Archive for the ‘El Salvador’ Category

Travel Summary – Central America

Friday, May 26th, 2006

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Hello from South America!

   Since the last update, I have biked the length of Central America, visiting all 7 countries (see map of my route) and adding 2,400 miles to the trip. This trip continues to exceed my expectations, and I have visited schools and appeared in the national media of almost every country I have biked through. I am now in Colombia, where I arrived from Panama only a few days ago.

In La Prensa - Panama's national newspaper
Camping on the beach, near Las Lajas
Escuela El Progreso, Los Arroyos, La Union


  • 3/12 Mayan ruins and climate change
  • 3/17 Dennis Murphree joins me for Belize
  • 3/21 Learning to SCUBA and the fate of coral reefs
  • 3/26 Dennis Murphree speaks
  • 3/31 Honduran countryside
  • 4/7 A week through El Salvador
  • 4/15 Should I bike Colombia?
  • 4/15 Media coverage for rideforclimate
  • 4/16 Honduras, Nicaragua, and swimming with the locals
  • 4/18 Hurricanes and climate change
  • 4/29 Pops joins me from Nicaragua to Costa Rica
  • 4/30 Biodiversity and climate change
  • 5/8 Costa Rica to Panama City
  • 5/14 Deforestation in Central America
  • 5/15 A sailboat through the Panama Canal
  • BEST VIDEOS FROM CENTRAL AMERICA (click on the links below to watch)
    Scuba diving in Belize
    Kids dancing at pool in Nicaragua (large file – watch only if you have a high speed connection)
    My father joins me and rides a silly looking bicycle
    Dogs chasing me in Costa Rica
    Riding through the Panama Canal

       Central America is a region highly vulnerable to climate change. Rising sea levels and stronger storms could cause hardship, especially for the poor (of which there are a lot in Central America). Climate models for the region show warmer temperatures as well as perhaps less precipitation, both of which will be bad for agriculture. Many species as well may be threatened by a warmer climate. Finally, the coral reefs that line the coasts are greatly threatened by a warmer earth.

    Monte Verde Cloud Forest
    Building a house out of adobe (mud blocks)
    Coral Reef in Belize

        Environmental Defense has a new website to help you reduce your carbon emissions: On this site you can calculate how much carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere, and learn how to reduce these emissions.

       I have created a paypal link so that you can give money on my site to the Union of Concerned Scientists and Environmental Defense. Many people have also offered to help with my travel expenses, and there is now also a link for this. These are on my take action page.

       Did you really think I would stop biking? I have decided I need to take rideforclimate to the U.S. Here are the tentative plans.

       In Colombia, I am biking through Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota. I’ll then head towards Venezuela, following the northern coast before turning south into Brazil. I will arrive in Manaus, which sits on the Amazon River, where I will likely send my next update. If you know of organizations, schools, or researchers to visit on this route, let me know!

       I am now in Cartagena, Colombia, on the northern coast of South America. If all goes to plan, in 10 or 11 months I will be at southern tip of the continent, in Ushuia, Argentina.


    Total Miles Biked: 6321

    Flats by country in Central America:

    four flats in one day

    Belize: 0
    Honduras: 4
    El Salvador: 1
    Nicaragua: 0
    Costa Rica: 1
    Panama: 10 (ugh)

    A Ride for the Climate is sponsored by:
    Mike’s Bikes of Palo Alto
    Clif Bar
    Hobson Seats

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    Deforestation in Central America

    Sunday, May 14th, 2006

       Deforestation is a major problem in Central America. A quick look at the statistics shows that in the past 15 years, 20% of the countries’ forests have been destroyed. As I have biked through Central America, I have seen countless roadsides which were once covered by forests, but are now ranch land or farmland.

    Deforestation in Honduras
    One of El Salvador's many volcanos (Volcan de San Vicente)
    Lots of land cleared for cattle along the road.

       The problems associated with deforestation include loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, more landslides, greater flooding, and more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Cutting down forests releases a large amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and in these small, mostly poor countries, these emissions are comparable to the countries’ use of fossil fuels.

