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Colombia – Part 5

Sunday 15th March 

A frustrating day.

We have decided to try to get back to the UK as it looks like the UK is closing borders and Columbia has also started doing the same.

Ginette – Colombia has stopped all internal flights from Europe and anyone entering the country has to self isolate. At least 14 people have been deported already for not complying with the rules

We are pretty laid back as we can hold up here in a northern beach area if we can’t leave the country but would prefer to be home in case anything does go pear shaped at least we will be home to help.

Ginette – I had really hoped we’d end our adventure with a week on the beach, but if it means risking having to stay here for another month or longer I’m willing to forfeit the beach idea.

We had a frustrating day trying to arrange flights with the current demand causing a price hike that we were not comfortable paying. After a couple of hours we finally booked to fly back from Cali to Heathrow leaving on the 20th. We was helped by a lady from the Avianca airline that called us to ask if we still wanted a flight, we had tried to book earlier in the day but failed as our credit card was denied. She called another few times at our request to give us time to do a bit more research on what she was offering. In the end her deal was by far the best as she was holding the prices we had seen earlier in the day saving us £600 each.

The main problem had been our new credit card was not working but we couldn’t understand why.  When we finally got to speak to someone at the bank it turned out that although we had a new card, all other correspondence from the bank had been returned to them as our mail was no longer being re-directed to our son’s house.  As a safety precaution they’d put a hold on the card and notified us of this by mail. Fortunately as we had the card (well at least our son did) the bank simply had to take the ‘hold’ off the card. If the card had been returned we would have had to have a new one issued.

In the afternoon we went out for a walk to see the art work in the shape of cats by the Rio Cali. There is a short stretch of nice paved area with a line of cat statues near a gothic church, but this was the only pretty part. There were more cat statues along the river but the river was running brown and smelly from the city’s waste and the surrounding houses were just dull city architecture with rubbish and homeless sleeping all around.

We saw a homeless young lady bathing naked in the brown smelly water, she was probably not a lot cleaner than when she started.

The city was really quiet as it was Sunday, there were a few cars, very few pedestrians and hardly any shops open.

I filled the rest of the day with a gym workout, Spanish duo lingo sessions, ukulele practice and Salsa dance steps.

Ginette – I had hoped to buy a new top for a skype interview but nothing was open. It was really quite eery.  We later found out on line that all the museums, libraries, gyms etc had been forced to close along with schools and universities. 

16th March 

Quiet day.

Ginette had a Skype interview this morning so I spent the morning on the roof terrace practicing my ukulele.

Ginette – the interview seemed to go well, however we did lose the line half way through. 

We had a Salsa lesson at 11am and another at 3pm, splitting the sessions was much better as we had time to rest our brains and bodies between sets. We are now learning together in these classes and are trying to learn a routine instead of concentrating on all the different Salsa techniques, this seems to be working better for us.
When we have our lessons with the instructors we have someone to help us when we go wrong, when we practice on our own we seem to spend more time bickering than dancing. Possibly the close confinement we are experiencing is having an effect.

Ginette –  I had been looking forward to learning how to dance properly but to be honest it is turning out to be very stressful. The problem is we both have different learning styles and are learning the steps at different rates.

We are not in isolation here but whenever we step out on the streets there is usually at least one incident, yesterday we had a dark, skinned, down and out, hustle us for money and keep walking beside us, another local man had to help us move him on, nothing too serious but this city does feel a bit edgy.

We have collected some cycle boxes for the flight home, we had to use hand sanitiser as soon as we approached the man at the counter, so the Columbians are also starting to react to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Reading the worlds papers we feel like we are leaving an area of the world that has not yet been greatly effected into the UK which if you believe the papers is reaching a state of lockdown. Hopefully we will still be able to take the flight we have booked, we would prefer to be home while this pandemic is around.

Ginette – I may be a little paranoid but several people have shouted at us from passing vehicles and I feel we are being looked at differently. As Gary as said above it is an edgy city and it is a little unsettling walking around. We chose to come to Cali so that we could go dancing at night but that is not going to happen.  We have been warned that if we go to the clubs we need to take a taxi and we have to be careful that the taxi drivers don’t rip us off or take us somewhere other than our destination.  On top of this the clubs don’t really kick off until 10pm and to be honest we can’t be arsed to sit around and wait til 10pm before going out.

 

17th March 

Another quiet day.

I had a good gym session this morning and thoroughly cleaned everything I used afterwards.
We ventured out for fresh fish from a fishmongers and fruit and vegetables from the market.
We had two sessions of Salsa, one at 12 the other at 3pm. We are now trying a routine and getting a little better at it but we are still counting by numbers and are no where near winning the glitter ball. Our instructors attention wanders off and we often see the pair of them admiring themselves in the wall mirrors instead of helping us, although it must be frustrating to teach as it is taking me ages to pick this dance up.

We can’t help looking at the news and this epidemic is causing chaos everywhere. I am not really concerned for my health, I am pretty sure we could recover if we were infected. But we are seeing all the flights that are being cancelled and stories of people stranded in foreign lands.

In reality it is not being held up in Columbia that is a worry, we have been away from home over a year now and are seasoned travellers. We are more worried about
– Not being able to get home to loved ones when we want to go.
– Wondering if this country will react as poorly as some of the reports in the UK, leaving us struggling to find supplies, we can’t stock pile so need to shop regularly.
–  If we do fall ill will the medical teams here be able to help us?
– Will our flights be cancelled.

We will not know before we go to the airport so will have all the bikes packed away, if the flights are cancelled we need to decide what to do, possibly just unpack the bikes and set off on the road again. This could be more problematic than our previous trip as we may find supplies hard to come by and be turned away from hostels. Many areas already have curfews.

We also have a small concern that upon landing in the UK we may be required to self isolate, if this is the case our friend Mary has offered us her home in Richmond. We understand the need to isolate if you are ill, but how does self isolation work? When you are finished and you step outside, do you have to isolate again if you come in contact with a stranger?

Worrying will not help so we will just have to take it as it comes.

Ginette – Colombia is a very corrupt country, we are following the news here and in the rest of latin America and it is worrying how quickly they make decisions. Peru has already stopped all flights in and out, leaving many tourists stranded. Colombia has called a state of emergency so I fear it is only a matter of time before they stop flights. The local media are suggesting the reason the decision has been delayed is because the President’s sister is a senior executive at the main airline Avenica. 

18th March 

Packing bikes and more Salsa.

Packed the bikes into the boxes we collected yesterday along with some of the bedding in plastic bags as buffers.
The flights we have booked have great luggage allowances, the bikes are free and a max of 32 kg each plus we also have two 23kg bags each as standard allowance which should more than cover our stuff aa well as the extra supplies we are going to take back to the UK as requested form some family such as pasta and rice.

We are closer to getting the dance routine in the right order without too many mistakes but we are very mechanical and have a long way to go to make it look like a proper dance. This afternoon a couple of instructors did a demo dance, it was spectacular and there is no way we could ever achieve there grace and skill.

Our large black bags which we have been using for the whole trip have been repaired in a local suitcase repair shop for £5. We find searching for large hold baggage bags not so easy so these bags that we bought at Bovingdon market have spent the years journey with us, they wrap up to a tent size bundle and Ginette carries them on her rear panniers.

The news is all very depressing, the Coronavirus has left lots of other travellers stranded in locations like Bolivia and we have heard that the locals are giving Foreigners a hard time as they blame them for bringing the disease into their country. We don’t go out much here as the city is a bit edgy but we may have had a couple of instances of passing bikes/cars making snide comments, but we didn’t understand what it was they shouted as they went past.

