Friday, March 25, 2011

Hotel

Our friends here joke that we're running a hotel out of our house. We gave them more fodder when we had another 2 guests, our friends Rhea and Stephanie from DC. Steph got in on Thursday, Rhea on Sunday. You're probably wondering what Steph and Sophie did on their first day of vacation, and you can probably guess it - they climbed Santa Ana volcano again! This is probably the 6th time for Sophie to climb it, but she hasn't tired of it yet - it is still a gorgeous view! On Saturday, we took a drive on La Ruta de Los Flores to Apaneca to do a zipline tour. This was our second ziplining excursion, and I have to say that the ziplining in Apaneca is better than the ziplining in El Boquerón. The cables are longer, the views are better, but it is farther away. We had a great time zooming over the canopy. After the ziplining, we walked around Apaneca and watched kids playing soccer on the road next to the town square. The game was complete with jerseys and a referee.

On Sunday, we went to Playa Sunzal to do some surfing. I wasn't feeling my best (Wine 1 - Case 0), so Sophie and Steph were the only surfers. They had a great time surfing, but we had to go to the airport to pick Rhea up, so we zoomed off to the airport to find out that her flight had been delayed by 2 hours. We decided to hang out at the airport and found that the San Salvador airport has an observation deck that you can go out on for $1. From there, you get a nice view of the tarmac. We waited there and watched Rhea's flight touch down.
Surfer chicks
I took Monday off to go hang out at the beach with Rhea, Steph, and Sophie, but worked the the rest of the days.  While I was at home, working, they went to the spa, checked out El Boquerón, visited Santa Ana (the city), checked out Mayan ruin sites, and went to some museums.

All in all, I think they had a great time in El Salvador, and it was great to see them. It was interesting talking to them about all the goings-on in DC - who's dating who, who's marrying whom (Marshall, I'm looking at you!), and just how much life has changed over the past 10 months.

Rockin' out at KGB

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Frontera a Frontera

Biking in El Salvador is surprisingly good.  I've been doing a lot more road biking than I did in the States, and probably less mountain biking.  Most of the mountain biking is double-track and I prefer single-track, so... The views from the road rides are spectacular, and there is a large group of people who ride regularly. I did a ride back in November with a group from the local bike shop and was able to hold my own on an 80km ride, so I figured - I can do anything, right?  That kind of arrogance can get you in trouble!  Haha.

I signed up to do the 'frontera a frontera' (border to border) ride with little training.  It was supposed to be a 300km ride from the border of Guatemala to La Unión along the litoral (coastal) highway.  I figured that since it was along the cost, it would be pretty flat and hence not be that bad.

First we had to get to the border.  I woke up at 4am and caught a ride with the bike shop to the border, leaving their shop at 4:45.  I was sitting shotgun in a large pickup truck with a heavy trailer as we barreled down the road to Sonsonate. We came across a bunch of busses which were parked on the side of the road. The driver of the truck turned on his high beams to make sure that we were more readily seen as he passed the busses at about 50mph.  One of the busses was apparently not paying attention and decided to pull out into our lane. Our driver slammed on the brakes and it was immediately obvious that we weren't going to be able to stop in time. As we screeched towards the bus, our driver made a split second decision to hit the concrete abutment on the left side of the road rather than hit the bus. Turned out he made a great decision - we hit the abutment with a loud pop, but, after pulling over, we found that we had only a few scratches to show for our near-bout-with-death.

