Monday, February 18, 2013

Honduras to Nicaragua

Buenas dias amigos! Greetings from the Pacific rim of fire in Nicaragua, where sticky rice comes wrapped in banana leaves and quality rum costs $5 a litre. We are currently resting our bones in Casa de Olas (House of Waves), a hostel at San Juan Del Sur, on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. After a hectic day on the bikes yesterday, today has been extremely low key, with plenty of flopping into the pool and ignoring backpackers. Although our relaxed pace of life is reaching new levels of repose, another month between blog posts has passed quickly; like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives.

What do you do during a tropical storm on a Honduran Island? Drink rum and play backgammon!
All up we spent 13 days on Isla Utila in Honduras. The first 9 were tropical-paradise type weather, with little palm tree things chinking around in our drinks and we scuba dived with Coco every day in the crystal clear Carribean Sea. Then blog-writing time was upon us, like screaming market children demanding pesos, and the gods reigned down water and wind to keep the ferry cancelled and us indoors, clicking and tapping away long into the afternoons. When providence permitted our escape, it was in sweaty rain, damp motorbike clothes, choppy seas and with quivering stomachs. I trudged through the swampy parking lot at the ferry port, to find my rear tire flat, the bike not starting, various small pockets of rust from the bike’s 2 week holiday by the sea and a helmet full of water. Living the dream! I got the bike under cover and used our awesome compressor for the first time, from the powered plug going into my rear pelican case. The dock workers standing round watching were impressed, and we headed down the road to a tire repair guy 3km away, with air gently weeping from my tire like a Michael Buble love ballad. For the princely sum of $4, the young guy removed and repaired the old tube, and installed the new spare tube I had, while we sat, watched and drank plastic bags of orange juice.

Rainy ride days mean hangy-up hotel rooms.
Buenas vistas en Nicaragua.
Our limited travels on Honduran roads, in muggy, overcast days, were rather ordinary compared to the stunning vistas that we have regularly been smashed in the face with. 3 nights in San Pedro Sula, the murder capital of the world, living behind razor and electrified wire, was too much, and didn’t leave us feeling very cool. But our visit to the creepy city was productive: Atley slammed on a new rear tire and drive chain, while I poked through some sludgey grime around my front sprocket and found the broken wire that was keeping my neutral light from being all pretty. Raoul drove us out on our first night to get some tasty barbecued pork and fried bananas, but otherwise we made no friends. We were pleased to head south and it wasn’t until we crossed the mountainous border into El Salvador that the rain abated and we returned to our natural habitat of 28 degree, sunny climes. Our sprits picked up, and we headed to the capital city of San Salvador to meet our friends from Utila, Frank, Andy, and Afro, and my cousin Joe and his girlfriend Sherrie.

The substitutes.
Street beers in El Salvador are $1.50 for a litre. Only culeros drink coke.
San Salvador is reported to be very dangerous, and there was a civil war there not too long ago, but Afro and Frank have ninja-rated tour guide skills, so took great joy in taking us out on the town for several gruelling 5am sessions. Making a cameo appearance at these sessions was the legendary motorcycle adventurer from England, Andy. Boomshackalacka Andy! We saw restaurants, bars, pubs, lounges, salsa clubs and dub step houses, all in the affluent part of the city, where the streets are clean, the houses sprawling and gardens well clippered. It looked remarkably like the suburbs of LA, but without the ghetto birds (Hi Andy!).