The locals here are only just starting to wear face masks, the shops are still good with plenty on the shelves. The man that repaired the bags nearly gave me a hand shake but changed it to a fist pump with a big smile, so he was aware but not bothered and happy to deal with me.

Ginette – people are definitely starting to give us a wide berth when we walk pass them. Some locals are good humoured and cough as we walk by and smile but other look less sure of our presence. I am so glad we are leaving tomorrow.

20th March 

Going home.

We are in travel mode as we have two flights today, one from Cali to Bogota then to Heathrow. We are nervous that the flights will be cancelled, this is not an unrealistic worry because we have been checking flight statuses this week and a high percentage of flights have been cancelled.

Our booked taxi arrived it was a small Corsa hatchback but we had asked them to send a taxi grande. The driver tried to help but he was telling us we needed a bigger taxi and he didn’t have one, the conversation on the phone with his office was no better. In the end I just waived down another taxi that was passing which had roof bars. We had allowed plenty of time so this delay wasn’t a problem.

The Cali airport was really quiet, it looked like it could be a busy airport with 2 terminals but terminal 2 was empty and in terminal 1 it looked like only Avencia were flying. I had expected a bit of chaos but all was calm. The shops and duty free were all closed but a couple of cafes were open, for an airport setting it was eerie having such a quiet environment.

Ginette – each municipality has ordered a curfew from today until Monday, the president initially stated this was absurd but as the day progressed he seemed to endorse it. He didn’t really have a lot of choice. Even though there was going to be an imposed curfew, the shops during the day were fairly quiet, compared to the madness in the UK. The shelves were full and we didn’t have to queue at the check out. At some of the smaller supermarkets people were queuing outside but this was because the supermarkets only allow a certain number of customers in the store at one time. We also saw queues at pharmacies and banks but this is not unusual in South America. The pharmacist is used like a doctor and the stores are very small.


Bogota airport had a similar feel the baggage collection area was practically empty. The goods stores were closed and only a few of the cafes open, there were however far more people here, the majority with face masks on, in fact the only ones with no face masks were of European appearance.

Our flight obviously has a lot of other British on it, with the airports closing soon this is one of the last flight out. A gentleman was kicking up a fuss at the gate as he wasn’t being let on, from what we could gather he and 40 others had their earlier flight cancelled and had been waiting 10 hours in the lounge expecting to board this flight. Everyone was nervous that they too wouldn’t be able to board so it was a relief when we passed the desk and boarded. We don’t know if any of the waiting passengers managed to secure a seat.

There were lots of young travellers on board, some at the end of their journey whilst one couple had only been in Columbia for 7 days having to cut there trip short before it really started.

Ginette – this particular couple had arrived and had been forced to stay in their hostel for the full 7 days. We talked to others that once they’d moved from one area to another they were confined to their hostel. One young man had been put in self isolation for 3 weeks. We have been so lucky. We also heard some people had paid in excess of £1,500 for their flights which if purchased before the chaos had been listed as £250.  Others had booked this flight to London as they couldn’t fly home, one man lived in Australia but his flight had been cancelled and he decided he’d rather spend time in London than Colombia.  I can’t blame him the reason the Colombian’s have taken such drastic action even though they only have a handful of cases is because the health system is so poor, with very few intensive care beds. 
I am writing this 1 hour from Heathrow and must admit to being a little emotional, it is a huge relief to be getting back to the UK. I know we would have coped fine if we had to stay in Columbia but it would have been a very frustrating chapter of our trip. When we returned from our first major cycle tour getting home to normality and family was exiting and we had plans in place for the next trip. I can really remember looking out of the plane windows as we circled over London and the feelings of elation at arriving home after a year way. This time we are still excited to be getting home but have yet to experience first hand the changes that the Coronavirus is bringing to the UK. We have seen and read the news reports but are not sure how exaggerated the stories are so we are entering this time with joy and trepidation.

21st March

Back in good old Blighty.

Arriving at Heathrow it was another eerie experience,  having such a quiet environment it was like being in a disaster movie, we were just missing the zombies.

Passport control was empty, we had three people in the queue in front of us, and the only reason for a queue was because the numpties were trying to use the e-passport system while still wearing face masks.

Baggage collection area was practically empty and our bags were all already out so no waiting around. The goods stores were open and the cafes but there were hardly any people in the airport.

We are consoling ourselves with the fact that we have come from Columbia and at present there are very few cases there. Our main  contamination risk would have been from the actual flight we have just taken.

Ginette – interestingly we had our temperatures taken at the Colombian airports but other than being handed a leaflet we had no checks at all in the UK. We’re not sure if this was because we were arriving from a low risk country or whether that was the routine for all flights. 
We had considered shutting ourselves away on landing but we struggled to get our head round what would happen when we left isolation, would we have to isolate again if we made contact with a stranger, this could be a never ending task.

These are worrying times and you want to do your best to keep everyone safe, we are assessing the risks and hoping to make the best decisions but it is difficult for us to lock ourselves away as we have no permanent home at present.

After a lot of deliberation we arranged for our nephew Chris to pick us up in his van. We had reservations about this as he has a young family but we are going to stay with his mum, my sister for a couple of days and she regularly looks after her grandchildren so unless this also stopped any cross contamination if any would potentially be the same. 

We are staying at my Sister Tracy’s house for a couple of days. It is great to be back with family it’s not so great worrying about the risks we may be to others. 

Ginette – the plan is to cycle from Tracy’s to Shaun’s hopefully seeing my sister on route. We will then head to Weston super Mare to stay with Hayley. We are still hopeful we will get temporary jobs firstly to keep us sane and secondly for some additional money.

22nd – 24th March 

Ginette – We will continue to write a blog because these are interesting times.

We made it to Shaun’s however last night Boris Johnson asked us all to do our bit and self isolate so we have decided to stay put for 3 weeks (or until the ban has been lifted). Shaun has plenty of room so if we have to self isolate further we can do this without risking him or Kez.  We don’t like feeling like we are imposing ourselves on anyone but it seems selfish to cycle to Weston as it is not essential that we travel. 

On our cycle ride over to Shaun someone shouted abuse at us, I can only imagine we would experience more of this if we cycled a further 120 miles. 

To end this post on a good news story – I have been offered a new job in the NHS as a Senior Improvement Manager. 

 

 

Colombia – Part 4

8th March 
Santa Rita cascades.

We went on a circular walk to a waterfall area called Santa Rita.
It took us down the valley along a tarmac road with jeeps carrying tourists to somewhere and several groups of horses being led in the same direction. I checked this out later and the road is a dead end leading to Vale de Cocora, a trip for tomorrow.

The views are pretty good of the lush green valley and opposing hills, a fast running stream at the bottom and several buildings built to take advantage of the views.
We left the road to make our way along farm tracks, we thought we had gone wrong as eventually the track led straight to a ranch with a steel locked gate but as we walked away a horseman came and pointed back to the ranch and we could pick out the words Santa Rita. At the gate a mother with her baby in her arms met us and asked for 5000 pesos each (approx £1) and led us through her pretty ranch, then a farm hand led us through the stables to a track behind the house, this was all very novel and the people friendly but Nets eyes were itchy for a short while.

Net spotted a dead Tarantula on the path and there were a few birds and butterflies around but we didn’t spot any other wildlife other than cows and horses.
We had to cross a stream then make our way up hill to pass through Santa Rica ranch.
The waterfall area was actually quite good, we have seen better waterfalls but there were 4 different ones to view and the track to get to them all was steep and adventurous with several rope bridges to bounce over one at a time. We even had a cave to walk through.

