It has been a wild two weeks since we left Guatemala city. We finally got back on our bicycles and made it through most of El Salvador. We were a day out of Honduras when I got an email from my mother. My dad’s health, due to a return of cancer, has taken a toll. Within a few days, we bought tickets and made our way back to the San Salvador airport. Currently, I am typing from Anchorage, Alaska and Ance and Augustine send their greetings from Latvia. We have to see how life unfolds for a little while, but we plan on returning to our trip to Argentina around November or December.
As always, we hope everyone is doing well and that you’ve all got adventures underway to greet the oncoming summer!
Latvian Alaskan Family
05/24/2015 (Guatemala City to Escuintla)
Anxious to get back on the bicycles and continue on our way. While in Mexico, looking at a map of Guatemala, we figured we’d take about 6 or 7 days to cross into El Salvador. Here we are, 3 weeks later.
I woke at 5 AM to finish updates to the website. Alfredo, head of the G-22 organization and hostel, had breakfast plans with his family on the coast and left us keys to the place and bid us farewell. Slow coffee-fueled morning with Ance glancing over the new photos and editing my poor text for spelling and grammar. Yes, the Latvian with English as a second language corrects my writing.
Finally got out of the hostel by 9 AM. Took a bit of a hike to get to where the city buses run to the outskirts of town. It took us through a strange deserted industrial looking part of town. Soiled old men living on the edge of existence swayed aimlessly on street corners. Human excrement in little fuming piles were avoided.
Bus metro system bustles you along to the south western part of town. The city rolls with an eternity of broken dirty pavement and a mess of electrical webbing blanketing the blue morning sky.
A bus hustler wrangled us into his bus to Escuintla, literally carrying Augustine in his arms up the steps into our brightly colored transport. It was an insane Blue Bird bus drop down into Escuintla – you have to brace yourself for every turn. It’s like a constant advancement on the ballsiness of your driving. Everyone is aggressive, if you’re not, you’re probably not driving a bus.
Got back down to Escuintla around 11:30 AM, hotter than hell down here. Welcome back to the coastal plateau. Slowly made our way to Angel’s house where our bicycles were stored for our little bus tour of Guatemala.
When we showed up at Angel’s house, he and his family were out running weekend errands. The neighbors took us in and made us some delicious chicken soup and offered up their sink for us to wash our clothes.
Angel’s beautiful family showed up and Augustine instantly took up having a screaming good time with his daughter and son. Angel offered up his place to crash for the night as it was already late in the afternoon and getting any appreciable distance today had been wiped from our agenda.
We spent a rainy evening with Angel and family serving up three dinners. By bedtime around 8:30 PM, stomach so weighted it pulled at my eyelids.
05/25/15 (Escuintla to West of Chiquimulilla)
Somehow we were able to wrestle ourselves from the hospitality of Angel and family around 7:20 AM. Not before Angel showed back up from his night shift at the electrical coal-fired plant with pan dulces for us. He packed us full of food and told us to be careful in El Salvador. We mentioned that everyone in Mexico said the same thing about Guatemala.
Day of mostly flats through hobbit like green land that reminded us very much of Chiapas. Just before Chiquimulilla my chain snapped and broke completely off. I attempted to remove a link with my flimsy Mexican purchased chain breaker tool, which just rendered the pin bent and useless in the process.
I had to catch a minibus into Chiquimulilla to purchase another chain while Ance and Augustine hung out at the bus stop. I had to wander around town a bit to find a place that actually sold a bicycle chain long enough to accommodate our 27 gears. No bike shop in town, just hardware stores that carry bicycle parts. Fixed my bike in the middle of the store floor with onlookers asking me questions about my Gringo travels.
Rode back the 7 KM from which I came to find Ance and Augustine chatting with some locals. We were first invited to go ask the Padre if we could camp by the church. Within minutes, we were then brought to the home of a huge family – where three generations shared the space and ran a small shop and hand made helados from coconuts.
