Monthly Archives: February 2020

Colombia – Part 2

Sunday 24 Feb 2020

Carnival again and a long bus ride.

We headed to the parade area and walked past the many gazebos whilst being constantly bombarded by hawkers selling food drinks and sitting positions, we wanted to see what the main stands looked like. It turns out that there not as expensive as we thought in fact we ended up paying less .

Ginette – I think this was because it was Sunday, the second day of the carnival. I can see why people buy their tickets on line but we paid a fraction of the cost of the three day tickets (£5 compared to £70 for a 3 day ticket).
The stand area offered a better raised view, there were sellers squeezing by the seats so you could buy your food and drink without moving but at a greater cost, we opted to walk to the entrance saving a few bob. At the entrance there were about 10 to 20 people hanging over the barrier all trying to sell food and drink.

Ginette – At one point in the afternoon, I braved a visit to the toilet, it was quite dangerous as there were bottles and cans being dropped from the stands above. When I joined the queue there were 5 people ahead of me but each woman seemed to be holding a place for her whole family. The women behind me got really angry and started banging on the toilet door to hurry up each family.  It was quite intimidating, when it was my time I found myself trying to wee as fast as I could, I was grateful I didn’t have an upset tum.  Although I had to wait quite a while to use the toilet the time went by fairly quickly, I think that was down to the dodging debris from above and watching people trying to sneak in over the barriers.  I saw one man being chased by one of the guards with a big baton. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in his shoes.

The atmosphere in the stands was all party and loud dance music, people were spraying foam and chalk dust all over everyone, including us.

It took a few hours before the parade started and although, colourful was pretty much the same walkers and floats parading as the previous day.

Ginette couldn’t eat the eat foods so made a banana roll, you should have seen the face of the lady next to her watching in amazement at this weird food.

Ginette – I felt quite embarrassed this woman nudged her husband and other family members to look at what I was doing. The carnival was a complete meat fest.  I was happy with my banana sandwich, the only thing missing was some marmite. Fortunately for this woman and her family they don’t sell it in Colombia. 

We had considered moving on by bus to Medellín and seeing the same carnival made our minds up. We headed off before the carnival ended and packed away our kit and left our nice love motel. The ride to the bus terminal was 6 miles on the same main road. At first it was light on traffic but became busier as the other carnival goers came by. All along the way we passed shops and cafes playing loud music with people gathered around in party mood, some dressed in the large colourful outfits from where they had just been in the actual parade. The carnival was displayed on the TV screens, it was good to be witnessing this other side of carnival.

 Ginette – we loved the party atmosphere in the stands and if we’d been with other westerners we might have been tempted to party on into the streets. However after hearing several warnings from the locals we decided it was best to leave them to party and make our way back to the room before it got dark.  It was a bit like going to a huge festival in the UK, think Notting Hill or St Pauls and not knowing anyone and not being able to speak the language. It had an edgy feel to it. Great if you were with the ‘in crowd’ but potentially dangerous if you were a foreigner.

It was a bit of a hassle getting a bus ticket, the lady was trying to use a translator but instead of letting us read the text she kept putting the phone to a microphone for us to listen to the poorly worded hard to hear phone voice.

We thought we had paid well over the top but put this down to the bikes, but when it came to getting on the bus the driver wanted another 40,000 pesos (£10) we were not happy and kicked up a fuss, one of the other passengers had to come and translate along with the lady that had sold the tickets so we could be sure we weren’t being ripped off.

Ginette – I agreed to pay the additional money, I was tired and couldn’t be bothered to argue. We clearly ended up paying more than initially quoted but as the bikes were already loaded on the bus and everyone was on the bus there was not a lot we could do

Monday 25th Feb – no diary entry

The bus ride was uneventful we both managed to sleep for a few hours.  The scenery was spectacular, there was a covered walk away for several miles, which left us speculating what its purpose was. The bus arrived in Medellin late morning, after assembling the bikes we booked somewhere on line to stay for a few nights.  We were tired and struggled to find the accommodation, a Colombian stopped to help us, he was really friendly and although he couldn’t help he did ask some locals on our behalf.  Eventually we found the hostal tucked away in a residential area. We chilled most of the afternoon only venturing out to the supermarket to buy food for dinner.

Tuesday 26th Feb – Medellín.

Ginette – Last night we spent some time with a couple from Leicester, they are doing a similar route to us but by bus. They’ve spent some of their time volunteering at various projects but were clearly tired from the travelling. It is amazing how simply moving from A to B and experiencing new things can take it out of you.

In the morning we bought the Metro system card and used the tramway to get around the city.

Medellín has a good transport system and relatively cheap to use, today we only used the one metro line but with the card we could access buses the cable cars and even the cycles.

We visited the Casa de la memoria, a museum about the conflict in Columbia. It was free and had English text, in addition I had downloaded  an app on the phone which provided more information on the exhibits. However we left the museum with more questions, so did some research when we got back. It was a horrible time in Colombia’s history as all conflicts are, and although a peace deal has been agreed there is still conflict in some areas, with 40,000 recently displaced near the Venezuela border. Medellin city was once the most dangerous area in Colombia and is now reportedly one of the safest.

Ginette – it is amazing to think the peace deal was only signed in 2016, before that, the country had been at war for 50 years. It was quite disturbing listening to the locals sharing their memories of the conflicts.

We had a wander around Plaza de Botero to see the many bronze statues donated by the sculpture Botero. He makes over fat statues to show beauty is in all sizes.

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We were tired so didn’t appreciate the constant attempts to entice us into each cafe we passed. When tired and hungry the  search for food can be the most stressful part of the day for me, I can eat anything but Ginette has very limited choices as a vegetarian so the hunt from cafe to cafe for food does not impress me.

Ginette – I agree eating out can be very stressful, Gary will eat anything, anywhere whereas, if I am paying to eat out, I want to enjoy the experience, I also want to know how much the food will cost, especially when I have limited funds in my purse. We were accosted by lots of waiters, waving menus in our faces (think Ibiza or Costa del Sol)  the menus had pictures so I realised with a little patience I could negotiate something to eat but the menus didn’t contain any prices and I couldn’t be bothered to go through the protracted process of finding out prices for meals that I would have to create. As Gary was getting stroppy, I sent him off to get some food while I chose not to eat.  Not ideal but by this stage, I felt pressure from the restaurants and Gary and I simply lost my appetite.

We spent the afternoon resting at the hostel.

Our room was near a shared balcony and a group decided to have an in-depth conversation to well past midnight, I am afraid I was not the most eloquent when I asked them to shut up at midnight, they were a little quieter but still really annoying, this is a major disadvantage of hostels.

Ginette – the people in Medellin seem far friendlier than those we met in the north of Colombia, the city has a nice vibe. I have read several blogs where people have stayed in the city much longer than they had planned to, I can see the appeal. Gary and I are both thinking of stopping for a week and learning a bit more Spanish and perhaps some salsa dancing, but we’d prefer somewhere quieter. We will do some research at the weekend.

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Wednesday 26th Feb
Guatape.
We cycled to the bus station, the entrance is three floors up, they had a disability ramp down two floors but we had to carry the bikes and luggage down the last flight of stairs.
The bus was straight forward this time, one fee for us and another for the bikes both paid for at the ticket office no further attempts at charges for luggage.

The ride was up a huge hill with views over the city then on the plateau the terrain was very undulating with farmed and cattle country all around, we didn’t take any photos as we plan to cycle back and we will be able to stop at our leisure to take photos, although I doubt they will do the landscape justice.

We passed Piedra del Penol a large rock with a set of steps so you can walk to the top, we plan to do this climb later.

 

Disembarking from the small town of Guatape we could see the town was going to be a pretty one to visit. We didn’t stop as our hostel was another mile down the road.Our hostel Casa Kayam is an attraction for musicians and singers, they are actually building a music studio under the accommodation. It has a great vibe with people playing guitars and singing around us.

We wandered around the town of Guatape and it is really pretty with colourful buildings and narrow streets, the place is a refreshing change from the city’s we have been in and we are feeling relaxed and hopefully we can start to chill again.

Ginette – it was the first day of lent and all around us people were walking around with small painted crucifixes on their foreheads.  In the bus terminal we had a small panic, we went to the ATM (the only bank that will accept our card) and the computer said no. Just as we were considering cycling back into the city, I spotted a bank ATM we had not tried before and fortunately it dispensed money to us.  

Guatape is at 2,400meters above sea level and noticeably cooler than Medellin. We are at the end of the dry season in Colombia and it has rained several times, nothing heavy, and nothing like the rain you are experiencing in the UK. 
Thursday 27th Feb
Guatape.

Ginette – Our room in the hostal was off the main shared chilling area, it was great that this area was used by everyone but it also meant that it was noisy until 11.30pm, way past our bedtime. Fortunately we were knackered and the ear plugs blocked out most of the noise.

A “free walking tour” of Guatape for the morning. On the way, a local german shepherd decided to adopt us as his owner. He stayed with all morning stopping to listen at the various information points. It was not until we went into a clerics garden that he wandered off to find some other tourists to adopt.

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The town has many nice small streets with little cafes tucked into the back of souvenir shops. The houses have wall murals “zocalo” on them, they tend to depict something about the Casa owner. This town is sometimes called the most colourful town in the world and it is trying hard to live up to its name.

 

It wasn’t long ago that the area was dirt roads and dull buildings, the residents took it upon themselves to pave the roads and the custom of the zocalo has developed into making this town a huge tourist attraction but still staying small. The walk was only OK, we did learn some stuff but the guide tended to waffle and was intent on taking us in all his friends shops telling how us how wonderful the goods were.
Ginette  – on the upside we were offered a number of freebies to try, coffee powder was poured into my hand, which apparently I was suppose to eat, once I smelt it I threw it on the floor – oohps. Gary tried the cocaine tea, the coconut ice-cream and anything else on offer while I was a little more selective but did enjoy the sweet pastry, unusual fruits and chocolate covered coffee beans.

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In the afternoon we walked to a nearby waterfall ”cascade”, as we got nearer, the track became less evident. We had to cross the stream several times wading through the water. The last stretch was challenging with no real path, you could either walk up the stream or up through the steep muddy jungle. We opted to do a bit of both.

 

When we reached the first waterfall there was a rope hanging from above, Ginette climbed to the top and I had to follow her in her pursuit to find the top. This was not a safe route and after a short stretch along the muddy track we opted to turn around and come back, it was getting late and we took the safe option of going back down.
Back at the hostel we found out we could of carried on and made it a circular walk but we don’t feel we have missed out as the bit we did was challenging enough. 

