Yesterday temperatures in Leon hit 35’ in the shade: it’s piercingly hot, too hot to ride. But we cannot stay forever! Today we set off at six, and deliberately planned an easy 60km. It was great until we reached a dirt track, shown as a main road on both Googlemaps and locus pro, but it was definitely packed earth, sand and potholes, we did it, 13km of rolling hills to El Transisto, a fledgling surf resort, with a few expensive rooms on Airbnb, and a hostel that is full. It’s not even mentioned in Lonely Planet.
El Transisto is a really poor community, ramshackle shacks of corrugated metal and scrap wood. Outside we watch a group of boys throw stones at each other, there’s not alot else to do! And often (from my palace of clean sheets and AC) I hear kids crying. Along the dirt track poverty is extreme: always five or six children, barely a year between each one, barefoot and ragged, playing in the dirt.
But the beach is fantastic, so many birds and a wacky black volcanic sill – completely worth the dirt track ride to see it. There are a dozen surfers out in the waves and I’m pleased to see that some are Nicaraguan. We ask a Canadian surfer who manages a bar/ hostel about the road down to the next beach from the highway, only 20 miles away and he has never been there. Two years spent on the same beach! Strange how a lifestyle can draw you in, almost like a cult.
Next morning we set off before 6am and spend the first hour bouncing along our dirt track. Once on the highway we pick up speed, but before long the heat combines with headwind and hills to slow us right down. And a slow puncture, first in over two years. Sadly all roads lead to Managua (2.5m) so I booked a hotel on the southern ring road to avoid entering the city. LP writes “ Simply put, Managua is a shambles, chaotic and broken”. This was one of our hardest days. I enjoyed the views of smoking volcanoes once we reached 500m, but then we had to pedal downhill. Downhill!! The ring road was chaotic, four lanes to one into a village, then four lanes again, new tarmac then cobblestones, but worst of all roller coaster hills, one after another. Finally we had to cross an 8 lane highway to turn into our hotel, hidden in a little estate. Hot and flustered and ravenous we could smell delicious food, but “ No, we do not have a restaurant”. I could have wept. Then “But come and join our family for lunch”. Their kindness could not have come at a more opportune moment. I could have wept again! Fabulous lovely company, and the most delicious chocolate brownie with ice cream I have ever eaten!
Most people here are catching flights from the international airport close by. So of course it makes me yearn for home. Unlike Asia we are restricted to cycling on highways. I choose the quieter ones, and we always have a shoulder, but it’s not like a country lane alongside a river. Overwhelmingly, our biggest problem is the unusually high temperatures. This ‘Dry Corridor’ in Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador), has been experiencing one of the worst droughts of the last ten years, compounded by strong El Nino effect. Our suffering is nothing to theirs. But the forecast for Costa Rica is cloudy and cooler. I hope so. We are taking a day off here in this delightful place to plan the next section in detail.
It’s not often that life takes you by surprise. We stayed an extra night in Leon so Michael could catch us up and ride together for a bit. Michael is the funny American table tennis guy, who runs utra marathons, intelligent but challenging for Charles because he is covered in tattoos. Inspired, he bought a $70 bike and since Guatemala our paths have crossed four times.
Michael arrived as we were going out to eat, we were delighted to see him, and later a group of us chatted and laughed by the pool. I even said ‘ You know what Michael, you bring out the best in people’.
Not so next morning. Michael was gone, bit odd, but he had disappeared early from a hostel in El Salvador, so maybe that’s just Mike. Then the owner came to speak to us about our biking friend. $100 was missing from reception and their camera showed Michael at 2am helping himself!!! The camera was not obvious with so many decorations, so Michael was oblivious, at 7am calmly reading a book. We weren’t there, but apparently Mike didn’t say much, paid back the cash and left. We were stunned.
We carry a false wallet and old phone in case we are robbed, but here is a westerner stealing from a hostel where all the staff work extremely hard for a low margin of profit. And yes, he had helped himself to cash from Charles’ wallet. We mostly lock the room but with a shared bathroom, there are times when the door is only closed. What a toe-rag! Never been duped like that before!!