Augustine got a friend with just a two-month difference to run and scream and chase. Made our way down to a nearby stream that for its small size was nice and cool in the humid hazy dark of a jungle like night.
05/26/15 (West of Chiquimulilla, Guatemala to Cara Sucia, El Salvador)
Crossed out of Guatemala today. A line of shipping trucks around 5 KM long crammed every inche of the road going south. Took a good long while to leave the big welcoming family – Augustine did not want to leave her partner in crime.
Guatemala turned out to be a pretty incredible place for us. It is a small country, but you could spend a half year or more just exploring the natural beauty and history of the place. While we had our run-ins and hassles of being Gringo tourists, with all the pushy haggling involved, the people that we were able to meet and stay with felt like family. The human soul is a beautiful thing in every corner of the world.
Beyond this, Ance and I had many conversations in Guatemala about the reality and perceptions of poverty. What does it mean to be poor? In Guatemala and Mexico, we’ve stayed with families and people from every socioeconomic stratum. Everyone has their own struggles, their own joys. From the wealthy to the poor nearly everyone we met are so open and willing to help and dole out hospitality like candy. It’s a wonderful ability of human nature.
However, Ance and I can’t but help notice the differences in how a person from the U.S. and even Latvia would perceive their life if they lived the life of many of the folks we’ve stayed with. It’s a difficult topic to discuss without belittling people’s real struggles and tribulations. Nothing seems to be truer to me than recognizing that we must be kind to each other because, on the shoulders of everyone you meet, there is a history and a story you know nothing about.
That being said, I can’t help but feel that if a person from Alaska or another part of the U.S. came to live with and know the lives many people in this world lead, they would come out of it with a much better idea of poverty and wealth as well as a better appreciation of the many amenities that, for the most part, Americans enjoy. To name just two that unequivocal alter a person’s daily routine: clean, reliable and accessible drinking water and access to clothe washing machines.
These may seem like small things, but if you consider how a polluted water source can cause an array of health issues and how much effort and time is given to washing the clothes of a family living in one home with several children spanning three generations by hand, you start to get a picture of the struggles that many Americans simply are not acquainted with. Thus, a vastly different idea of what poverty is and what it entails.
Of course, there are exceptions. Access to clean tap water, for instance, in North western parts of Alaska is an issue and of course not everyone in the U.S. has access to a washer and drier. But for me, what seems fundamentally different are the attitudes and perceptions centering around poverty and how it affects people’s lives.
What I am trying to get around to is a simple statement: appreciate everyone and everything. Without recognizing the beautiful people around you and the things you do have, bitterness for shallow reasons is sure to follow.
After crossing into El Salvador rode about 20 KM beyond the border to Cara Sucia. A place overflowing with traffic and chaotic sounds of life. We stopped at a food stand to cram something into our gullets. Augustine had a hamburger for the first time in her life.
Ended up being able to stay on the local church grounds. It sits right on the main highway through town, but after you cross through the gates you enter into a kind of heavenly Jesus compound, with Mother Mary and the Saints standing in perfectly trimmed grass and the Padres yellow looking mansion casting cool shadows on the stone walled walkways.
Fell slowly asleep with lightning bubbling anxiously in the distant clouds some 40 miles away.
05/07/15 (Cara Sucia to Playa Dorada)
Humidity hovered around 2 billion percent. Rios de agua flowed from our temples and spines. We can only put it back 1-liter water bottle at a time.
Stayed with a man named Saul Escobar right on the black sandy beaches of Dorada. Torrential waves fill every nook of sound as they roll and pull at the blankets of earth. Currents rip about in chaotic pathways making a swim quite an adventure.
Saul took us to a nearby estuary where the water was literally hot and Augustine could splash about without worry from crazy crashing waves.
