El Salvador is a relatively small country, only 168 miles long and about 88 miles wide.  Yet, in that small area is a vast geologic bounty.  Beautiful beaches with world-class surfing waves.  High volcanoes.  Mountains.  Lakes.  And about 6.5 million people.   Don’t let the stories you hear about crime or gangs keep you from visiting El Salvador, as it is not to be missed, and, like everything, the stories are blown out of proportion.  With all this in mind, I really wanted to take more time to explore the country, but, alas, I had a deadline to keep, as I had to be in San Jose, Costa Rica by the time my wife flew in to meet me.  

I decided to spend the next day just riding the coast to Playa El Cuco, a small beach town on the southern end of El Salvador, where there were some decent hotels and which was within an hour of the Honduras border, a good jumping-off point.   

I only had about 180 miles to ride from Apaneca to Playa El Cuco.  Prior to entering Central America, I would’ve thought 180 miles was an easy 3 hours of riding, but you have to adjust your thinking about time and distance once you head South of the border.  180 miles down there is more like 6-7 hours of riding.  The small, 2-lane highways, low speed limits, and slow traffic makes everything take twice as long as we North Americans are used to, so if you are in a hurry, you will just frustrate yourself.  Settle in, get used to it, and just enjoy the ride.  

I left Apaneca fairly early to beat the heat which I knew would build as I descended to the coastal elevations.   Taking CA-12S through Sonsonate, I soon found myself on Rte 2, along the coast and enjoying some nice curves as it took me along the Pacific Coast bluffs and through the ravines that headed down to the water.  La Perla, El Zonte, Xanadu, El Tunco…. I rolled by all the lazy surf towns of the Northern El Salvador Coast, seeing lots of gringos and surfboards in these surf-meccas.  El Tunco is also the most touristy place in El Salvador and the most visited surf town in Central America.  Its also called Bitcoin Beach because it was one of the first places to start accepting Bitcoin when El Salvador’s president made Bitcoin an official currency.  I wonder how that is working out for them now? 

I had already decided to bypass all of these, as they often have a reputation as party places, and I am not much of a partier these days, plus I never seem to have any Bitcoin in my pocket.  While riding Rte 2 I passed a couple of bikers (as in bicycles) who had a sign that said “Seattle-Ushuaia” on the back of their bikes.  And I thought I was crazy!  

The road headed back inland a few miles from the coast and became somewhat boring and congested with buses and big rigs, giving me ample opportunity to hone my passing skills.  The only scenery for a while were the big volcanoes to the East, San Vicente, Usulatan and San Miguel.  Other than that it was endless fields of sugar cane and Pineapple plantations.  Sadly, Sugar Cane workers in Central America, primarily El Salvador and Nicaragua, have been dying by the thousands in recent years from Chronic Kidney Disease. It is thought to be caused by dehydration, heat exposure, and physical stress over time.  Something to think about the next time you buy that box of sugar that came from Central America.   Ah, but we have to have our sugar.  

As I neared the turnoff to Playa El Cuco the road wound up and down through the hills and headed back to the coast.  El Cuco itself was just a dusty little beach town with a bunch of oceanfront restaurants and hotels.  I rode the dirt road to the hotel I had reserved and pulled up into their parking lot (over an atrociously bad driveway for about 200 yards that was well-suited for any dirt bike).  When I went to check-in I was informed that they had been trying to get hold of me because there had been a mistake and they actually did not have a room for me.  Thankfully, a surfer-hotel just up the road did have a room, and I was able to head over there and check in a little early, although it did cost me a bit more.  I didn’t care, as I was just hot and tired and in need of a shower.  The hotel was beautiful and overlooked a beautiful beach with crashing waves.  My room looked out onto the Infinity pool and the beach and by keeping the balcony door open I was able to hear the ocean all night long.  It was the perfect setting for some serious relaxation.   

I try to take a day off from riding every 3-4 days in order to keep myself fresh and to not wear myself down.   A few of the medications I take are immunosuppressants, so I have to be careful to not wear myself down and compromise my immune system further through fatigue.  Nothing worse than being sick on a long road-trip!  Since I had already ridden the past three days, I decided to spend two nights at the El Cuco hotel, doing mostly nothing but enjoying the view, the pool, and the beach.   

I was planning on riding right from El Salvador, through about 60 miles of Honduras, and on into Nicaragua in one day.  The total distance was only about 150 miles, but there were two border crossings and I know those can be really variable as to how long they take.  In doing a little research the night before, I realized I should’ve submitted an immigration pre-check to Nicaragua at least seven days in advance, which, of course, I had not done.  Damn, I screwed that up.  In reading online about the “dire” consequences (everything is always dire online), It seems that I could be outright denied entrance, or the background checks which take them 7 days to do with the precheck, could take 5-7 hours at the border.  

I left at the break of dawn and it only took about an hour to get to the border with Honduras, at El Amatillo.  Getting out of El Salvador was relatively quick, thanks especially to a fellow American, Ramos, I met, who was originally from El Salvador.  He was also riding through Central America on his motorcycle and, as fellow Moto-travellers do, we struck up a conversation.  He  helped me with some translation to speed up my exit from Honduras and then we went over to the Honduras side, which he sped through much quicker than I did because he had an El Salvador plated bike.  

