We stayed with Norman in David, (David being a town in Costa Rica) (Norman being an ex-pat biker from the UK), for a couple of days. Bike sprockets were collected and changed and a box full of our ‘South American stuff’ was posted back home – we won’t be needing that any more!
Our time with Norman was leisurely, taken in by his (early / semi) retirement plan of chilling during the day and eating and drinking during the evening, punctuated only by the antics of a mischievous white-face monkey who terrorised the open-style house when he thought, a) no one was looking, or b) visitors were looking but not Norman. The latter explanation being that the cheeky monkey found great enjoyment in meeting new people, laughing at us, pulling our hair and generally prancing about in a game known only to himself, but then made a frantic dash for it like a scolded puppy as soon as Norman was heard coming up the stairs. This pest of a monkey had a penchant for pulling keys off keyboards, buttons off remote controls, and anything else which would make the simple use of electronic equipment completely impossible.
Leaving David, (still the town, not a person!), we made our way up and over the mountains to the Caribbean coast and the Costa Rican border. I suppose the pass over the mountains would have been quite beautiful, had we been able to see it. Unfortunately fair weather was not on our side that day and we crawled along at what seemed like five miles an hour, (Nooo, I’m sure it was about seven or eight at least!), trying to ascertain whether that was indeed a corner or just something in the middle of the road. Either way, quick progress did not ensue until we were out of the clouds and back down into the lush green lowlands of the Banana Republic plantations.
We thought it had been pretty wet in Panama, but almost as soon as we crossed the border into Costa Rica, the heavens opened on cue, and we found ourselves boiling-in-a-bag inside our waterproofs at temperatures widely associated with the Caribbean. i.e. HOT! Nevermind the rain, at least were used to that, just not the goddamn heat! After only one wet and stormy night on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, we decided we would make a dash for it and see whether the Pacific was any better. Knowing we had an eight hour ride ahead of us, up and over the mountains again, we set the alarm for stupid-O’Clock in the morning and set off in the, at that time, mildly damp air, which within half an hour had turned into torrential rain once again!
Pretty much eight hours later we thankfully arrived on the Pacific coast after a really gruelling, exhausting, wet and cold coast-to-coast ride. The complete lack of photographs that day is testament to the misery of the day, not to mention a minor hysterical outburst of tears from Big C. and near hypothermia while buried deep in cloud. Where ice cubes has started forming inside our boots, encasing our toes, where previously puddles of water had sat, originating from leaking boots. I (Chloe!) must write to Gaerne, the proud makers of aforementioned ‘waterproof’ boots. They may be interested in the potential for frostbite or indeed gangrene from perpetual soggy feet. However, all the above trauma over, we did eventually find ourselves on the less-wet Pacific coast which, contrary to our previous beliefs, was much more tropical, with sun, white sand and coconuts!
Finding an absolutely beautiful place to stay in Matapalo, the owner, Charlie, helped us out on our budget and we found ourselves relaxing and drying out in a 5-star suite surrounded by trees, (and more monkeys!), only a stone’s throw away from the deserted tropical beach. (www.junglehouse.com) A hard day definitely deserves its just rewards in the end!
A good night’s rest had, we then made our way leisurely to the Capital of Costa Rica, San Jose. The ride was a pleasant one with blue skies and warmth. Perhaps a bit too much of the latter! We took in some quaint village-green style communities, rampant crocodiles with their prehistoric lumps and bumps, and another beach or two before finally succumbing to the big city once more, this time for the sole purpose of giving the bikes a special seeing too at BMW.
While waiting for the bikes, we explored the Capital. Not much captivated the eye apart from the stunning and elaborate Teatre Royal, completed in the late 19th century, decorated with Italian Marble, Italian painted frescos, French ironwork, French doors and French mirrors, finished off with Costa Rican gold leaf. A wonderful faux pas made on the most important work of art in the theatre, (the main ceiling canvas of the grand staircase), which has become famous and was even printed onto a 5Colones note. The scene depicts colonists and locals trading produce on the harbour where waiting ships are ready to take the goods back to Europe. Unfortunately, the Italian painter having never been to Costa Rica, painted the local indigenous people wearing western-peasants clothing, their facial features a strange distortion of European features, and there’s a local man holding a bunch of bananas upside down! A great joke for the local Costa Ricans, or indeed anyone who has ever seen a bunch of bananas before!
In order to satisfy our cultural quota, we booked ourselves in for a performance the next day – a storytelling comical act, in Spanish, which of course we couldn’t understand, but felt we got our money’s worth from the hordes of school children below who were vocal enough in their enjoyment to make anyone relish the scene!
In stark contrast to the opulent theatre and the strange mix of classical-Georgian with homely Arts & Crafts styling of the Cathedral, the majority of the city is ‘new’ with some 20th century concrete modernist-designs that Corbusier would be proud of, and others verging on communist-eastern-block egotism. Here, Chris got particularly excited by a transformer-esk building that seemed to change shape every time we moved. The sheer scale and brutalist mass reminded us that no such moves were possible, but Chris still had to take enough photographs to capture it in each of its guises before we left downtown San Jose to pick up our bikes!
Bikes (sort of) fixed, we headed on our way north. The fact that Chloe’s bike is still having problems starting despite BMW’s assurances that all was good is mildly frustrating, but hey, if they can’t fix it, who can?! …. computer says NO. Sod the computer, I just want a bike that doesn’t say no! …. Well apparently we can’t ‘sod the computer’ because we have BMWs!
