lewis I'm not sure but I can definitely say that it was the closest thing to a 'shakra balancing' I've ever had. I also loved the way he said "Bueno" in his broad Aussie accent but I don't think they usually teach that  bit at yoga school.... 

So why did we leave? I can hear you all asking, totally enthralled and on the edge of your seats. Well, we'd heard that at the weekend the place got pretty busy with locals doing day trips or a quick weekend away. The atmosphere had been so calm and nice and we knew that our experience was about to change so decided to move on. I'm not sure now it was the right thing to do but hey, it's done so there :-(. Here's a few photos of the place before we finally 'let it go'

Ice cream sellers on the beach

Another sunset

Kate realising her dream

Kate doing her best Reggie Perrin impression

Sratchy, everyone's fave dog

So, where next and how? There wasn't much left of eastern El Salvador to see, then there was another bit of Honduras to get through and then Nicaragua. It's ok, don't feel ashamed or confused, I also thought Nicaragua was an African country as well.... It's not, it's a Central American country and it was a 4 day, long, hot ride away on the busy Pan American highway. Or was it????? The tourist minivans drove back n forth crammed with sleeping backpackers but they wouldn't m take the bikes. Not all was lost though, apparently there was a boat....

The next morning at 7am after a sunrise snack

we were off and on our way in a pick up truck to the port of La Union.  As we ate our second breakfast (in an hour) of Pupusas with our driver, a guy, apparently the captain of the boat turned up.  He asked for our passports and wandered off with them, mumbling something about immigration. Ok, I guess he's legit we both thought secretly to ourselves but not actually saying anything. Our driver then promptly left, leaving us $170 down (we'd paid upfront of course) and passport less. We did still have some yummy Pupusas though... After a while, El Capitano thankfully reappeared and gestured our departure. He pointed for us to wheel the bikes to the end of the pier and he'd go and get the boat, or so we thought as he'd pointed down the street along the seafront and said something about "agua".  The trusting souls that we are we pottered off, only slightly concerned about the whole 'looseness' of the proceedings. Have faith though thee naysayers out there for a few minutes later he reappeared carrying a load of drinking water and then helped us past a second immigration check on the pier itself.

After a few minutes and our last look at El Salvador, the boat turned up and we were off

Not such a backward country, you don't see many of these in UK do you?

The bikes languished on the poop deck as we bobbed our way across the bay. It was a pleasant 1.5 hour ride, well it's not everyday you get to travel between Central American counties past volcanic islands on a speedboat is it?

Now I have to say that I was expecting a little more of our landing point of Potosi - an international seaport it was not.

El Capitano beached the boat and I immediately got on with the arduous task of taking photos whilst the boat guys unloaded the bikes and bags!

Then after a surprisingly thorough immigration & customs check (no rubber gloves, just forms to fill in) we were off into the throb of the metropolis,

We hoped to catch a bus from here as we already knew there was no accommodation we could reach that day. It was approaching noon by now and hot. We gorged ourselves on plain bread rolls with crisps and a fresh tomato (living the dream) and waited for the local bus which was apparently less than an hour away. 
As we ate, a fancy looking mini coach with blackout windows (all closed, that meant air conditioning as well) trundled into view. Guess what, it also had a roof rack. It turned out that a fancy tour group were going back on our boat and this bus was soon to be heading our way, empty. A little bit of negotiation here & there and we were off, the bikes and us riding in style, inside in aircon cool.

What a result! Ok we'd paid way more than if we'd waited for the local bus but when we saw it bumping it's way towards us on the rough dirt road leaving a huge cloud of dust in its wake, we felt fine with our deal. We've both worked long and hard enough to have 'earned' a little slice of comfort now and then....

We hadn't planned to go as far as Leon (we could have been dropped at the first big town if we wanted) but for an extra £1.50 each the driver offered to take us the extra 45km to Leon itself. We only would have had to ride it the next day and after seeing the busy, flat, hot road, we knew we'd made the right decision. 

