Zero to Cruising http://www.zerotocruising.com Travel, Adventure, Fitness - Making it happen! Wed, 17 Jan 2018 14:13:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cycling FAQ – Questions and Answers http://www.zerotocruising.com/cycling-faq-questions-answers http://www.zerotocruising.com/cycling-faq-questions-answers#comments Mon, 15 Jan 2018 15:32:01 +0000 http://www.zerotocruising.com/?p=35427 Where and when did you start? We began our trip from our daughter’s house in Corona, California on June 1, 2017. Where are you going? Do you know where you are going in _______________ (country)? Our ultimate goal is to ride to the end of the world, Ushuaia, Argentina. As for the exact route we […]

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Where and when did you start?

We began our trip from our daughter’s house in Corona, California on June 1, 2017.

Where are you going? Do you know where you are going in _______________ (country)?

Our ultimate goal is to ride to the end of the world, Ushuaia, Argentina. As for the exact route we will take to get there, we have no idea beyond the fact that we expect to travel down the Pacific side of South America, transiting through the rest of Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina.

How long will it take you to get there?

As we do not want to be cycling in Patagonia during the austral winter, our goal is that we will arrive in Ushuaia somewhere between January and March 2019.

How far have you gone so far?

As of January 2018, we have traveled a little over 7500 km.

How far do you ride each day?

This varies a lot according to the terrain that we’re traveling on. We have managed to cover more than 100 km in a single day on several occasions but that typically only occurs when we find ourselves riding on pavement without any crazy hills. On rough dirt tracks we sometimes only manage to cover half that amount. These days, on average, we ride about 60-70 km.

Have you done anything like this before?

We both rode bikes since we were young kids but neither of us had ever cycled on anything more than a long day ride before beginning this trip.

Where do you sleep? Do you wild camp much (usually asked by other cyclists)?

Occasionally we have the opportunity to stay with a Warmshowers or Couchsurfing host. Those are generally the only times when we really know in advance where we will be sleeping. At all other times, we figure it out at the end of the day’s ride. We either look for a cheap hotel/motel/hostel, find ourselves invited to stay with a friendly local, or set up our tent somewhere.

I’d like to say that we camp a lot but since leaving Baja, we have found it much more difficult to find a suitable spot. I expect that will change again once we make it to South America, or at least I hope it does. We enjoy wild camping and it’s definitely the most budget-friendly option. Although we have not yet done this ourselves, staying with Bomberos (fire departments) or churches are two options that other cyclists routinely use.

How much does it cost?

When we were asked this question about our time cruising on a boat, I answered it in a rather unpopular way. You can read what I wrote here. I am now even more convinced that what I wrote in that post is true. Our budget is in no way reflective of what other cyclists spend while touring. In fact, I bet we spend more money on beer and wine than others do on their entire food and accommodations budget!

How many flat tires have you had?

Given that our tires are set up tubeless, we typically don’t get flat tires in the fashion that most are accustomed to. Our tires have sealant in them which tends to take care of any normal day-to-day punctures that may occur. There are occasionally times when we do have to intervene by placing a plug in a larger-than-normal hole but that is generally a very quick process. We can usually insert a plug, pump the tire up a bit, and be back riding in less than 10 minutes. There was this one time though…

Have you had any major bike problems?

Knock on wood, no. Our Tumbleweed Prospectors have been rock solid. We do try to take good care of them and have had them serviced at regular intervals along the way.

Have you had any trouble along the way (bandits, etc.)?

No. We have been met with nothing but kindness. The vast majority of people are good. Don’t believe the media!

Does your butt get sore?

After riding more than 40 miles on a given day, yes.

Are you happy with your bikes?

Couldn’t be happier. I have yet to see a bike that I would rather have than the ones that we are currently riding.

How will you cross the Darien Gap in between Panama to Colombia?

Great question. That is still a work in progress. We’ll know more as we get closer to that area.

What are you going to do when you get to Ushuaia?

Another good question and we have no idea. We’ll figure that out when we get there.

Some additional questions from our Facebook Page

For Mike, how is your knee? And for both, how has the stress been on your bodies? (Sal C.)

The knee issues I experienced at the beginning of the tour appear to have been caused by having my seat at the incorrect height. I say that because once it was raised, all troubles with my knee disappeared. In general, I feel we are both in great shape. As regular readers know, Rebecca has always been a workout animal and believe it or not, she still continues to do an additional small exercise session first thing each morning. I am not so inclined but the days of tough cycling obviously agree with me.

I’m blown away by the number of times you walk the bikes uphill. The mountain bikes I’ve ridden in the past were geared so low that you could just about pedal over a good size log or rock. Granted, you really have to spin your legs but a slow steady forward motion would get me up the steepest terrain. Is it the weight of the bikes or the fat tires that makes it easier to walk, and have you experienced really tough, steep terrain without all your gear on? (Ken P.)

It’s definitely the load on the bikes that make it more challenging. Even though we’re traveling incredibly light (for long distance tourers), there is still enough weight on the bike that riding up a steep hill is tough. Additionally, what one may be able to do, or choose to do, on a 30-minute ride is not the same as what one can do after cycling hard for 5 hours. This is not to say that some cyclists couldn’t ride sections that we choose to walk because I know that they could. You have to learn to pick your battles though and sometimes pushing the bikes, as tough as it may be, is as good as a rest as it uses different muscles.

Toe clips, clipless pedals, or flat pedals? And why? (Brandon W.)

We ride platform (flat) pedals. Why? Because it’s all we’ve ever used and neither of us was interested in trying to learn how to do otherwise. That said, I actually think it’s best for the type of riding that we’re doing. We are also able to get away with only carrying one set of shoes with us.