The area was popular with locals and there were several groups sitting around having picnics, no beer in sight and quiet music playing. Even a group of teenagers were sitting around and looking peaceful. We reflected on whether the same would be said if theses were all Europeans groups.
Ginette – no mobile phones in sight, it was like going back in time..
Making our way back down through the Santa Rica ranch it was clear to see that this ranch was reaping the benefits of tourism, we had avoided passing this on the way up as we came in the back way but now we had maps, signs and a cafe plus two guys collecting the entrance fee to the walk we was leaving. We managed to get by without having to pay as we explained we had come from the other route.

We continued back up to town, taking a path off the main road. This was a path mainly used by horses, it was a deep cut through the muddy banks and looked like it would be a stream In rainfall. It was a muddy adventurous route and we was glad when we passed a coffee plantation because the path became better cared for.
Ginette – we arrived back at the hostel at 2.30pm and instead of using my time constructively, I spent two frustrating hours getting lost in the internet machine-  reading on line newspapers, flitting through facebook and looking for jobs. I did try looking for volunteer opportunities in Cali, our next destination but other than helping out in a hostel there wasn’t a lot of offer. On a positive I did talk on line to my best friend and to my sister.
Tonight we treated ourselves to a meal out as we had see an Indian style restaurant and hadn’t had Indian food for a long time.

9th March 
Valle de Cocora.

We took one of the many open jeep taxis that operate from Salento plaza to the start of the walks in Cocora valley.
This walk is well known so lots of info was available on line so we knew where to head. We had a nice 5 mile walk beside waterfalls in the forest with many rickety rope bridges to cross, then up a steep climb up one side of the valley to rest and take in the views.
The walk back along the valley side gave some great views, we stopped at one as there was a trio playing guitars, drum and windpipes with native music. One of the band was sharing his large local fruit called a Guanabsna, it tasted between pineapple and passion fruit and looked like a green large melon with spikes.
Ginette – I could have stayed in this spot all day, it was beautiful and the music made it feel almost magical
This valley is famous for it’s beauty and the Quindío wax palm tree, a tall slender palm tree that grows to 200 feet tall. Once in danger of extinction they were named the national tree of Columbia and efforts have been made to save the tree and this valley has a load of these trees now flourishing.
We took the jeep back, this time squeezed in like sardines with three standing on the tail step and hanging onto the back.
Chilled for the rest too the afternoon.

10th March 
Cycle then bus to Cali, city of Salsa.

We had considered cycling to Cali, it’s only a couple of hundred miles.  However we had several reasons why not to cycle.

1. On Ioverlander the route shows a trouble spot where a cyclist was mugged and a motorcyclist wasn’t robbed but was forced to turn around at gun point for some reason.
2. We are waiting to hear back from jobs we have applied for so need internet
3. If we get interviews we may need to return to the UK so want to cover more ground in Columbia
4. Although we set off with 4 bank cards we are now down to one (one lost, one bank withdrew service, one stolen) we can’t risk losing the only one we have left. We have ordered another but there is some confusion as to where it is.
5. We enjoy the cycling but you can get too much of a good thing.

Research showed if we took the bus from Salento to Cali we would have to change buses at Armenia which is 14 miles away, so we cycled this bit.

Plotting the route showed it mainly down hill route which was great but it didn’t show that 9 miles of this was on mud and broken lumpy stone track. It was slow going on our laden bikes.
We past several small horse riding tour groups and although we were off the main road we past several coffee farms selling tours of their farms.
The views were great and I enjoyed the cycling buy I know Nets not keen on these off road section.
It was a popular route with mountain bikers as we past several groups slogging their way up the hill.
Ginette – it wasn’t too bad a route, but it was very bumpy, my technical riding skills have improved immensely on this trip. If I had encountered this off road section at the beginning of our trip I would have probably walked it. Instead I got to appreciate the admiring looks we got from the locals as we cycle along a road probably not used by many touring cyclists.

We had the usual grief at the bus station of the driver trying to overcharge us for the bikes, I had loaded them and the bag into the bus so he didn’t have to do anything but tried to charge us 40,000 pesos which an angry Net got down to 20,000. This was on top of the 44,000 for the standard tickets.

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11th March 
Cali.

The hostel we stayed at was pretty noisy, it offered dance lessons so the music carried through to our room. There was a Japanese guy that thought the whole hostel should enjoy his music and he was worried that anyone, hard of hearing, may miss out so he played it very loudly.

The kitchen was filthy, some of the guests had clearly only had lesson one from their mums in cooking, ie they learnt how to cook but lesson two which includes how to wash up and clean sides and oven surfaces had clearly not been given or had been completely forgotten. It’s a real pain sharing these spaces with other who don’t give a dam.

We had a wander around the city, it has some nice churches and Plazas but is a working city with no real appeal to tourists, at least that’s our first impression.

We had a free Salsa class in the hostel in the afternoon, now my feet are even more confused as we have been shown a load of different moves.

If you sense I have had a bad day that’s not really true. I have done a work out, several Spanish duo lingo sessions and a session on the ukulele. It’s just the small things have irritated me, like putting my prawns out to defrost in a plastic bag on my bike only to find the nice cleaner lady had seen them and put them back in freezer for me so no prawns for dinner tonight.

12 March
A quiet and clean apartment.
The hostel was really noisy again with dance classes close to our room, but at least it all goes quiet after 11 pm.
The kitchen was in a state again this morning, we only had to boil water but the hob had been left with whatever was spilt over from the pan with no attempt to clean it up, dried and caked on gross.
We moved a mile down the road to an apartment which is only £13 a night, it is great to have our our room and kitchen, the silence is deafening and it’s clean enough to eat off the sides. We have a roof terrace to share which also has an open air gym. This place is great and it’s times like this that I really appreciate the amount of time and research Ginette puts into finding these places.
Ginette – for any one who has booked accommodation abroad you will know how time consuming it is to find somewhere, in your budget and in your location. I read the reviews to try and avoid booking somewhere noisy or dirty but this does not always work. Our hostel had a rating of 8.6 on Booking.com and guests had been really complimentary. The deciding factor for me was price £11 per night and free dance classes. I hadn’t factored in that private lessons would be offered as well and that these would be right outside our room from 08.00am – 10.00pm. 
We had a Salsa dance lesson at a school about a mile away, it was a group session and I enjoyed the format but the 2 hour lesson was too long and with different moves again has managed to only confuse us more. The whole class was made to wash their hands and also use hand steriliser before we could start the class, Coronavirus precautions.
 Ginette – I think because i worked in Public Health and had a role in health protection I am fascinated by the Corona Virus.   I am really pleased Colombia has imposed such measures, they’re putting people in isolation who arrive from countries with high rates of the Corona Virus and have banned all large gatherings of more than 500 people. These seem like sensible actions given what is happening in Europe – at present Colombia has only reported 8 cases.  However I am shocked that the UK seem to be doing so little, it is an island, it would be easy to put people in isolation from high risk countries and ban large gatherings. Instead appear people have been allowed to arrive from Italy without being tested and the Cheltenham Festival is taking place while I write this blog from the comfort and safety of my apartment. Rant over.
Close by we have a locals food market and cafes and bars with some cheap offers that we may take advantage of sometime. I bought a load of different types of fruit, some I recognised others not.
The Guanabana fruit is a large green knobbly fruit which we tried in Salento, It has an interior the texture of snot with seeds in each snot packet. I had to open the fruit up and pop all the seeds out individually so I could mix it in the blender to make a smoothee, however the snot is pretty thick and nearly burnt out the blender. The result is a semi, lumpy, snot, textured liquid that taste a bit like passion fruit.  Looking at Ginette’s reaction to me drinking it, I think it is now up to me to drink it all.
Ginette – On our travels we have tasted lots of exotic fruits, I am willing to try them but I haven’t found many I like. My favourite to date is probably papaya.
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Friday 13th March
Not a lot to report day.