We've both wanted to come to Leon for a few years after Paddy Tyson, Editor of put us onto it. The bus dropped us on the outskirts of town and we excitedly rode in the final few Km's for a look around...

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

El Tunco to El Cuco

Apart from the incredibly exciting advent of not using granny gear (for the first 48 hours) it's been a pretty uneventful 3 days. The riding has been pretty flat, bloody hot and a bit boring. The land is mainly agricultural, mostly fields of sugar cane. We've had a couple of mediocre 'pit stop' hotels and not seen any westerners at all.

We only rode about 55-60km per day on the first 2 days, favouring to sit out the worst of the afternoon heat in the air con 'luxury' of our $20 digs.

We did however reach the heady heights of completing 1000km of riding in what (just in case you hadn't worked it out already) has turned out to be pretty tough conditions. Do we win a prize? Hmm, guessed not...

At one point we met a bunch of local cyclists at a petrol station.  all lycra'd up, they were on a 150km day ride with no luggage plus a 'sweep truck' to guard them from the traffic. They gave us an orange each which was cut into pieces. Bit like at half time during football. Speaking of football, that bloody Spanish nutter commentator who says GOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL!!!!!!!! all the time is on just about every TV everywhere we go. In a very Victor Meldrew sounding moan, it's getting pretty annoying....

The only (other) mild annoyance is the buses that pull in right in front of us to drop off/pick up passengers. They take their "I need to stop exactly there" job pretty seriously and stop exactly there regardless of whether we are already exactly there or not. They then cover us in a thick black cloud of exhaust fumes as they pull away again, possibly to repeat the process as little as a couple of hundred metres down the road.

In the town of Usulatan, the only hotel we could find was on the outskirts of town so we walked in to find something to eat. We could't be bothered to walk any further, so chose the first place we came to. It was a big place, divided into 3 main sections. In the bar/garden area there was a local family with a crying baby. It was probably upset by the ear bleed inducing traditional Spanish Muzak 'a la Benny Hill'. The inside bar/restaurant had 2 pool tables in it. The local gang of yoofs playing didn't even notice the equally loud doof doof music. We sat in the restaurant proper but only just. We'd taken the table the furthest away from anything, anyone and more importantly, any speakers.
It was so dark over there we knew we wouldn't really be able to see what we were eating but that's ok, we're in El Salvador so it must be grilled meat and rice.

Our waiter was a young guy. He was absolutely useless, making the simple process of ordering a complete fiasco. If we could have heard him over the cacophony it might have helped, actually, I doubt it.

Ooh, whats this? More music? The Gringos are here and must be entertained. American soft rock? Yay! As if this wasn't enough, there was a wandering minstrel. A little moustached man (as in he was small, his facial hair was big) wandered over to serenade us. With a quick but serious "No Gracias" from me he left us in peace (?), opting instead to head for the flower bed for a quick tinkle.

In a week we'll be celebrating the milestone of being half way through this little jolly jaunt....

Day 3 got more interesting. Firstly we met this guy

He's been on the road for 2 years and estimates it'll be another 18 months before he completes his odyssey from Tiera del Fuego (bottom tip of Argentina if you didn't know) all the way to Alaska. Hats off to him we say!!!

The road turned south and back into the hills. "Oh hail the mighty power of Granny". The old girl did us proud, grinding our way up sweaty 8km and 4km climbs. Still, at least the scenery improved

The final descent brought us into the very run down and thoroughly disappointing seaside resort of El Cuco. Apparently this place rocks at the weekend with cashed up El Salvadorians, on a Monday lunchtime it was less than inspiring.

We managed to coerce a restaurant owner out of her deck chair and after a not bad grilled fish n rice in 35 degree heat we were pretty ready to find somewhere nice to retreat to. 

Now that is where Tortuga Verde (www.tortugaverde,com) came into play. This place came recommended by everyone we'd spoken to who'd stayed there. So far, it hasn't disappointed. But more of that in the next instalment....