Ginette – it was a really chilled day, probably the most relaxed we’ve had since the incident last week. It was great to be able to have a laugh with each other and simply enjoy the day without packing up and moving onto another accommodation.

The hostal is very laid back, lots of young people jamming with their guitars interestingly everyone seems to be from Europe mainly France and Germany.

 

 

28th Feb

El Penol large hard rock.

We moved from the hostel to another hotel/hostel near the centre of Guatape.
We did this so we could go out for a meal and see the town at night.

There is a nearby tourist attraction called Piedra de Penol, it a large rock that has a stair well built up the rock wall. We walked over to it and after paying the £5 entrance fee each we climbed the 700 steps to the top. We have noticed this before but it is clear that we are a lot fitter than most of the others puffing and panting and taking rest breaks. The views from the top show how extensive the reservoir system is and also how low the water level is, it’s hard to imagine just how much water would be needed to fill this reservoir back up again.

Ginette – Apparently a local purchased the rock back in the ’50’s everyone thought he was bonkers.  What could anyone want with a big rock? However after climbing it and seeing the view the purchaser started putting steps into the rock so that others could enjoy the view. Over the years the business has grown and now in addition to charging five pound entrance fee, the family have set up shops and bars at the top and base of the rock. Who thinks he is bonkers now?

 

Ginette – it is not easy to see from the photo above but there are a number of lakes around Guatape and due to the season and the hydro electric plant the water is exceptionally low at the moment. I can imagine the lake is a hive of water sports during high season but other than a few crafts it was pretty empty.

As it got dark we ventured out to find drinks and food. We ended up having drinks in a plain looking locals bar and sat playing cards alongside the local men. We had tried a few of the better looking bars made pretty for us tourists but they were all charging a lot more for a bottle of beer and to us the markup, tainted the effect.

We had spotted a vegetarian restaurant but it closed at 7, we didn’t know this and felt very disappointed when we arrived, hungry for our meal at 7.15 – dam it.

We then went to the Namaste restaurants we had spotted thinking they would be Indians but both were just falafel sandwich bars. In the end we settled on a locals cafe and had a nice meal of the day of soup and a bean and rice dish, it was cheap but wasn’t quiet what we had planned.

The town looked really pretty in the night with soft street lights enhancing the colourful buildings, and it was not very busy. A lot of the tourists come just for the day, climb the rock and get the bus back to Medellin.

 

 

 

 

Colombia – Part 1

Sunday 16th Feb 
A comedy of errors but arrived in Columbia .
We didn’t set an alarm as we are always up early but typically slept in to 8.15, our taxi was arranged for 9am (although our flight wasn’t until 1.00pm, it was the only time our ‘new friend’ could do) so we had a spot of quick packing to rush through. We had arranged a lift with the shop keeper/taxi driver next door to the hostel and he was waiting for us and all the luggage which thankfully fitted neatly in the car.
Our driver took a wrong turn and had to drive a lot further than normal due to the fact that the other side of the road was closed to traffic on Sundays,  bloody cyclists.
When we reached the turning for our airport he again took a wrong turn at the confusing junction, this however was even worse as the return road was closed and we had to do a 20 mile back track around the city to end up within 5 miles of where we started. (we couldn’t make this up) We got there eventually with plenty of time as we had left so early.
The Pacific Airport is tiny, just the one company Wingo operate from what can be described as a shed.  Check in, was frustrating to say the least, think Ryan air but with a helpful steward trying to help us get by all the rules.  Our cycle boxes were overweight as were our two black bags, we had to off load the black bags into our hand luggage until all the weight was distributed to the stewards desires, this was all done at the check in desk and took about half an hour. Daft really as all this stuff still went on the same plane. This redistribution of weight meant we had to go through security with a bin liner full of shoes and our carry on luggage packed to bursting with inner tubes and rolled up empty pannier bags. Just as well we had our chilled out travelling heads on.
If this was not enough to contend with the staff then insisted we had proof of our ongoing journey out of Columbia or they couldn’t let us fly. After a lot of haggling the steward booked us some fake tickets to present to the Columbians if requested. It was a painful experience but at least we did have someone actually trying to help us get through all the restrictions. However we had to pay an additional $20 because we hadn’t printed off our boarding passes.

Our flight was only an hour long and after a long queue at immigration all our cases had been offloaded from the carousel and placed at different points on the floor. This wasn’t a problem as no-one else had bike boxes or ratty torn canvas bags like ours. There were no trolleys available, that were not connected to a porter, and the porters wanted $5 so we stubbornly dragged and carried our bikes and bags out through to the front of the airport.
Once the bikes were assembled we only had half a mile to our hostel, the airport in Cartagena is small it has homes and shops at its door step.

We went out for dinner as by the time we reached the hostel it was after 5pm and we had hardly eaten all day. We chose a cafe near the hostel, it looked closed but after some consideration they offered us fish soup and fried fish and rice for 36,000 peso (How much! turns out to be £9 and the national dish for Colombia). We were originally welcomed by a young man, Julian Serna. Julian mentioned he played the guitar so I shared with him that I was learning the ukuele. He was delighted and bought his guitar out for me to twang on. He then gave us a master class in Classic Spanish guitar, he was really good and played for us throughout our meal.

After dinner he explained that he was studying music and even writes his own songs as well. This was a great experience and made us feel welcome in Columbia. Lets hope the rest of Colombia is as welcoming, we are looking forward to exploring the rest of this country.

 

Ginette – We both have mixed feelings about Colombia, we’re feeling tired from the constant travelling.  We’re applying for jobs and I am sure something will come up soon, most have closing dates for the end of this month,  this means we are a little in limbo. To cycle Colombia we would need about 2 months but this may not be possible.  So our dilemma is do we become backpackers and use the bus system to see all that Colombia has to offer or do we cycle and see what we can see and maybe come back sometime in the future? decisions, decisions…

17th February 

The ride through the city was along a busy road with only two lanes it was interesting and a bit scary. At times I wondered if we were cycling the wrong way down a one way street until another motorbike or car squeezed by forcing the oncoming traffic back over to their side of the road.

We cycled past the large old Spanish castle and it looked very impressive and worth a visit.
Our apartment for the next couple of days was actually really nice but the initial room given to us was not great but Ginette knows how to haggle and hassle for better.

Ginette – The night before I had spent ages deliberating whether to stay in a hostel and pay £9 a night or book a nice room somewhere. Eventually I decided on the latter paying £22 a night for a room. On arrival we were shown our room and it was OK but not great, my biggest issue was the door/window had no glass in it, it just had bars and the door/window faced a busy road with a night cafe opposite. I anticipated a very noisy evening added to that the mosquitoes had free access to our bodies and the cockroaches could easily wander into the room because there was a huge gap under the door (I think the room was previously a garage).  I was not happy, I was tired (neither of us slept well the previous night) and my host did not speak english. Eventually after my limited Spanish, I was able to ask for the manager and was given an upgrade to the executive double, which was far better.

Unfortunately I discovered I had left my £2.60 sandals in the last place, it was only 2 miles away so I cycled back to get them. The traffic was just as bad but when you know where you are going it seems a lot easier,  although any UK cycle commuters that thinks their city is bad should try cycling here. I stopped on the way at several ferateria (hardware store) trying to source some cooking gas but no joy. I did spot a 10 man dragon boat by the water, it looks like they have a pink ladies crew here (cancer survivors).
We walked into the old city, inside the still standing large wall defences (this city is aka the walled city). This part of city is clean and very pretty, with some grand old buildings, narrow streets some with decorative street art. There is a history of slave trade in this city and a lot of the signage in both English and Spanish.

 

There were quite a few colourful dressed African ladies selling fruit, if you want to take a photo then fruit purchase is required. These Palenquera ladies now form part of the tourist attractions for this city, they represent a rebellion 400 years ago in which the slaves managed to free themselves and set up their own communities.
We were a bit tired from travel and poor sleep so retired early for the day,  knowing we would return the following day.

Ginette – the city is a vibrant colonial city, full of colour, narrow streets and noise but the locals seem dreary and tired in comparison, with very few smiles for the tourists. There were a lot of touts and rather than being up beat they also seemed tired and as a result a little aggressive with their sales techniques.

 

 

18th Feb – Cartagena sight seeing day

We went on a free walking tour inside the walled city. Our guide had excellent English and the 2 hour tour was informative and fun. The ‘free tour’ relies on contributions recommended at £7 each and was worth it as most of the walking tours we have been on are.

After the tour the heat was getting to us, so we headed back to the room for an air conditioned rest.

We then headed to the Spanish fortresses, quite a formidable structure and we enjoyed the walk around it’s balustrades and wandered around several tunnels under the fort.

The tunnels were dug so explosive charges could be set off under any invading army which in this case was the nasty English.

Ginette – the fortress was OK to wander around the highlight for me was the video we watched at the end. The film showed how the fortress was built and how it had helped the city to fend off attacks from the French and English. Apparently the english lost 11,000 men in one attack, the locals only had a 1000 men defending the city but managed to stop the British.  I am sure this is not the report provided when the ship returned to England because before the final battle, the commander in charge of the English fleet commissioned some new coins to be printed showing him as the victor.  Apparently it was this arrogance that lost the battle for the British sailors.  It was an interesting experience watching it with a room full of locals.

Back in the old city we sat on the city wall and watched the sun go down, along with loads of other tourists who had the same idea.

Ginette – I really enjoyed Cartagena, it is a beautiful city, every street has a little surprise waiting to brighten a tourists day.

19th Feb

Robbed with a gun against our head, not a good day.

We cycled out of Cartagena along the main coast road, it’s not a pretty road ride made difficult by the constant head wind.
There was a toll booth that had a native group protesting and stopping all the traffic, they eventually let us all pass (because a lorry driver started driving at them) then blocked the road again to stop another set of traffic, this was across all the lanes.

Not long after we spotted a 4 ft long road kill crocodile.

Ginette – I’d like the record to state, I spotted this unusual road kill, Gary had cycled past totally oblivious.

98% of the human race are nice people but today we met with a couple from the other 2%.

A couple of young men jumped me from the side of the road and dragged me down the embankment with a gun to my head, they dragged Nets bike down as well but mine was left on the road.  We were both threatened with guns, me on my hands and knees and Ginette dragged down on her side.

It was all very quick,  Ginette managed to get back up the bank and wave a car down which must have helped as the young men then ran off with there ill gotten gains.