Undeterred, we reached the border and started the ride.  The first 45 minutes were great - big group, easy ride in the peloton.  That is, until I got my first flat.  I was prepared for this, though, and quickly changed the tube and pumped it up with help from my riding buddy who also stopped.  After the flat was fixed, we darted off, hoping to catch the peloton while they rested at the first refueling stop.  However, I would never catch them again.  The next 4 hours were probably the hardest 4 hours of exercise I've done.  I'm not sure if any of you out there have ever ridden with real road bikers, but apparently they are crazy people.  They just ride flat out for hours.  I tried that, but eventually lost most of my steam and was relegated to climbing the hills along the rocky coast at the speed of what felt like a turtle.  Along the way, I got another 2 flats.  After the 3rd flat, I found a tiny piece of glass that was embedded in the outside of the tire, but couldn't be felt in the inside, so I'm going to assume that that piece of glass was my nemesis for the day.  Eventually, after hours of riding in the hot-ass sun with some gorgeous vistas of the El Salvador coastline, I reached the ending point for day 1, which I was happy to find out was not the airport, but was instead Kayu, in Playa Sunzal.  I was one of the last to finish for the day, although around 10 people gave up along the way, so I didn't feel too bad about my showing.  Tomorrow would be better.

After returning to San Salvador, I grabbed burgers at Rústico with two friends and started thinking about what the next day had in store for me.  Since I knew that Kayu was only ~115km or 125km, I started thinking about how long the next day would be, and knew that it would be around 1.5 times as long as the first day.  I also debated trying to buy new, kevlar-reinforced tires for my bike.  In the end, to prepare for the next day, I bought 3 snickers bars and went to bed at 8pm.

I was happy to discover that the next day began at the airport, thereby cutting out a good 30 miles of riding.  My main goal for the 2nd day was to stay with the peloton at all costs.  I was able to do this for the first 2 hours, although I knew that I couldn't keep it up.  I was basically pedaling as hard as I could in the hardest gear for the entire 2 hours.  Eventually, we reached a bridge where we all stopped to take a picture.  I reached down to feel my tire and discovered that I had another flat.  Not to fear though!  Since the group was stopped, I worked feverishly to get it changed and borrowed a floor pump from a chase car to get it changed in no time.  However, I still missed the peloton and even though I caught up to them at the next refueling station, the energy I expended to do so knocked me out for the rest of the day.  I was content to just ride my bike at a decent clip by myself.  This was going great until we reached a roundabout and another rider passed me and convinced me to follow him through the roundabout.  He then proceeded to take me on a bypass road that no one else was on.  It wouldn't have been that big of a deal except that the bypass road was considerably hillier than the normal road, I had no idea where I was going, and the guy was considerably faster than me.  So, as I watched him fade into the distance, I started thinking about what the hell I was going to do if I got lost out here.  He must have been thinking the same thing, because he slowed down and eventually decided that going back to the main road was a better course of action.  I'm pretty happy that we returned to the main road because I'm pretty sure that if we hadn't, we wouldn't have passed the refueling stop, which would have meant I would have been extremely low on water in the blistering sun.

I didn't know how long the last bit would be.  I thought that we were going to La Unión, and I was pretty sure that I had another 50 miles or so to ride, and I also knew that somewhere in there, I had a 6 mile climb.  I was elated, to say the least.  When we finally reached the climb, I was pretty low on water and already dead tired, but I trudged on up the road by myself.  After what felt like (and may have been) an hour climbing up the road, I started thinking "why haven't I seen anyone" and started to think that maybe we weren't supposed to go up this climb at all.  Around that time, I turned around and saw my riding buddy materialize out of nowhere.  He asked me how I was doing and then turned around and headed back down the road to go back to the guy who was apparently behind me.  When I finally reached the top of the mountain, I had no water, was thirsty, was starving, and was tired.  I stopped for a minute to wait for my friend and the other rider to arrive, and thought about how I was going to get water.  Around that time, a car with a bike drove by and stopped, asking if I was alright.  I asked them for water and, in true Salvadoran fashion, they offered me Pepsi.  I pounded the Pepsi and then they offered me an empanada.  I took one bite of the delicious empanada and then watched as my friend flew by me on his bike.  I stuffed the empanada in my back pocket and took off after him.  I'm happy I did, because, apparently, the finish line of the ride was in El Cuco, which meant that we had to turn off the main road.  I am unsure what I would have done if I had instead ridden to La Unión.  Pretty sure it would have sucked.

Anyway, on the final, long, grueling climb before the finish line, I turned to another rider and said "¿Qué tal?"  His reply summed up my weekend:

Estoy sufriendo.