The apartment is great, clean and a quiet night sleep other than a thunderstorm and lightening storm in the night.

I woke rested and restless, there were no plans for the day and I was irritable and after searching the internet I couldn’t find anything I wanted to see.
So I used the gym on the roof which gave me an hours entertainment and my body and mind felt a lot better.
On maps me I could see a swimming pool around the corner, I tried to gain access but having walked all around the block, the only entrance was through guarded steel gates and the guards said no.
Ginette I spent the morning doing an online course, I have been out of the NHS for 5 years and I am hoping by updating my skills I will increase my chances of getting a job back in the UK.  Gary was a royal pain in the bum, he was restless and very moody,  I dread to think what would happen if they imposed a curfew in Colombia…

We attended a Salas free session in a club which was closer to our apartment, which we both liked. We have now settled on this club so will be doing private and group lessons with them. The salsa is hard and easy, some of the basic foot work is simple but when you try to combine this with spins together and still keep the feet in the correct timing then it all becomes a tangled mess.

At least we now have a focus for this week.

We had both Hayley,  Shaun and Kez call us today which was really nice. Coronavirus was one of the conversation points, here in Columbia we are not seeing much of an effect on people but watching the news we can see how the world is being effected.

We will need to monitor this as we could end up being trapped here if all flights are cancelled, this will be Ok whilst we still have tenants in our home but after May we will have no revenue coming in so need to back in the UK by then.
Flying home now is not a great option but we are not keen on being trapped here either.

Ginette – my worse fear is Hayley catching the virus and being alone, I’m not sure we’ d be much help to her but at least we’d be there. I don’t think we are at risk here but the thought of being ill in a country where we struggle with the language is not a pleasant one.

On balance at the moment it makes sense to stay here, our apartment is £13 a day, food is cheap and freely available and we even have an endless supply of toilet roll. 
However I think a trip to the seaside might be on the cards soon….

Colombia – Part 3

1st March 

Back to Medellín.

We took the bus to Medellin as the road leading back to the city was winding, steep and had a fair bit of traffic on it. We stopped about 35 miles out of the city to ride down to our hostel.

It was a good ride, we had a lot of well maintained cycle path to ride on and these took us by a major hospital and airport with out traffic issues.

We had a 6 mile hill climb to do with 6% to 9% climbing but with well rested legs this felt quite easy.

Just after we passed the top we came across a small town called Santa Elena, we was only 12 miles out of the city and the little town was bustling with visitors. We had a mooch around the market and treated ourselves to a slice of cake each.

The next stage was now all downhill with some great views of Medellín.
The last ride through the city was also on cycle paths, all in all a nice ride.

Whilst sitting looking at the view we tried to get our heads around the altitudes we were cycling at. So here’s some stats.
We started in Guatape at 6220ft.
We took the bus to Marnilla at 6870 ft.
We cycled up to Santa Elena at 8566ft, so climbed 1696ft. Here the temperature was 20 degrees.
Finishing at Medellín at 4813ft. Dropping 3753ft on the bikes. But since leaving Guatape we have dropped 1407ft. Here the temperature was 28 degrees.

Ben Nevis is 4413ft, hence although we have cycled downhill we are still higher than the UKs highest mountain as we are at 4813ft.

The Alp  d’huez, a famous Alline cycle climb is 6102ft.

Altitude effects are worse over 9842ft. We didn’t feel any effects but added this just for information

Ginette – I was a little disappointed with the hostel I had chosen. I had spent ages trying to find one with access for the bikes, which would be quiet and would have a decent kitchen.  I sent an email to our hostel and they confirmed that they could meet our requirements however on arrival we had to strip the bikes and carry them up two flights of stairs (I say we, Gary carried them, smiling all the way). Our room was right next to the reception desk, which I thought might be a problem. It is hard to have any privacy when you can hear the receptionist making calls and talking to guests. 

2nd March

Salsa lesson no1.

Ginette – the hostel, was much quieter than I had imagined it would be, the receptionist left the building at 5pm and didn’t return again until this morning. We are staying at the hostel for 6 days so that we can practice our Spanish, learn how to salsa and apply for jobs. 
We had a metro ride over to a dance school because the teacher we tried to contact was being allusive, but as we reached the venue we realised we were using the what’s app on the new phone wrong. Fortunately we managed to firm a booking with this teacher, her deal was better than the other dance schools.

So back on the metro for lesson 1.

We had an hour and a half of dance tuition and it’s not easy. Ginette seemed to be mastering the moves but I feel, I left the lessons with two left feet. Hopefully our teacher will be able to help us master this dancing lark.
Ginette – I was very surprised that I could pick up the steps as I am normally the one with two left feet. 

 

3rd March

Walking tour.

Our dance instructor cancelled on us so we had a full free day.

Ginette – she needed time to recover from her session with us (joke)

We booked a walking tour in the main historical city area and took the metro there.

Our guide from Real city tours had excellent English and was very well informed so we learnt a lot in the 3 hour walk. He explained the history from pre Hispanic to the gold mining the slave trade and the surge in wealth due to the coffee boom.
He also went into detail about the darker recent history of the power on the drug lords.
He was also very intelligent having a degree in medical chemistry but as he couldn’t find work he is profiting on the tourist industry.

While we all huddled around him to listen at his various stops we had several local older man or men come and stand next to him to listen to him, even though they didn’t often speak English. These guys stood for a while interested to see all us gringos and often shared more information with us through the guide and would thank us for visiting Columbia.

At one stage a homeless black guy collecting cardboard for pocket money also poked his head in the circle, everyone thought he was going to ask for money including our guide but he surprised us all by speaking in English and giving us a short lecture on making sure we told all our friends how great Columbia is, though from his perspective I am not sure why he feels this way.

Whilst following the group through a crowded square with legal prostitution on clear display I had a young lad thrust some cards into my side trying to sell me something, I reached for my phone in my pocket at the same time as he was attempting to pick pocket me from under the cards cheeky bugger. He just slopped off empty handed but after that we was all a bit more on guard.

Ginette – the tour was really enjoyable, there were at least 6 other english people on the tour. After the tour we made our way back to the hostel on the metro system. We had learnt during the tour that the metro had been built during the conflict and was the only one in Colombia. Everyone was very proud of it and kept it super clean which meant no drinking or eating on it. It is a very efficient system but very busy at rush hour. Very orderly but people are crammed into the carriages like sardines and you have to be really assertive to get in or off the carriage. 

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The picture of the train – the coffee beans used to be transported by rail but the railway is no longer operational.

The building bottom right is where all the officials used to work from, it is now a shopping centre. It is a stunning building and was built by a Belgium architect. 

The statue in the bottom right shows the history of the country, the building behind it and those in and around the square (which you cannot see) are now government buildings and are quite ugly. 

The building in the large picture, the Rafael Uribe Palace of Culture, was built by the same Belgium architect Agustic Goovaerts as the other building above. It is a striking Gothic Revival style building but apparently half way through building it the architect pulled out of the job because the locals couldn’t agree on the design. The locals were left to finish the building and you can see the difference, one side is black and white with beautiful windows the other is very plain. As the tour operator said a complete balls up by the Medellin officials.

March 4th 

Salsa lesson 2 and packed into the metro.