How many calories do you estimate you are burning on an easy, average, or difficult day? And how do you replenish those calories? How often are you having to eat? (Brandon W.)

I have no idea how many calories we burn and as you noted, because the difficulty and length of our ride vary each day, I expect our food requirements do too. The ideal answer would be that we eat when we’re hungry but sometimes we aren’t carrying enough food (or more likely anything that appeals to us to eat at that time), or we don’t want to stop on the side of the trail to prepare anything. So, given that, we ride on in search of a place to purchase something. We definitely do stock up on calories when we make it to a town though!

How do you plan your routes? (Cheryl L.)

We tend to plan our routes a week or so at a time using the method described here. Our routes are always open to change though and we adapt them daily based on how we feel, the terrain we encounter, and new information that becomes available to us.

What is the weight of the bikes unloaded, and loaded? Also, how much fluid do you carry between destinations? Also, do you carry any water purification tech? (Greg C.)

That really is a common question but I don’t know for sure. I sent Daniel from Tumbleweed an email to ask him and he estimated that our bikes (with racks) weigh approximately 35 lbs. unloaded.

As for water, we have carried as much as 13.5 liters each when we were on desolate stretches in Baja but now sometimes only carry as little as 700 ml each in our main bottle. Typically, if we know that we’ll be riding on dirt roads and that it’s going to be hot, we will fill the 700 ml main bottle that we keep in our cockpit and the 1.9-liter bottle that we carry on our downtube. As for water purification, we carry both a USB-rechargeable Steripen and an MSR TrailShot.

If you were to order a new bike tomorrow, what if anything would you change about your bike? (Steve C.)

Have it made out of titanium so that it would be lighter? Honestly, there is nothing I would change. We love our bikes. If I had the money I would add a Thudbuster seatpost to ease some of the bumps on the rough roads and a dyno-powered lighting setup for the few times that we’ve been caught out after dark.

What do you do about dogs that might chase you? (Chrystal Y.)

It’s funny how some dogs really like to chase bikes while others couldn’t care less. If we see a dog before it sees us, we first try to guess whether it is going to be a problem or not. Usually, we can tell. The last thing we want is to be startled by a dog and then swerve into an oncoming car so given enough time, we’ll generally look in our mirror to check the traffic status before we reach it. If a dog does start chasing us we know that if we stop, get off our bike, and stand with it in between us and the dog, that will almost always completely end the encounter. If we’re not riding, there is nothing for the dog to chase. This happens so often though that we usually don’t want to stop and get off our bikes. I find that loudly yelling back at the dog will often make it back off. We have also been known to squirt water at dogs from our water bottle and on at least a couple of occasions, kick at them as we continue to ride away.

Have any other questions about our cycling trip? If so, post them here in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them. 

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Tire troubles lead us to Granada http://www.zerotocruising.com/tire-troubles-lead-us-granada http://www.zerotocruising.com/tire-troubles-lead-us-granada#comments Sat, 13 Jan 2018 21:24:25 +0000 http://www.zerotocruising.com/?p=35432 When I last updated the blog a week ago, we had just arrived in Somotillo, 6 km from the Honduras/Nicaragua border. After one false start where the hotel we found tried to charge us too much for a single cot, we found ourselves at a friendly posada just off the main drag. The room was […]

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When I last updated the blog a week ago, we had just arrived in Somotillo, 6 km from the Honduras/Nicaragua border. After one false start where the hotel we found tried to charge us too much for a single cot, we found ourselves at a friendly posada just off the main drag. The room was tiny — I mean really tiny — but we still managed to jam our bikes into it with us. We also had the chance to spend the evening chatting with a couple of motorcyclists who crossed the border that day too.

Seth and Ross are on their way to Patagonia too.

Ross and Seth, two brothers, are also heading to Argentina like us, albeit on motorcycles. As much as we thought that we had difficulties crossing the border, it seems as if they had the same challenges and more. The guys run a construction business and thus are taking advantage of the offseason to do this trip, raising money for a cause as they do so. Best of luck, guys!

Why is there a school bus (chicken bus) in the stream?

When we left Somotillo the next morning, I immediately got the feeling that there was something wrong with my bike. There seemed to be a wobble, mostly noticeable when I was coasting. Was it the road or my bike? I couldn’t tell, but since Rebecca didn’t seem to be feeling the same thing that I was, I surmised that it had to be my bike. But what? On 3 separate occasions, I dismounted to look at the rear wheel but could see nothing amiss.

It’s very common to see untethered animals on the side of the highways, or sometimes on them!

The road we were traveling on initially that day was beautifully paved and extremely quiet. In fact, I think we passed almost as many horses as we did cars. It’s funny to see herds of goats rambling across a highway, or cowboys — who often really are boys, not men — driving cattle up the road. It’s status quo around here though and the cars who do travel the roads are used to it, most often patiently waiting until the path is clear.

After some time, we came to a fork in the road leaving us with a decision to make: do we continue along the nicely paved road which potentially could be a bit of a longer distance, or do we take the dirt route that we had plotted which almost assuredly would be tougher and slower? It’s times like this that our chubby tires make the decision for us. After all, we aren’t riding bikes like we are to travel on highways.

How can we tell when we’re nearing the top of a climb? These very visible towers often reside there.

The challenge with the dirt route we had plotted was that we weren’t sure if there’d be any places to obtain water and we were carrying precious little of it. As luck would have it, that problem was solved early on when we stopped to rest for a moment and check our GPS. José, the owner of the house adjacent to where we had stopped, came over to us with a couple of friends and we struck up a conversation (our bikes are great icebreakers). When I asked him if he had any drinking water available, he said, of course. I followed him to his house and we topped up all of our bottles by siphoning water from a barrel. Water problem solved (but we did later treat the water with our Steripen before drinking it).

