Spirits were high as the lights of Cartegena faded into the night; motoring through the submarine wall erected to defy Drake and into the open Caribbean Sea. However, the atmosphere was quick to change as a swell picked up, the boat rocking and rolling like Elvis on a good night. We had a few concerned thoughts of Bertha strapped to the aft, but after almost 48 hours of open water, we anchored in paradise, Bertha firmly attached.
The same couldn't be said of poor Em, who disappeared below at the sight of the open sea, only to appear some 36 hours later, somewhat ashen! Fortunately she was in time to see a school of dolphins swim along side, seemingly guiding our passage.
Isla Hollandaise appeared to be picture postcard perfect as we woke the next morning, all passengers greatful for a good nights kip in calm waters. Swimming ashore we padded around the islands powder sand shores, pinching ourselves to remind us this was for real!
It's for you!
Sailing the short distance to Porvenir, capital of the San Blas Islands, we officially entered Panama, having our passports stamped before sailing on in search of yet another paradisical island. Not exactly difficult in these parts it would seem.
Anchoring in the bay of an island inhabited by the Kuna tribe, we had the pleasure of meeting a few of the local folks. With interesting customs - the women cut off their hair and wear large nose-rings upon marriage - the Kuna are the world's second smallest people, second only to the Pygmy tribe.
Beach volley ball
We could easily have stayed longer but the 'Seeadler' was anxious to get home. Sailing around Panama's most northerly point, we anchored at Puerto Lindo, our Caribbean adventure almost over. Almost, but not quite. We still had Bertha to get ashore, an adventure all in itself!
With no suitable pier to dock by, it was neccessary to lower the bike on the dinghy winch into a local skif. Sounds straight forward until you're in the skif guiding your pride and joy through mid air whilst attempting to maintain balance in a small fibreglass boat!
...hold it there...
A short trip ashore saw Bertha touch down in Central America, much to the help of several large Panamanians!
We'd had a great time; Guido had been a good captain, Leo the cook had fed us well and we, the crew, got along famously. It was a truly fabulous trip and one we can recommend heartily.
Arriving in Cental America we had only ten or so weeks left before flying home from Houston. It's really weird thinking about going home and not living this travelling life any longer. However, after almost two years on the road perhaps it's time for us to settle at home. Hame's been away fifteen years and I've been away ten, and we miss our family and friends greatly. It's definitely time to "touch base" (before the next adventure!) and live in our own country together - which we never have. I'm still enjoying the trip very much but I'm also aware that I'd like to stop while I am still enjoying it.
After a day's mission in Colon securing the bikes Panamanian temporary import permit, I enjoyed a bus ride back to Puerto Lindo in an ex-US school bus, a common sight throughout Central America.
Anticipating a quiet night, we met Jim and Heather, a Scots couple anchored in the bay. They've been 'on the water' 12 years now, sailing their way around the world. Puts our puny two year jaunt into perspective! Needless to say, the gathering of the clans ensued, lubricated substantially by the local Bilboa cerveza!
The next day we were back on the bike, making for Panama City and the famous Panama Canal. Stopping briefly in Portobelo, we checked out the ramparts the Spanish used to defend Drake and the likes from procuring the gold they in turn had procured from the indegenous peoples. What goes around, comes around I guess.
Friends from Malaysia days, Andrew and Kate, now lived in Panama and had kindly invited us to stay.
With Andrew & Kate
Kate provided a fantastic tour of the city, from the 500 year old ruins of Panama Viejo, site of the first European settlement along the Pacific, to Casco Antiguo, an attractive hotch-potch of restored and dilapatated colonial buildings. All this of course, in stark contrast to the sky scrapers of modern day Panama City.
They also provided us with our first Indian meal for many months, a treat indeed!
Taking Andrew & Kate's girls for a ride
Of course no trip to Panama would be complete without checking out the Panama Canal. Visiting the museum at Miraflores Locks we learnt of it's history, but we both reckoned the best bit was watching the big boats go by!
With the clock ticking, we bit farewell to Andrew, Kate and family and headed towards Costa Rica. Opting to cross the border on the northern, Caribbean coast, we enjoyed a great ride over the misty Cordillera Central, before dropping back down to steamy plains.
I'd forgotten (omitted) to tell Em of the ramshackle bridges I'd heard we'd have to cross at the Guabito - Sixaola border. It was therefore somewhat of a scary surprise to her as we crossed the first bridge!
Just before the border we rode across a really rickety bridge. I was terrified so I held the camera and looked at the back of Hame's helmet and concentrated on not moving and pretending I was a piece of luggage. A wobble would have seen us falling through one of the gaps at the sides. The resulting video's good though, check it out on our YouTube page. (Em)
Mind that hole!
The border was small and busy, with huge queues. Two hours later we were just about through but we had to wait for the lorries to pass, as the bridge over the river into Costa Rica was not wide enough for more than one vehicle at a time. To me, it looked worse than the first one so I elected to walk and take pictures. Hame's face was a picture as he passed, full on concentration to make sure he didn't wobble off the planks. One of the holes was definitely bike-sized and there seemed to be far too many crucial planks missing.
Fortunately, there were no queues on the Costa Rican side of the border, although I did have to wake up the aduana (customs) officer to process the bike temporary import documents. He wasn't exactly happy about it either!
Our first impression of Costa Rica was bananas! Riding past banana plantations the size of towns, we arrived in Cahuita, a tranquil seaside village on the Carribean where we chilled out for a couple of days swimming in the warm sea and getting battered by waves. We even managed to score a huge apartment for what we'd normally pay for a room within spitting distance of the sea. Excellent!
For the first time in 18 months we noticed a lot of the locals speaking English and not the more familiar Spanish. Apparently, a substantial proportion of the locals in this area were decendants of Black English-speaking workers who arrived in the 19th century to build railways and harvest bananas.
Next stop was the capital, San Jose, in search of new tyres. After fruitless attepts in Panama City, I hoped San Jose would provide better luck. Fortunately, I wasn't to be disappointed, I even had options! Surprisingly, BMW provided the cheapest option, so off I trotted to secure a new pair of Metzeler Tourances, where I met Aussie rider, Margaret (aka Beemer Bird) doing exactly the same thing.
Beemer Bird & Em
Over a cup of tea she explained she was heading to Alaska via all 48 US states by June! She certainly made us feel a little more comfortable about reaching our Houston goal!
As she headed off for another country, we enjoyed a somewhat shorter, but nonetheless, great ride to La Fortuna, a relative hop, skip and a jump up the road. Situated by Volcan Arenal, an active volcano, we were keen to see it in action.
To La Fortuna
Splashing out on a room with a view, we sat down on our balcony to watch the show. Hesitant the incoming clouds would blind any action, we soon experienced a orange glow. Then suddenly we watched orange explosions of lava flying out from the crater with a huge BANG before tumbling down its sides - it was utterly spectacular!
Waiting for the show
Welsh bikers Rik and Rob, who we'd met briefly in Panama City, had told us about a great beach camping spot on the Nicoya Peninsula. So the following day we set off for Samara and the beaches of the Pacific coast.
Cordillera de Tilaran
After a great ride winding around Laguna de Arenal and over the Cordillera de Tilaran, we pitched camp overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific. Not too bad!
Not exactly Benidorm, is it?
We spent a fun day boogie boarding and swimming before regretfully saying farewell to yet another excellent campsite. It would have been so easy to stay but time was ticking on...Nicaragua beckoned.
Adios Costa Rica
(Hame & Em)
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