Our second lesson went a little better at first with us practicing the moves from Monday, but then she added a manoeuvre were we both spun like a jive, this took me ages before my feet would play properly. It’s a tricky dance and we do need to practice more.

We headed to Cerro Nutibara, a small wooded hill in the city with a free museum with photos of the old city, after climbing all the steps we found the museum under renovation and closed. There was a little market area and some good views of the city so it wasn’t a wasted trip.

We headed to the Poblado area to enquire about afternoon group salas sessions, the Toucan school was really helpful and could have arranged these for us, but we would have wanted to move over to this area to be closer to the dance school. Looking around we can see why the area is popular with the backpackers and tourists as is is packed with bars and clubs but this is not really to our taste.

We are hoping we can move onto Cali, the Salsa capital of the world and settle ourselves there for a while. Net is on the research machine checking our options.

I have got through to a second stage in an application for a job in Clevedon, I have an online test to do with a company so fingers crossed. It just happens to be owned by Atlas Copco whom I did my apprenticeship with in Hemel Hempstead all those years ago.

Ginette  – To try and avoid the madness of the metro system we had dinner out, however at 7.00pm it was still crazy. We waited patiently with all the other commuters, the line snaked out of the station but moved very quickly.  We let two trains pass before we finally pushed our way onto one of the carriages.  It is amazing to watch the trains arrive with people pressed up against the windows, there really isn’t much room at all. 

We are following the news in the UK and watching with interest the media coverage of the Corona virus.  There is very little coverage here in Colombia and at present no reported cases. We have seen a few people wearing face masks but this may be down to the high pollution rates.  I may being a little cynical but the health system in Colombia is very poor especially in rural areas and even if someone was infected I don’t think they would seek medical care.  That said Colombia was the first South American country to invest in testing equipment, so maybe they have just been lucky and not had any cases.

To date the only sign we have seen for Corona is this one on our toilet…

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5th March 

Not a lot happening.

We have settled down for a weeks rest and the only things we are really planning to do is the Salsa lessons.

We had another lesson today, we are not to impressed with our teacher, she turned up late again and had forgotten we were coming and had to get a male instructor to come in a little while later.

The lessons are challenging, it looks easy but getting your feet in the right place at the right time is something that is going to need practice.

This afternoon we went to the city in the hope of replacing my walking/cycling trainers which have been slowly falling apart but although we could find cheap and also expensive options and a lot of choices I was not happy and decided to leave this decision today.

I have an on line test for a job I have applied for tomorrow so have been practicing several types of testing systems.

A chilled day, the time just flies even though we don’t feel we have achieved anything.

Ginette – although we have taken time off to rest, each day we are on the go and rarely stop. The job market is very quiet, I suspect in my case this is because of the Corona Virus I am looking for a role either in the NHS, Local Government or Third Sector.  I would imagine most of the public sector are holding back funds to manage the Corona Virus. 

The hostel is better than I anticipated however there are at least 3 dogs on our floor alone. Gary was talking to one of the residents and it would appear several people live in the hostel permanently/long term. One of the dogs has taken a dislike to us, especially Gary and barks whenever it sees us, it is only a poodle so not threatening but a little annoying. 

6th March

Swimming in my pink hat.

My on line test for Atlas Copco Was a disaster , I have been practicing personality and cryptic tests but when I sat this one it was Algebra and pressure system schematic drawings. I haven’t had to do algebra since Uni and have had no need to ever read hydraulic drawings before so it didn’t go well.

We discovered an Olympic size outdoor pool nearby so decided to go for a swim.
The first obstacle was the language barrier but this was soon overcome. Another couple showed us the way to the changing rooms so all pretty easy. I wasn’t allowed in the pool wearing my Bermuda trunks, they insisted that I wore ‘budgie smugglers’ or tight long johns. The guard made some calls on his radio and I followed him to the entrance counter were they loaned me some budgie smugglers. On the way Ginette was also called out of the pool as she had no swimming hat on.  To address this the guards kindly lent us  two swimming hats.

Ginette struggled to swim the first few laps, she was too busy laughing at me as my swimming hat was bright pink.

She even made me pose for a picture.

Ginette – I nearly drowned, I was happily swimming away, when I looked up to see Gary’s pink covered head swimming towards me. It was so funny.

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Our last Salsa lesson was just as hard as the others, just when we are only half struggling with the moves we have been given, we are shown another.

Practice is what we have been told so practice we shall try.

7th March

Bus to Solento.

We cycled the 3 miles to the bus station, we were now experts so found the ATM and manoeuvred down the disabled ramp and then took the luggage off the bikes to get down the last set of stairs, only to find we were at the wrong bus station. Fortunately we were very early and had time on our side.  We managed to get the bikes in the lift which saved stripping the bags back off.

The cycle ride across town was 7 miles, initially along a busy road and then along cycle paths. This city is great for cyclists with some good paths to follow.

As we approached the south bus terminal the neighbourhood took a real down turn. A pretty grim slum area and this was right next to an airport runway, I guess no one else wants houses in this area.
To get the bikes on the bus I had to remove both wheels and the handle bars as the boot was small.

Ginette – I was most impressed with Gary’s can do attitude the bus driver and other staff were saying there wasn’t enough space and Gary kept on persuading them there was. As Gary quickly dismantled the bikes they looked on in admiration and slowly changed their minds. Once both bikes and all the luggage was in the hold they gave each other a hug. It was pretty amazing.

The bus ride was 8 hours with some stunning mountainous terrain. There was a lot of road works going on and when the traffic stopped it was for a long time each time, not a 5 minute traffic light but about a half hour traffic light.
When the lights changed all vehicles pushed past each other using both sides of the road to do so.
Ginette – I was glad we had chosen not to cycle this section, the road was very steep in places and winding. In addition every vehicle on the road seemed to be driving at 100 miles an hour to make up for lost time
As I was looking out the window a homeless, bare chested dark skinned man was being chased down the road by a man with a huge spanner in his hand while the other locals were rubber necking the event.

We arrived safe and sound in this quaint little coffee town of Sorento. First impressions, Sorento is a small, very pretty, well kept village with lots of cafes and shops as it was Saturday evening the town was very busy with tourists and locals.  We have had a short walk around the village and even though we haven’t done a lot today are both pretty tired. We had a couple of beers in a locals pool bar, beers cost us 5000 peso each (about a £1).  I was tempted earlier in the evening to go into a bar with lots of proper ales but these were 12000 peso each and this felt way too extravagant.

Ginette – it is great to be out of the city and back in the mountains, the views are breathtaking. The time on the bus went by really quickly as we had on board entertainment. I managed to watch 2 films and listened to some new salsa music.  We are staying in another hostel the room is small but we have an ensuite bathroom. There is camping on site but the temperature has dropped and I think it might have been too cold and noisy to camp. 
We’re both looking forward to a couple of days of walking in the mountains before moving on to Cali for more Salsa dancing. We have not decided to do the next 150 miles by bike or bus. Colombia has some spectacular scenery but it feels very edgy, we’re not sure if this is because we’ve had a couple of unfortunate events here or because it really is unsafe outside of the tourist areas. We will talk to some locals and do some research before we make any decisions. 
Corona Virus has finally hit Colombia, there were signs in the bus station, some warning against kissing loved ones good bye and for the first time I could see Corona Virus headlines on the front pages of the newspapers. We’re happy we’re not in the UK with constant sensationalised news on the virus and panic buying, we’re hoping Colombians take a more rational approach. 

 

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. 

Kuna-woman-and-boy
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.