Although we haven’t seen any live ones yet, we have come across two large Boas on the roads, each of which, I assume, had had a bad run-in with an automobile!

The riding that followed was excellent. Yes, some of it was quite rough and there was some climbing to contend with, but it was beautiful. We also saw first hand how often horses are used as transportation in that area. We passed numerous cowboys, a number of motorcyclists, and a few guys on bikes. There was not a single car on those rough tracks.

No cars on this track. Just motorcycles, horses and bikes!

It was Sunday and we saw a number of people out enjoying themselves. Some were playing baseball while others were bathing in streams. I also got the feeling that there might have been some cockfighting going on somewhere nearby as we saw several people with roosters. One was riding his bike while cradling his rooster in one arm while another was standing on the side of the road with his rooster on a leash. That’s not too common, right?

We only saw this one large tree statue in León but they were all over Managua.

By the time we made it to León, we had covered 91 km. While that’s not our longest ride to date, it is probably the longest one we have done where we traveled on so many dirt tracks. As is typical, we had no idea where we’d stay that night so upon reaching the downtown area of León, we stopped to do a quick Google search. Within just a few seconds, a couple stopped to ask if we needed directions and when we inquired if they knew of a hotel, they called over an acquaintance on a bike and asked him. That guy said follow me and led us down the road to what turned out to be an awesome place. Ignacio, at Hostel del Rey, set us up with a huge room. Cost per night: 500.00 córdobas, about $16.00 US.

Playing tourist.

Prior to our arriving there, Rebecca had Googledthings to do in León” and the one that most caught her attention was Volcano Boarding. Similar to how northerners ride toboggans down snowy slopes, tourists climb the nearby Cerro Negro, an active volcano, to slide down its rocky hillside. Sounds cool, right? We thought so.

You could hire one of the guys to carry your board for you. Not us, of course!

Volcán Telica in the distance. 

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” — George Bernard Shaw

Apparently, there are a number of companies that offer this trip (we later learned that there are 27) but Volcano Day was the one that was recommended to us. We’re glad that they were. We had an awesome time with them and our guide Marvin was excellent. It’s worth noting that we were probably twice the age of every other participant in our group. We were definitely not the ones who were tired from the climb though. 😉

Shaka!

What a blast!

After the volcano boarding was completed, the participants were invited to take a free shuttle to Las Peñitas, a nearby beach, to swim, have some food and drinks, and relax. With no other plans for the day, we decided to join in and we’re glad that we did. Some crazy fun times ensued.

Coincidentally, just around the corner from the hostel where we were staying was a small restaurant called Cafetin Don Jack’s. Jack, we later learned, hails from Smiths Falls, a small town very close to where I grew up. Not only was the food there awesome, but it was fun chatting with him. So much so that we ate our dinner there all three nights that we were in León.

While chilling in the city another full day, we debated where to go to next. Should we go back to Las Peñitas to hang out by the beach a bit more, or ride on to Miramar, another Pacific-coast beach area? Because the former would have required doing some backtracking — something that goes against my strong goal-oriented nature — we decided to ride to Miramar. Unfortunately, my bike had other ideas.

Minutes into our ride out of León Google played a trick on us.

Definitely Peligro!

Just a few hundred meters from where we had planned to turn off the highway to make our way to the beach, the wobble that I noticed in Somotillo resurfaced. This time around I asked Rebecca to ride my bike to see if she could feel it too. Not only could she immediately feel what I was talking about, I could see it as I followed behind on her bike! My rear wheel was definitely out of whack.

Closer inspection showed that the rim was OK (that’s good news!) but the tire had a huge bulge in it (that’s bad news). Thinking that the tire could possibly fail at any minute, we decided that the prudent thing to do would be to head towards civilization, Managua, instead of towards the beach. Boo!

Managua was, at that point, still a good 60-some kilometers away and because we had started so late in the day, it was unlikely that we’d make it the entire way. We continued on along the now-busier highway, ultimately stopping for the night in the small town of Los Cedros. It was good that we had done some research on this town because if we hadn’t, there’s no way that we would have found the little hotel that we did. It was quite far off the highway. Total cost for a basic room to sleep: only $250 cordobas, about $8.00 US!

I found this horseshoe on the side of the road and have carried it with me since then. We could use some good luck!

Although it involved a steady climb, we banged off the miles from Los Cedros to Managua fairly quickly. It was during one stretch of this climb, early in the day, that I mused over a cycling/life parallel. That being, when faced with a vigorous headwind and a long climb, put your head down and keep on pedaling. True, don’t you think?

Because we arrived in Managua so early, we bee-lined it to one of the bike shops I had scoped out: Nica Bike Shop. When I explained our problem, the guys there were very helpful. Although they didn’t have a tire that they could sell us, they called around to all of the other shops to see if one was available. One particular shop answered in the affirmative, saying that they did have 27.5 x 3″ tires in stock and so, with money in hand, one of the guys from Nica Bike Shop taxied over there to purchase them for us. Since we were going to go to the trouble of having the rear tires replaced, while he was gone, Rebecca and I stripped all the bags off our bikes so that we could get them serviced too. As it turned out though, the guys at that other “Pro” shop either lied or were stupid. They did not have the tires we needed and so wasted both our money (for the taxi) and our time. We were not impressed!

The guys at Nica Bike Shop were very cool. Two thumbs up!

After researching our problem a bit online, I read that adding a tube to the tire might help to alleviate the issue (remember that we have been running them tubeless). The guys at Nica helped me to do that, and sure enough, although it didn’t fix the bulge completely, it did make the bike more rideable. We decided to forgo the extra service until we could source some tires so after putting our kit back together again, we left the shop to go find a place to spend the night.