When riding out to the estuary, Augustine rode on my bike, sitting on the back rack. She got her foot caught in the spokes and we had a brief scare that I had broken her ankle. Nothing broken and like a little trooper pulled out of it pretty fast. Felt like a pretty miserable dad. Last time I felt like such a terrible parent was when she was a little tiny baby and I dropped a heater on her head. You try so hard to keep your kid from getting hurt, have nightmares about them getting banged up somehow and when you are the one to cause it you feel pretty awful.
Shared some food and coffee with Saul and spoke for awhile in the evening. Saul spoke about the difficulties of living in El Salvador and how when young people go to the U.S. to make money, they don’t want to return and if they do they’ve probably been deported.
Sheets of water and thunderous lightning began around 9 PM and didn’t let up until the small hours of the morning.
05/28/15 (Playa Dorada to La Libertad)
Did not get moving from Saul’s place until 8 AM, which according to our bodies in Central America is pretty late. Considering that by 8 or 9 AM you are already profusely sweating.
Great curving steep up and down tricks today with long tunnels through entier mountains. Stopped at one palapa for refreshments after the first beautiful slog of the day. It sat on the edge of a cliff with a cool wonderful breeze that curled up freshly from the tumbling surf below. It was hard to leave back into the hot pavement and steep grade.
Slow but beautiful day of cycling. Rolled into La Libertad and asked the police if we could camp in their parking lot. With some deliberations, the chief of police with one eye missing showed up and gave us a big welcoming smile, pointing us to where we could put up our tent.
After dropping our stuff, we walked a bit of the malecon and found a place where we could take a bucket wash for 25 cents. When I say 25 cents, I literally mean 25 U.S. cents since El Salvador has been using the U.S. dollar since 2001. It was a bit bizarre to come into the country with money exchangers waving 1 and 5 dollar bills in our face to trade in your Guatemalan quetzal.
El Salvador switched to the dollar, as the government at the time argued, to stabilize its currency, as the Colon did fluctuate and, it was argued, to spur on economic investment that moving to the U.S. currency could entail. The real benefits of moving to the dollar seems to have been mixed and marginal. Perhaps one of the most devastating parts of switching to the dollar, particularly for poor people, was that on transitioning prices from Colons to dollars most shop owners rounded up to the nearest cent or dollar – thus making almost everything more expensive.
The other envisioned benefit, of heightened foreign investment, has been stifled very much by the real and perceived crime and violence perpetrated in the country. So, the last 14 years with the dollar, with these two major envisioned benefits, has been a bit of a disappointment.
The night came on heavy with heat. We tossed and turned in rivulets of sweat trying to will ourselves to sleep, trying to forget the abusive onslaught the sun casts throughout the day that lingers for so long through the night. Thankfully, the rain began to dump around 10:30 PM and brought with it cooler temperatures and fresher air. Surprisingly, the tent fly still works pretty well, even after 10 months of using it practically every day.
05/29/15 (La Libertad to Zacatecoluca)
I woke at 4 AM and caught up on my writing in the quite slow sounds of the morning. Back to flatter slogs through the heat. We made it out 2 hours from La Libertad and stopped in at San Juan Talpa at a roadside palapa.
Continued onto Santiago Nonualco, pulled into the beautiful square for a long lunch break. The breeze for some strange awesome reason blew steadily through the square keeping everyone smiling and un-sweaty. Augustine pretty fussy, found out she was running a low fever.
Decided to head to the nearest town, Zacatecoluca, with a hotel to give the kid a rest in a cool room for the night. Up and downs all the way there, the heat kicked up again making the last hill into town a real slap in the face.
Found the cheapest hotel we could find – where usually a man takes his mistress for a few hours of intelligent conversation. It had AC and no visible cockroaches. We called it home for the night.
05/30/15 (Zacatecoluca to west of El Transito)
Got moving from the hotel around 7:20 AM. Gentle drop out of the busy streets of Zacatecoluca and back to the steady pounding of the highway. After two hours made a stop near the Rio Lempa at a Venezuelan gas station chain with quite possibly the most welcoming attitude about what gas stations should be in the world.