 

 

 

 

Costa Rica part 1

9th Jan

Costa Rica round one travel day

We cuddled Hayley goodbye at the airport even though she dislikes cuddles from her Dad.

Ginette – Hayley has never liked to say goodbye when she was little she would run and hide so that she wouldn’t have to give us cuddles when we left.

Our first leg of the journey was a three hour flight to Mexico City, we had a 4 hour layover then a three hour flight to Costa Rica. We arrived after a short taxi ride at our hostel at 2.30am.

Ginette – What a contrast this hostel was to our luxury, executive accommodation in San Jose. I think on reflection I would prefer to be travelling 5 star (on the bikes) rather than budget style. I suppose on the upside it makes you appreciate the little treats rather than taking them for granted.

10th Jan.

Alajuela

We had a walk around the town, it was warmer and I enjoyed the vibe of the place as I felt that we were in a foreign area, compared to the very western feel that the Cabo peninsula had, although the town was modern and old with mixed architecture with some westerners around.

We found a free museum with a confusing history about a William Walker, I had to research him again later to get the missing information. We have come across him before but he is only mentioned in passing in a museum in Leon, Nicaragua. It would seem he had a fair part to do with Nicaragua troubled past but he was barely mentioned in Leon’s museum.

San Jose.

We took a bus into the city of San Jose to a hostel Del Paseo where we had a couple of beds in a 6 bed dorm. The hostel was clean and modern and over 5 floors. The top floor was a large open space games and tv room, the kitchen was however tiny, so we decided to eat out.

Ginette – we had dinner in the local Pizza Hut, we chose it because of the free salad bar only to be told to have food from the salad bar we would need to pay an additional £3 each.

San Jose central area was closed to traffic so there was a nice shopping and cultural area to walk around. We sat in a park in the sunshine watching the parrots in the trees then had a couple of beers. We get the impression that Costa Rica is not going to be a cheap area to travel through as the National parks seem to charge $40 dollar entrance fees however the beers we had were £1.80 each for a small beer and the hostel rooms were £6 each so it may not be all bad.

11th Jan

Travel to Nicaragua.

The hostel last night was very clean and modern but due to all the tiled floors and open areas it was hard to get to sleep until everyone else was asleep due to the noise travelling around the hostel.

Ginette – I had no problem, I was knackered and as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out for the count.

Caught the 7.30 Tica bus , these are air conditioned 52 seat coaches so the ride was comfortable. We met a lass from Manchester only 2 weeks in on her trip, she was travelling alone and with no fixed plan.

Ginette – We spent 9 hours on this bus, which had very little leg room so I am not sure I would use the word comfortable. Fortunately the time went by relatively quickly. The Tica bus runs throughout Central America, jumping from one city to the next.  It is a well set up operation, they process what ever visa requirements they can in advance for a small fee and are at the border control with you so if there are any issues they can assist.

It took about an hour to get through the border and we arrived in Rivas at 4.30pm. We opted to ride a cycle tuk tuk to the hotel we had booked, this was Murphy’s shack, which turned out to be Julieta Hostel where we stayed before, but slightly cheaper (£11).

The Rivas plaza was just as busy as it was before Christmas, there was a dance demonstration going on by lots of groups of young girls in long flowing bright dresses.

Later the same area was set up with a karaoke machine and the locals where belting out some songs.

It’s nice the way the plazas are so well used by locals, and the old dance customs are being kept alive.

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12th Jan

Reunited with our bikes.

We took another cycle tuktuk to the Rivas bus stop and caught the local chicken bus to San Juan de Sol.

We had a bit of confusion over the various currencies, we had just changed from Mexico, Costa Rica and into Nicaraguan in 3 days and the currency conversion for each was very different.

In Rivas Nicaragua the tuktuk man wanted 4 American dollars but we wanted to pay in Cordobas. Then at the bus station we had to deal with the 8 year old conductor to pay our fares. We struggled to understand the fee and then to get our heads around what we were actually paying. This part of travel can be frustrating, you don’t want to be ripped off but this morning we felt a little overwhelmed. It’s easy to think that all you need is to know the currency conversion but it’s not always that simple, the actual notes are also confusing. For example we have a note which states it’s 10 mil. But is actually 10 thousand , and is worth approx £14.  Once we have been in a country for a while it becomes easier but today due to the many quick changes in currency we have been left a bit bewildered.

Ginette – It is my role to manage the money and usually it is not a problem, but on this particularly day I confess to feeling flustered. We didn’t order a tuktuk it stopped outside of our hostel and offered to take us to the bus stop. He refused our American dollars because they had slight tears in them and I couldn’t remember the Nicaraguan conversion rate. Later on the bus, as I didn’t understand the conversion rate I had no idea if the young boy was asking for change for helping us load our bags or the fee for the bus. Fortunately, we were able to laugh about the situation but it was frustrating. It would be so easy to be ripped off in these situations.

Arriving in San Juan de Sur we booked into our hostel who kindly looked after our bags until a room was ready and we set about retrieving our bikes. With a gift of cake and $10 we thanked Wouter and his friends for keeping our bikes safe.

The day was then spent checking the bikes out and repacking the panniers.

Some sunbathing and beer time was also had, it’s a hard life.

13th Jan

Blown off course.

After a windy night and still a very windy morning we decided to take another day off the bikes, this gave us a bit more time to look at our route through Costa Rica.

A walk along the beach was a blowy affair, not too pleasant when the sand was blasting our skin but at least it was still warm.

We hoped to move on the following day as we were getting restless, the forecast was not great in fact there were warnings in place that by this time next week the winds will be even higher and at dangerous levels by Monday.

We can alter our route and divert to a town if needed, the following day was the only day where we had planned to wild camp so hopefully the winds will be kind to us.

It’s not just the effort involved in cycling in high winds that’s the problem, it’s trying to keep the bike straight in the cross winds especially when traffic comes past and creates a mini vacuum, which sucks us into the road.

We moved again to another hostel, it’s cheaper than last nights and smaller, but a little cleaner. In our previous hostel I had two mice encounters with the little scamps running right across the top of the kitchen worktop.

14th Jan

Blown to Costa Rica.

Breakfast took ages to prepare this morning as the gas stove in the hostel kitchen had such poor output it took 30 minutes to boil our water.

It was very windy again and there was a weather warning on one site that the winds are going to get worse, but not all the weather sites agree.

We opted to set off as we were both restless, we stopped for a bit of shopping and bumped into our Belgium friend again so managed another set of farewells.

To get out of town we had a hill climb to do, this was all into the headwinds making it hard going, the bikes were buffeted sideways so keeping control was not easy at least there was not a great deal of traffic to worry us.

Ginette – I was blown into the barrier twice, there is a fine art to cycling in the wind, and it took me a while not to overcompensate for the 50 mile an hour gusts.

The border crossing was straight forward with only a short queue to deal with.

I found the afternoon hard work with weary legs and my feed stops all out of sync.

After one short break I had a flat on my back tyre so replaced it with a spare tube.

We camped in a cabin and camp site area called Finca Canas Castilla, we arrived just before dark but first impressions were good. The area in the jungle and had cabins and camping spaces.  We had not long been set up long before we were entertained by a woodpecker and as it got dark we could here the jungle coming alive with lots of noises all around us. I think the noisiest was probably the frogs calling to each over, it’s sounds a little like a load of jackhammers working in the distance.

Ginette – when we arrived on the site we were met by two German Shepherds, you would have thought they would make excellent guard dogs but instead they greeted us with wagging tails. The older of the two took a liking to us and followed us everywhere, he even slept by our tent and barked if anything came near us. As soon as we moved in the tent he would try and get in the tent, he was adorable but I wouldn’t have wanted to upset him.