Our hotel room in Managua had an “exercise bench.” 😉

With no tires available in Nicaragua, it seemed our options were among the following:

  1. Have some tires sent from the US. While the tires themselves could be purchased cheaper, we’d have to deal with the cost of shipping, the time for them to get here, and quite likely some generous import duties.
  2. Have some sent from Costa Rica. Were there any available? We expected that there would be but that hadn’t yet been established.
  3. Ride our bikes to Costa Rica. We had hoped to spend some time exploring Nicaragua so weren’t really all that keen to blow it off. We also weren’t sure how long my tire would last.
  4. Take the bus to Costa Rica. If tires could be sourced, we could try to find a place to leave our bikes in Nicaragua while we traveled to Costa Rica to purchase what we need.

Of course, the latter three all depended on me finding tires in Costa Rica, something that had not, at that time, been done. When we awoke in Managua, we ultimately concluded that all of the above solutions could be just as easily dealt with from Granada, a city we had hoped to visit, instead of Managua. So, after riding around the city a bit in the early morning, we bid Managua adieux and jumped back on the road, hoping that my tire would last until we at least made it to our destination.

These huge colorful trees are all over Managua!

The ride to Granada was basically uneventful although because we were concerned about the tire, we stuck to the well-traveled roads instead of something more pleasant. After riding for a couple of hours, we stopped to rest for a few moments in a shady spot on the highway. We were surprised when a guy on a large BMW motorcycle drew up beside us to ask if we were OK. Chris, we learned, was also on his way to Argentina (and here you thought that our idea was original!) although he shared that he was doing it in stages, leaving his bike from time to time to return to work. That day he was on his way to Managua. Since we were traveling away from Managua and were on a divided highway, we deduced that Chris had seen us and then turned around to check to see if we were OK, going out of his way to do so. Awesome, right? Once again, we meet the nicest people while traveling!

Chris went out of his way to make sure that we were OK.

The sun was hot that day and the traffic was busy but we ultimately made it to our destination around mid-afternoon. We were not, however, so lucky as to have a helpful local immediately direct us to a place to stay.

In some ways, it is often easier for us to show up to a town with only one hotel as it eliminates the decision-making process for finding a place to stay. Granada has a lot of options for accommodations and so we spent the better part of an hour riding around the town, visiting hotels and hostels. Ultimately, we ended up following Vincent, a French-Canadian backpacker to a spot right in the heart of the city. The Lemontree Hostel, formerly Hotel La Bocona, is an extremely scenic building complete with a nice, clean swimming pool. They had no private rooms though so for the first time in our trip we find ourselves staying in a large dorm room. Fun, right?

We took advantage of the hostel’s good wifi to, once again, dig into our tire problem. After going back and forth with a supplier in Costa Rica who did have some tires available and our old cruising friend Brandon, now back in the US, we decided to just go ahead and have the tires sent here to us from CR. It’s worth noting that Brandon was basically ready to fly down here to see us in a week or so to bring us the stuff that we need. How cool is that? Answer: Amazingly cool! Hopefully, he’ll still come to see us anyway!

Not a bad place to hang out while waiting for our tires to arrive.

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El Salvador to Honduras to Nicaragua: Putting in miles http://www.zerotocruising.com/el-salvador-honduras-nicaragua-putting-miles http://www.zerotocruising.com/el-salvador-honduras-nicaragua-putting-miles#comments Sun, 07 Jan 2018 14:52:57 +0000 http://www.zerotocruising.com/?p=35396 I received an email yesterday from our cycling friend Carlos who, after reading our last blog entry, noted that we’ve been traveling fast. He doesn’t know the half of it. In the past two days, we have cycled in 3 countries. We went from El Salvador to Honduras, and then in just over 24 hours, […]

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I received an email yesterday from our cycling friend Carlos who, after reading our last blog entry, noted that we’ve been traveling fast. He doesn’t know the half of it. In the past two days, we have cycled in 3 countries. We went from El Salvador to Honduras, and then in just over 24 hours, we crossed into Nicaragua, where we are now. We’re not really trying to cover a lot of miles but that’s definitely what we’ve accomplished since my last blog post.

It was pretty early on New Year’s Day when we packed up our tent and rode away from the Canague Hostel in El Zonte, El Salvador. As our friends had stayed up celebrating far later than us, they were still in bed when we left and so sadly, we didn’t get to say goodbye in person. As much as I wanted to, we didn’t dare wake them up. In fact, when Rebecca woke me up at 7:00 AM, the last thing I wanted to do was get up and get on the bike and start riding.

How did we deal with that dilemma? We came up with three options for the day:

  1. Stay put. Given how beautiful the area is, and how tired I was, that plan had a lot of merit.
  2. Ride the 20 km to La Libertad where, hopefully, we could find a hotel with Wi-Fi so that we could update the blog and plan our route through Honduras.
  3. Put in a full day on the bike.

As appealing as Option 1 sounded, we began the day with Option 2 in mind. The only thing is, after we made it to La Libertad, and stopped at the fishing pier to have some fresh conch salad, we were feeling pretty good and thus decided to keep riding.

The fishing pier at La Libertad.

Moral of the story: Just start! Don’t worry about where you’re going or that you don’t have it all figured out (we didn’t even have a GPS track plotted for that day). Whatever it is that you’re waiting to begin, just start and let the magic happen. The rest will take care of itself.