    Deforestation in Costa Rica
    Building a house out of adobe (mud blocks)

       While in Panama City, I talked to someone who wrote Panama’s proposal to reduce deforestation. The people cutting down the forests, in general, are very poor – subsistence farmers who need to clear land to grow food to eat. It seems that the only viable method of reducing deforestation here is to find these people other work or to pay them to not cut down the forest. Protecting forests without finding these people other income could cause great hardship.

       In Panama City, I also visited Futuro Forestal, a company that purchases pastureland and converts it to forest. The wood from the forest is harvested after 25 years, and sold. While this is not as good as a full forest, it still takes significant carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and is far better than ranch land. It also provides local jobs and makes a profit. You can also buy carbon credits through them as well.

    This part was hilly.
    First day of biking in Guatemala

       Stopping deforestation in poorer regions will require foreigners and locals to work together – with foreigners helping to provide financial incentives to protect the forests.

    Hurricanes, Climate Change, and Central America

    Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

       Since arriving in Central America, I have asked nearly every person I have stayed with about how hurricanes have affected their lives.

    Beach at Placencia

       In Belize, the majority of the population lives in coastal settlements that are barely above sea level. The town where I learned to SCUBA dive, Placencia, was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Iris in 1991. People with insurance or in the tourism industry have rebuilt. Others sold their land and moved. Down the road from Placencia is Sand Bite, a small town that does not receive tourism dollars. This town has not fully rebuilt from the storm.

       Hurricanes are likely to be stronger on a warmer earth. A recent study (here is a description) showed how an increase in the power of Atlantic hurricanes over the past 20 years is correlated with warmer ocean water in the Atlantic. This makes intuitive sense – hurricanes get their energy from warm ocean water, and warmer ocean water should mean more powerful hurricanes. More powerful hurricanes are also predicted by climate models. Furthermore, much of the damage done by hurricanes is not just by their winds, but by the rain that accompanies the storms. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water, and thus will likely provide heavier rains (read more on rains here).

       In 1998, a huge category 5 hurricane, Hurricane Mitch, tore through the Caribbean and then parked itself over Central America, affecting almost every country. Ten thousand people died, and over 100,000 were left homeless.

    Flood waters of Hurricane Mitch reached the third floor of this building
    There used to be houses all along this bank in Tegucigalpa.

       The storm hit Honduras the hardest. It destroyed some coastal communities and then dropped amazing amounts of rain. A security guard at the San Pedro Sula airport described water in his house up to his armpits. A family who I stayed with in the countryside told me that they lost all of their crops. I asked what they did that year, and they replied that they were hungry that year. In Tegucigalpa, the flooding reached the third floor of some buildings (such as the building on the left). According to my city guide Carleton, many of the houses on the hill sides washed away. He showed me a large section of bare earth (shown on the right) where there used to be houses.

    I camped in front of Cristina's house.
    Omar explains that all these new houses replaced those destroyed by Hurricane Mitch

       The destruction continued in the rest of Central America. In San Miguel, El Salvador, one man described a landslide that destroyed many homes. In Nicaragua, the family that I swam with on Good Friday invited me back to their house. Their house had been destroyed by Mitch, and rebuilt a year later by help from the government (photo left). Also in Nicaragua, I spent one night at the house of Cristina, who is shown on the right. Cristina explained that although no one in her community died, they lost all of their animals. “We ate a lot of rice and beans.”

       Mitch was so strong that its name has been retired – whereas most names for storms are reused after a few years, meteorologists will never again use the name Mitch. If current research is correct, though, we will see more storms like Mitch. And, the people who will suffer the most will be the people who I have met here in Central America – people who live in poorly constructed houses, who live on vulnerable slopes, or who rely on the food they grow to live.

