Volcans and Amigos
The Costa Rica - Nicaragua border crossing was pretty easy and straightforward. Hame stood in queues and attempted to find the right windows while I watched our gear and chatted to people. Some more sociable than others, I had to fend off a cheeky local boy who had his eyes on my pockets.
Isla de Ometepe
We'd opted to visit Isla de Ometepe, in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. As it was too late to catch the last ferry from San Jorge, we checked into the imaginatively named Hotel California (you could check out any time you liked, but you could never leave). By patriotic coincidence we were given Room Great Britain - each room having a different flag above the door.
In the morning we caught the ferry across choppy waters to Isla de Ometepe. Formed by two volcanoes at either end of the island; Volcan Concepcion and Volcan Maderas are connected by an isthmus to form one dramatic island. Volcan Concepcion is still active, whilst dormant Volcan Maderas apparently provides home to a beautiful crater lake. Mind you, we didn't get that far to find out!
Riding onto the island we headed for the coast to look for a good spot to stay. Suddenly another GS appeared!
Alex and Michelle, from Germany / Australia, were on a five month trip around North and Central America. We decided to look for a place together and headed to Santo Domingo on the other side of the island.
Hangin' out with Alex and Michelle
Staying for a couple of days, we chilled out by the lake with Alex and Michelle, swapping useful info and just generally taking it easy. Unfortunately however, one night our mascot frog, Weegie, who'd joined us back in Perth, Australia, was frog-napped! A sad moment indeed.
After bidding farewell to our new found friends, it was back to the mainland and on to Granada, a pleasent and colourful, but bloody hot, colonial town.
Hotel Don Alfredo
It was here in Granada where we celebrated being on the road for two years, among other things. We bumped into Swiss Lukas whom we'd met on the yacht from Colombia to Panama, who joined us in celebration.
Through the HUBB, we'd made contact with Salvador of Salkar Motos, who kindly opens up his home in the capital, Managua, to travelling bikers. Salvador recommended checking out Laguna de Apoya, a spectacular crater lake, and Volcan Masaya along the way. We weren't to be disappointed.
Laguna de Apoya
Smoking Volcan Masaya
Quick get away car park instruction at Volcan Masaya!
Upon arriving at Salvador's, we recognised his F650 Dakar outside and realised we'd met before; on Ruta 3 in Argentina, back in December 2006! Catching up on what had happened since then, Salvador explained he was about to embark on a month long trip cicumnavigating Nicaragua by bike; a modest Yamaha DT175. Perfect for pulling out of sand and loading onto trucks.
The first trip of its kind, and no mean feat when you consider the remoteness of the Caribbean coast, Salvador had experienced some fame in the local press. With a view to open up such routes to medical NGO's and tourists alike, it'll be interesting to see how his exloratory trip develops.
Maintenance at Salkar Motos
Planning to stay only the one night, we recieved news that Dave, whom we'd met on our last night in Medellin, was expected to arrive the following day. With a few jobs to do on the bike and Salvador's hospitality, it wasn't a hard decision to stay another day and catch up with Dave.
Dave, Hame and Salvador
Departing with the inevatable hangover and plans to meet Dave further up the track, we bid farewell to Salvador and headed for Esteli.
With Jane and Zaira
Jane, a family friend we'd not previously met, ran the recommended Luna Hostal and Cafe Luz there. After negotiating Bertha into the hostal courtyard, we sat down to enjoy a delicious meal and chat with Jane. Involved with the local reserve, Miraflor, Jane who previously worked as a volunteer, now contributes profits to aid development.
Needless to say, we got along famously so stayed another day! Or was it the Marmite that Jane supplied that made Em refuse to budge?
Cigar factory - Esteli
Moto repuestos (spare parts) shop - Esteli
Speaking with both Salvador and Jane, we got a real feeling that Nicaragua was undergoing change. After years of political unrest, we hoped that change was for the better.
We set off for Honduras with anticipation; the border crossing was supposedly notoriously time consuming and officious. So much so, it was sometimes easier to employ a local "runner" to guide you through such procedures.
Maybe because it was a Sunday, or the particular border of Las Manos, but we fortunately found it to be no worse than any other Central American border crossing. Em sat and dozed with an old man while I did the paperwork. There's only one person who can do each job, and if that person happens to be at lunch...you might as well join him! Thoughtfully Jane had provided us with a packed lunch.
Em takes it easy with the locals...
...whilst Bertha takes a breather
Honduras was, like Nicaragua, dry and ready for rain. With the rainy season imminant, we sped north towards Lago de Yojoa, experiencing several forest fires raging on the nearby hillsides.
Our out of date guide book detailed a hostal cum micro-brewery by the lake shore. Surely this was too good an opportunity to miss? Reaching the lake as the sun set akin to a red ball falling from the sky, we circumnavigated the lake in search of the holy grail. All to no avail.
The leaning hostal of Lago de Yojoa
In the end we opted for a "has seen better days" hostal at the south end of the lake which was sinking so much at one end, we had to walk uphill from the bathroom to the bed! However, come the morning the views across the lake and the incredibly musical dawn chorus made up for the sinking room - another twitchers' paradise.
Roadside firework shop
Riding through the beautiful Cordillera de Celaque, we arrived in Gracias, a small colonial town seemingly stuck in time.
