El Salvador – like Honduras – has its fair share of negative press. European opinions are shaped by the country’s reputation for gang warfare and homicides but, though both of these do exist, the traveller is unlikely to come across them.
We cycled through El Salvador within a week and without incident. Similar to Honduras, the locals were invariably warm and welcoming.
I wanted to hear about how the gang culture affects the country. Speaking to Salvadorans, it’s clear that the narcos have bought off the government and police to the extent that it’s not really the politicians who run the country but the powerful gang members. We had policemen warn us to stay safe, keep our wits about us and be aware of the dangers but the only signs of the problem were the heavily armed security with their loaded shotguns who guarded gas stations, banks and other businesses that could afford them.
The inland road northwest up to the Guatemalan border took us through increasingly hilly landscapes, up to gorgeous vantage points where we would pause to take in the valleys below, watching the smoke waft up from fields where farmers burned vegetation to clear the land.
An on up to Guatemala, to another border crossing, another country, another stamp in the passport.
The topography in Guatemala is defined by compact, steep hills with the ever-lush green vegetation blanketing every surface untouched by man.
We only dipped into the country, following the road to Chiquimula, Los Amates and finally Rio Dulce. We had heard from Dave, a bike-tourer we met in El Salvador, about a river taxi that took travellers from Rio Dulce down the river of the same name to the small Caribbean town of Livingston. The route sounded fun and we decided to take it.
The small launch from Rio Dulce takes passengers along the river, with canyon walls rising sharply out of the water on either side. There are locals who live in huts along the water’s edge who rely on the river as their sole means of transport and a couple on-board disembarked at one of them, presumably heading home after a trip into town to buy supplies.
Livingston itself has no road access, so all goods and people come in off the boat. There is a strong Garifuna culture there and the Afro-Caribbean flavour was strong, with loud music, plenty of rum, and lots of laughter. The town’s remoteness and slightly anarchic though friendly vibe made it easy to imagine Caribbean pirates mooring up there for a few nights to spend their treasures on good times.
The Belizean border was just a short boat ride across a small corner of the Caribbean away. The 14th country on my trip was the antepenultimate of the entire journey and thoughts naturally turned to home. It would be the end of the trip in just a couple of months. What once seemed intangible now felt very real – that before long I’d be back in London with these long and exciting days of adventure behind me.
Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!
As ever, if you’ve enjoyed reading these posts, or if you see value and a challenge in this trip, or if you’d simply like to support a wonderful cause, it would be great if you drop a little sum towards my fundraising goal for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Head over to https://www.justgiving.com/Mike-Edmondstone/ to get involved. Thanks 🙂