Part Thirty – Costa Rica & Panama

22nd March (St Jorge – Border – Liberia) (117km)

23rd March (Liberia – Caldera) (80km)

24th March (Caldera – Jaco) (58km)

25th March (Jaco)

26th March (Jaco – Dominical) (105km)

27th March (Dominical – Charcarita) (100km)

28th March (Charcarita – Border – David) (108km)

As you can see from the above, I zipped through Costa Rica with only a few brief pit stops at beaches along the Pacific coast. Strong cross winds in north Costa Rica near the city of Liberia and an ugly or non-existent road shoulder made for difficult and dangerous riding so as soon as possible I turned south off the Pan-Am for the ocean road that was a dream by comparison. After stops at Jaco; a very touristed resort town and Dominical; laid back surfing village, I made easily kilometers and crossed the last central American border of the trip into Panama.

29th March (David – Las Lajas) (73km)

30th March (Las Lajas – Santiago) (118km)

1st April (Santiago – Penonome) (100km)

2nd April (Penonome – Chorrera) (111km)

Panama in the main is a tatty version of a place just slightly less tatty. On the positive side, for the cyclist at least, the main highway is comfortable, the wide shoulder making for safe and comfortable riding. The towns, however, along the Pan-American are sadly devoid of any redeeming feature whatsoever. With municipal art fashioned on soviet concrete recycling projects and streets thrown together with scant regard for anything but the basest function, the cities of David and Santiago just make you sad. To say the cities of David and Santiago a disheveled implies that they were ‘sheveled’ at some point in the past, which is highly doubtful. The concrete looks pre-stained and the plumes of rusty reinforcing steel rod look as if they have always been that way.  The guidebook tries to paint David as having a “lovely central square”. Balls! Charming cafes and patisseries are cleverly disguised as bulk outlets for plastic things. I search and eventually find another Pio Pio (rubber greasy fried chicken).

Met Erik the touring cyclist heading north along the Pan-Am

If the world sits on the city of ‘David’ then regrettably ‘Santiago’ is what comes out of David. There are no hotels in the centre of Santiago as no one but foolish touring cyclists who couldn’t make it to somewhere nice could be bothered stopping there. The centre is plagued by young guys blasting unrelenting waves of distortion from their ‘pimped’ little shit box cars. Surrounding venues devoid of any clientele blast similarly distorted  accordion music into the night creating a cacophony of Bad. Chorrera is another truck stop town that functions to dampen the spirits again but provides another $15 hotel room with soothing cold shower sans shower head yet again.

3rd April (Chorrera – Colon) (93km)

4th April (Colon – Portobelo) (45km)

Brightly coloured buses in Panama

It is on the Caribbean coast of Panama where you can find some towns with real character. Colón and Portobelo are oozing the stuff from every decaying brick of their neglected beings. In order to board the boat to Colombia, I ride north east, crossing the Panama Canal north of Panama City and then spend a rainy afternoon pedaling to the coastal free port city of Colón.

Crossing the Panama Canal

The guidebook describes Colón as a “dangerous slum” but I think that’s inaccurate. There are parts that are industrial waste swamp as well. The colonial buildings in the centre of town are in various stages of collapse. It is painfully apparent that near the centre of town one false turn into an ill chosen side street would definitely see you relieved of your wallet or worse. This is the only city I have encountered so far on this trip that I’ve felt a palpable sense of immediate threat. My one brief nocturnal outing of a mere 100 metres around the corner from my hotel for a pizza was enough to convince that there was definite ill will and opportunism lurking all around. A glance down a street reveals pure post-apocalyptic movie set (refer photo).

However, the place has character and that’s to be applauded in any town. The people are obviously set upon by the crime situation but they hang out on the street and are friendly and talkative – some sort of comradery in adversity. They mingle seamlessly with those who have apparently become completely unhinged somewhere along the line, wondering about aimlessly, one with a colostomy bag hanging out, another at a bus stop with trousers around his ankles. This place deserves a song and by god it shall have one: ‘If ever you’re passing through Colón’.

Something wrong about this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If ever you’re passing through Colón

Don’t get stuck too long

Watch out for the crud and the muck there

And try to ignore the pong

 

If ever you’re passing through Colón

Don’t linger there too long

Give a wallet or a finger or two

And be glad that it wasn’t your schlong

 

I ride out of Colón the next day east along the coast with a mere 45km to get to Portobelo and the waiting catamaran that will take me to the north coast of Colombia. The Darian Gap in the south of Panama is impassable due to the lack of road and the tenuous security situation there so a boat ride North-East to the north coast of Colombia is the best option (and keeps the ‘every km south’ travel by bike intact).

The short ride to Portobelo should have been an easy cruise along the flat winding coastal road but as is so often the case, the short rides throw up challenges to frustrate your correspondent. This time it is the turn of my $6 rear tire that after 3,000km is now threadbare and is deflating or just puncturing every 10km or so. Three repairs later and I’m in Portobelo which is a cracker of a little town. The brightly painted shacks are thrown up higgledy-piggledy over the ruined Spanish fortifications and a few of the administrative buildings remain sporting coats of mildew and agricultural gutters. The locals are a laid back bunch and the local campanologist even gives the church chimes a bit of Caribbean percussive flavour. If the boat wasn’t leaving tomorrow this would have been a good place to linger and soak up the relaxed atmosphere for a while.