Cordillera de Celaque
Traversing the river stone cobbled streets the locals looked on as if we were aliens aboard Starship Bertha; decked out in our riding gear as if we were attending a Startrek convention.
After a couple of enjoyable nights, we transported ourselves out of Gracias and made for nearby Copan Ruinas, home to the World Heritage Site Mayan ruins of Copan.
Unlike some of the ruins we've visited, we were surprised how few tourists were present. Maybe they all came in the morning? Whatever, it made for an enjoyable visit, the peaceful surrounds only being interrupted occasionally by a screeching, colourful Macaw.
The ruins themselves are comprised of temples, pyramids and beautifully carved stelae, set peacefully in a lush valley. The Mayan Kings - with wonderful names like '18 Rabbit' and 'Smoke Monkey' - each constructed different parts of the city. Often, temples were built on top of each other and many tunnels have been discovered snaking underneath the ruins.
Em checks it out
However, I particularly enjoyed the Juego de Pelota (Ball Court), where reputedly, macho Mayans would play for honour; the winner (or loser, we couldn't determine) being sacfificed to the Gods.
Just when we were thinking we'd missed Dave, who should knock on our door? Yet another top tip from Welsh bikers, Rik and Rob, saw us all chowing down on a roast dinner at the British run "Twisted Tanya's". Later on Dave and I continued on a British theme, drinking Tanya out of her Boddington's supply. Oh well.
Crossing easily into Guatemala with Dave the following morning, Em and I faced a dilemma - and not for the first time on this trip. Should we head north and visit Belize and then Tikal, which we wanted to see, or conserve time by giving them a miss and making straight for Antigua?
Up until reaching Central America we appeared to have all the time in the world, now the clock was ticking. Call it bad planning if you will, but we weren't accustomed to making time related decisions.
The debate continued as far as Chiquimula, where we stopped for a drink. It was at this point that Em noticed a substantial bulge in the sidewall of Dave's rear tyre. Fortunately, (there's always a silver lining), a nearby tyre repair shop was able to patch the problem and install a tube for good measure. All as Em advised of course!
"Dave, is that a bulge in your....eh, tyre?"
With a mere 30 k's until we reached the junction, a decision had to be made. Would we turn right and north east to Belize, or left and south west to Antigua? For once we opted for the sensible option, giving ourselves more time to enjoy Mexico and reach Houston by sadly giving Belize a miss.
As experience has taught us though, you don't neccessarily miss something out by making such a decision, you simply experience something else. Which, as it would transpire, was true. We had a great few days with Dave, an easy-going Welshman, whom I'm sure we'll remain friends with in years to come.
Riding together through Guatemala City, it wasn't long before we entered the cobbled colonial streets of Antigua just before dark. The usual search for a hostal con parking ensued; local hotellier Jorge saving the day by providing a suitable solution. Moving his desk to one side in the foyer / cum mobile phone shop, we rode through to park safely. It transpired fellow bike travellers, Martin and Katja, whom we'd met in Ushuaia had stayed here some two months previous. We were obviously lagging behind.
Dave had been conducting some research prior to arriving in Guatemala, announcing that a smooth, dark ale was available locally. A chance not be missed, we set off in search of such a brew and were not disappointed by the delicious 'Moza'. Em shook her head in despair.
With Dave off to secure a new tyre in Guatemala City, Em and I wondered the town, enjoying the colourful buildings and colonial architecture.
Antigua Coke protector
Attractive as it was, Antigua was still a town, a town full of people. We sought somewhere quieter, so made for Lago de Atitlan, a caldera (collapsed volcanic cone) surrounded by three dominant volcanos. One of which we planned to climb.
With Em navigating us around the south of the lake, we enjoyed some fantastic winding roads, both through coffee plantations and pine trees.
Dave comes by on the dirt
Arriving in the small town of San Pedro La Laguna, we quickly found a place to stay, only to find we shared the hotel with a group of evangelists gathered for a wedding! Fearful our sleep would be sacrificed prior to our 5:30am ascent on Volcan San Pedro, we got to bed early. As it turned out, we needn't have worried about the evangelists, only the wailing baby next door!
San Pedro La Laguna
Dave and I enjoyed a brisk climb with guide Vincente up to the summit of Volcan San Pedro at 3020m. Unfortuantely it was overcast, therefore no view was to be had, but at the same time, made for a cooler climb. Em opted to look after base camp. Quite how she did this with her eyes closed and sound asleep, I'll never know!
What view? Volcan San Pedro - 3020m
The action didn't stop there. After lunch, we reunited with Em and hired a couple of kayaks for a paddle on the lake. Sleep came easily that night!
We woke to clear blue skies, perfect conditions for our ride into Mexico. Leaving behind the pristine waters of Lago de Atitlan, we wound our way through some spectacular scenery; the rolling hills and pine forests not dissimilar to parts of Europe.
Which way Dave?
By lunchtime we'd reached La Mesilla and the Mexican border. Time to say goodbye to Central America. Although it's been a fairly brief encounter, it's one we've enjoyed tremendously and an area we'd like to return to one day.
(Hame & Em)
Em's pics of the month:
Posted by Emma Myatt at 11:44 PM
Paradise, Canals & Volcanos!
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)
Takin' it easy
Posted by Hamish Oag at 12:01 AM