A few months ago we released a photo blog and the El Salvador portion of our short film
, Vaya Bien. After a screening at the VIMFF in February we are now releasing the full feature of our 6 week mountain bike road trip around Central America. It was a big undertaking presenting many unknowns and a logistical nightmare. Converting a miniature Central American truck into a clown car was no problem with 6 people, bikes, camera gear, and a surfboard. We got lost, found dead ends, almost got struck by lightning twice, and rode many amazing trails.
Join us for the ride as we race DH in El Salvador, explore the back roads of Guatemala, and check out the relatively unknown trails of Honduras including their world class DH track Los Elotes in Honduras.Road Tripping Through Central AmericaThe bright lively colours of Honduras.
After spending a few weeks in El Salvador for a DH race we headed east into Honduras to explore the mountainous highlands that dominate most of the country. We heard tales of fast, technical DH trails and a small tight knit riding scene and decided it was a place we had to see for ourselves. Dusty, loose, and fast. I introduce to you, the staple Honduran mountain bike trail.
Before arriving in Honduras we had contacted a local bike store, Hondubikes
, for some intel on riding in the country. Mario Mossi
, the store owner, filled us in on the where, what, and when. He also went a step further and offered us full use of his bike shop and accommodation at his house for our first night in the area. A legend if there ever was and an example of classic Central American hospitality we met with many times on our journey.The humble local bike shop. Hondubikes of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Not knowing much about the Honduran mountain bike scene other than the stories we heard from mountain bikers in El Salvador, we thrust ourselves into the hands of the unknown. Honduras' version of mountain biking is raw, rough, fast, and loose. It will test the limits of your bikes and bodies. It's a wild country almost completely untouched by visiting mountain bikers yet it's there within grasp, accessible to anyone willing to toss the shackles of the familiar aside. It's a place where you'll feel at home if home is exploring off the map destinations.Choose your own adventure, Honduras has a trail for them all.
After a brief stopover in Tegucigalpa to build our bikes and get acquainted with the area we made our way to our new home base, Valle De Angeles. It's a picturesque village nestled in the highlands surrounding the capital city of Honduras. The area is ripe with peaks, ridges, and valleys littered with farmer's trails and a few purpose built mountain bike trails. In short, it's an endless playground full of Central American charm and character. The perfect place to waste the days away riding bikes and relishing in the laid-back life style of Valle.Farm trail shred. The seasonal slash and burn making for some exotic landscapes.Country living, the Honduran way.The flowy, farm trails of Honduras are an endless maze of alluring single track. They're also notorious for an endless amount of donkey shit. 'Mud' guard recommended...Smiles and warm greetings. No shortage of either in Central America.
After a few days of exploring single track, we traded in the small bikes for the DH rigs and headed up to see Honduras' premier downhill track Los Elotes. This was the trail we had heard passionate stories of from El Salvadoran mountain bikers. 'Not to be missed', 'Best track in Central America', and 'You have to go to Honduras' were just a few things we were told when asking about Los Elotes. It was an exciting morning for us all the day we finally got to head up to the legendary Los Elotes.The start of something special, Los Elotes.
We met with Mario and JP Lloyd
high above Valle De Angeles in the farming communities where the trail head is situated. JP Lloyd is the man behind the oft praised trail as well as the organizer of internationally attended DH races on Los Elotes. After speaking with him we learned he employs the local farming community to help maintain the line for events and donates proceeds back to Operacion Sonrisa
. A portion of the trail goes through Parque Nacional La Tigra and JP makes sure to give back as much as possible to keep relationships positive and mutually beneficial for all involved. Off camber 'a fondo'.
JP and Mario led us through farmer's fields towards the starting ramp which was situated high above Valle De Angeles on a ridge that meanders a few thousand feet to the town below. You instantly get a feeling for what's about to go down in front of you. A series of jumps and berms through a grassy opening sets the stage for 5 minutes of pure downhill bliss. Upon entering the forest you're treated to a perfect mix of hand numbing gnar and man made features. Los Elotes is littered with gaps, rock gardens, berms, and high speed straight-aways that has you pondering if you're actually dreaming. It's a relentless descent commanding total focus and attention as well as a healthy does of endurance. Los Elotes face meltingly fast and tooth looseningly rough.
Honduras and Los Elotes did not disappoint and we wouldn't hesitate to go back in a second. One of the unfortunate parts of traveling on a rough schedule is that you eventually do have to leave at some point. Ending on a high note, we departed to the final country of our road trip. Beautiful Guatemala.Central America's Old World, Guatemala.