Now we could try to describe the whole event in greater detail but in the end we are both OK with no injuries other than Ginette’s bruised face and arm and a little splinter in my hand from being dragged down the bank. We have had our phone and some money stolen and they even took Ginette’s pump (which was broken by the way).

We have been on two long trips and managed 2 years with no issues. It’s a real shame this has happened when we have only been in Colombia 4 days.

The car driver that stopped called the police, we waited but when the car left we didn’t want to hang around so we cycled off, two policemen arrived on bikes a little later and tried to take the details from us, as we gave them our details a further two police bikes arrived. It was good of them to attend but after a while it was obvious to all of us that these lads had got away and there wasn’t a lot anyone could do.

The rest of the day was a hard slog of cycling into the head wind and trying to find a WiFi connection to cancel the MasterCard that was also taken. There was hardly any towns on route and the largest one we found had WiFi but even with the locals trying to help us we couldn’t get connected.

We spent the rest of the day cycling without our rose tinted glasses on, instead of looking for wildlife and coastal views we found ourselves on high alert for more armed robbers. I couldn’t begin to count how many men I have passed in South America, that walk the side of the road with machetes, but now I am seeing each one as a potential threat. I hope this feeling passes.

It was past 3pm and we needed food, but the cafes all sold meat fest meals so we ended up with a couple of egg filled, fried things which took the edge off the hunger.

The town we stopped for lunch had some small hotels, a pink sea and a mud volcano but as it was still early and we had no WiFi we had to push onto a seaside resort called Santa Veronica, this had loads of hotels and we hoped would have WiFi which we needed to cancel the card.

It was getting late, the headwind had us cycling at 4mph but Ginette’s magic thumb managed to conjure up a flat bed van, not only did the Polish gentleman gave as a lift, speak perfect english he actually runs a hostel so he took us straight to his place.

WiFi done, food done, cuddles for two relieved cyclists who live to cycle another day.

Ginette – it was a really shitty day, during the attack we both remained relatively calm given the fact that we had guns pointing at us, but afterwards I found myself almost on the verge of tears. The ba**ards had stolen the phone so I had no podcasts/music to distract me so even though I tried not to dwell on the robbery my mind kept replaying the events. Hopefully a good nights sleep will erase the events from my mind. At the end of the day, we are OK, we have money (I always try to spread the money and keep very little in the top box), we have another bank card and we can buy a new phone.  I am so pleased my magic thumb worked because I was starting to struggle with the head wind and the thought of cycling in the dark was far too scary to contemplate. Strangely I wasn’t even trying that hard, we’d stopped for a drink, I was still sitting on my bike and I waved my thumb in desperation and voila…

We had been looking forward to an easy day, having a mud bath and going to the pink sea. Instead we ended up cycling further than planned and having serious thoughts about what to do next on our adventure. On the upside the hostel was lovely, it had a pool, great views of the beach and the room was clean and comfortable.  If the van hadn’t turned up we could have found ourselves cycling in the dark and desperately trying to find somewhere to sleep for the night. 

No photos because the bad men took the phone.

 

20th Feb 

Headwind cycle ride again.

Our accommodation was lovely and we contemplated staying longer but we only had a small amount of cash and we were worried that our remaining cash card may not work in Columbia’s ATMs.

We had to cycle 30 miles to reach Barranquilla, the ride was along the same boring main road and we had another day of strong head wind to contend with. It was a hard cycle with no fun bits.

Ginette – not helped by the fact that we were constantly on high alert, I found my self cycling roadside of the shoulder to avoid being pulled into the bushes and hoping the lorries and buses would give me a wide birth.  In hindsight this was not so bright because the main robberies apparently take place by motorcyclists stopping bikes.  My body ached from being thrown to the ground and generally riding in fear, I was so glad when we could get off the bikes. I even stopped on a hill just inside the city and declared I didn’t want to play. Gary patiently smiled and talked me back onto the bike, fortunately we only had a further 3 miles to go and we agreed to stop for food and drink at the top of the hill. Once refuelled I was OK but still happy to get to our accommodation.
We finally found our booked hotel, not easy when we had no phone maps but the Garmin led us to the right area, asking the locals we had a few conflicting sets of directions. To make things harder the hotel had no signs outside so it just looked like a standard block of flats.
Once checked in we set off to walk and find banks, the first 5 wouldn’t accept the card but the BBVA bank was a success so at least we had some cash.
Ginette – Usually we would have put the money somewhere safe and not given it another thought but to be extra safe we spread the money out, putting it in pockets, bags etc. I am sure once we’ve left the city, we will start to feel a little more relaxed but for now it is probably not a bad thing to be more aware of our surroundings.
As it was getting dark and Barranquilla is known as a crime ridden area, we opted to eat in a shopping malls food hall and then walk back in the dark.
The Columbian people do not seem very welcoming, not many smiles or hellos but then we are in a city area and the people in cities tend to be like this.

Ginette – it is not that the locals are hostile to us, they treat each other the same way, not that dissimilar to the way we treat each other in the UK. It is just that we have gotten used to people in Central/South America being a little more welcoming.
Still no photos – sorry
21st Feb 
Barranquilla carnival day 1.
Barranquilla is the 4th largest city in Colombia and is located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. It claims to hold the second largest carnival in the world but before we could party we needed to buy some essential items. The locals are given 4 days holiday and most of the shops close during this period.
We were phone less and hence portable map less, walking around with an I pad is not an option and buying paper maps not practical as we are travelling through lots of areas.
Phone shopping here on one hand is really easy as there are hundreds of phone shops but try figuring out which one you need and how much to pay. Research on the internet helps but with so many choices it was confusing. We decided on a store that looked established and they were displaying a Samsung Galaxy A30 for £150.
We went back to the love hotel to look this up and it seemed OK so bought it.
This process took ages, parting with the cash was instant but setting the phone up In English and connecting the new sim package involved two non English speakers and a customer with very little English. But we are now sorted.
Another bonus on the shopping front was finding butane gas for the stove, now we can make our own food if we want to.Ginette – as Gary has mentioned we are staying in a ‘love hotel’ and outside of our hotel is a busy road where the traffic is often at a stand still. I am sure it is not my imagination but we are getting some very funny looks when we enter/leave the premises.  It must look odd two 50+ westerners using such an establishment. I think we may be the only guests staying for 3 days, everyone else seems to be paying for the hour. 
The 4 day holiday / carnival started tonight with concerts around town (UB40 are playing but we couldn’t get tickets, we last saw them in Wembley arena with Jamie) and dancing in the streets. Near us street 50 was cordoned off for Baila la Calle, a huge salsa dancing street party. I donned a colourful carnival shirt and we queued with a few tourists and many locals for the security check (which was reassuring) and to pay £5 entrance fee
A long section of street was fenced off with sets of disco units along the way and a stage for live music at the end. We entered early at around 6pm but it was already getting lively.  We met a local with really good english at the first beer tent and he gave us some really good tips regarding the carnival and also warned us to take great care as the city was a dangerous place.  
Ginette won the game of spotting couples dressed in the same colourful tops, male and female pairs. It seems to be a common theme and she won hands down.
You could stand / dance in the one spot and have sellers come to sell you beer and food then the rubbish collection team came and took your rubbish (and fist pumped you with a smile each time).
Lots of age groups, lots of dancing styles but prominently a lot of hip wiggling salsa moves, a few couples engaged in the tight hugging salsa style which looks impressive. I thought there would be more salsa dancing, imagining the whole crowd dancing away.
We left jut after 9pm as by then the place was packed like a nightclub and it was hard to dance with the lines of people pushing to get past in either direction. We had had fun but it was now becoming a bit oppressive.Ginette – it was a great atmosphere, lots of different music stages competing for air space. We loved dancing but decided to leave as it was heaving and felt a little claustrophobic.  We were not the only ones to leave, 3 hours of dancing was not bad going, but definitely puts us in the lightweight category.
We ended up back at the nearby mall to share a late night pizza from one of the only places left open in the food hall, there are loads of street food vendors but all selling meat based food, great for me but not for Net. While eating a family with a baby and a toddler were making their way around the tables searching for leftovers in the empty trays and bags, it’s hard to see this especially when we threw our left over Chinese away yesterday. Net shared some of our pizza with them and not for the first time we thought all food vendors should put all their uneaten untainted food out to one side as free food for those in need.
22nd Feb 

Carnival Barranquilla.

We had seen tickets for the carnival at £75 but figured that if it’s a carnival then we should be able to just turn up after all it is only a street parade. However the previous night we had been warned that if we wanted to see the carnival we should pay for the bucket seats at £6 each. We arrived early and there were loads of empty plastic seats all lined up under gazebos in the shade by entrepreneurial locals charging a fee for a seat. As we approached the main stands the prices raised so we went back to a sheltered spot at the front. We could have crossed the road and sat for free in the sun, or just stood at the back but later when all the crowds had gathered it was clear you wouldn’t be able to see much.

We spent 5 hours at the carnival, 2 hours before anything passed by and the rest watching the many floats and dancers. There were a lot of big gaps between the performers and some of the performers were pretty hot and weary by the time they passed us. We have seen a lot of carnivals and there is no doubt that this is a long one with lots of great costumes and dancers but maybe too many as it’s a long time to watch a procession.

The best bit in my opinion was the crowds reactions to some of the floats and the interaction between crowds and participants. We were packed into one of the many gazebos with locals dressed to party and lots of cheering, there were a couple of repetitive well known songs that when a float came by playing evoked the crowd to get up and dance along, this is what made this carnival the most fun. Unfortunately we didn’t recognise the tunes so struggled to join in, but gave our best shot at dancing along and cheering with the crowds.

We tried to leave early, by early that was late in the afternoon having been there since morning. When we left the little enclosure that’s when we discovered just how many people were spectating the carnival, the crowds were packed right back from the barriers and there only view was the top of the larger floats. That didn’t stop them from having a good time.

With this many people around and warnings of pickpockets we was a little on edge. A middle aged lady came over for a chat and photos with her grandchildren, she was really friendly. We soon had a small gathering around us encouraging us to dance for / with them. After a while the lady moved away and motioned to Ginette to watch the others around her. We made our excuses and left.

We left at the same time as a lot of others, the streets packed with locals which soon dispersed into the many directions in this city.
Buses and taxis seemed to be ignoring the locals trying to wave them down, or pulling over and driving off if they had to take them too far, the local we met yesterday explained how it was difficult to get a taxi after the event as there was a set fee so all the drivers wanted was short trips so they could make more money.

A good day partying with the locals and a few European tourists.

Ginette – we had a great day partying with the locals and as we wandered back to our ‘love hotel’ we discussed whether we would have stayed later if we hadn’t been robbed in the week. We came to the conclusion that we would have gone home regardless, by the time we headed off home we had already seen a couple of scuffles due to too much drink and not knowing the city made us feel a little uneasy. The locals didn’t help improve our impression of the city as several locals warned us to take care and that there were bad people around and places in the city that tourists shouldn’t go even in the day.  A good carnival tainted slightly by the reputation of Barrenquilla. It is hard to believe that the carnival will take place again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. We feel exhausted and we only watched. Not sure we will attend again, or what our plans are for the week, but hopefully we’ll have lots of happy memories and news to share with you in our next blog.

Barranquilla’s Carnival slogan is “quien lo vive, es quien lo goza – “those who live it are those who enjoy it.” – Well we are definitely living it and despite the events of this week we are still enjoying our adventure.  Take care xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panama – Part 2

Sun 9th Feb 

A bus ride to the mountains.

Ginette – A really bad nights sleep in the tent. It was really noisy and very hot.  In Santiago, we walked through the town to put some charge on Gary’s phone on route I bought some new shorts and sunglasses ($4 for both, bargain).  As in other cities and towns there were a lot of touts selling lottery tickets, it is amazing how many touts there are and how popular this is with the locals. The game is played differently to the UK, but from what I can gather licensed ticket touts purchase books of tickets and have to return unsold ones at least an hour before the draw to claim their money back. The draw is made during the afternoon, people queue so that they can purchase tickets with their favourite numbers, but this can mean having to queue several times until you find a tout with your numbers.  I can only hope their patience and perseverance is rewarded with better odds than out lottery system.

We took a bus to a small town called Santa Fe at the foot of a mountain range. We took the bus because there is only one road to Sanfa Fe and we intend to cycle back down.
The bus ride however revealed that whichever ever way we cycle we will still have some steep climbing to do but at least heading back we will eventually end up lower than we started.

We didn’t do a lot, a bit of shopping and a little stroll around Santa Fe. The walk from our hotel to the small town is all up hill, it was about 1/2 mile but it was a very steep hill climb.Our room and location is nice, we can hang out in hammocks and enjoy the mountains all around us.

Ginette – we booked the hotel on line, we chose this particular one because it had a kitchen, bar and shared lounge area. However on arrival we were informed that none of these facilities would be available after 3pm. I protested and they reluctantly provided us an electric hob to use in the room.  

It was a very chilled day, we have decided to focus our job search in the Bristol area, so I spent the day writing a job application. I have been offered several interviews across the country, which is reassuring but I have had to reject them as we really would like to return to our home.  That said as we are trying to be good landlords we may need to rent somewhere to allow our tenants to complete their house build, more on this later.

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10th Feb 2020

A windy mountain walk.

We have loads of little itchy bites and the itchy feeling is worse in the middle of the night, We think we now have a new skin as the old one has been scratched away.

We had to cook breakfast in our room using the electric double hob the hotel loaned us as the kitchen was shut.
We took a walk of about 8 mile round trip up to Cerro Tute, most of the walk was on a dirt and gravel road which was very steep in places. There were still small homes all the way up this hill, even close to the top. There was no wildlife to spot or hear but the views were great especially from the very top.

To reach the top view point we walked along a track that became ver narrow and the last stretch was a scramble to the top.

The wind was howling past and it was an exhilarating experience , we made sure we had a safe place to rest and enjoyed the views and played with the wind. We sat next to a ledge and when we threw an egg shell over the edge it flew back up and past us.
The walk down was harder as the steep track was difficult to keep a grip on and we slipped several times.
Ginette  – Gary ended up on his bottom more than once – which was funny, but as I was unable to video him you’ll have to take my word for it.

In the afternoon we walked a short way to a river to swim and cool down, the river was shallow but fast running. I could swim breast stroke and stay still due to the flow.

The evening was spent resting and Ginette managed to book our flights to Columbia.

Ginette – It took at least 20 attempts to book these flights, the cheapest provider by far had a really naff website that kept timing out, and it didn’t recognise England as a country and in addition wouldn’t allow me to book the bikes. However I can be very persistent and after exploring other options I eventually was able to get around the system. I just have to hope when we pitch up at the airport that my work arounds have worked.

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11th Feb 

Down hill up hill cycling and a bus to the city.

Ginette – Another frustrating morning, we had to find the manager to open the kitchen. As Gary was making the breakfast he spotted a large scorpion, unfortunately it had scuttled away before I could see it. Later some Canadian guests arrived and Gary told them about the scorpion. Gary moved the cooker to see if he could see it and it ran out only to be stamped on by the Canadian.  There really was no need for him to do this as the scorpion wasn’t a threat to us, we could have easily relocated to the field.  I was not a happy bunny.

Our cycle ride back to Santiago saw us leave an altitude of 1330 ft down to 175 ft but in the process we managed to cycle 2939 ft up hill. The road was like a rollercoaster of up and downs. We had some great views and enjoyed the initial 26 degrees to the final 42 degrees as we dropped and the afternoon crept in.

Ginette – the road was that bumpy that Gary lost his back pannier several times and mine jumped off once yee hah 
We stopped on route at San Francisco to visit an old church called Iglesia de San Francisco de la Montana, it’s a very old church set in some nice grounds in a tiny town. We had our packed lunch here and enjoyed the tranquility.

Ginette – on route several dogs chased Gary up the hill yapping and snarling, as they turned their attention to me, I let out an almighty roar and much to my surprise the scampered off with their tales between their legs. I guess I can be a little scary when I want to be.

Later in the day a large snake slithered in front of my bike, he was far too quick to photograph but I think it was another Fir de Lance snake – long and skinny but apparently very venomous. 

When we arrived a Santiago bus station a bus was already to go to Panama City so we had no time to do anything other than pack the bikes in the coach luggage hold, it felt a bit rushed but at least we didn’t have to wait at all.

Ginette – we have caught a couple of buses in Panama and it is interesting to note that they collect the fees on departure and we have not been charged for the bikes. The buses are also very cheap we paid $9 each for a 4 hour journey.

Arriving in Panama City we had the difficult navigation out of the huge bus station and busy city, not helped by the 6pm work traffic, not a pleasant ride and we past through some pretty shabby areas. A local man stopped to tell us we needed to cycle fast through the area we were in.

We headed for a hostel which was also down a seedy piss smelling road, the hostel had razor wire and steel fences and two sets of electric doors to pass through. They only had dorm rooms, so we used the hostel WiFi and found another cheap hotel around the corner.

Dinner was pizza in a small takeaway with only one table which we used, the Italian owner let us go to the local mini market to get beers as he didn’t serve it.

Ginette the Italian told us if we were found drinking beer on the street we would be fined, for locals this was a criminal offence. The pizza was excellent, probably one of the best we have had on this trip.

12th Feb 

Panama City.

We headed out for breakfast as there was no kitchen but all the cheap local cafes were all serving similar dishes all involving chicken or meat. Ginette opted to go to the shop and buy stuff she could eat whilst I enjoyed my meat fest.

Ginette – I will never understand how anyone can eat a greasy meat dish first thing in the morning yukkkkk – The smell alone made my tummy heave.

We walked a short distance to a grassy park area that spreads along the bay with cycle, walking and running tracks. There were lots more tourists here most on cycles forming part of large city cycling tours. One group was from a cruise ship that catered for cycling groups so they were touring the Caribbean on the ship but cycling at each embarkation. We bumped into this group throughout the rest of the day.

The views out to the pacific ocean were not great as the tide was out and left the bay looking like a muddy Weston Super Mare.

We spent our time walking around a pretty area called Casco Vieja, this is a peninsula area which was once a walled city. It has narrow streets and museums, churches, cafes and hundreds of like minded tourists all wandering the town. I think there must have been several cruise ships docked in the harbour as there were a load of human crocodile chains following a leader to each destination, the streets are narrow so it was easy to see all these groups.

Surprisingly the churches were all free to enter and all really nice inside especially with as they had sealed glass doors and cool air conditioned interior.  One church had a wooden altar that had been gold plated, we thought this was its main attraction but Ginette spotted a small tour group come out from a rear side door behind the altar. On investigation we found a huge model nativity. This had around 13 different nativity scenes all in model form, spread across a large area. It was very well made and we had the room to ourselves. As we were leaving the church one of the human crocodile lines was just entering so we timed it just right.

Ginette – we stopped in one of the plaza’s to watch a film crew filming Suicide Squad 2, a very famous actress, may have been Margot Robbie, was being filmed entering a building. We were not allowed to video the screen but tried to take some discreet photos.  

The whole area was very scenic but also expensive, the cafes were selling local beer at $3.75 compared to the $1 we usually pay. We were hungry so headed out to find a cheaper area. Within 5 minutes walking, we were in a slum area with poverty and rubbish around such a stark contrast. I had read that the whole peninsula area was a no go area and it had been restored but it looks like there are still some areas in need of some love.

Ginette – in this area we found local women dressed in a different style of national dress, mismatched colourful tops and sarong type knee length skirts with some sort of leg accessories and head covering. Unfortunately the ladies did not want their photos taken so, I’ve taken the image below from the internet – all credit to Steffi Lopez who obviously has more persuasive powers than we do. 

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We continued and found a locals shopping road, it was closed to traffic but you could tell from the shops and shoppers that it was a residential area. We managed to settle in a street cafe for dinner. Ginette had a huge plate with rice, fish, beans and salad so I opted just for a piece of chicken so we could share her plate $7 for both meals (we had seen fish and rice dishes earlier for $20 for one meal.

Ginette – across Panama the food servings have been huge, which might explain why there are so many obese people around.  The traditional dish is rice and beans however both in Costa Rica and in Panama this dish seems to be served with greasy fried chicken or meat lavished in a greasy sauce.  In addition wherever we have been in Central America fizzy drinks are consumed by the bucket load.  We have fallen victim this, it is so hot and there is nothing better than an iced cold soda to cool down. However we are on the go all the time where as the locals, especially in urban areas have a much more leisurely approach to life. 

We collected our bikes from the hotel and moved onto Hostel Casa 33, this place had a kitchen and for an additional $3 we got an OK breakfast.  The hostal was in a nicer area and close to the green area by the coast.

We chilled for the evening, I bought 6 Guinness cans for $0.85 each so was a happy bunny.

Ginette – we are slightly amused to see anti-bullying messages across the city sponsored by Durex. I was curious, it seemed like an odd thing for a condom company to sponsor especially as there were no safe sex messages on the posters.  After a little research it would appear there is a school uniform company in Panama called Durex – who would have thought… 

 

13th Feb 

Panama ship canal.

Breakfast in the hostel wasn’t a great experience, the food was OK with pancakes and fruit but the lady serving was taking her time to sort out the food for all in the hostel so a lot of patience was required. The most frustrating thing was there was no coffee on offer so everyone was trying to boil their own hot water working around the lady doing breakfast so a bit of a farce.

I cycled Ginette’s bike to the nearest cycle store so the rear hubs nut could be tightened up and to arranged for two bike boxes for our up coming flight. The Raki cycle store fixed both these for me, walking around the store I was amazed as it had some really nice bikes with prices of around $5000 (but we would have broken these light bikes with our luggage).
The area had a mall as well as sky scrapers and posh hotels with casinos, it was very affluent and probably the first big skyscraper city we have been in for a long while.
I cycled Nets repaired bike back to the hostel and Ginette and I walked back to the store to get the two cardboard boxes,. Walking back past all the posh places carrying theses cardboard boxes we look like two homeless people with our mobile homes.

In the afternoon we took the Metro train back to the main bus station then a bus to the Miraflores Panama Canal museum. Travelling on the public transport is a bit of an adventure but generally there are locals around to help out. Each country has a different system for purchasing tickets we have learnt to watch and follow. Ginette’s Spanish helps as we can read the instructions but occasionally we still need help.

Ginette – the metro and buses are super cheap, 35 cents for the metro and 25 cents for the bus. The metro is clean, the trains run regularly and are not too over crowded. What are we doing wrong in the UK??? 

The museum cost us $20 each to enter and although the lock is huge and a marvel of engineering the entrance fee was really too expensive for what was on offer. It did have a museum but it skimmed over the history giving a squeaky clean version of events.
It felt a little like a busman holiday as I have been around locks and dry docks with my work and obviously paddled threw a few when training and racing.  I think if the fee was the $5 the locals get charged I would have been a bit happier.

Ginette – we decided to pay for this experience as we are unlikely to return to Panama in the future. However I was really disappointed, I know we talk a lot about money but when we are trying to live on £30 a day it is a huge factor for us. We have turned down a number of other experiences based on cost and we’d hoped for much more from this experience. As Gary said the information provided was a very glossy take on the history of the canal.  All of the information provided could have probably been condensed to one A4 sheet of paper. Perhaps we are biased as we live so close to ‘water elevators’ there are lots of positive reviews on trip advisor and the museum clearly attracts hundreds of people daily.

14th Feb 

Valentines Day 

Ginette  – We woke early which meant we were first to breakfast and avoided the flaffing around in the kitchen.  We could only book 2 nights in our hostal as the room was booked for the weekend. The hostal had dorm beds available but we opted to move to another hostal with a double room. This may have been a mistake, the new hostal had a flight of stairs leading to the accommodation and the air conditioning, is on a timer which is only turned on at 9pm and turned off again at 6am.  

After checking in, we decided to cycle the bikes to the Amador causeway which links the mainland to a set of 4 small islands by the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.  The ride through the city was OK but I am always on super alert in built up areas. The ride was pretty, it is only 4km long, the road is lined with palm trees and at times we had amazing views of the city.  The sun played with skyscrapers turning the buildings from brilliant white to a dull silver colour.  We stopped for a beer and chilled for a while, watching the frigget birds and pelicans resting in the shallow water, waiting for their next meal.  We could see several men in military uniforms with guns on the beach but as the sea was out and the boats were stranded we were at a loss as to what they were doing. 

On the way back to the hostal we stopped at the fish market and bought two sea breams, this should have been a simply process but the fisherman seemed to be reluctant to sell their goods. Eventually a local waiter from one of the restaurants persuaded one of the fishermen to get off his fat arse and sell us two fish, but he was clearly not happy. He charged us $1 each for the fish which was a bargain, so we forgave his rude attitude. 

We were both knackered so spent a leisurely evening in the hostal, Gary has downloaded Duolingo and he is practicing his Spanish while I spent the evening brushing up on my management skills.  Not very romantic but it was far too hot for any loving by the time the air conditioning came on we were far too sweaty and irritable for anything physical. I know too much info – lol.

Gary.
On the way back we past through the slum areas, locals shops and tourists streets. The contrast is huge, I tried to liken it to the UK going from the city centre through St Paul’s but the poor here the locals have no windows or doors and the rubbish is in the gutters along with a stream of smelly water. The contrast is a bit like the 5* hotels in India sitting right next door to the slum areas in Mumbai.

15th Feb 

A surprising Sloth spotting.

I packed the two bikes into the bike boxes this morning , padding them out a little with our pillows and sleeping back liners stuffed in bin bags to keep them clean.

We took the metro a couple of stops and walked through the city to Ancon hill.
I was made to eat my words as I had said there was no way we were going to spot any wildlife on this wooded hill right in the city. We spotted a Panamanian guinea pig (like a Capybara or a very big rat),  spiders, our closest viewing of an active Sloth for this whole trip and a thin but long stick coloured snake (Ginette must be tuned into snakes as it was really difficult to see but she had honed in on it).

The sloth climbed right over us along a vine then up and down the trees in front of us, it looked like it’s back had been shaved so maybe it has had some sort of veterinary treatment.

Ginette – I loved this encounter, other tourists stopped for a quick photo and ambled on by, while we stood transfixed. Sloths are beautiful, slow exotic creatures, I could have watched this one all day.
We took a metro into the new city amongst the sky scrapers, a stark contrast to the area we are staying in. We had researched roof top views and entered the W building taking a lift to the reception area. Here there was a pool area terrace with well dressed semi naked sunbathers in huddles around the pool and bar, oh how the other half live. We was going to buy some beers but when the bill for one can came to $5 we handed it back and quickly left.  This would of been an extravagant purchase when we can exactly the same  cans for $5 but for 6 cans in the supermarket.

Ginette – I wanted to stay and play with the jet set youngster but my principles wouldn’t allow me to part with $5 for one can of national beer.

We visited a gothic looking church, gothic from the outside but light and airy and air conditioned on the inside. I like the way the churches in Central America all seem to be much brighter than our churches back home.

Panama – Part 1

 

Sunday 1st Feb

Panama, hats off to you and lots of horses.

We were both awake very early again, so after breakfast of a pack of red refried beans and scrambled eggs we was on the road (I am becoming a fan of these refried beans).

Our cycle ride through the last bit of Costa Rica to the border of Panama at Paso Canoa had a few hills but other than having to cycle back on the Pan American highway with the added traffic was pretty uneventful. We stopped at a shop for a cold drink, the owner had a half open banana hanging on a string and a medium size iguana was hanging on it and swinging around. Speaking of Iguanas a large one was lazily ambling over the road but as we approached a car also came from the opposite way. The iguana hot footed it away narrowly missing the car, these animals look hilarious when they run, it is like they have extended there legs, lifted there skirt up and ran like it’s the first time they have tried it

We did see quite a few road kill Iguana a today so they are not all so lucky

The border crossing was straightforward as border crossings go, we needed to prove our exit details but showing them a hotel we had booked in Columbia seemed to suffice.

 Ginette – I was amused by the fact that we had to pay a departure tax through a window that was opposite the main visa office, as we approached we could see the counter assistant was about 5 years old, she smiled sweetly, but thought it wise to wait until her dad materialised to hand over our $16 dollars.

Once in Panama the American highway became a dual carriageway, which at first was ok as it had a hard shoulder, but the hard shoulder occasionally disappeared so made some of the ride a bit more hair raising

We have seen ladies in long pretty Sunday dresses, perhaps this is just for today. The people seem friendlier as we are now getting more hellos, toots and cheers, mind you I have a hole in my shorts so maybe this is why.

After the border crossing we decided to push on knowing there was not a lot of accommodation until another 16 miles, but it was still only 1pm so we figured we had time.

We reached the town of Conception, there was clearly an event going on as we had seen fireworks in broad daylight for a while and lots of police controlling traffic.

One of the hotels we had aimed for turned out to be $55 dollars a night and the lady was not the friendliest, we decided to try to find a place in town.

Cycling into the main town the plaza area was packed, asking a policeman if he knew of any habitation nearby was thwarted by our poor Spanish but luckily a passer by had great English. Unfortunately no knowledge of any other hotels in the area but did explain that today was the end of a 4 day annual festival and it involved a horse parade.
Ginette – I am of the believe that if someone doesn’t know the answer to the question or thinks it will be too difficult to answer they simply pretend they can’t understand us. Asking for a hotel in spanish is basic but the policemen just looked bemused and shook their heads.

We parked our bikes next to the policemen and spent a short while taking in the atmosphere as hoards of horsemen and women paraded around the plaza from way back down the street. There didn’t seem to be any organisation behind this just a load of horse riders having a lark in front of a huge crowd of onlooker. Fire crackers where being set off and other riders were whipping their mates horse, this startled the horse and left the rider struggling to keep control. There was a fence protected the hundreds of spectators but it was clear by the way the spectators leapt back from the fence that sometimes the rider failed to control the horse.
All in all it was a fun spectacle to behold but Ginette has an allergy to horses so we didn’t hang around too long.
Ginette – I think horses are magnificent creatures and I didn’t like the fact that they were being used in this way to entertain the town.  We didn’t stay long but, long enough for the itchy skin and sneezes to kick in.

We found a huge modern love motel, looking brand new. This place was so modern we couldn’t work out how we could stay there. It had about 25 rooms all with brand new electric roller shutter doors and a price stating €15 per hour. But there was no one there to see to us and no office. We cycled around, banged on shut doors and Ginette inadvertently pressed the shut button on a roller shutter door, fortunately she escaped out of the garage before getting locked in. I am guessing that the room payment and access is via a phone, but I need to research this.  We can only presume this was a posh modern love motel.

Ginette – I am also pleased I escaped in time, I can only imagine what they would have thought if they’d found a very sweaty woman, dressed in cycling clothes, on her own in a place like that.

We had no choice but to cycle on another 3 miles to another place shown on the map, it was dark when we arrived but “Little Italy” B and B was a godsend. We had our own little apartment with a kitchen diner and separate bedroom with he added bonus of breakfast all for €45 so a bit more than we would prefer but better than the two previous options we had turned down.

Ginette jumped in the shower to relieve her itchy body and spent 20 minutes sneezing her horse allergy away.

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2nd Feb 

Bus to the mountains.

A good nights sleep and breakfast included.

The cycle to David along the Pan American was again just along this busy road but at least it was mainly all downhill. I really don’t see the appeal of having to ride down this road, which is what the end to end cyclists tend to have to do.

Ginette objected to my carol signing Once in David City, I don’t know what her problem is as Christmas is only 11 months away.

David is just a big town with from what we could see very little appeal to tourists. The people are friendly and often first to try to start a conversation. Some of the ladies and young girls are wearing the long frilly dresses we saw yesterday and the locals look a lot more indigenous. We visited the main plaza, where I had yet another puncture to repair but this time on the front wheel. Cycling on the hard shoulder is a safe route but it tends to have patches of broken glass and burst tyres. The burst tyres are the worse as the tiny wires are often the cause of the puncture as was the case this time.

We also visited Torre Campanario de la cathedral. This place is in a quiet and colourful area of the city and has been rebuilt but a old bell tower left as original.

We decided to take a bus up the mountain to Boquete, the bus trip was easy and cost us $10 for both us and the bikes. The town had a nice feel with pretty buildings and is home to a lot of retirees from the states. We settled in a hostel and have had a mooch around town.

Most of the trips from the town go further up the mountain and involve walking, waterfalls and coffee plantations.

Ginette  – The national traditional dress for women is a long, full cotton dress decorated with colourful embroidery called a pollera. They come in lots of different colours but the design is very similar.  One of the tourists we met in Boquete claimed she only saw women wearing the pollera in Boquette but we have seen women all over the country wearing this dress.  Maybe we are more aware of these women because we’re on the bikes and we cycle in more of the rural areas.

3rd Feb 

We decided not to explore Boquete any further, the walks looked appealing but the entrance fees off putting.

We headed to Gualaca, which meant we had a very pleasant 23 miles of pretty much all down hill. The views of the surrounding mountains and the wind on our backs made this part of the ride easy. Not much wildlife other than a few Iguanas daft enough to cross the road.

Reaching Gualaca we headed to a local waterhole. This water hole is on a river with a deep canyon cut into the rocks , we were able to join in the fun jumping from the rocks into the water. The local boys were much more showy with flashy dives and backflips.
It’s a well used area but stinks from the black bags full of smelly rubbish and unfortunately this is the first thing you are greeted with.

Ginette – we met some english tourists in this off the beaten track watering hole, they were there with two Canadians although they were adventurous jumping from the highest height they were no competition for the locals, who were real daredevils.

We cycled on not really knowing where we would be staying the night. Unfortunately we had to get back on the Pan Am highway, after all the mornings nice quite roads this highway is a pain but can’t be avoided.
Very hot and tired we made it to a small town called Hornconcitas,  ioverlander (our go to app for places to stay) we had a small guest house marked here. We found the house but the owner was away and the property was locked up. A local man suggested it would be OK for us to camp near the towns football pitch but on inspection there were a load of teenagers playing football and we would have no privacy. We opted to cycle back a mile or so to a spot I had noticed on the way in.

It was getting dark by now so our options were few, Ginette was not happy with this pitch but other than cycling anther 11 miles there was no other places to stay. In the end after a little huffing and puffing the tent was erected and we settled down for the evening. After dinner as we cleared away we were eaten by little flies, luxury.

Ginette – I didn’t enjoy today, in hindsight we should have stayed at the watering hole and booked somewhere in town.  Our camping spot for the night was right next to a road, there was absolutely no where to go for a wee in privacy, I had to wait until it was dark. The drivers and walkers that passed by were friendly but it was rather unsettling being so out in the open. Wild camping is so much better when we are hidden away out of sight. I was not a happy bunny.  As you know, I have never been a great fan of camping but now our kit is failing us I am really dreading each time we have to put the tent up. We are currently down to one chair, this means I either sit on the floor or on a pannier (Gary has a bad back), the fly zip is broken and one of our air mattresses leaks and the other has two very large bulges, which makes sleeping on it impossible. 

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4th Feb

A hot sticky night and a rest on an Island beach.

Man it was a hot night in the tent, I have been eaten alive by bugs even with the fly screen up, I had to sleep starkers so sweating away in my birthday suit I became food for the bugs, that had managed to sneak in while we were setting up camp. Today I look like a teenager with full blown acne all over.

We cycled the 11 slightly bumpy miles to Boca Chica not really being sure what was here. On arrival in the small fishing port we managed to find WiFi and discovered that there are a lot of islands to boat to, some very exclusive and one island close by which we could get to be ferry for $2 each.
We booked into a hotel/ hostel called something like Residencia dela ma in Boca Chico port. We then jumped on a small boat to cross to the island of Boca Brava (monkey island). A short walk to a beach on the other side of the island with a young Hungarian couple and we spent a few hours sunbathing and swimming. The beach had only 6 of us on it so it was an isolated spot. The snorkelling was poor with bad visibility and hardly any sea life. The water was warm, sometimes like a bath. The sun was too hot and we left the beach by 2 pm.

Ginette – I know you are going to have very little sympathy but it was that hot, I could almost feel my blood boiling.  We spent a good 4 hours enjoying the sea and chilling before returning to the mainland. The Hungarians were much more hardcore and spent a further 4 hours on the beach.  
Chilling out on Boca Chica for the afternoon, writing job applications and watching the sun go down.

We ate out in a locals cafe as it had been recommended and both ordered the Langustine, we at first thought we had ordered a prawn dish but we had ordered lobster.

The bill was $24 dollars, good for lobster but more than we had hoped to pay.
Lobster is one of the fussy expensive foods which I don’t really see the point in, it tastes OK but not worth all the fuss.

5th Feb 
I slept well apart from the itch bites but Ginette was a bit hot and had to take a couple of cold showers whilst I slept on obliviously.
When we arrived at our accommodation the lady told us her kitchen was under repair but this morning she was cooking for the other guests on a fully working gas hob. She offered to let me share but it was a bit awkward so I asked if she minded if I used my own stove. It felt a little odd cooking and eating our own food while the other guests sat on another table being waited on.

Ginette – the joys of living on a budget, the other guests had fresh fruit, juice, eggs, toast and coffee, while we made the most of bread eggs and fried beans. 

Our initial cycle ride was back over the steep bumpy section to the pan american highway but once on the highway the going was easy. It was not very interesting but it was safe on the hard shoulder. It felt like we were just rolling the miles under the wheels with no real experiences.
It was a hot day my Garmin recorded 42.5 degrees whilst we were cycling.

We turned off the highway and headed to the beach resort of Las Lajas.
We pitched our tent under a straw roof on the sea edge outside Johnny’s hostel. We paid $10 for the use of the kitted out kitchen, toilets and showers.

We spent the day swimming in the bath warm sea and sun bathing.

Ginette – we met a couple of tourists in the bar from Yorkshire, unfortunately Joanna broken her ankle on the second day of their holiday in Panama and needed surgery. Their insurance company had paid for a car so that they could get around and they’d spent most of their time in the beach resort.  It was good to talk to them, but it made me miss home. We also met another hungarian lady cycle tourer who had cycled from Alaska to Panama on her own.  I can’t imagine cycle touring on my own, I would be constantly on edge and would find the evenings very long.  It was worth paying the $10, we could leave our stuff safely on the site while we played in the warm sea finishing the day with good company, and access to the facilities.

7th Feb 

Lonnnnnnng day.

Ginette got up in the night for a wee and came back with dozens of little sand fly bites on her feet. The zip on the tent decided that this was also a good time to break again and once finally fixed we spent some time chasing little critters around the tent in the dark.
In the morning I had a soak in the sea after my short gym session and a cold shower all before breakfast.

Ginette – when I got up for a wee, I walked out onto the beach bare footed (which is not unusual) but within seconds I had a strange sensation, no sooner had I started to wee than the burning turned to a stinging nettle feel and I realised my feet were being eaten alive. I quickly moved but to no avail. I ran back to the tent shaking my feet but the damage had been done, my feet were covered in tiny bites – the buggers.
The cycle from the coast to the bus station was an easy 12 miles, on route we met a Panamanian who had taught at Oxford and who’s two sons are currently in London, he is a keen cyclist and was able to advise us that Route 5 was a sealed road and a good alternative to the Pan Am.

Ginette – he also pointed out that this route would be very hilly and he wasn’t wrong

We had disappointment at the bus depot, it was not a main terminal and there was no information desk, another couple of backpackers helped with some translation and it appeared a bus arrives every 2 hours but there was no guarantee we would get our bikes on board.

Ginette wasn’t happy, she was a bit tired and didn’t want to wild camp, which we thought was going to be our option.

Ginette – I could have cried, I was tired, saddle sore and my feet were really itchy. I hadn’t slept very well (several bad nights) and I’d really hoped we could get a bus. Instead I braced myself for 2 days on the bike with climbing in excess of 7,000 feet.

I had another puncture on route and we agreed to stop at another bus stop, we waited for half hour, when a bus going our way did turn up it had plenty of room on its roof rack but the conductor decided it was far too much trouble and set off without us.

Net resigned herself to having to ride and wild camp but I could tell she was not having fun, it’s a shame as the route 5 is a nice quiet road with some good views across a large inlet shrouded by mangoes and woodland. I enjoyed the cycling, I was hoping to spot more wildlife but other than cows horses and a few budgies it was sparse on wildlife.

The road did climb and drop a lot, the climbs with gradients over 10%, at one stage the hills kept coming and we had slowed down to a crawl. With the hills at midday came the extra heat, my Garmin read 43 degrees C, at this point Ginette’s body was struggling with the heat.
We came to a small settlement and bought a large bottle of cold water, Ginette was not in a good way and I sent her forward to rest in the Plaza, she cycled straight past the prettiest stop with shade and full views over the estuary and plodded on past the town. She eventually stopped at the bottom of a hill by a road bridge, we had lunch sitting on the roadside with no views at all. (It was a nice opportunity missed).

Ginette – My head was all over the place, my heart and head were pounding, Gary had told me to ride to a plaza. I had imagined a square with shade, shops and possibly somewhere to rest for the afternoon.  Unfortunately there was no plaza and I wasn’t going to cycle back up the hill. I did invite Gary to do so, but he chose not to – I agree it was a missed photo opportunity as the view was very pretty.

The locals are really friendly and seem surprised to see us cycling through their villages, we have seen huge well built homes, wood houses with thatched roof and tin shacks. We have also seen a lot of farmers on horseback, this isn’t the first time we have seen this but here it is the norm, you pass through houses with the horse parked outside like a cowboy film.