Our Facebook friend Dhruv, a cyclist who we first heard about from the owners of the cool pizza place in Tapanatepec, told me that the road would be flat after La Libertad. Boy, was he right. It was, in fact, the flattest bit of riding that we have experienced thus far in our trip. Because of that, we were able to cover a fair bit of ground before stopping for the day at a cheap auto hotel along the highway.

Glamour. Cooking our evening meal on the garage floor of our auto hotel.

The next day presented us with more flat riding. We were on a less-than-major highway with a nice wide shoulder. I noted during this stretch that El Salvadoran drivers, and thinking back, the Guatemalan drivers too, do not have the same affinity for driving on the shoulder of the road that the Mexicans do, something that I very much appreciated.

At one point in the ride, about mid-morning, we looked across the road and were surprised to see two other touring cyclists heading in the opposite direction. Seeing touring cyclists on any type of bike is a surprise to us but these two were riding plus-sized mountain bikes decked out with bikepacking bags much like to ours. Of course, we stopped to talk and found out that Ken and Marie are heading to Alaska and that they started riding north from Ushuaia almost one year ago. Cool, eh? We spent as much time talking as the hot sun would allow before snapping pics, exchanging Facebook info, and pedaling away from each other. It was unfortunate that we were heading in opposite directions as I think it would have been fun to spend more time with them.

Ken and Marie are on their way from Ushuaia to Alaska.

I didn’t realize it at the time but I had actually read this article about Ken and Marie when it was first published. Check it out. There’s some great photography of their bikes and setup.

Rebecca and I stopped in Usulatan that afternoon and splurged on a room in a fairly modern hotel. How modern was it? It had a pool and an elevator, an elevator that we inadvertently put tire tracks on the wall of when we shuttled our bikes up to the third floor. The hotel was nice and for once, since we arrived there during the heat of the day instead of as the sun was setting, we actually took advantage of the pool to cool off.

An elevator?

Tire prints on the elevator wall. Sorry about that.

Luxury digs!

The next morning, just as we were relaxing in our room before setting off on the day’s ride, the bed began to shake. Was it an overly amorous couple in the room next door, or people getting a little carried away with their fireworks? No, it was an earthquake! What are the odds of an earthquake occurring at the only time we’re in a room higher than the second floor? That can’t be good, right? Fortunately, the quake was a small one and to the best of my knowledge, no damage occurred.

The view from our hotel room.

Was it really an earthquake or just Rebecca doing burpees?

The plan for the next day was to ride to San Miguel and we were fortunate to have received a tip from Ken and Marie about a dirt road section that would get us off the highway. As nice as pavement is for covering miles, we love the silence that comes from riding on back roads. In this case, we also had a beautiful volcano to look at the entire time.

We skirted halfway around Volcán de San Miguel (also known as Chaparrastique) that day. We’re a bit unsure whether we covered the exact track that our new friends had suggested because faced with a couple of forks in the road near the beginning, our path was a bit unclear. We actually stopped to ask for directions twice at one of the junctions. Both groups of people that we spoke to tried to send us back to the highway, a common problem for cyclists looking to find lesser-used routes.

Are you sure we’re going the right way?

Now, this is a trail!

After explaining that we were looking for a dirt track, not pavement, we were directed to ride ahead through what appeared to be one of the family’s yards. The portion that followed that was rocky, steep, and overgrown, making us question the directions we had been given. It’s worth pointing out that due to our extremely basic Spanish language skills, these conversations that we have are often filled with holes. Ultimately, we did find a real track which gradually, over time, led us to a well-traveled gravel road. We were heading in the right direction.

It’s hard to beat this scenery.

Tumbleweed Prospector photo shoot.

At one point during this back-road adventure, we passed a farmer who was eager to talk to us, in English. His name was Omar and his excellent command of the English language was no doubt due to the fact that he had lived in the US for 30 years, or so he shared with us. His property was virtually right at the bottom of the volcano.

The ground was covered with black volcanic rock.

Rebecca’s bike wanted in on the photo shoot too.

A very enjoyable ride!

Later that day, shortly after arriving in San Miguel, Rebecca struck up a conversation with another friendly local. He, too, had lived in the US and although his English was not as good as Omar’s, he could still speak quite well. Selling shaved ice drinks from a bicycle cart in the town center — we bought some and they were good — he said that he could earn $7-10 per day. It was a big contrast from the $13.00/hour he told us that used to make in the States working at a Walmart distribution center. Sadly, he also shared that after 15 years in the States, he was deported because he was charged with drinking and driving, his first offense.

After a night in San Miguel, we pointed our bikes towards the Honduras border. As we had the day earlier, we planned to ride some dirt that day, plotted from a Google Maps walking route. Just as we had on the way to San Miguel, we figured that the 50 km we had plotted would be easy and that we’d have it done by noon and keep going. On both days we were reminded how tough the dirt roads, and I use the term “roads” extremely loosely, can be. It was true as we road by the volcano the day before and it was doubly true as we rode towards the border. The roads were so rough and steep that some warranted walking the bikes down the hills, let alone up them.

Beginning a ridiculously steep descent.

The descent was worse than the climb!

At one point on the way to the border, we came to a fork in the road. Our Google route said that we should go straight up the steep hill but when we started pushing our bikes up it (we had already been pushing our bikes for some time by that point), a man on the adjacent property shouted, “Wrong Way, Wrong Way.” He told us that the other route would be easier and after taking his advice, I think he was right. The alternate route was newer and included some switchbacks instead of driving straight up the mountain, allowing us to pedal instead of push. Much better!

Needless to say, we did not finish by noon either day nor did we make it to the Honduras border. Instead, we holed up in an auto hotel 10 km from the border in Santa Rosa de Lima, staged to cross the following day. 

I had a race with this little guy. Can you guess who won?

Stay away mosquitos!

The next morning presented us with a very strong headwind, one that made the 10 km ride to the border much more tiring than it should have been. Crossing into Honduras involved very little drama although it was a bit more time consuming than crossing into El Salvador. Our bikes allowed us to breeze past the long line of trucks waiting to cross the border but we still had to wait in line to have our passports inspected, on both sides of the border.

Our plan was to ride across Honduras in two days so that required putting in some miles. The highway was reasonably flat and if it weren’t for the strong wind that stayed in our face the entire day, it would have been pretty easy. In spite of the headwind, we knocked off 100 km that day, making our way to Choluteca where we staged for the run to Nicaragua.

My hope that the wind would abate by the morning was not granted. We were, however, not always riding with it directly in our face. A strong crosswind presents its own set of challenges though. Both of us were, at times, struggling to not get blown off the road, and I swear that it felt as if I was riding with the bike leaned over at an angle to counteract the wind’s strong sideways push.

With our time boating, I think we’re pretty comfortable with border crossings. The first time across a border is always a bit of an unknown though. You don’t know exactly what to expect or where to go, especially when it’s in a country with a language that you don’t speak.

Making it out of Honduras involved waiting in a long line, but nothing too surprising. Getting into Nicaragua was an entirely different story though. The first mistake we made was completely bypassing the Nicaraguan immigration office. When we arrived at the final border crossing and we didn’t have the required receipt, we were promptly sent back to retrieve it. That’s when the fun started.

Nicaraguan checkpoint number 1.

A couple of English-speaking guys outside the office told us where to go but also said that we couldn’t bring our bikes into the office with us. As we have walked our bikes through every customs and immigration line so far, we were not going to leave them unattended. We conceded that we wouldn’t bring them inside but told them that we’d go in one at a time. I asked Rebecca to stay with the bikes while I went inside to clear in, the plan being that she’d go through after me. It went downhill after this!

For reasons still unclear to me, after the first immigration officer brought me over to the cashier to pay my $12.00 US entry fee, the woman in the booth said something to him and instead of paying, I was brought over to a different office and told to wait. Another officer then gave me back my passport and told me to go across the street to get a photocopy of the main page and the page with the original Guatemalan entry stamps (it’s a shared visa between Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua). When I explained that my wife was with me, they told me to do the same for her passport.

What followed was a lengthy question and answer period.

  • How long were you in each country?
  • How long will you be here?
  • What do you do for a living?
  • How much money do you have?

I was even sent back across the street to obtain additional photocopies! Eventually, I was told to fill out a form, take a photo of it, and then email it to two addresses that were written on the form. When I told them I couldn’t read and write Spanish, the officer wrote it out for me, most of the info being obtained from our passports. I also had to get the cash that I said I had with me and allowed the officer to count it so that he could record that on the form (it was all done in front of a camera so presumably, there couldn’t be any funny business). And yes, after all this, I had to pay $12.00 US each, for which they would not take quarters. 🙂

Sticker on the immigration officer’s desk, in the office where I spent well over an hour.

Why did I have to do all this? It was for our safety, I was ultimately told. In case a bandit attacks us, or something similar, our details and travel plans are now in the system. Hilarious! If we hadn’t been so hungry – neither of us had eaten any breakfast – it wouldn’t have been such a pain. As it was, we were ravenous when we were finally sent on our way.

Finally on our way. Time to enjoy Nicaragua.

We stopped for the night in Somotillo, just 6 km or so from the border. We still have no firm plans about where we’ll be heading during our time in Nicaragua but we have no intention to rush through the country as we did Honduras. Given our last border experience, I’m also not too eager to do another crossing for a while either.

Summary:

  • El Zonte to hotel – 67
  • Hotel to Usulutan – 66
  • Usulutan to San Miguel – 40
  • San Miguel to Santa Rosa de Lima – 59
  • San Miguel to Santa Rosa de Lima, El Salvador to Choluteca, Honduras – 100
  • Choluteca, Honduras to Somotillo, Nicaragua – 57

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Guatemala to El Salvador – No room at the inn http://www.zerotocruising.com/guatemala-el-salvador-no-room-inn http://www.zerotocruising.com/guatemala-el-salvador-no-room-inn#comments Wed, 03 Jan 2018 23:19:55 +0000 http://www.zerotocruising.com/?p=35264 After spending a couple of weeks in the mountains of Guatemala, oftentimes shivering even when wearing both our merino wool base layers and our down jackets, it seems almost overwhelming to be back at sea level, sweltering in the moist heat that surrounds it. The change was inevitable though when we made our 2000 meter […]

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After spending a couple of weeks in the mountains of Guatemala, oftentimes shivering even when wearing both our merino wool base layers and our down jackets, it seems almost overwhelming to be back at sea level, sweltering in the moist heat that surrounds it. The change was inevitable though when we made our 2000 meter descent from Iztapa, Guatemala to the coast in El Salvador.

Saying goodbye to the volcanoes of Guatemala.

Left: Downhill run out of San Andres Iztapa. Right: NOT flat trek from Los Cabanos!

We were on the road early but the farmers were already hard at work.

Our original plan was to spend New Year’s Eve in Antigua, Guatemala, a popular tourist destination. Unfortunately, the city turned out to be just a bit too popular. Our ride to Antigua from San Andres Iztapa was pretty much entirely downhill and thus fast. We actually spent less time completing the ride than we did looking for a place to stay once we got there. Feeling far too much like Mary and Joseph in the biblical Christmas story, being turned away from hostels and hotels alike — “There’s no room at the inn!” — we (mostly me) finally gave up and opted for a new plan, riding on to El Salvador to spend New Year’s Eve there instead.