Portobelo buildings
Portobelo Spanish port ruins

So be it, stocked up with beer and rum for the boat ride I begin the nautical part of the trip and begin what will be two weeks off the bike including some time in Cartagena.

Part Twenty Nine – Nicaragua

16th March (Ocotal – Esteli) (90km)

The vibe has changed in Nicaragua and things are a lot more relaxed than in southern Honduras where the interactions with the road-side lads [under-employed, under-educated, under-mannered and under-IQed] were starting to get a tad tedious. The roadside stalls now seem to focus on rocking chairs and hammocks which is indicative of the seemingly more relaxed attitude of the local Nicaraguan folk.

Road Tribute to Cyclist
Shop Fronts in Granada

17th March (Esteli) (0km)

The Luna Café is replete with lovely coffee, beer, chocolate, overpriced food and enthusiastic gringo volunteers and backpackers all toting their little kit bags of inspirational anecdotes of empowerment and participation. Bless their cotton socks for working so assiduously to stack their CVs with credit for pending college applications. I resist temptation to be visibly ill. A café here actually has an ‘Italian’ lasagna which is well worth eating so am hanging around for the day to eat these at regular intervals. Sucking back real coffee and doing what all the other gringos in this town appear to be doing – looking at their laptops and checking facebook.

Civic Monument - What were they thinking?

18th March (Esteli – Tipitapa) (130km)

Big ride down to the lowland lakes. Into the afternoon the wind from the east picks up making the going pretty tough. Legs are well and truly toasted by Tipitapa, a rough and ready little market town short of Granada, full of taxis and buses blasting their horns for sport.

Basket on Head

19th March (Tipitapa – Granada) (42km)

20th March (Granada) ‘Bird Shits on Head’

Back in the land of the USA Retirees sitting around in cafes waffling on about what didn’t happen yesterday and seemingly waiting to die. O’Shea’s Irish Pub in Granada is a godsend with great battered fish & chips and Guinness. I have  news which I was reluctant to share on this blog, knowing the sensitivities of my readership. However, in line with the policy of giving all aspects of this trip, I will share. A bird shat on my head today. Yes there I was sitting in the park having a nice juice just minding my own business, when a great dollop of bird turd lobbed onto my freshly shaved head (number two-ed twice!). I understand that in some cultures this is considered good luck. Sadly I do not belong to any of these cultures. First a frickin’ steam roller runs me over then a bird craps on my head. I am indeed a man more sinned against than sinning.

HORSES IN GRANADA
Bikes in St Jorge
Volcano across Lago de Nicaragua

21st March (Granada – St Jorge) (70km)

22nd March (St Jorge – Border –  Liberia) (117km)

Part Twenty Eight – Honduras to Nicaragua

7th March (Tela – La Ceiba) (100km + 15km)

Cat for Dinner

Tela is a grotty coastal town that really has nothing to recommend it. On a rainy day when you are not feeling too good, it has even less. The next day I had a lovely cruise across the flat countryside to La Ceiba and then having over shot the centro I  went for the ferry terminal only to miss the Atla Island ferry by a matter of minutes. Decided that it would be easier to board the ferry to another island (Roatan) rather than head back into town and wait until the next morning. Tonight therefore finds your correspondent in West End, diving central for the Bay Islands. Expensive little tourist locale with an odd collection of US and Canadian refugees and Caribbeans.

8th – 9th March (Isle of Roatan)

Roatan Island Honduras

10th March (Isle of Roatan – South of La Ceiba) (15km+15km)

Thankfully back on the mainland heading south into the jungle. Omega Trekking is a pleasant little trekking company nestled up in the jungle verge of the national park. Sonny and the guys (mostly from NZ are very hospitable.

11th March (Omega Lodge south of La Ceiba – Olanchito) (60km)

Big ride today up through a national park on dirt road and then merely track to the mountain pass at 1,000 metres then careening down the track on the other side. A bit of pushing near the top on single track and a lot of effort for the 60km but worth it in terms of the beautiful scenery and cutting off a big detour of the main road which loops east then south.

12th March (Olanchito – La Union) (100km)

A pretty good dirt road with no traffic through a remote valley up to 1,100 metres. Big rise up through a beautiful valley next to a pretty river looping up to 1,100 metres twice more then cascading along the undulating corrugated dirt through the afternoon. La Union is a grubby dark sewer of a town. The fat slags at the L150 ($8) hotel have seemingly at some time used the mattress in my room and crushed the life out of it so it sadly sags.

13th March (La Union – Campamento) (85km)

Rolling up and down across the pretty countryside on rutted dirt roads again today. Small rises and falls takes the energy after a while as 50 metre climbs and rolls sap the spirit. L100 ($5.50) for a room has to be one of the cheapest rooms around. 66km of dirt and a puncture then out onto the main road and thankfully some tar then 20km to the pleasant town of Campamento.