By 4pm I was knackered, Ginette was coping much better and was cycling strong but I needed to stop for fluids and food.  We thought about wild camping where we stopped but it was the driveway to a farmer’s field and not really practical.  For the next hour we attempted to find a wild camping spot but we really struggled to find any clear and suitable sites which were not already lived on. It’s not that there a loads of houses it just that when ever the land gave a nice place to stop some one else had beat us to it.

At sunset we were 15 miles from the town, we could have found a spot if we had to but it would have been
1, a tight squeeze by the roadside
2, climbing over someone’s barb wire fence into a cattle field.
3, setting up tent in a village with the locals permission.

In the end after eating a wrap to boost our energy we opted to cycle in the dark to the town of Sona.  I quite enjoyed cycling in the dark but their were lots of bugs so our eyes were playing catch the fly, we stopped with 7 miles to go to apply repellent. As we arrived in town we found a motel just as the heavens opened.
We ended the day tired, but were able to clean ourselves and treat ourselves to a Chinese. Well it was supposed to be a Chinese restaurant but we ended up with rice beans and coleslaw and chicken for me. Not really a Chinese but it was cheap quick and filling.

In the town there were a large proportion of drinking bars, each one with a panel across the front of the doors to try to stop passers by seeing inside. In the bars were mainly men and it felt very Cowboys film again.

Ginette – It was a really long, hot, tiring day. I find cycling hills in the heat almost impossible. By the afternoon, I was fine the cloud coverage made all the difference even though it was still 30c + 

I would have happily stopped mid afternoon as Gary was clearly wiped out but fortunately after a bit of food and drink he dug deep and found enough energy for us to end the day in a Motel.  I really appreciated this because I was dreading spending another hot, sticky night in the tent.

8th Jan 

Ginette – I slept really well for the first time in days, I woke feeling really rested. We had a leisurely start to the day doing various IT tasks before setting off to Santiago. It should have been an easy 30 miles but route 5 continued to deliver hill after hill. The route was pretty but there was little wildlife and the road was busy so I mainly found myself watching the road and listening to my podcast. 

We arrived at our hostel at about 1.30pm and booked a ‘tent’ for the night. Yes, you read that right we have paid to stay in a tent provided by the hostel.  The alternative was paying twice the price for a bunk bed in the dormitory or much more for a hotel.  

I spent the afternoon writing the blog and booking flights to Colombia (very time consuming because of booking the bikes on line). Gary went shopping for much needed supplies. 

Gary – I went for a walk around the busy little town, I think it’s a city but to me it’s more of a town. It is a lived in town with no real tourist attractions but lots of shops and locals making the most of the weekend.
I also did some food shopping and spent ages in a large supermarket looking for the stuff we need whilst passing all the stuff we can’t carry or keep with envy.

Ginette – We are going to take a bus to Santa Fe and spend a couple of days hiking. Yayyyyy

 

 

 

 

Costa Rica – Part 2

25th Jan

A really hard morning but a waterfall swimming bonus.

Ginette was well enough to cycle so we set of after cooking breakfast of scrambled egg and beans on the camping stove, the kitchen was so unhygienic we didn’t use any of their kit.

We had hoped to cycle 50 miles to the Pacific coast,  we had planned on doing some hill climbing in the morning then it should of been all downhill. However we only managed 20 miles.

The hill climbing was much harder than we envisaged with another 10 miles of very steep hills, I had to keep doubling back to push Ginette’s bike up the steeper sections to try to save her arm a bit.

Ginette – the hospital had advised me to rest my arm, keep it elevated and use ice packs. Instead I was doing a full on gym session, cycling up hills and pushing my bike up and down really steep off road tracks. Added to this I was chased several times by local dogs. They seem to be pretty harmless in Costa Rica but it is rather disconcerting cycling and having dogs growling and barking by the side of you. The locals usually come to the rescue either calling their pets, or throwing stones at strays, passing cars will also honk their horns to try and dissuade them.  
Near the top at Berlin a driver stopped for a chat, he warned us how the road in front became only fit for donkeys. Fortunately our plotted route followed his directions, but at Llano Brenes the tarmac stopped. We then had an estimated 3 miles to go to the next main road so we decided to keep going. With no iphone we could only try to follow the tracks on the ipad maps but with no location to show where we actually were.

A Canadian trial biker passed us a few times advising us the road ahead was bad, but we had come down some very steep gravel tracks by this stage and decided to push on. At least this guy was making there and back on his trial bike so after a while he accepted we were daft enough to continue and he popped back a few times with advice on which turn to take.

This stretch of track was very hard, it was incredibly steep, like 30 degrees plus in places and loose big rocks.

Eventually we stumbled upon some parked cars near a bridge and stream. We had found a locals swimming spot in a fast running stream with several cascading waterfalls. The good news was we now knew a proper road was nearby.

We spent a good 2 hours relaxing and swimming in the cool water. The water filter we have been carrying for the year had its first outing, we were both thirsty so used it to enable us to safely drink the stream water.

Ginette – this was heaven, I could have stayed in this spot all day, but we still had some hill climbing ahead of us and the only fluid we had was the filtered water and I wanted something cold and fizzy.

When we left the area we had another 800 metres of hard climbing up gravel roads until we found the tarmac, then it was an easy downhill stretch to Ortina.
We stayed in a cheap but grimy hostel in the town, but as a treat had pizza and beers before settling down.

We ended the day knackered but happy, we really did get to see the “real native Costa Rica” and the waterfall area was not only free but well frequented by local families, they were in large groups of grandparents to parents and grandchildren swimming and cooking BBQ food. It was a delight to share this area with them.

 

26 Jan 2020

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside.

A 30 mile cycle finishing at the Pacific seaside resort of Jaco.

Shortly after leaving the town the turning we needed to take had signs forbidding cycles, a quick check for an alternative route showed a hilly longer diversion so we opted to take the main road. It wasn’t too bad and had a hard shoulder we could stay in, we were on this road for only a few miles for our turn off.

Ginette – this main road happened to be the motorway!

We stopped at a bridge over Rio grande Tarcoles, along with nearly all the other drivers on this route. From the bridge we could see a load of large crocodiles swimming and basking in the sun. We took our bikes along the footpath which turned out to be a mistake as the footpath was a dead end so we had to push them backwards from the centre of the bridge back along the path with all the other tourists coming from both directions and having to squeeze by us.

We Met a Californian cyclist who had started his trip in Alaska and was soon to finish in Panama, he rode with us for a short while but whizzed ahead on one of the downhills and disappeared in the distance.

We had a bit of a sting in the tail with a hill climb with 10 miles to go, it was very hot and Ginette was struggling so we took a shade break on the hill. The temperature cycling up was 40 degrees. After our break the bikes had been left out in the sun and my Garmin read 49 degrees.
Reaching the coast the winds bought the temperature down to 36 degrees, hot hot hot.

Ginette – the climbing on the bike was fine, it was the heat, my body really can’t cope. I felt my heart working harder and harder and from past experience I knew the wisest thing to do was stop and find some shade. Gary was a star, he has been really patient and supportive – love him to bits.

We are in hostel in Jako, we were offered a camping spot for £6 but Net opted for a room for £23.

Ginette – to put this in context, we would have pitched the tent next to the kitchen area of a very busy, noisy hostel. The shower would have been a public shower next to the kitchen and the toilets a good 50 meters away by the reception area. 

We dropped our smelly clothes off at the launderette and spent the afternoon drying out our wet kit (tent, bags etc) which was most of our stuff then had a while on the beach.
The sea was really warm and a pleasure to enter, the waves were good as it is a surf area. The town is busy and touristy but not just for us foreigners also for the city folk of San Jose as this is there nearest beach resort.

27th Jan 

Happy birthday Hayley.

Our clothes were in the laundry so we chilled out in the morning doing admin and in Nets case a job application.

We managed 43 miles despite not leaving our accommodation until lunchtime.

The road was mainly flat with a small hard shoulder to cycle on most of the time.
We past jungle and lots of palm oil plantations.

Ginette – even though I am against the mass production of palm oil,  it was interested to watch the locals cultivating it. 

We stopped to see what a couple of van loads of tourists were gawking at and saw a couple of large Macaws playing kiss chase in the trees.

 

I heard and Ginette saw a large snake slither away from us in the verge as we cycled past.   We also saw a poor road kill mammal with white fur and a black stripe down its back, a car stopped but then continued, I wonder if he was thinking of a nice edible road kill for dinner.

Ginette – it is the rain forest, which unfortunately means on a daily basis we smell and see dead animals. It is not as bad as Tasmania but in the heat it can be a little stinky.

The temp varied from 38 to 32 degrees depending on cloud cover, as the evening drew in the clouds showed signs of a lot of rain to come.

We reached Quepos near dusk, the free camping spot we aimed for was not a good place for a tent (we found it on I overlander and this spot would be ok for a vehicle). It was late so instead of trying to find another spot we opted to book into the wide mouthed frog hostel (you need to say this name with your fingers stretching your mouth open) we had two beds in an 8 bed dorm. The place had a pool and a kitchen and for £12 each we even got a free breakfasts.

Ginette – it was great to end the hot day with a dip in the pool. Hostals are great because you get to speak to other people on their travels, however I am not keen on sleeping in dorms. Gary and I slept, in bunk beds (Gary on top and I was in the bottom bunk), which meant the first face I saw in the morning was a strange man I had never met before, in the bottom bunk next to me, which was rather disconcerting. The dorm beds in Costa Rica have not had curtains around them which means you have little privacy. 
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Tuesday 28th Jan

Whale tail beach.

Breakfast included in the hostel, just as well as cooking in the kitchen with so many others around would have been problematic. It had rained a lot in the night so we made the right decision not to camp. We managed 40 miles along a mainly flat road, my body was tired so I was glad when we called it a day.

 

The ride was a mix of palm plantation and wild forest, the forest stretches we cycle on high alert waiting with anticipation in the hope to spot some exotic species.

We saw plenty of birds and one large iguana crossing the main road. There was about 8 vultures making a meal of a (recently killed) dog.

We stopped at a campsite called El Chaman in Uvita next to the Parque National Marino Ballena.  The campsite cost £13 for the pair of us, we had a shelter over our tent, electric hook ups and our own sink. We had use of the kitchen.  The site also had a turtle egg hatchery in the grounds.  Another benefit of the site was we could access the National park beach area without paying the £6 each entrance fee.

We would have been a little disappointed if we had paid to enter this beach,  although it was pretty it was no better than all the free ones we had stopped at along the coast.

When we arrived at the campsite it was still 34 degrees so we laid out the tent but didn’t put it up so as to keep it cool. The beach area is famous for its wildlife and whale tail shaped peninsula, unfortunately when we walked to this feature the tide was rapidly coming in so the feature was underwater with the sea looking like it was having an argument. This is where two seas merge into one.

As the sun set the locals came out in force, (the staff that collect the entrance fee all go home at 4pm) the car park filled up and the little bit of beach areas that the incoming sea had left was busy with families larking around in the sand and sea. The sea was really warm so bathing this time of day was heavenly.

It rained again but with the shelter over our tent we hoped to stay dry, we also hoped it as it had cooled down we would have a comfortable nights sleep.

Ginette – When we first arrived at the camp site we were offered a pitch site next to the toilets, in my best spanish I expressed my concern and we were offered a better site.  However this was next to a hillbilly family, who were really helpful, they helped blow up one of our air mattresses and showed me where the toilets were. However the teenage boys returned to the site very late, drunk and proceeded to have a burping competition. Gary was fast asleep but I laid there hot and sweaty waiting for them to go to sleep. No sooner had they settled down than I could hear their dad snoring loudly urgggg!! That was my party trick, although I’m competitive, there was no way I could compete with the noise coming from their tent.

Wednesday 29th Jan 

Short day for two tired bodies.

It was very hot in the tent last night, sleeping naked and the sweat dripping off our bodies.

Ginette – added to the noise from our neighbours tent, barking dogs, the heat, I had agreed to sleep on the air bed with the big air bubble, which effectively meant I spent the night trying and failing to to get comfortable. I was glad when the sun came up and I could finally leave the tent.
We went for a swim in the sea before breakfast and then a shower to cool down as the sea being warm didn’t chill our old bones. It looked like rain with big black rain clouds above but after a short while of cycling the sun broke through and started to cook us again.

Not a lot of wildlife spotting today but we did hear the howler monkeys. As we were both tired we stopped at Palmer Norte, a small town where our road joined the Pan American highway, we arrived at around 1pm so an early stop.

 

If we had continued the only places we knew of to camp would have been behind two petrol stations, and being both weary and hot we had, had enough for the day.

I had a hair cut in the afternoon, whilst Net had a nap. In the evening we had a meal in our room I had a chicken take away dish and Ginette had cheese on bread we washed this down with some nice cold beers (beer from the supermarket is the same price as soft drinks). The room in the motel had air conditioning so we had a relaxing afternoon, doing some job searches, looking at routes and downloading books.

Ginette – this sounds pretty boring but it was a really enjoyable afternoon, it gave our bodies some time to relax and recover from the hot sticky nights in the tent and hostel.

 

30th Jan 

Confirmation that Ginette is a witch.

Feeling rested after an afternoon and evening in an air conditioned room.

Our first 15 miles was along the Pan American highway, it wasn’t as busy as I thought it would be, but was busy enough that we had to concentrate on the road.  We had more hard shoulder cycling on the previous road, where as this road had none now so basically we spent the day getting in peoples way. However we passed a combination of palm plantations, forest and well kept homesteads so the journey was still a pretty one.

We turned off at Chacarita which is the road heading to Puerto Jimenez and the Corcovado peninsula. The traffic was much lighter and we could relax into the cycling.

We ended the day cycling up and down some steep but short climbs with forest all around us. It was a hot day at 35 degrees but it felt hotter as the hill climbs slow us down so we had no wind chill.

All around us I am sure we have loads of wildlife but the Cicadas are hot and in full song so we can’t hear anything else over there high pitched droning.We did see a couple of Macaws kissing one minute and fighting the next, a couple of large iguanas and sergeant birds.

When cycling in these hot forests I find myself switching between studying the trees and banks for wildlife and head-down hill climbing disappearing into my own thoughts. You know the feeling when you are driving to work and you have to ask yourself how did I travel the last 5 miles? Well it’s the same on a bike.

We camped at El Chontal. It’s a dedicated campsite next to the gulf sea. Intially we were not happy with the $20  charge but negotiated this down to $16 with use of a double kayak.

 

By the time camp we set up camp it was dusk so kayaking had to wait until the following morning. There was a large group of American tourists staying in the cabin but not your usual bunch, these guys are members of an over 55 learning club from north Florida, and were staying on site as part of their kayaking trip. One of the ladies was from Colombia and gave us some great tips of places to visit for our Columbia trip.

Oh I nearly forgot, Ginette was stung three times in her chest by possibly a Wasp, hence the confirmation that she is a witch as I have just checked and can now confirm she has 5 nipples.

Ginette – the American’s were really inspirational, the guys I sat and talked to were all in their 70’s but looked much younger. They had such an excellent outlook on life. Their guide was from the Netherlands and later in the evening we had a good chat with him. He told us where to kayak and offered us a couple of shots of rum. 

31st Jan
Meeting bits on Brexit day
The zip on the tent broke in the night, I was unaware until morning but had a good night cool sleep and no bites (could have been the shots of free rum our friendly Dutch guide let us have).
Ginette – We both fell asleep really quickly but I woke in the night because a 4 by 4 drove into the car park near our tent.  Once I was awake I needed to have a wee and as I tried to get out of the tent broke the zip even further.  It was a beautiful night with lots of stars but kind of spooky. I could hear animals moving around and I could hear the howler monkeys which have to be heard to be believed.  On my return to the tent I tried to fix the zip, failing miserably I used a blanket to try and keep the mosquitoes out. Through out all this, Gary slept never stirring while I laid awake for the rest of the night listening to the rustling of animals moving around the park and the monkey chorus. 

 

I have managed to get the zip working again but for how long?

We had a cup of tea on the pontoon and watched the sunrise before taking two man kayak out across the bay to some mangroves. We followed a route one of the Dutch kayak tour operators kindly showed us.  This was a loop through the mangroves through a narrow channel, at one point we had to manoeuvre around a fallen tree partially blocking the way.

This was a cool experience, the jungle was close on either side and we spotted lots of birds, we were even lucky enough to spot a turtle coming up for air in the open water.
The kayak was uncomfortable so we both had aching backs when we had finished.

We said goodbye to the America Kayak tourers and again the Dutch leader helped us with more kindness by letting us have a beer and remains of a proper bottle of red wine. This camp site had turned out to be a good one for us.

We cycled 22 miles, it was flat but felt like hard work, we were both a little tired and the heat took it out of us. The last 5 miles was on an unpaved road to Dos Brazos, it was once a gold mining town but a new walk into the Corcovado national park has led to a few small entrepreneurs with B & Bs setting up in the area.

Ginette – the heat really got to us, it sapped all of our energy, Gary had another puncture on route so by the time we arrived in the very village we were knackered and hungry. We stopped off for some food before finding somewhere to spend the night and almost fell asleep waiting for our food to arrive.

We camped in a Cabina B&B called Yejos, our camp pitch was under a shelter but not pretty, however the rest of the site was stunning. A little paradise with a small garden with exotic flowers abound. As I write this the frog chorus is playing a tuneful melody from the various species calls.

We met some of the other guests and shared stories, one couple were from Kent, Kenny a Scotsman and a Tracy a Kent girl. They do a lot of travelling to places like India, Sri Lanka, Thailand etc so we enjoyed there company. They are big brexit fans so wanted to celebrate the Brexit signing with a few beers.

During the course of the evening the hostel owner called us all over to see a snake. A viper called Flue de Lees was sitting on top of a fence in a coiled ready to strike position. This snake is highly venomous. We took some photos, and hopefully you can see behind the fence is our tent! A stark reminder of how close we are to these potentially fatal animals.

Ginette – this encounter was a little worrying, I had thought if a snake sensed our presence it would scuttle away, but this snake stayed put, ready to strike. 

As the night drew on the conversation turned to politics and religion, I confirm that these subjects should be avoided especially when dealing with a couple that feel that everyone is entitled to there opinion.

Ginette – This was unfortunate the couple were lovely, very generous and outgoing. They made an effort to include everyone in the conversation but they held strong views regarding immigration (which were not in line with the rest of the group or relevant at all to the discussion on Brexit).  In retrospect we should have tried harder to change the subject or better still not to have engaged at all. As Gary says it is not wise to mix alcohol with politics or religion. Fortunately we live in a democracy and we’re all entitled to our opinions and although the evening came to a close early the following morning we were all pleasant to each other.

 

1st February

into month 12, south east Costa Rica.

A pretty good nights sleep and no more visits from nasty snakes.
We had an old, stray dog guarding our tent, this has become the norm for us and we were glad he was around.


We went for a hike to a mirador and waterfall through the jungle of the Corcovado national park, there was no gate or signs so we didn’t have to pay an entrance fee of have a guide for the advertised €75 dollars a head. The walk was up a steep and narrow muddy track through the noisy forest. Noisy because of the chicadia keeping cool. We didn’t really see much other than a few birds. The mirador was an OK view and the waterfall was only just visible through the trees. I am not saying it wasn’t a nice walk but I wouldn’t go out of my way to do it again.

It was nice mixing with the other guests, even the opinionated Brits who with less beer in their belly were back to the calm pleasant people we first met. The conversation last night played in my head all day. It’s hard to understand how a couple can have such racist views but still travel the world. This couple held strong views against muslims and yet had a second home in Turkey,  a Muslim country home to a religion that they believe to be full of terrorists.  We couldn’t have said anything to effect their views so as mentioned in yesterday’s blog we should have moved them away from discussing politics and religion.

We only had to cycle 8 miles to Puerto Jimenez, we had an hour to wait for the ferry so spent some time in a cafe catching up with friend’s and family on social media.
The ferry ride was about 40 minutes and cost £13 for us and the bikes. We sat chatting to a Canadian couple from Vancouver island that have settled in Costa Rica to retire.

Ginette – I also spent some time talking to some young 20 year olds who were working on a big ship for 2 months.  500 students from their area in the USA were on the boat learning various skills.  Their families paid for the trip and on successful completion they would receive 6 credits each. They were really interested in our bike trip and I almost felt like I was being interrogated, they had so many questions. It was great to see their enthusiasm but it was exhausting. 

Reaching the port we headed to a place the couple had suggested, it turned out to be a complicated booking in process. We met Jim a lovely old American guy that owned the place, he used to sail yachts for a living, has done cycling touring trip in California and spoke slowly about his memories, he was not in the best of health but he took time to share his (disjointed) yarns with us. We had to wait 2 hours before our room was ready but we felt rude to move on elsewhere.  Our patience was rewarded as we stayed in a nice little apartment with a view across the bay. As we wrote the blog for the evening we had a glorious red sunset in front of us.