Our plan for Guatemala was the same as the previous countries. Explore, ride, sleep, repeat. Sounds simple enough but Guatemala has enough areas to explore to keep oneself busy for a year let alone 2 weeks. With a massive amount of help from Jorge Quiroa and Jose Pelaez of Cycling Bike Shop
we were able to narrow down a long list of must sees to Panajachel, Rabinal, and Antigua. Snake Trail, Lago De Atitlan.
Panajachel for most is a transit hub to other destinations on the shores of Lago de Atitlan. For us it was a temporary base to lose ourselves in the disorienting spiderweb of steep mountain side trails dotting the lake side. We spent early mornings scouting ridges, traversing through farm fields to access them, and descending during the golden hour of sunrise. The farms provided a strong scent of green onion adding to an already sensory overloaded experience. With so much to see we would forgo the afternoon siesta to search out more terrain in the seemingly endless coast line of the lake. We constantly found ourselves perched high above the lake taking in some of the best views Central America has to offer with long ribbons of dusty trail below us. Even the heat couldn't kill our buzz. This was a daily routine but it was anything but ordinary.With maizals dominating much of the landscape in Guatemala don't be surprised to occasionally find yourself on a trail going through one.Guatemala's greatest resource, it's vibrant friendly people.
Beyond the views and memorable descents, the interaction with the local people served to be our greatest experience. One such random day started with the intent to access and ride a line we had spotted earlier in the day. On our ascent through one of the villages we were chased down by children excitedly squealing, 'Bici! Bici! Bici!'. We spent the following hour loading as many kids as we could on our bikes and pushed them up and down the village pathway. It turned out to be way better than any ride and the detour turned into another great memory.
While we were playing with the local children big storm clouds had been slowly moving in. A deluge of tropical rain and cracking thunder soon hit us. The children all ran home leaving us frantically search out cover of any kind. A woman in a nearby hut saw us trying to stay dry and invited all 6 of us into her modest home. It was a tight fit with her 3 children, chickens, and puppy but she insisted we come inside anyways. The single roomed home made of dirt floors and clay walls was a humbling sight and stark contrast to our typical North American lives. She offered us dry clothing while we warmed up by the fire that was cooking the family's dinner.
We didn't end up riding that afternoon nor did any of us wish we had. The experience of these interactions and perhaps the greatest generosity any of us had seen on our journey was more memorable than any ride would have been. Before we left when the skies cleared, we purchased some of the handmade bracelets she made to support her family and thanked her for the hospitality.Lago vistas. Guatemala's second greatest resource is no slouch either.Rabinal. The blisteringly hot, rough around the edges, anitpodal sister to Lago De Atitlan.
With a full trip's worth of experiences under our belt in only a few days, we converted our mini-truck into a clown car once again and headed north. Our next stop was Rabinal, a place about as opposite as you can get from Lago De Atitlan. Rabinal is surrounded by arid mountains barren of life with the exception of cactus and stubborn shrubs refusing to die. There is no tourist infrastructure of any kind but it's also home to some of the best mountain biking in all of Guatemala. If you're looking for a true back country experience, Rabinal is your place.
The area's big draw, La Piedra Del Tigre, is a shuttle accessed two hour descent and was worth the visit alone. The other mountains offered endless riding opportunities on ridge lines with mountain road accessing most of them. We even discovered a new spot (pictured below on the right) the locals hadn't ridden previously. Thanks to a recent fire, views of the ridge with an older, unused farmer's trail running down it had become visible. All of this easily made it worth the stay at the only motel in town with the 'Bates'-ish feel. And since they turned the power off at 9 pm every night we were well rested each morning.Contrasting landscapes, all within a two hour's drive.
The final stop of our international road trip was Antigua to ride the lush mountain side of Volcan De Agua. An all-mountain descent was built as part of the El Zur real estate development in some of the lushest jungle scenes we've ever laid eyes on. Since we've been there some exciting stuff has been added by Gravity Logic
. The jungle textures of El Zur.4x4 shuttles in 'La Selva' and smiles all around. Guatemala charm at it's finest.
A gnarly 4x4 shuttle followed by a truly epic descent down the side of a volcano through pines, palms, and foggy jungle. We could not have asked for a better end to our final days in Guatemala. These were the days we had traveled so far to experience.Endless shapes down the side of Vulcan de Agua.Sometimes the ride outs are just as memorable as the ride it self. Thanks for the good times, Central America. Vaya Bien....
Thanks to Innate Gear
and Ride 100 Percent
for product support on our trip.Filming: Mike Gamble
, Michael Sousa
, and Justa Jeskova
Michael SousaPhotography: Justa JeskovaRiders:
Steve Storey and Denis CourchesneWords: Steve StoreySherpa/Mule/Broken Dude: