(March 3 – written by Dave)
Today we passed through volcano country. Antigua is ringed by a number of them and we had to ride between a couple to get out of town. Much to our surprise, the volcano on our right started to erupt. The first time we both saw a little puff but due to the winds near the summit, we kind convinced ourselves that it was just a cloud. Then a little later it went off again, and bigger this time. We didn’t need to get our eyes checked. We eventually saw 3 or 4 more smoke puffs as we rode and it sort of became “normal”.
From the reactions of the locals – as in no reaction whatsoever – we are pretty sure that the volcano in question is active regularly. Based on my reading of the map the volcano in question was call Volcano de Fuego – or volcano of fire – perhaps I got that wrong, it seems overly simplistic. We stopped a few times for photos and generally enjoyed small steam puffs throughout the morning. This afternoon I looked up Volcano de Fuego and learned it is thought to have been erupting since the conquistadors arrived back in 1524. No wonder the locals didn’t give is a second glance.
Speaking of morning, we had another nice brekkie at the hotel. We were worried that we would get grilled veggies again so Nancy went and told the proprietor/cook that she could skip the onions today. We ended up getting nice bowls of fruit with yogurt and granola – that’s probably why she laughed when we said no onions….
The ride out of town was easy and hard. The hard part lasted about 1k as the “lovely” stone streets of Antigua tried to bust us and our bikes. Trying to avoid the rough stuff, I hit my front bag on the curb and sort of did a slow motion, cowboy dismount. I managed to gently lay the bike down, land on my feet and hop away with no damage to me or bike. Sort of Keystone Cops like and I’m sure entertaining to the locals.
Once we cleared the rock roads we had a bit of up and down and then a whole lot of down. We had to get through the volcanos before we got to enjoy a wonderful ride down the side to near sea level. The road was steep and there was some traffic but we had a shoulder and were going almost as fast as the cars anyway. In the first two hours we road over 40k, even with all the stops for volcano photos and the stone streets.
We had to skirt the town of Escuintla which looked pretty big on the map. They have built a nice four lane expressway with great shoulders that made it a breeze for us. Just past town, we stopped at a mini-mart for morning tea but had to settle for cold drinks. They didn’t have much. Around here we started to see “cane trucks”. We are in sugar cane country now and you could tell. It was hot and there was a sweet smell of some sort hanging in the air. The cane trucks are massive but generally they were polite – as was most of the traffic all day.
We had mostly tailwinds and down hills until the last 15k when we had to climb back up to the town of Taxisco. We hadn’t really pushed it much all day but the climb was hard, probably due to the heat. We took the by-pass around town as we were heading for a hotel outside town on the far side.
Just as we were nearing the last corner, we made one last stop at a mini-mart and to our surprise we spotted another bicycle tourist. Meet Luis, who of all things was born in Ushuaia, Argentina, our final destination. He now lives north of there, but still in Argentina. He started riding north some 14 months ago and is heading for Mexico City. He gave us lots of tips about the road ahead and encouraged us to give staying at the fire stations (bomberos) a go. Turns out that lots of touring cyclists stay at the bomberos in Central America. We’ll see about that in the coming days.
After a nice chat with Luis, we rode the last 1k to the hotel. We are staying at the Hotel Las Marias. It’s a very nice hotel, kind of out in the middle of nowhere with regard to town. It’s not a highway hotel as there is no hidden parking. They have a great veranda looking out to the sea, nice gardens full of mango trees and it is very clean and orderly. We can’t see the ocean yet as we are still a little too far away.
For dinner we ate at the restaurant here at the hotel and both had great meals. All the tables were outside and we were the only ones sitting there for most of the time. Kind of weird being sort of isolated. We decided to try having a nightcap at the pool, on the other side of the hotel looking over the view, as we’d seen a couple to gringos head that way. Well, as soon as we stood up to head there, they can back to the restaurant. Oh well, we’ll just talk to each other in our room – haha
Tomorrow we head to El Salvador. We’ve enjoyed Guatemala and have heard great things about El Salvador. Country number 5 coming up. We’ve also heard that this border crossing is very easy. We hope to end up “down at the beach” tomorrow night – an El Salvadorian beach that is.