Thursday, February 25, 2010

We All Scream For Ice Scream

February 14th to 19th

Strange how crossing the border makes such a big difference – to the land, I mean. People changing is to be expected, but suddenly the land widens out and the world becomes a much bigger place. The climb to El Poy was along a narrow strip of tarmac hemmed in by steep banks and encroaching trees. We're still climbing amongst the pine forests, but now we have sky to the side of us as well as above and we are encouraged to look about and widen our field of view.

The view back across the town of Ocotopeque where we spent the previous night and the mountain range at the border....


The road squeezes between a biological reserve and El Guisayote Biosphere over a 7000feet pass through the mountains. Hondurans take their conservation seriously it would seem, highlighted in a beautiful roadside mural showing a land in transformation.....

This is coffee country and the cool damp air helps the crops to grow in the shade of taller trees. Plantation workers dry beans in mottled yellow stripes at the roadside...


Much of this country is covered in cloud forests and we experience our first one crossing the pass. That wide-screen view we were enjoying earlier suddenly closes in as we ascend above the cloud base....


The air is suddenly damp... very damp..... and cold. Cold? We didn't expect to feel that until the high altitude of Columbia at the earliest and we hastily unpack to dig out rain gear stashed and forgotten at the very bottom of our panniers. Lights and reflectors are put to good use as ghost cars hunt us down in the gloom. We wind a watery way over the crest of the mountain and suddenly our fingers are numbed as the moist air condenses into freezing water droplets. Locals look on in bewilderment, plump in their extra layers and thick coats as we ride on through the grey rain,. It's a far cry from the lowland furnaces of El Salvador and I never thought I would be shivering in Central America!

Racing downhill, we hit the cloud base a lot quicker than on the way up and, like drawing a veil, the world suddenly reappears and begins to warm up again.

Now we're in banana country as we head along a wide valley between the Gallinero and Gelaque ranges and in riots of colour that put the Ruta de Flores to shame, vendors set out their stalls....


In this land you enjoy the valleys while you can because you know that as soon as you see a distant mobile phone mast up on a hill, that's where the road will be going. Here you're either grinding climbing or screaming in free fall.

This corner of Honduras is like a thin wedge squeezed between parts of El Salvador and Guatemala and the 3 countries come together like triangular slices of a pie centred on Cerro Montecristo. Consequently it's a hub for trade and the road deteriorates into a series of huge, deep potholes as traffic increases and we race 18 wheelers off the mountainsides....


Villages are scarce and when we do pass through, buildings are rudimentary smallholdings surrounded by chickens and turkey. Often constructed from just sticks and mud they none the less seem to display a sense of pride in their colourful gardens....


How weird is it when you stop for a lunch of egg sandwiches on a rock and you suddenly start to believe you can hear the distant chimes of an ice cream van in amongst the raucous bird calls. Must be hallucinating we think – we've not seen an ice cream van since..... forever - and we're about 20 miles from the nearest town.

And then, out of the blue, there it is in the distance, giant loudspeaker blaring a gay tune from the roof, and apparently we're not going mad.
And now I believe it is stopping in front of the rock we are using as a dining table.
And now 2 strawberry and chocolate cones are miraculously appearing through the window.
And apparently they are for us.
And they are free....
Suzy enjoying the most unlikely of lunchtime snacks, still not really believing what she is seeing....


I keep saying Central Americans are friendly, but Hondurans are more demonstrably so than our experiences of other countries so far. In Guatemala, they were more shy, and waited stoically for us to make the first move before breaking into ear to ear grins. In Belize they were just too cool – all lazy aaaariiiights lying prone in a hammock. Here people whistle to get your attention and then wave expansively – teeth shining along with their eyes.
Or some just bring ice cream....

We ride through La Labor and through some more rain in to Santa Rosa de Copan, the largest town we've hit so far at around 35,000 people. All talk is of 'La Tormenta' (the storm) and people question whether we should be riding in such inclement conditions. When we try to find a comedor (a cheap cafe) to eat most are closed because it's 'just too cold'. It's a world away from England where this weather would be a fine summer's day in Manchester. OK, it's a bit drizzly and maybe 60 degrees (16 Centigrade) but a 'Tormenta'?? I guess it just depends what you are used to, but I can't believe these people are putting a cyclista's supper in jeopardy for this! We find a hardy soul who braves the elements to cook up a fine chicken and rice dinner and the crisis is averted.

Then we are on to La Entrada and round the corner past La Florida. We're meandering a circuitous route that takes us back within 10kms of the Guatemala border. It's a 1000kms way of getting to within 250kms of where we were in Antigua a month ago. But we wanted to see Ruta de Flores and El Salvador first, and now we want to see Copan; another ruined city of the ancient Mayan civilisation.We finally reach the fertile 'Amarillo' (yellow) river valley which allowed this great city state to flourish well over a thousand years ago and follow the water course into modern day Copan....


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