Joe Patterson takes on El Tunco, and wins.
Matt rockin' the 1 footers!
When Friday came 8 of us saddled up on 4 bikes and one car, and headed to the Pacific coastal town of El Tunco, for a few days of chillaxing by a surf beach, under banana trees, and by a pool. We rented surfboards with Joe, and battled the smashing seas, breaking 2 of said surfboards in the process. Lorna visited us, and we made friends with Lynzy, Al, Tara, Adam and El Jefe. Joe and Sherrie headed back into San Salvador after a couple of days, for Sherrie to have arthroscopy on her knee (thank you medical insurance!). I got sick, then bounced back with startling speed thanks to rejuvenating dips in the ocean. While I recovered, the others visited a waterfall river in the jungle, and leapt off crumbling cliffs into shallow rock pools to the giggles of local kids. El Tunco is a small beachside town, with reasonable food and many visitors from the city on weekends. By week it is populated by a few bumbling white tourists learning to surf. We had our bikes washed for $3 by 4 teenagers at a carwash, and we supervised while eating purple flavoured snowcones.
From El Tunco we rode the length of El Salvador in 4 hours, parallellagraming the coast, past 4 volcanoes, with the landscape in between looking strangely like the African savannah, minus the cell-phone-wielding tribesmen. We stayed in a dusty, sad looking town near the border of Honduras, and upon asking some locals for directions, were heroically led by a weathered old man pedalling a rusty bicycle to a cheap hotel with steel doors and no windows (not jail mum!).  We savoured a couple of refreshing beers while performing some opportune bike maintenance behind the front gate of the hotel, but word passed around, and the afternoon was dotted with visits from local men asking for sips from our bottles. The toilet in our cell that night leaked, pooling out under our beds and wetting our things, which unfortunately added to our fairly unimpressive experience on mainland Honduras.

El Tunco nights are clearer in Sherrie's mind than ours.
Happy Winter Canada.
The following day we crossed into the seventh country of our exploration: Nicaragua.  As we slowed for the long line up of trucks at the border, a small army of shrieking local men began running at us, vying for our attention and waving tattered laminated ID cards at us.  Apparently we would need their expertise to make it safely through the tricky border crossing, for a small fee, my friend. We waved them off, motored past them, around them and sometimes over them, but they were unrelenting in their quest for our pasos. Overland border crossings can be confusing, are generally poorly laid out, and have convoluted, foolish strings of tasks to accomplish, but in essence are all the same: get yourself stamped out, get your bike stamped out, get yourself stamped in, get your bike stamped in. With Ferg now conjugating Spanish verbs in 12 different tenses, we poetically dissected the situation, and sorted it all out, mango juice in hand. No necesitamos su ayuda cabrone.

Horse is not scared of lava.
Tromping further down the tourist trail, as seems to be our path lately, our first port of call in Nicaragua was the Spanish colonial town of Leon. With our gleaming bikes appropriately positioned as centre pieces inside the Chilli Inn courtyard, we were free to socialise and explore. We spent a day at a remote beach, playing in beach-breaking waves, and Atley experienced the dizzying thrill of tearing an artery in his arm. We were assisting Burt with his first experience on a surfboard, and were pushing the board forwards each time a wave came, but in the excitement of the moment Atley’s excessively gangly arm got wrapped in the surfboard leash, anaconda style. 90kg Europeans in smashing waves generate tremendous forces, and the leash yanked the hell out of his arm, instantly causing a huge lump to swell up several meters between his wrist and elbow. With a very pale face he informed me that he was about to feint, and swooned into the gentle arms of Phil the Ontarian Milk Farmer, for a manly walk to the safety of the sand. The enormous bulge in his arm subsided over the next 10 minutes, and soon enough the ocean was again mashing and melding the massive moustache this way and that, this way and that, which signified that once again, all was well with the world.

Can't beat these for conversation starters...
When we peered into the volcano crater, we saw and tasted the pits of hell! Sounded like 20 tiger torches on full blast.
Leon has a violent history of destruction, terror and unrepentant blows from Mother Nature’s broom handle, care of the volcanoes that surround it. The once thriving town was completely covered and lost in burbling, gurgling volcanic puke in the late 1500s, and it wasn’t until the 1700s that locals remembered how cool it really used to be, and initiated the wildly successful “Rebuild Leon in 1721 Campaign”. They did a wonderful job, moving the town further from the volcanic blast zone, into a richer agricultural area where it has since flourished. While there we summited the active Telica Volcano, to lay on the rim of the crater and poke our heads over the edge to peer 100 meters down at the roaring, glowing magma-cooker below. Ferg opted for an alternate volcano travelling technique, and slid 400 meters down the side of another volcano, while lying on a wooden board. He reached a maximum velocity of 85km/hr just as his board bucked him off, giving him some bleedy cheese-grater abrasions on his arms and legs from the marbley rock, and a winning story for the hostel bar that night.

