Powering through Central America

Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world, could fit all of non-Russian Europe into its land mass. Chile extends so far from north to south that it encompasses three different climatic areas. Argentina is a similar size to India. Of the South American countries we have travelled through, only Ecuador came close to being classified as a ‘small’ country, measuring less than Great Britain in length.

The countries in Central America are tiny by comparison. The entire driving distance from Panama to Mexico is less than Brazil’s north to south; only Guatemala has a population larger than London. Lorries regularly transport cargo through the whole strip, passing through two countries a day. That might go some way to explaining the events of this week.

On Monday morning, full of enthusiasm for getting to know Costa Rica better, we set out for what turned into a sluggish morning. True to our recent observation, drivers didn’t seem very interested in our plight, and positive thoughts were hard to generate.

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If I concentrate really hard, will Alaska appear on the horizon?

This was before lunchtime. After several short rides and a bit of walking had landed us back on the Panamerican Highway, we came into contact with a trucker by the name of Lester.
“Where are you going?” we asked.
“Nicaragua,” he replied.

So that’s where we went too. We hadn’t even had a chance to sample any Costa Rican food yet! We’ll have to return. Costa Rica: tick.

Our first day in Nicaragua was a roaring success. Taking Lester’s advice, whom we’d travelled with for 10 hours, including a four-hour trucker-admin wait at the border, we visited a local mirador (viewpoint) and a cool, crumbling colonial city called Granada next to the largest lake in Central America. We were big fans of both.

Laguna and lake in one.

Laguna in front, lake in the background.

Just in case history repeated itself, we opted for a meal of ALL the local dishes.

Just in case history repeated itself, we opted for a meal of ALL the local dishes.

We thought we’d give Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, a look-in, but when we arrived the next day, everyone looked so confused when we asked where was interesting to visit that we promptly left again. (Managua lies on a so-called “ring of fire” of volcanoes and seismic fault lines, so anything “interesting” is periodically destroyed.) Instead we went to a pretty little city called Leon, and chanced upon a local festival.

Marching bands in the plaza.

Marching bands in the plaza.

Well, that was quite enough time in Nicaragua, as you’ll agree.

… Perhaps not, but we were so close to the border that it was inevitable we would get there on Thursday. Elias the trucker was making for Guatemala, two countries away, and would have been quite happy to take us, had we not somehow lost him at the Nicaraguan/Honduran border. We suspect he might still be there, floating in the bureaucratic vacuum truckers seem to get sucked into. Nicaragua: tick.

If the reputation of Honduras was a colour, it would be of a mouldy brownish hue. “Pass through there quickly,” people told us, usually with an accompanying gun-toting gesture to suggest why. We suspect that, as with many of the ill-reputed places we’ve passed through, the kind of danger people are referring to would be unlikely to reach us, but it happens that the road route between Nicaragua and El Salvador passes through the narrowest part of Honduras anyway. Most of this we covered that night, ahead our second incidence of kipping at a police station. The next morning we were through the border by 7am. Honduras: tick.

Another 'cosy' stay with the local coppers.

Another ‘cosy’ stay with the local coppers.

So, five-countries-in-seven-days later, we have made it to El Salvador, with a lift straight to the capital, San Salvador. It’s been quick, but we’re making the most of conversations with our drivers to learn as much as we can as we go, and we feel we’ve had at least a taster of each. Here in the city, we’re staying in a part of town affectionately referred to as el basurero (the “rubbish bin”) and made a little trip out yesterday to a highly recommended mirador.

You'll agree that the two impressive vertical rocks really set off the view of the volcano in the distance... ... we really need to stop bothering.

You’ll agree that the two impressive vertical rocks really set off the view of the volcano in the distance…

P.S. Hitching is easy peasy here. Smiles all round.

Total number of lifts: 261
Week Twenty-Seven distance travelled: 1036 km
Total distance travelled:  29,005 km

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