       Based on these stories, it seems that the human toll of Hurricane Mitch was many times worse than any storm in the U.S. Again, this is because of how people live here – they have fewer resources to survive and recover from a storm. Yet, growing up in the U.S., for a long time I thought that hurricanes damaged only Florida and nearby states because that is what I heard about in the media. Somehow we need to expand our view to other countries, especially as our actions – emissions of greenhouse gasses – will make storms worse internationally.

    A Ride for the Climate in the Media

    Saturday, April 15th, 2006
    Two page spread in May 2006 issue of Bicycling Magazine

       If you pick up the most recent issue of Bicycling Magazine (the May issue), you will see a nice two page spread on rideforclimate (photo left). Other recent appearances include an interview on Honduran national television (‘Buenas Días Honduras’) and an upcomming article in the El Salvador national newspaper (El Diario del Hoy, on the 21st of this month). The Belize national television also covered rideforclimate. And, a month and a half ago, Univision television tracked me down (as well as my friends Gregg and Brooks), and recorded us biking around Chiapas, Mexico. (I learned that this actually made it to television when a man here in Managua stopped me and told me that he saw me on Univision.)
       While visiting schools is a more direct way to communicate, it is also satisfying that I am able to use this trip to get my message out to a larger audience.

    A week across El Salvador

    Friday, April 7th, 2006
    El Salvador

       Crossing the border from Honduras, I could immediately tell El Salvador is far less poor than Honduras (see comparison). I could buy any food that I wanted at the store (muffins and chocolate milk, in this case), and the pavement on the roads was well maintained.

       I spent two days in the small town of Guarjila, were I learned of the civil war. Between 1980 and 1992, the El Salvador government fought a violent war against a large part of the population that demanded more rights, particularly the right to own land. The U.S. government, fearing a ‘socialist takeover,’ spent billions of dollars supporting the El Salvadorian government, whose war tactics included the massacre of entire mountain villages. At least 75,000 people died. You can read more here.

    Delmy talks about her experience during the war

       The town of Guarjila was in the resistance during the war, and I heard a woman talk about her experience as a young medical assistant. She talked about performing amputations at the age of 16, as well as losing many of her family members. Her talk was for a group of visiting U.S. high school students, and it was translated to English as she spoke (photo left). Delmy, the woman, who had only finished 4th grade before the war began, returned to school at the war’s end and is now a doctor working in Guarjila.

    The Multiplaza - San Salvador's newest mall!
    Billboard advertising best way to get money sent from family working abroad (the U.S.)

       Since the war, the El Salvadorian economy has grown quickly, strangely fuelled by large amounts of money sent back from El Salvadorians working abroad, mostly in the U.S. Billboards along the road advertised the best way to send your ‘remesa’ money back to the country. In San Salvador, the capital, I biked to the Multiplaza, a lavish mall serving the country’s wealthy. To be sure, most people in El Salvador are still poor, and somehow, the mall made me feel very uncomfortable.

    Environmental club at the American School of San Salvador
    Students at Co Escolar Caserio near Perquin

       I talked at two schools in El Salvador. I talked to the environmental club at the American School, a private school in San Salvador, and also at Centro Escolar Caserio, a public school in the mountains.

       I left the country through the mountain town of Perquin, which saw some of the heaviest fighting of the war. I visited the civil war museum, which was in town, and saw large craters that were left from where 500 lb bombs had been dropped. My guide, who fought in the war, described what it was like when the bomb fell and everything within 150 meters was blown away.

    A 500lb bomb (not used), and a crater left by a 500lb bomb during the war, Perquin
    Crater from 500lb bomb at Perquin Mountain - site of some of the heaviest fighting of the war.
    'Short cut'

       A special thanks to John Guiliano, the students of Brebeuf, and the Tamarindos for making me welcome in the country of El Salvador. I spent two and a half days with this group in Guarjila (where the video of Demly was taken), and greatly enjoyed myself. And yes, here are the obligatory pictures of firemen – thanks to the firemen of Chalantenango and San Francisco Gotera for letting me stay with them.

    John, Brebeuf, and the Tamerindos
    Bomberos of Chalatenango
    Sleeping Bomberos of San Francisco Gotera - it is hot