Our ride totaled 57 km that day and we made it as far as Escuintla. We had a couple more frustrating hotel-seeking experiences there but ultimately found a place to spend the night. The next day we continued downhill all the way to the border, another 108 km away. In fact, our hotel at the border town of Pedro de Alvarado was no more than 100 meters from the immigration office!

As long as you haven’t overstayed your visa limitations, the border crossing from Guatemala to El Salvador should be relatively uneventful, and it was for us. This is because the visa that we were issued after leaving Mexico allows us to stay 90 days (total) in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. After waiting in line for only 15 minutes or so, our passports were stamped and we were issued a tiny piece of paper to give to the officials on the other side of the border. Even the currency exchange was painless as there were numerous folks, both men and women, exchanging money for those waiting in the immigration line. Although we didn’t have a lot left, we changed our remaining Guatemalan Quetzals to US Dollars, the currency used in El Salvador, at the better than normal rate of 8:1!

I was a little unsure about how the prices would change once we crossed the border but any fears I may have had about a large increase were alleviated at our first meal. We enjoyed a huge breakfast with coffee and juice for just over $2.00 each. Not bad.

Coffee, juice and a ton of food for about 2 bucks US.

For the past couple of weeks, we have been paying attention to the recent political protests taking place in Honduras. We both read countless internet posts where people would say to avoid Honduras because of those problems, or simply because of normal day-to-day crime. An equal number of people said to avoid El Salvador too though. I wish I had a camera pointing to the roadside to capture the smiles and warm greetings we receive as we pedal along the roadways. I’d make a video montage of them, and maybe that would help to quell some of the largely-unwarranted fears that people carry with them.

Can you guess why the rock is painted red?

On the ride out of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala we passed a German cyclist heading north who suggested that, if we were in the area, we should stop at the El Salvadoran town of Los Cóbanos. Looking at it on a map, the place seemed like it could be a good place to spend New Year’ Eve (it was on the beach!) so we made it our initial destination after crossing the border. As with Antigua though, our beachside New Year’s idea was shared by many and we found that the hotels in the area were either full or significantly overpriced. Not willing to overpay, we backtracked 9 km to an auto hotel that we noted on our ride to the coast and spent the night there.

Have you ever stayed at a hotel priced like this?

Watching UFC reruns on Spanish-language TV.

New Year’s Plan C was to ride to El Tunco, another coastal spot that came highly recommended. A cursory glance at the elevation profile showed the ride from Cóbanos to El Tunco to be largely flat. Oh, how those elevation profiles lie (see image near top of post)! It was anything but flat. Instead, the ride consisted of an endless procession of 50+ meter hills, much like an extremely large amusement park rollercoaster. And the ride was not amusing! To break up the climbs, we also had to contend with 5 long tunnels on the roadway. Normally I am not a fan of tunnels but seeing how these were reducing the number of climbs that we had to make, I was happy for their presence.

The first surfer that we spotted. The water looked so inviting!

Tunnels… this time they were welcome.

Note: Back in the heat, we need to remember to, once again, carry a bunch of water. We were getting pretty dehydrated!

Rebecca often uses an iPhone app called iOverlander to research places to stay. In doing so, she noted a positive review from a place in El Zonte, a town just shy of El Tunco. We decided that, since it was on the way, we’d check there first before continuing further on. Starting to seem a bit like a broken record, we once again received the “there’s no room at the inn” message. While we were still deciding what to do, we were waved over by a young couple standing outside the gate of the adjacent hostel. While they too had no rooms available, they did offer us camping space which was all that we needed.

Our camping spot on the hostel property.

The view from my hammock. Not bad, eh?

First night in El Zonte.

As it turned out, the Canegue Hostel, run by Juan and Beatrice, was just what we needed. It was cheap, unpretentious, very chilled out, and full of happy people.

Watching the sunrise from the beach.

The surfers get after it early!

Shortly after we arrived at our hostel, we took note that Juan offered private surfing lessons. As Rebecca has always wanted to try it, we arranged for her to have her first surfing lesson on the last day of the year. She rocked it, of course!

Of course, she rocked her first lesson!

Check out this mini-documentary about Juan, Rebecca’s surfing instructor. You can see a bit of the El Zonte area that we stayed in too. 

The end-of-year festivities in El Zonte were just as cool. One of the hostel guests, a friend of Juan’s from San Salvador, had a bunch of groceries with him when he came to visit so we (actually I didn’t do anything) prepared a feast for the lot of us. After that, we shared stories and drinks until near midnight when we all left the hostel to join the rest of the town at a bonfire on the beach. Sound cool? It was. Thanks for the great New Year’s experience, El Salvador!

New Year’s Eve on the beach with a bonfire and fireworks… whats not to love about that?

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Highlights from our time in San Andres Itzapa http://www.zerotocruising.com/highlights-time-san-andres-itzapa http://www.zerotocruising.com/highlights-time-san-andres-itzapa#comments Tue, 26 Dec 2017 17:32:23 +0000 http://www.zerotocruising.com/?p=35225 After spending more than a week in San Andres Itzapa, holed up at Maya Pedal, Rebecca and I plan to resume our travels tomorrow morning. In some ways, it will be tough to leave. We’ve had an incredible time here interacting with our new friends and it’s nice to, once again, be involved with something […]

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After spending more than a week in San Andres Itzapa, holed up at Maya Pedal, Rebecca and I plan to resume our travels tomorrow morning. In some ways, it will be tough to leave. We’ve had an incredible time here interacting with our new friends and it’s nice to, once again, be involved with something greater than ourselves. Time marches on though and Patagonia isn’t getting any closer!

Highlights of our time here:

Being involved with the construction of various projects.