Yes, I'm the gringo fixing his flat on the left :)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Back in Action

It's been a while since I've had a post, but fear not -- I'm still here.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent about 2 months in the States, returning to El Salvador on January 13th.  I am thankful that my job was understanding of my situation, and that I was able to take off a significant portion of that time to help care for my mom.  She's doing great!  If you're bored, you can read all about it on the blog.

The day after I returned to El Salvador, we had our next guests - Kate & Marshall.  Marshall and I went surfing, although surfing is a pretty loose term -- let's just say that we had surfboards.  It has been amazing the changes that we've seen in the beach as the seasons change.  When we arrived 10 months ago, the beach was completely rocky - hardly any sand.  Now it's nice and sandy, like a 'normal' beach.  The next day, we went to Juayua for their weekly food festival.  Good food, loud music, lots of people... and Reptilandia.  For $0.50, we weren't expecting much, but they had a good number of different snakes and other reptiles, including a few giant burmese pythons.  Sophie even held one, which she enjoyed until the snake looked at her, giving her a "you know I can eat you" look.  That night, we were expecting to eat at one of the delicious restaurants in San Salvador, but since it was a Sunday, we were forced to eat at a place in La Gran Via.  Marshall and I made the wise decision to order the girafa, which is Spanish for "giant, clear plastic tube with a spout and filled with beer."  ¡Qué chivo!  After hanging out with us for a few days, Kate and Marshall continued their vacation by spending a few days in Costa Rica.  Little did I know that this would be the last time I would see the two of them before their engagement.  How exciting!
That's right -- he's got a board
No caption needed, really
The next few weeks were more of the usual.  One weekend we went ziplining with some friends near El Boquerón.  Pretty sweet.  It felt good to get back into the swing of my 'normal' life here in El Salvador.  At work, we finally released work that my team had been working on since last June, so that was a relief to have done.

Then there was training.  USAID had two weeks of training, which brought people from around the region to El Salvador.  Our good friend Rod from Colombia was one of them.  Sophie, Zaks, and I were planning on doing an adventure race at the Bahia de Jiquilisco, and I somehow convinced Rod to get his flight changed to get into El Salvador on Saturday, so that he could do the race with us on Sunday.  It was a team race (the same race that I did in the fall), so Rod got put on a team with a bunch of random people.  The race went well, although Rod's team got 4 flats along the way.  ¡Qué pena!

Rod and I went for a road bike ride in the early morning the next week.  We were supposed to ride down to Puerto de la Libertad (the beach) and back, which would have been pretty painful.  However, when the guy who we were going to ride with didn't show up, and I called him and his first words were "Fijese que..." I knew that wasn't happening.  So, Rod and I instead decided to do a ride of our own from Santa Elena to Los Planes.  This was a great idea until I got two flats in the span of probably 3 miles.  After the two flats and the missed connection, we cut our losses and turned back.  After about half a mile, the derailleur on Rod's bike decided to skip into the spokes, forcing us to have to spend 20 minutes trying to bend the thing back so we could finish out the ride.  I was dreading how much it was going to cost to fix the bike, but I took it by the shop anyway.  First I found out that a piece in the derailleur needed to be replaced, then I found out that the drop on the bike (the part of the frame that the derailleur attaches to) was bent.  Being naïve, I immediately thought "new bike."  But, alas, that was not the case.  First the mechanic (the same guy I ride with regularly) pulled out a special tool to bend the drop back.  Then he spent 5-10 minutes searching for parts before coming back with a previously-cannibalized derailleur of the exact same model, and he pulled the necessary parts from there.  ¡Qué suerte!  However, the hub was catching, which meant that he needed to pull off the freewheel and grease it up (at least, I think).  So, when I returned the following day to pick up the bike, I was expecting a bill for probably $50 or so.  Instead, it was $5.  In the States, I would have expected at least $150 to have all of this work done, since I know that I would have also have had to buy a new derailleur.  Rod and I were then able to take the bike out the next week and ride out to the east along a ridge.  The views were stunning, and the climbs were steep.  What a beautiful country I've found myself in!