15th Jan

Wildlife encounters and never smile at a crocodile.

It rained a lot in the night, not that Ginette would know as she slept like a snoring log.

She woke me up around 6am declaring this was the best time to spot wildlife so off we went, with no breakfast to hunt.

We did the shorter yellow route, it wasn’t the easiest to follow at first but we managed it after a few wrong turns. We spotted lots of monkeys, mostly spider monkeys but also heard the very distinctive sounds of howler monkeys. There was a lot of bird life as well, all in all these walks are great due to the anticipation involved in the search for the exotic wild animals.

I was still pretty tired from yesterday, all this non cycling rest has worn me out, and I ended up going back to bed.

Once up we set off on another walk this time on the red route, much easier to follow but a longer route. We spotted more monkeys in the trees, they are fascinating to watch and they sometimes just sit and watch us, like we are the exhibits in a zoo.

We bumped into a young couple with their baby, the lady was a little distressed as she had just been shat on by a monkey and wanted to clean the mess off.

We walked slowly in the hope we would spot a sleeping Sloth but no joy today.

Back at camp I got the fishing gear out, my gear is now depleted as we had to lose some weight for the flights we have taken and it’s a long time since I tried to use it. The spool is not running free so I have tried WD40 to see if it will improve. My fishing attempt saw me spendings more time trying to get the tackle together than actually fishing ( Not that I ever catch anything) when I finally started training the bait how to dodge fish the nice German camp owner came and politely mentioned that maybe I should fish a little further down off a higher bank so that the crocodiles don’t see me as prey. It made the fishing more fun, not such a boring sport when you are on crocodile alert.

We spent the evening chatting to a French couple that are currently living in Canada, they have done a fair bit of travelling and had a good attitude to life, it was nice spending time with them.

16th Jan

A Slothly day, not.

We moved our tent yesterday to a spot under a tin roof so the tent would be dry to pack away in the morning. We did this by carrying it across the track with all the bedding still inside so it was a quick affair.

This morning we took the last loop walk by the river, the white trail. We were hoping to find a sloth and luckily we spotted a well hidden, fast asleep sloth in a trees branches.

Following this encounter one of the camp Alsatian dogs disturbed a crocodile that was sunbathing right near where I was trying to fish yesterday. Then a troop of spider monkeys paraded acrobatically across the trees in front of us.

With all this going on around us we decided to stay another day, we had already packed the tent away so needed to put it back up again.

Ginette – We wanted to see the sloth when it was awake so needed to wait till dusk. It seemed a shame to rush off when we had so much wildlife around us.

After chilling for a while we took a cycle ride out into the hills with no luggage, the owner of this ranch had no English but had encouraged us to cycle to a view point.

This route was hard going, all on hard packed soil and stone roads with some very steep ups and downs, too steep to cycle, it’s just as well we didn’t have our bags. The last 1.5 mile to the view point was a return route so we locked our bikes to a tree and walked to the top. Ginette didn’t do the last stretch as the track had stopped and she wanted to avoid any snakes that could be in waiting.

So a typical rest day, spent tiring ourselves out.

Ginette – a day of taking our bikes for a walk, I don’t think the German owner understood us and was encouraging us to walk the trail not cycle it!  We pushed just as much as we cycled. As we have been sitting around the camp site we have been reading about Costa Rica and it’s wildlife including numerous deadly poisonous snakes. So when Gary decided to walk across a remote field with high grass I decided to give this a miss. To be honest I thought he was bonkers, he had shorts on, which meant he had no protection for his legs. I expressed my concerns but he was determined to walk to the top of the hill, and anyone who has met Gary will know that when he sets his mind on something there is no stopping him.

Back at camp we did get to watch the Sloth make slow movements through the tree and was shown another Sloth, a smaller female sloth with her baby and this was right in the campsite.

Ginette – We spent most of the day looking up at the trees trying to find the sloths, we were really excited when we found them but unfortunately our camera was not sophisticated enough to photo them.

This place was a great find, so much nature all around.

17th Jan

Windy start, rough afternoon and lost wallet.

A fairly leisurely start to the day, we went on another hunt for the Sloth we spotted yesterday but it was in vain but the one in the camp was still nesting in the same spot.

Ginette – We met a couple from the UK who are touring Costa Rica on a much bigger budget than us, we haven’t met many British tourers so it was great chatting to them. They share our ambition of being able to work 9 months and holiday 3 months a year. They own a guest house so are a little closer to the dream than we are.

The wind was really strong in the morning, it blew me into the verge a couple of times, we had about 10 miles on the PanAmerican highway then turned off onto route 4. We weren’t sure it was fully pathed so was pleased to see it was tarmac.

The traffic was less on this road but the wind was very strong north eastly making it really hard going.

Ginette – I wish in hindsight, I had stopped and videoed Gary, I had to stop several times as I thought it was reckless to cycle on this stretch of road with the strong winds. At one point we were both blown off the road, to avoid landing on Gary, I swerved back into the road, had there been a vehicle behind me, I dread to think what would have happened. I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing Gary being blown under a truck so in fear/anger I cycled ahead and stayed in the middle of the road. Every time I saw a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction I would check to see if there was anything behind me, if there was I cycled to the kerb and stopped the bike. At one stop I turned round and couldn’t see Gary, it was probably only a minute or two but my heart stopped, had he fallen off? had he had an accident? Our last words would have been Gary ‘this is exciting isn’t it’ – Me ‘No this is STUPID’. Fortunately the wind died down and by anger/fear with it.

After reaching Santa Cecelia the road changed direction and fortunately the wind also died down, the road surface however had become just hard packed mud and stone. It wasn’t too bad to cycle on but no where near as easy as tarmac.

The route took us toward the Caribbean side of Costa Rica around a large volcano that was fully shrouded in cloud so no scenic views. We passed fruit tree plantations mixed in with rainforest, some workmen were trimming the verges and there where Howler monkeys competing with the noise and winning! They are incredibly loud.

This route was off the tourist track and the small towns were few and far between. At one of the towns we stopped for a drink and while we were chilling a cheeky dog pi**ed all over one of Gary’s panniers, I tried to suppress a laugh to shout at him when much to my amazement he wandered over to my bike and promptly pi**ed all over my pannier.  Gary and I were in stitches, the cheeky mutt.

Later we stopped for another drink only to find the wallet was missing.

Ginette – I am in charge of money, so this was fully my mistake. At the last stop I had checked the currency exchange rate and had left my wallet on the top of my pannier. I felt so silly, but it is an easy mistake to do, we have cycled off on numerous occasions with helmets, glasses, drink bottles all left on top of the panniers. Fortunately we usually hear them when they land on the ground. However the road condition was really bad, with lots of ruts and loose stones so I simply didn’t hear it when it fell off.

I left Net with all the bags next to a shop and cycled back the 9 miles to where we knew we last had it. I searched the road and ditches but no wallet. Luckily we later found all the credit cards in another wallet so we only lost about £40 and possibly Ginette’s driving licence. It was a worry as we thought we had been left with only one card and we weren’t sure how we would go about getting new cards from the UK.

Ginette – Fortunately I don’t keep all the currencies in the same wallet and I separate the cards so that in circumstances like this we are covered. I also keep all the loose change in a separate purse which meant we could at least have a drink.  When Gary returned empty handed, I asked the lady if she’d accept American dollars which she kindly agreed to and gave us the change in Colones. If we had lost the cards it would have simply meant waiting in a town for a week or two, not the end of the world but not ideal either.