A small hacienda to sit under and wide grassy fields surround the pumps. Although the place was still under construction, it seemed like some strange, but nice, gas station resort.
Hustled along and found a water disneyland to camp at for two whole dollars with access to three pools and a water playground for Augustine with kids that hung around until 5:30 PM. She is feeling better today and after she woke from her nap to discover we were camping next to wonderland, her smile went wider than a canyon.
Cooked road-made french fries and shoved random snacks in our mouth before plowing into sleep. Found out just before falling asleep my wallet is missing. Not the greatest cap to a great day.
05/31/15 (To El Transito and back)
A whirlwind of a day, that’ll change our current lives radically. Woke at 5 AM put our stuff together, drank our coffee slow and took a picture of the rising sun just beyond Volcán de San Miguel.
Headed into El Transito to check the accounts and figure out what we intended to do about my lost bank cards and wallet. Got a second email from my mother about my dad’s health. Just a few months ago, his cancer had come back and at this point he is going through mini strokes and has lost a lot of weight.
Within a couple of hours we made the decision that I should head back to Alaska to spend time with my family and Ance and Augustine would head to Latvia to visit family on the other side of the pond.
A few thousand dollars later and a few emails with itinerary, our 10 month trip via bicycles came to a halting stop with a radically different trajectory taking root. We made a commitment right there to ensure we made our way back to Central America to continue the trip.
We decided to head back to our water park for another night of camping and from there hop back towards the El Salvador International Airport. Spent an afternoon wondering how different life will unfold in the coming months while Augustine splashed around with a bunch of different kids, a bit blind to the big changes coming her way in just 3 days.
06/01/15 (West of El Transito to Zacatecoluca)
Couldn’t sleep. Ance and I spent the night rolling around and randomly talking about our upcoming return. Stumbled out of the tent groggy and strange feelings about pointing our bicycles in the opposite direction.
Pounded it out silently all the way back into Zacatecoluca and returned to our little cheap hotel. It still took the whole day and so we pretty much just retreated into the AC room and passed out due to the sleepless night.
06/02-05/15 (Zacatecoluca, El Salvador Airport, Anchorage, Alaska and Riga, Latvia)
We spent the entirety of the 2nd packing the bikes, dropping gear and packing the rest. Ance went out and got presents (candy and little trinkets) while Augustine and I hung out at the hotel packing everything up.
Took an insane Blue Bird bus out of Zacatecoluca to catch a pick-up truck to the airport. After some shuffling, found a place in the arrival area to crash for the night. Our flights are early in the morning and we were not sure if we could have swung getting to the airport on time.
The night was pretty much sleepless due to a slew of arrivals until 11 PM and then a construction crew showed up, cutting and grinding sheets and bars of metal all night and morning.
The 3rd to the 4th were the airport hustle with the usual insanity that Ance and I bring to the table whenever we decide to travel via airplane. Ance went through a series of disasters that centered around the fact that her green card is in Latvia and even if you are just trying to get home, if there is a connecting flight in the U.S. you have to have the ‘proper’ paperwork. She almost got stuck into Miami due to the ridiculous bureaucracy surrounding U.S. border control laws.
I showed up in Anchorage early in the morning on the 4th, running on two or three hours of sleep for the last two days. I pulled out my sleeping bag and fell instantly asleep near the baggage claim area.
Ance and Augustine have arrived safely into Riga and will commence with one huge family visit. I’ve ridden out to Eagle River to spend a couple nights with my aunt and cousins and will be riding my bicycle down to Homer in the next day or two.
I will be updating the site with my little mini-tour from Anchorage to Homer. We are looking at possibly heading back to the big grand trip around November or December, but we have to see how life unfolds for a little while before making definite plans. Again, it has been a strange last few days.