North Coast Honduras

14th March (Campamento – El Higarito) (110km)

Today was a pretty good ride…aside from the fact that I got run over by a steam roller. Yes dear reader, your long suffering correspondent was minding his own business waiting at a road construction delay when a steam roller driver decided to reverse without looking towards the queue of waiting traffic and then just kept on coming. At the very last minute before being crushed I lept out of the way dragging the bike with me but not in time to prevent the wheel of the roller from backing over the rear wheel of the bike and leaving me splayed in the dirt next to the roller. Amazingly the rear axle popped out of the frame when the roller went over it taking the pressure out and the dirt must have given a bit of cushioning because the wheel survived the ordeal mostly unscathed. The stream of invective rained down upon the driver has not been heard since the Las Pinos Hotel in Mexico. A scrum of road workers formed and against all expectations the bulk of the driver’s co-workers seemed to agree with my repeated assertion that the roller driver was in fact an “idiota, El stupido fuckin’ puta mother-fucker”. One even suggested [through a fist pounding gesture] that I should punch him in his stupid head.

As it turns out there would appear to be precious little, if anything that can harm the Co-motion/Buff3y combination. We have tested the bike by running it over with a frickin’ steam roller and even that could not stop it nor me.

On the track south of El Ceibo

15th March (El Higarito – Ocotal) (90km)

Another big climbing day but on tarmac at least after the last four days of dirt. The formalities crossing into Nicaragua archived without any problem and a roll down into the rough and ready border town of Ocotal.

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Part Twenty Seven – Eastern Guatemala into Northern Honduras

Flores Guatemala - In the drink with you

Well buff3ysbicyclingblog is now one of the fastest growing bicycle blogs out there thanks to you dear reader so we are increasing the content:

– Double the size of all cash prizes

– Even more pictures of me and my bike

– New songs with even more ridiculous lyrics.

28th February (Flores) 

After having toured the Tikal ruins am spending the day in Flores to soak up the ambiance of this lovely [if not very heavily touristed] little island. Great to have internet cafes and expensive gringo food and  beer and loads of backpackers some of whom are sporting hippie regalia. The gringo hippies are really out in force and therefore I have been struck with inspiration for another song for the American Songbook. Therefore in honour of  the gringo hippies of Guatemala I have penned a little blues number (see below).

Mayan Ladies with ice-cream in Flores

29th February (Flores – Poptun) (105km)

1st March (Poptun- Rio Dulce) (102km)

2nd March (Rio Dulce)

Decided to hang out here next to the river for the day and soak up the pool at the $10 a night ‘resort’ and take in some of the jungle scenery. There are various tours to this and that all of which are being ignored by your fatigued correspondent.

3rd March (Rio Dulce- Omoa) (142km)

Big ride across the border and into Honduras and then turned northwards up to the Caribbean coast. The road is flat enough but its hot and 142km is a big ride in this heat. At the end of the ride I park the bike against the nearest tree and dive to the Caribbean for the first time. Lovely.

Blues song for the gringo hippies of Flores (in E minor)

[Bongos, didgeridoo, fire dancer, guitar]

Now, my thinking’s kind-a hazy

But my gaze is real intense

I’m spouting spaced-out gibberish

and none of it makes sense

 

I got them…..

Meaningless crap spoutin’ gringo hippie in Guatemala blues

Yeah dem meaningless crap spoutin’ gringo hippie in Guatemala blues

You think its drug-addled jibber

More like Jean-Paul Sartre meets Rodney Rude

 

Now, I’ve given up on bathing

I’m hard on the ol’ whiffer

I’d like to think I smell like spring

But others beg to differ

 

I got them,….

Plain ol’ BO, bad smellin’, gringo hippie in Guatemala blues

Yeah dem plain ol’ BO, bad smellin’, gringo hippie in Guatemala blues

I blame the dog for fartin’,

But my shit-catchers’ gone and caught dem poos

 

[2 hour Bongo and Didgeridoo solo]

 

Now, I like to play the bongos

Don’t need to play ‘em well

I can play the same for hours and hours

And bore the place to hell

 

I got them….

Borin’, non-stoppin’, irritatin’, gringo hippie in Guatemala blues

Yeah dem borin’, non-stoppin’, irritatin’, gringo hippie in Guatemala blues

You hear a no talent loser,

I hear Mozart’s symphony for bongo and didgeridoos…

 

[another hour of bongo solo]

 

Now, I’ll sell you bits of crystal

They got a mystic aura

The power to make me more the rich

And you the more the poorer

 

I got them…..

Floggin off chipped-glass-crap gringo hippie in Guatemala blues

Yeah dem floggin off chipped-glass-crap gringo hippie in Guatemala blues

 [Repeat ad nausium ad infinitum]

Flores Gringo Hippie
Dancing hippie in Flores
Sunset in Flores
Flores Shop
Flores Bonita
Flores Moto Chika