Volcano boarding experiment number one.
Active volcanoes are completely awesome. Go jump in one today.
From Leon we decided some motorcycling was in order, so headed north into the mountains, yearning for a dose of 1000 perfect corners. We found smooth, new pavement snaking its way through 500 meter tall hills, and easygoing, fast corners to remind us that everything we want, is in the mountains. We stayed in the quiet town of Somoto, where the river has cut a huge canyon through the rocky hills, and slipped on river shoes for our guide Alexi to lead us through a 3km section of the river canyon. Reminiscent of the canyon we lost our first GoPro in, we clung eagerly to our new camera as we splished it about in the river water. Swimming down rivers in canyons earns TheMattAtleyandFergShow rating of 13/16 tacos.

Gettin' our canyon on!
Somoto. Don't just hang out in the carpark, hire a guide and go in!
Belgian Elske radioed in from a further 100km west of our location, having identified a tasty motorbike road, so we plotted a backcountry course to get there, and were rewarded with the best day on wheels in a couple of months. We filmed it, but it really just didn’t capture the feeling at all. On the computer screen motorbiking looks slow and uneventful, although it’s anything but that. Joe described it as a constant rush of adrenaline, and Durham calls it a constant injection of pleasure. After over 7 months on the road now, with many hours each on our own bike, we have a strong connection to our own machine, and feel very much at ease hurtling around a corner with anything imaginable possibly being around it. It really is a privileged position that we’re in, when we can simply make a decision in our own heads to leave Regular World, explore new lands on a motorbike for a year and get such a considerable stack of travel, motorbike and life experience. It is constantly obvious that the people around us here do not have the same opportunity, and I wonder how all this will affect us when we evennnntually return to Regular World.

This is how Dual Sporters are born.

With thoughts like this vaguely circling through our heads, we pulled up for a break that same day, and my Motorbike Terminator 1 Vision detected KLRs at 15 metres. We’d seen these bikes a couple of times in the last few days, so I wandered over the road and introduced myself to Richie and Durham, Australians, Motorbike Adventures, players of fine music, connoisseurs of Nicaraguan rum and a self-described fully autonomous two-wheeled hell unit. Their shaggy hair, unkempt beards, Black Label t-shirts and relaxed attitudes meshed with us just fine, so we rode together to the next Nicaraguan town on the map, Granada. Once there, motorbike discussion of every category ensued with the intensity of a Siberian dance club at 3am during the endless winter darkness. Stories, tales, observations, theories and arm-waving explanations catalysed a lovely afternoon and evening of rum-based revelry. The following day we turned the hostel eating area into a war zone of semi-assembled KLRs, each bike requiring various maintenance tasks, and the communal bonding blossomed like burgundy roses on a crisp English morning.

Maintenance day inside the hostel in Leon
Got wood?
From Granada we brazenly pushed on south, through blistering cloudless blue skies, and like the indefatigable warriors we are, rode 65 kilometres to the ferry. There we lashed our metal mules to the deck, and let the ferry battle the treacherous lake waves, estimated to be at least 3 feet from peak to trough. Our destination was Ometepe, the volcano island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. It is the largest fresh water lake in Central America, and the only lake in the world purported to contain Bull Sharks. Once disembarkation was complete, we excitedly roared the 5 bikes past wide-eyed locals, overtaking both scooters and 80cc tuk-tuks without hesitation, fear or consequence. Having little to no idea where we were riding, or what we were seeking, we just rode, like unbridled donkeys lumbering through a dewy meadow, yearning for another handful of trailmix from a passing Sweedish boy scout. When the pavement expired and the dirt tracks began, we pulled into a hippy commune, to be greeted with frightened glazed eyes peering back from behind unwashed dreadlocks and shredded sacks, stitched into strange garments. A girl pretended to operate a hand held radio, and from her hand movements we gathered that fossil fuel isn’t cool man, and neither are you guys. Not wanting to kill anyone’s buzz or trade oatmeal recipes maaan, we rolled back down the path, and located an easy, breezy, jungley hostel, and were allocated 2 complete, stand-alone buildings to house ourselves and our equipment in for the coming days.