When I finally finished with the Honduran immigration paperwork and came out of the building, there was a group of young men standing and sitting around in the area where I had parked.  One of them wanted me to pay him for “watching” my bike.  I would normally not have a problem with this, had he approached and asked if I wanted him to watch it prior to me parking, as sometimes that is a good way to make sure your bike is secure.  You negotiate a price, to be paid after you come out and the bike is ok.  In this case, that had not been done.  Then the others started asking for money too, and soon I found myself uncomfortably surrounded by about 6-8 young men, all glaring at me and wanting some money.  It was the only time I felt at all threatened in all of Central America, and it was a bit disconcerting since I was alone.  One guy, who spoke some English, kept asking me how much I paid for my bike, and how much my navigation tablet on the bike cost.  He was clearly drunk and kept putting his hand on my shoulder, which I kept batting off, and kept trying to hold the handlebar of the bike. I pretended not to understand a word, said “No Habla Espanol” in my worst accent several times, and hastily threw on my jacket and helmet.  I hopped on Bella and inched my way through the crowd until I was in the clear, where I sped on down the road rather quickly until I was out of their sight and could pull over to buckle my helmet.  I’m not going to lie, my hands were shaking a little bit.  

Once in Honduras I settled down and got back to the business of riding.  I knew my more arduous border crossing, from Honduras into Nicaragua, was yet to come and that could possibly take a long time, and I wanted to be in a hotel before dark, so I didn’t stop anywhere except to fill my tank in Honduras.  In less than two hours I was pulling up to the Guasaule border crossing.  

I checked out of Honduras and cancelled my Temporary Import Permit, and then rode the short distance to the Nicaragua border, where I was approached by several men wanting to “help” me for a small fee.   I picked the guy who seemed a little older and more experienced and negotiated the helper fee, to be paid afterwards, in exchange for a relatively quick and painless entry .  He seemed fine with that and promised no more than an hour and a half.   I am sure there are people out there who will say this is unethical, that it is somehow cheating.  Maybe so.  Or not.  The way I see it, this is all part of the system in many parts of the world, and it is how some people put food on their table.  It’s easy for many of us relatively “wealthy” North Americans to make judgements, based on what is normal in our home countries, but the reality for many of the people in many other countries, is that they have to hustle to make ends meet, and providing them with that income means they get to eat that night and maybe for the next week.   I am not saying I am being altruistic, as it definitely benefits me as well, but I am paying them a fee for work that they are doing on my behalf, and I do not have a problem with that.  

True to his word, the gentleman got me in to see the right people pretty quickly, and he guided me through the, often confusing, process of who to see and in what order.  At one point I was called into an office where they asked questions about my profession and how long I had done that job, then I saw they were looking at a piece of paper that had my name printed on it, along with a picture of someone else.   It appeared to be some kind of “wanted” poster they had pulled out of some database and it alarmed me, as I was worried that they thought it was me.  I pointed out that the picture was not me, and they all looked at it, at my passport, and then at me, and had a good laugh.  Laughing is always a good sign.  At least I think it is.  

I was in and out of there in about an hour and twenty minutes, well worth every penny of what I paid to the fixer.  I liked him.  There was just something about him that seemed very earnest to me, even when he came back and asked me to pay him double what we had negotiated.   I reminded him that he had made a deal and he shook his head yes, and said, “si, si”, but I honestly can’t blame him for trying to get more.   He was not upset at all that I didn’t give him the extra money and he shook my hand and wished me a safe and pleasant journey, standing and waving as I rode into Nicaragua.  

I only had about an hour and a half of daylight left to get to the city of Chinendega, the first place that was of any size at all once past the border.  It was about 50 more miles to go, so I knew I had to make good time.  Making good time in Nicaragua proved to be hard because it was so beautiful and interesting I kept wanting to stop and take pictures.   

Although Nicaragua is the largest Central American country, it only has a population about equal to El Salvador, at about 6.2 million people.  It is also, unfortunately, the poorest country in Central America, and the 2nd poorest in the Western Hemisphere, with a GDP per capita of only about $5000 USD yearly, and many people who live far below that line.  

To me, Nicaragua felt like stepping back in time, to a slower paced world.  While there were still plenty of small motorbikes, cars, trucks, and buses, I also saw a lot of people riding horses and using horse-drawn carts for transportation and carrying goods.  There were many more bicycles being used for transport than in other countries in Central America.  School children wore uniforms and families sat in front of their homes, along the sides of the roads, often cooking over an open flame.  The wood smoke and smell of cooking food was ever-present the entire time I was in the country.  A few times as I was riding down the road, I would spy what seemed to be a traffic jam up ahead, only to discover it was just a few cars waiting for a herd of cattle to be driven across or down the road.  As I rolled through the many small towns, people would look up at Bella and I and children would wave shyly at me after I waved to them.  Clearly I was not from around these parts.  

I rolled into Chinendega just as the sun was setting and went to a hotel I had checked out online.  Thankfully they had a room available and I was able to park Bella in their secure parking behind the building.   After showering I walked around the town a little bit, and, despite the fact that every shop, even the convenience store, had an armed guard, It felt safe to me.  Nicaragua  and its people had already captured my heart.