So, on our way north to the Nicaraguan border, we decided to take a short stop of a couple of days in the rainforests of Monteverde, in the little village of Santa Elena. Not particularly an indigenous village, more of a tourist trap for those who want to go exploring the lush greenness and/or go and experience life at tree top level, which is what we, (namely Chloe), wanted to do! Had Chris’s blood-curdling screams not echoed across the forest, I’m sure Chloe would have taken that Tarzan free-fall-swing in her stride. As it was, the sheer fear instilled in her after hearing said peels from Chris, she decided she would give it a miss…. My, my, she must be getting old…!
After that bit of touristy-fun, it was time to hot-step it to the Nicaraguan border. After all, the extortionate price of food and general living in Costa Rica was burning serious holes in our pockets, so the sooner we were out, the better. A volcano here, a racoon (or something similar without stripy tail), there, before we knew it we were facing an almost disregarded border crossing at the eastern end of Lake Nicaragua.
We had been asking everyone in our path whether the water crossing was suitable for bikes, or more accurately, whether the boat could take our bikes. 98% of the people we asked said no… but that didn’t deter us, no! Having dealt with the boat fiasco with Belgian Pete in Peru, (https://ccgadventures.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/12-sept-2012-goodbye-peru/), we could do anything! If they had a little rowing boat we’d be able to make us of it! So we arrived, made our enquiries, and after a few hours of negotiations and waiting around for Aduana to sign us out, we found ourselves rolling the bikes onto the prow of a pretty stable, decent sized boat.
Down the river we sailed, until we reached the border, at which point Nicaraguan Military boarded the boat to check in our bags and make sure we were all Kosher. Given the go-ahead, we carried on our pleasant way down stream to where the vast Lago Nicaragua was waiting for us. And there, San Carlos, our destination town, perched on the shores of the lake, at the juncture of the Rio San Juan. Also there waiting for us was a substantial team of officials who insisted on emptying everything from our boxes and bags, removing parts of the bike and generally causing havoc in a valid attempt to find some drugs buried in some secret compartment. They even insisted on inspecting the fuel tank, sticking their finger into the liquid and tasting it to make sure it was petrol! I’m not sure what kind of drug can be transported as a liquid and can at the same time turn over an engine, but it seems there must be one!
The quaint small border town of San Carlos didn’t was just that. After an early morning stroll, we left the next morning for Granada, a colonial town on the opposite side of the lake. The ride was peaceful and relaxing, passing green farmland and enough cows to feed the entire planet, most of which were on the road.
We found Granada to be a blissful town of relaxed atmosphere, friendly people and colourful buildings. An old colonial town with its history still very evident and standing proud, Granada is being restored faithfully, attracting more and more investors and tourists, but still, (at the moment), pleasantly low key.
Without wanting to tire of too much of a good thing, we left Granada on a high, on a bright and sunny, and far too hot, Sunday morning for a nice Sunday ride northwards. Also not wanting to exhaust ourselves and our good humour on another capital city, we by-passed Managua, taking a protracted route through small little towns and villages to the coast for a well-timed fresh fish lunch. Passing through the little villages, we came across Nicaraguan Sunday drivers, crawling along surveying the wares on the bring-and-buy tables at the side of the road and the sweetie jars for sale in front of colourful house fronts. How quaint! A good bit of dirt road excited the senses just before lunch, enabling us to feel like we had really earnt our bread!
A few hugely large potholes, and expanses of missing road later, we rolled into Leon, the former capital and still gritty colonial town hosting the largest cathedral in Central America. If anyone ever says we, in the UK, have bad roads, be quiet now!!
Arriving in Leon after our leisurely Sunday ride, we had only just started hostel hunting when we came across Phil on a Suzuki V-Strom sprayed yellow. Together we decided that the hostel right in front of our noses looked good, so piled on in. Riding the bikes through the bar grabbed a bit of attention, but all we were thinking of was a cold shower, (too hot, again!), and a nice cold beer!
Settled into our little abode, we got accustomed with the local wildlife of hummingbirds, some hooters that sound like wood pigeons, (although I’m sure they’re something more exotic), and a friendly miniature tortoise. Venturing outside the hostel, we walked our way around the centre in a matter of a couple of hours, taking in the markets, the Cathedral and quiet back streets. This is certainly a gritty city. Much more raw than Granada, and much more bustling. Chris increased our lucky points by buying some workers some water to help quench their thirst while working under the blazing sun. We couldn’t even bear to venture out of the shade for more than 30 seconds, nevermind work out there, all day, with absolutely no shade.
Within a couple of hours we had to take sanctuary. Without sounding greatful, the heat was too much, so we opted for an afternoon showing of ‘Skyfall’ in the local cinema, thankfully in English, the poor Nicaraguans having to make do with subtitles.
Nicaragua is certainly a country where the gap between what is perceived, and what is actually the reality, is the most profound. Rather than a war torn, tragic country, supposedly sympathetic to communism, we have found a country who has dealt with its nemesis, has staggered up from the battlefield, and is now somehow maintaining an air of positivity. It is plodding in the right direction, improving public services, improving people’s lives, and against all odds is one of the most friendly and welcoming countries we have visited.
Being only half a day’s ride from the border of Honduras, we accepted that apart from ‘touristy group activities’, (which would mean mixing with other people, God forbid!!), there was not much else to keep us. So deciding one morning that that was it, we packed up and took a leisurely ride northwards, through the volcano valley, and up towards Honduras. After four hours at he border, we crashed out at 8.30pm, absolutely shattered. It would have been nice if we’d been able to sleep, but the barely contained rooms meant we had to enjoy the sounds of the other (loud) residents until midnight. Hmmmm, welcome to Honduras!
New merino wool t-shirts! Chloe 3 v 2 Chris
Near collapse at expense of face creams Chloe 0 v 1 Chris
Uncontrollable tears due to near hypothermia Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Chickened out of Tarzan 35m free-fall swing Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Scared of the dark Chloe 0 v 2 Chris