Breaking the World Record: El Salvador to Panama

El Salvador

This small country is only 270 km (168 mi) long from Northwest tip to Southeast tip. A few major volcanoes dot it evenly, with gorgeous but sizable hills in between. I crossed it in four days, not including a little rest day in San Salvador. I really learned to love plantains here. They use American money, which saved me the mental conversions, and beers were $1. These folks came off a bit more mild-mannered than Mexicans and Guatemalans. However, I did see an armed guard hit the top of the head of a drunk guy with his billy club. The blood came quickly and so did the legitimate policemen. We all stared.
So I was on a roll this first week of having recovered from my stomach infection, and getting from the border with Guatemala, through El Salvador and Honduras and into Nicaragua – 4 countries – spanned only 7 days!


IMG_0752

 

Honduras

I actually only spent 25 hours (one night) in Honduras. But it was enough time to be taught the difference between
Spanish’s formal versions of “you” (“voz” and “usted”). The older man behind the window and his little shop pointed at the men his age and used “voz,” then said I would use “usted” to address him because he’s “viejo” (an old man). I grinned and said, “Sí, viejito” (little old man). We all laughed.

Nicaragua

I crossed Nicaragua in 4 1/2 days of riding, not including a day of rest in León (to go volcano-boarding!!) and 2 rest days in San Juan Del Sur (thanks Alex and Lauren!). It’s amazing how geographically distinct these little countries are considering that the man-made borders are arbitrary and artificial. The Pacific side of Nicaragua is mostly flat, with the golden yellows of desiccated grasslands and farms. But the exception here (to the general rule of touring cycling, where the more hills and harder you work, the more beautiful the scenery) is that you are surrounded by amazing views of volcanoes and lakes to the east and the Pacific to the west.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica, just after crossing from Nicaragua
Costa Rica, just after crossing from Nicaragua

And as soon as I hit Costa Rica, the hills returned, scrunched up into the dense green warmth of the tropics. This country, while a bit more expensive, is also a lot cleaner (i.e. no burning rubbish piles) and a lot more modern. Four days of riding and I was arriving in San José, where I stayed at La Nave, a unicycle and circus store. I stayed to rest and ride the downtown area and surrounding hills, and I’ve made a video of these 2 1/2 weeks (see previous post: “Monociclos Ticos”). The generous folks at Unicycle.com Latinoamerica discounted the replacement of my rim, spokes (with extra set), hub, and pedals. I had had problems with the rim and spokes, leading to 5 broken spokes in a week.

Panamá

I left Costa Rica by way of the Atlantic side, making sure to get lost going uphill and, along another misdirection, doing 70 km (44 mi) of extra riding. Fortunately, I camped by a splendid river each night, and got into Panamá without issues. After a brief stop at the island in Bocas del Toro, where I met a group of cyclists riding with their 70-year-old capoeira master from California to Brazil, I continued to cross the mountains toward Davíd. The hills were intense, but the weather got brisk for a bit, and the nice folks at La Fortuna Hydroelectric let me stay in their Green Energy Exhibit at the visitor’s hut. I had found out that the french couple I had ridden with 4 months before in Mexico had stayed there as well only 15 nights prior! That gave me a good-version-of-spooky feeling. I paid an obligatory visit to the nearby waterfall, climbing through bramble and cutting my thumb open on a rock. It was a good day.

La Fortuna Hydroelectric
La Fortuna Hydroelectric

After expecting an ATM (the year is 2014..) in the town on the other side with only $2 cash (and not much more in the bank, to be honest) and finding the only one to be broken, I pressed on (with a lunch of chocolate milk and cold oatmeal). I was not smiling. After all, the moderately-developed town of a couple dozen thousand had no bank (it’s 2014!) and only one ATM. And it was broken! Moral is, I made it Davíd, having backtracked Northwest away from my eventual destination at the Panama Canal, and only due to this did I meet other cyclists (I would’ve been ahead, otherwise – get it?). There were the capoeira riders, who I rode with for one day, and also Kenneth and Joe, who continued with me for the following 6 days to the canal. Kenneth is Swedish, looks 27 but is actually 37, and has a white-blond hair and beard like a viking Santa Claus. He’s nice. Joe is an englishman, who naturally clashed with my Americanism (in the form of pronunciation “corrections” and general sarcasm). We shot the shit like good ole boys and drank a couple beers (under $1!) daily at a different river every day. I beat them on the uphills (for lack of weight and low-slow gears) and they beat be going downhill (coasting). And despite arriving in Panamá the following week (Semana Santa – Easter Week) with shops being either closed or not selling alcohol (which prohibited us from celebrating), we checked into the Panamericana hostel with good spirits. We were riding the route known popularly as the “Panamerican,” or “Panamerican Highway.” And I was to break the record at the Panama Canal, the “link between the continents.” This was significant stuff.

Four days later, I broke the World Record for Longest Unicycle Trip, which had stood at 15,955 km (9,972 mi), alongside the canal (between the two bridges, Centenario and Las Americas.)

Just after breaking the World Record.
Just after breaking the World Record.

It was raining, and I actually had to hail a cab to get the driver to film me, but obviously – I was pretty psyched. Pretty emotional too. After all, every little thing I had to deal with over the span of 41 weeks – weird, terrible, and stressfull – all those things culminated in this one, beautiful moment. I knew it would be just like any other day in my life, but the difference was this was built on the foundation of daily, daily, daily effort and emotion and strength and weakness. Clear days and sick ones, english and spanish, brief companionships and lots of alone time. This was it.
There have been many days when I have relied on myself – days where I light the fire under my own ass, so to speak. Physical and mental strength are self-taught. But a skill I have been developing, and come back to at the end of each day, wherever the hell I am, is gratitude. I am not doing this by myself, no one really does anything alone. We all have families or support crews or “guardian angels,” and we should say “thank you” every day. Aloud and with a smile.
So thank you to everyone who has helped me in any way. Thank you!

If you haven’t already – you can support the trip by donating! Scroll up to the Paypal button, it’s easy and I’d be super appreciative!  (Paypal button is below the trip description on the homepage.)

 

cary route

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2 thoughts on “Breaking the World Record: El Salvador to Panama

  1. Cary,
    Ed and I have been following your posts since you left Towson, Maryland. Totally Awesome trip and the biggest Congratulations!!
    Peace.
    Kay
    Whistle Stop Bike Shop

  2. WOW! I Am so proud of you.. I have follow you all the way.
    I have shared you with all my friends. .. They are amazed like me.
    I Knew you could do it . That’s the kind of guy you are.
    Love , G-MA

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