Each day we were tasked with multiple projects, many of which required us to stretch our limits in terms of creativity and problem-solving. It’s wonderful to exercise our brains like that.

Clearing out some junk to make room for the shipment of bikes due to arrive soon.

Climbing Volcán Acatenango.

I detailed our experience in a separate post but it’s worth listing again as we won’t soon forget the sights and sounds of being that close to an erupting volcano.

Visiting a remote Mayan Village.

We were invited to sit in on a town meeting where the women of the village were presented with opportunities to sell their wares in a collaboration with Maya Pedal, an opportunity that was very positively received.

Participating in a “Let Girls Lead” Christmas party.

The smiles on the faces of 20+ young girls from Let Girls Lead (Las Niñas Lideran) who visited Maya Pedal for a Christmas party was truly memorable. We enjoyed a great meal with them too!

Nightly bonfires.

In our efforts to get rid of a huge pile of scrap wood, we built ourselves a bonfire every night for the past week. Rebecca and I, along with our friends and fellow volunteers Dave and Luis, would gather around the fire each night to talk, tell jokes, and simply enjoy the cool air and warmth of the fire.

World’s best taco stand?

Just up the hill from Maya Pedal is one of the best taco stands that we have found. Street food is typically very inexpensive and in this case, it was incredibly tasty too. We visited this taco stand several times for our evening meals.

Servicing our own bikes.

As we’ve traveled a couple thousand kilometers since last having it done, we had planned to have our bikes serviced in Antigua. But, since we were spending our time in a full-on bike shop, we figured, what’s the worst that could happen if we did it ourselves? It’s rewarding to take care of our own gear and cheaper too!

My first attempt at truing a bicycle wheel. NOT one of our wheels though!

Spending Christmas Eve with a Guatemalan family.

We were invited to spend Christmas Eve with Maya Pedal director Mario’s family and we got the full Guatemalan experience! An experience that included setting off fireworks on the street, hugs at midnight, and a wonderful tamale dinner. Although we weren’t present to witness our own family open their Xmas gifts, we did get to enjoy seeing the smiles that resulted from our adopted family members open theirs. We were also presented with our own gifts too (see cover photo on this post), something that was definitely not expected!

Preparing a Christmas feast.

As a team, we prepared a feast that will go down in the record books. Our Christmas dinner included an entire turkey and an entire chicken that we cooked in an earth oven, a hole that we dug at 8:00 AM and then lined with hot coals. The meal was as good as any holiday feast that I have yet to experience.

The poultry was perfectly carved with my Morakniv Kansbol.

Special Thanks…

We’d like to offer special thanks to Mike Bruce for his extremely generous donation. We also appreciate the fact that he has been an active contributor to our site for years. Yes, we love to receive comments from our readers so please don’t be shy!

Where to next? Not very far, to tell the truth. From here we plan only to ride the 20 or so kilometers to the Guatemalan city of Antigua. Antigua is reportedly very popular and we figure it’ll be a great place to spend New Year’s Eve. We even plan to meet up with our friends Dave and Luis there on New Year’s Day after they return from climbing Acatenango. From there we’ll head towards El Salvador. We haven’t made any firm travel plans for that country so if you have some tips on must-see attractions, please let us know about them.

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Home for the holidays http://www.zerotocruising.com/enjoy-home-holidays http://www.zerotocruising.com/enjoy-home-holidays#comments Sat, 23 Dec 2017 14:52:01 +0000 http://www.zerotocruising.com/?p=35209 During one of our most recent rides, I mused over the word home. We read about cyclists shipping items that they no longer need back home, or returning there after their travels are finished. We know a number of people who are, just now, going home for the holidays. Where is our home? You can […]

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During one of our most recent rides, I mused over the word home. We read about cyclists shipping items that they no longer need back home, or returning there after their travels are finished. We know a number of people who are, just now, going home for the holidays. Where is our home?

You can have more than one home. You can carry your roots with you, and decide where they grow. — Henning Mankell

When we sold our house and our business in Kingston, we left the city with no further ties there. Neither of us was born in Kingston, and because we have no family in that immediate area, we don’t consider that to be our home.

For the longest time, we lived on a boat and so referred to it as our home. Given our present boat situation, I unfortunately no longer feel that way even though we still do own the boat. So, without a bricks and mortar residence to return to, or even a boat to call home, what does that make us? Homeless?

What comes next?

I will admit that even though Rebecca and I have no intention of voluntarily stopping our current journey, we do, at times, consider our options for when the time comes that we do wish to “settle down.” It’s only natural, I suppose. “Where would we go?” and “What would we do to support ourselves?” are common questions that roll around in our heads. Would we go back to living and/or working on a boat? Would we go back to the martial arts and fitness industry? If not running our own business, who would hire a couple of perpetual travelers like us?

At present, none of these questions require answers. Our home at the moment is our tent and our vehicles are our bikes. We have a significant way to go before we reach Patagonia, our current long-term objective. Chance has placed us at Maya Pedal right now and we’ll remain here with our new friends for the Christmas holidays. Our hearts will be with our family though: our daughter Cassandra, her husband Robert, and our grandkids in California, Rebecca’s father in Deep River, and our siblings and their families who are scattered across Canada. We miss you all, and we’ll be thinking of you, imagining that we’re all home together for the holidays!

Home is any four walls that enclose the right person. — Helen Rowland

For those who truly are homeless, and not voluntarily as we are, we wish you the absolute best for the holidays. We hope that you find someplace loving to spend your time and that your new year is joyous and prosperous!

Last but not least, thank you very much to Nathan Krall for the wonderful donation / Christmas present. Your support means more than you can imagine!

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