Ferry rides to volcano islands. Not a bad day out at all.
We built a raft called Trial Force One. This is how it worked.
Life was simple on the volcano island, with much time spent in hammocks overlooking the lake, gazing at epic volcanoes and banging balls around the dilapidated pool table. We took the opportunity ditch our luggage and panniers, to ride a lap of one of the volcanoes, on a rocky, dusty road only frequented by locals and we hosted a rum party at our house, with most of the hostel guests showing up, eager to remember the suburban life the volcano islands rarely exhibit. One day Joe and Sherrie borrowed my bike and went hunting for vegetarian cuisine. They were stopped by police and were unable to present a drivers licence, registration document or Road User Fee Receipt, but true to his profession, Joe lawyer-ed his way out of it with poetic Spanish and silky references to section 7.2.3a of Nicaraguan Traffic Law.

El Salvadorian sunsets can't be beat.
A dirty behind, but a nice new knobby tire.
San Juan Del Sur was to be our next destination, and like most things in Central America, wasn’t very far away. Once back onto the mainland, we decided that the remaining 35km of main roads would be way too boring, and opted to take some more minor roads shown on our maps. We set off from the ferry terminal at 1pm, expecting an easy gravel road, followed by a pleasant afternoon at the beach. After a little while the road turned to gravel, then to crushed rock. We asked for directions and were told by some Dual-Sporting-Enthusiast locals that there was no road, but ignored them as our paper map and GoogleMaps both showed a road. We motored down some more gravel, to a gate. Richie’s iPhone indicated that this was indeed the road, so we opened the gate, and headed in. After a few more gates, and a river crossing, we found ourselves surrounded by machine gun toting military dudes. We hadn’t seen a military presence at all in Nicaragua so far, so were as surprised as they were to see 5 big bikes show up in the middle of nowhere. They were very serious in their questioning, and gave each bike the most thorough inspection of our whole trip. When an officer found Atley’s leatherman he gave it a long, hard, and perhaps envious look, but when he found Atley’s huge hunting knife, he simply pocketed it, stating the tourists are not permitted to carry weapons. Finding it difficult to argue with assault weapons, we packed up our stuff and went on our way, not quite understanding the directions we’d asked them about the road we were on. Probably because they’d not been down them. Probably because they were unpassable, unused, washed out gravel mountain roads. But they didn’t have heavily-loaded KLRs with bald tires. We did. And we had one hell of a time getting ourselves up and down some seriously steep hills. All 5 bikes fell down 2 or 3 times each. All of us needed assistance from the others to push the bikes up, or hold the bikes back from sliding down the inclines. It was hot, sweaty, tiring, and the outcome uncertain...... I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. But that’s not the statement that was exclaimed when after more hills, another army checkpoint, more incorrect directions and total loss of daylight, when Atley announce that the GPS showed we had now returned back to the point of the first army checkpoint. 3 hours later. With everyone shaking their heads exhaustedly, and sharing out the last of our water, we saddled up, switched on high-beams, and headed back through the river, through the gates, over the crushed rock, and through the streets, and back to the town with the ferry terminal. From there, we took the Pan American Highway 35kms, and were at our hostel some 30 minutes later, at 8:30pm, burned out.

These people didn't help push our bikes up the hill, but just kept to their own business.
Since the excitement of the offroad riding day, we have been surfing some awesome waves and relaxing by the pool, watching the pet monkey bite grinning hostel guests and just generally doing nothing in the awesome weather. From here we will set off to the capital city in search of motorbike tires, then head south to meet Carlos and Kirsten in Costa Rica. They will be flying down from Fort McMurray, Canada, in a week from now, to collect their rented Suzuki DR650, and ride Costa Rica with us for 9 days. Good times we hope!

This is what we think of backpackers.
Now for Episode 13 of TheMattAtleyandFergShow Video sago. Full screen. Full volume. Fully sick.