Usulutan to Playa El Cuco, 62 km / bloody hot
Trip Alt 640 mMax Alt 505 mAvg slope 4%Max slope 12%
For the first time in months, it had rained hard during the night. Very unusual for this time of year we were told. The rain had stopped but it was still fresh out when we started in the morning. One km out of town, Michelle suffered another flat rear tire. It's the old tire Dave moved from the front to the rear. It has lots of miles on it and more susceptible to being penetrated by sharp objects. Dave is getting fast at fixing punctures. This time the culprit was a large piece of glass. 15 minutes later we were up and going again.
We were serenaded by tons of birds as we made our way out of town. We passed by several small villages with super friendly people waving and greeting us. The side of the road is littered with mangoes and cashew fruits that dropped off the trees and the scent of fermented fruit wafted in the air. We gathered some perfectly ripe ones and enjoyed them on our break. The kms clicked away fast. Volcan Chaparrastique towered in front of us and Volcan de Usulatan was to our left, fantastic sights.
Dave poked his head in at a house decorated and built with colorful recycled plastic bottles. Bottle caps were used to surface the cement floor. The 'artist’ showed her creation with pride.
Sugarcane seems to be the main crop grown here. Many trucks loaded with sugarcane pass us leaving a sweet scent mixed with exhaust in their wake. To our right a ridge of intimidating mountains appears. We know at some point we need to turn off in that direction to get to the beach.
We got to the T-junction and turn off to El Cuco at 10AM. Soon we were pedaling uphill. The temp: 38C/100F and rising. We reached a crest only to learn we were just getting started on the high climb. We did a fair amount of pushing. Several small communities with stunning views of the volcano and the valley below hugged the mountain. People pointed out some water spigots where we could fill up our water bottles with limpia (clean) mountain spring fed water. It tasted great and was nice and cool. And finally, after 2.5 hrs, we reached the summit and enjoyed the hard earned downhill until the cut-off to El Cuco where we had another climb. When we got to the top of much smaller hill, the expansive coastal view opened up to us. The downhill from here was riddled with huge potholes. In El Cuco, we asked a guy hanging in a hammock for directions to La Tortuga Verde Hotel . He pointed to the wide beach and said "just follow the beach for 2 km". The bridge on the beach road was washed out so riding the sand during the low tide was the way to go.
The Cuco beach front is lined with small restaurants followed by residential homes and a few hotels. The beach was pretty much deserted. We saw lots of shore birds, pelicans and even some vultures. The breeze felt heavenly to our hot and tired bods. For 2 kms, we passed no sign boards indicating our hotel or names of any hotel we may have passed. For all we knew these were private residences. Dave went to check at one and was told to go 2 km further. 2km later he asked again and was told “ 1km more”. 1km later he was told to go another half a km. Finally after about 6 km, we spotted Kristen and Mike coming towards us. It was 2 pm and we were bushed puppies. Mike and Kristen helped us get our bikes across the soft sand to the hotel grounds.
They arrived here the day before and had talked with the owner Tom to arrange a boat for us to Nicaragua. Tom assured them that the boat was the way to go, saving them from spending agonizing time on a bus. Now that we were there, Tom finalized the arrangements. A truck will to take us to La Union on Sunday at 7 am (30km). A boat captain will meet us there and walk us through exit immigration procedures and then we’ll leave on a private boat to Nicaragua, about 2.5 hrs.
The food at Tortuga Verde, which had been lauded by Darren from Hostel El Roble, was disappointing. It was very ordinary and prices were high by Nicaraguan standards. No low cost options for people on lower budgets were offered. With the little towns over 5 km away, the place has a captured audience. One backpacker couple left earlier than planned because their food budget could not handle Tom’s prices. We talked at length with Tom, the owner, about this and other topics. He seemed open to our observations and ideas about ‘value’. $7 for a small bowl of vegetable soup was ridiculous. Tom agreed and confessed he does not eat food off his menu and later found out the staff used small bowls for the soup because it was too far to walk and get the bigger bowls from the ‘old’ kitchen. Tom had a million excuses. And our final dinners were prepared differently. And much better than meals we ordered before we had the talks with Tom. Many of Tom’s big plans for the place are still just ‘plans’. He is still building rooms and is focused on finishing construction.
Saturday was a day to relax, enjoy the beach and hotel grounds. Mike and Dave took the bikes over the hill on a rocky dirt road to a Ciudad de Intipucá, 5km away. Mike was eager to ride and climbed the hills pretty fast. Awsome! Near the top, he asked if we could stop and rest in the shade a bit. In the process, he may have learned a bit about pacing himself. The small town was setting up for a festival of sorts and was lively on this Saturday. We could not find a big market but we did score two water melons and torta sandwiches to take back to the ranch. A few guys talked with Mike and Dave and reminisced fondly about their lives in the states. The Night Watchman
:The four of us had our nice last meal together at La Tortuga Verde and talked at length about our individual belief systems. Mike smokes and discreetly steps away so not to let any smoke drift our way. He ended up in a long discussion with Oscar, the night security guard. As Dave went to bed, he too ended up in a long discussion with Oscar, or more accurately, listening to Oscar’s monologue. As a child, Oscar went with his family to Texas during the civil wars of the 80’s. They were illegal but ended up getting residency status. Oscar ended up in the Houston gangs but always gives himself the white hat. He turned in the big drug dealer in the neighborhood to help clean up the neighborhood. He was working some place and was called a wetback Mexican by one of the manager who did realize he spoke English. He confronted the guy, got fired and won a settlement in a discrimination lawsuit. Taught them a lesson. He bulked up to 210#, took martial arts and got into personal security. He got a commendation from a community in Florida when he was working security at the door of a nightclub. A wild Samurai sword toting guy was threatening the patrons. Oscar ended up putting two slugs in the guy’s chest with his personal gun. Security personal at the nightclub were not allowed to carry guns. But the Samurai guy was wanted with a reward offered. Oscar was able to collect the $10,000 reward. Another time, when his boss was drinking in a bar, Oscar beat a man within an inch of his life which left the guy in a wheelchair and Oscar with a felony charge. The judge said Oscar should have killed the guy but, as it was, he would have to give Oscar a prison sentence. It did not help that he got a certificate during his martial arts training so his hands were considered weapons. He got into a lot of fights with gangs in prison which taught him he better mellow out and pick his battles better. After serving two and a half years, he was released and deported. Oscar has hopes of going back to the US, perhaps as soon as next year. Dave locked all the doors and windows when he went to bed and tried to sleep with one eye open. Who knows what Oscar is up to out there in the dark?