It was now getting dark so we managed to get the locals to agree to us pitching next to the shop and an empty house, we cooked boiled potatoes, carrots and broccoli and spooned in some soft cheese all in the porch of the disused house. It was pitch black, raining intermittently and the mozzies were buzzing around us. All in all a poor end to the day and the camp spot a stark contrast to the beautiful camp we left that morning.

Ginette – this was awful, as Gary prepared dinner, I couldn’t help the tears from falling, we had no wash or toilet facilities. The locals sat outside the shop drinking and talking which meant we had no privacy and we were surrounded by long grass and discarded rubbish. All because I had been careless. We had intended to cycle a further 20 miles and find a secluded spot to wild camp instead of being the local attraction, in the wet discarded waste land.

18th Jan

5 punctures and heavy rain.

Up very early, the site we had blagged was in a small town, so going for a poo was not possible in the open. We found a nice wild poo site a little further down the road.

Ginette – By ‘nice’ Gary means a very wet muddy field, with lots of flying insects. I later learnt one had bitten me and it was not on my bum.

No wind to battle but we had lots of heavy showers, the sun dried us off but no sooner were we dry and it would pour down again.

I had 5 punctures on the back wheel, I had run out of new inner tubes and was finding the patch repairs were failing, we had a similar issue in Turkey. I even changed the tyre for the spare in case I was missing a thorn but had two more punctures, one was a hole next to the valve on the inside of the tube, the other was actually a thin tire wire puncture so neither were related.

The route 4 road turned back into a tarmac surface after 15 miles so the cycling when the tyre was up was quite good. We spotted and heard lots of birds , one black colour bird had a beak like a Toucan.

Ginette – I enjoyed the ride, there were so many different brightly coloured birds. This would be a twitchers paradise. Although it was very wet, it was warm so it wasn’t a real problem.

We managed to get some cash in Upola after trying 4 banks, we sat and discussed the afternoons route and opted to continue along route 4 instead of heading up the hill to Bijagua.

Ginette spotted a cycle shop along route (a lucky find as there is really not a lot along this road) so we now have 4 new inner tubes, well we did until the 5th puncture meant I needed to use a new tube already.

We have treated ourselves to a hotel room at 10,000 colones (£13) a night, the manager wanted a further £6 to use the kitchen so we opted for a cold supper. We had a big breakfast at about 11.30 and neither of us felt very hungry.

19th Jan

Very hilly and wet day.

We set off from San Raphael heading inland to Lake Arenal, we knew we had 15 miles of uphill to contend with. The climbing was OK but some sections were too steep and even to cycle so we had to push the bikes. The road was tarmac for only 50% the rest was gravel and dirt, unfortunately the steeper sections had the worst stones.

When we set off it was 28 degrees but cloudy, by the time we finished it was 17 degrees pouring with rain and we were cold and wet but still in tee shirts and shorts.

We called into one of the many cafes at the small town of Arenal and used the internet to book a room for £23 as camping would be no fun.

Airlibre homestay turned out to be a great find, it looked poor from the outside but inside we had in effect a shared home with three bedrooms for guests and a large lounge and kitchen. The owner María was a friendly and knowledgable host, she was most welcoming and once we were settled in gave us lots of useful tips for our stay in the area.

The garden was a real treat as there were humming birds hovering within a few feet of us, we’ve had lots of hummingbird sightings but none this close and for so long.

We had a walk around town and down by the lake while the rain stopped for a while, the town had a mix of Tico (the term used for locals) and gringos, some of which have made this town their permanent home. It’s a small town but well equipped with lots of cafes and grocery stores all in a short walking distance.

Monday was pouring with rain and we decided to book another night in Casa Airelibre as the accommodation was really nice and the host equally so.

On our host María’s recommendation we took a short cycle ride and walk to Laguna de Cote, this was pretty much a wash out with pouring rain and misty clouds restricting what is supposed to be a beautiful view of the lake.

This lake is famous for a UFO photo that was taken while a geography aerial survey was taken, it’s recorded as the best UFO photo ever taken and is easy to research on the internet. We couldn’t even see the lake let alone the UFO.

Our thoughts have turned back to the return to the UK so we took the afternoon to do a little job seeking.

Ginette – we have phone issues again so limited capacity to take photos, but we couldn’t resist taking pictures and video clips of the humming birds they are amazing to watch.

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20th Jan

We set of with 32 miles to cycle around Lake Arenal over to Fortuna. The route was on good tarmac roads and was very up and down around the lake. The road was slightly inland from the lake edge and as it’s a volcanic area there were not a lot of flat areas, the area between the lake and road was fenced off and still jungle so we had a ride of anticipation searching the trees for Sloths and monkeys, we didn’t spot any by the lake but could hear the howler monkeys distinctive calls.

We passed a large group of cyclists going the opposite way, the first we have seen for a while, they had no luggage and a bus was following from behind.

Once we left the lake it was more of a downhill section with still a few short climbs to punish us. We cycled past the entrance to Arenal volcano park, even this close to the volcano we couldn’t see it as the whole area was covered in cloud, we are at a high altitude so actually cycling along inside the cloud cover.

We past several hot spring resorts, very expensive looking places. We knew of a free hot spring the locals used but didn’t stop as we hadn’t set off till early afternoon so didn’t want to run out of daylight.

Ginette – added to this it was pouring with rain

As we neared Fortuna we did have a Sloth sighting, several tourist buses had pulled other and the passengers were free gazing, so we stopped as well and was pointed towards the Sloth in the tree. As we descended we broke free of the cloud cover and even got a view of the bottom of the volcano, it’s middle to top still fully buried in cloud cover.

The road from the hot springs down to Fortuna was much busier with traffic and the bill boards, hotels and cafes were in abundance, this area is a big draw for tourists visiting Costa Rica.

Our accommodation was booked for two nights, we have a nice room and a shared kitchen and lounge, it all looks nice and tidy but with the other guests using the kitchen late and sitting in the lounge it is not a quiet place to stay.

The weather was wet, yes it’s a rainforest area however there was a big problem in the area which meant a storm on the Caribbean side was passing through and another storm on the Pacific side was hitting the area. This is supposed to be the dry season so the weather is unusual for this time of year, it looks like we have at least another 4 days of miserable weather to endure. Camping and cycling in this weather is not a lot of fun, plus with the poor visibility we are not getting to enjoy the area.

We are thinking of settling somewhere for a few days as they say ‘to weather the storm’.

Ginette – we cycled to this area so that we could see the lake and volcano but we have not seen much of either due to heavy cloud cover. It is a little disappointing but still better than being stuck in an office 9 to 5.  On a positive the area is very clean, Costa Rican’s have nailed recycling and waste management, we have not seen any of the usual piles of rubbish by the side of the roads which is a real bonus. However there are lots of biting insects and we are covered in itchy bites.

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Our shoes are wet through, so each day we are cycling with wet feet, yuk and ouch!!

 

Wed 22nd Jan
Had a day off the bikes mainly due to the bad weather forecast, there is a lot to do around the area of Fortuna. White water rafting for $85 each. Walking the base of the Arenal volcano, entrance fee $15 each. Short walk to Fortuna waterfall $15 each. Loads of other things but all for a big fat fee.
We are not saying we have seen it and done it all but we have completed similar trips to the ones above above for no fee and with better visibility. We opted to just go for a walk around the town and local area.
We headed over to a spot on the Rio Fortuna which has a rope swing for the locals and hardy backpackers. No one was in the water as the river was in full flow, the swimming area and swing were under a small waterfall drop, it was easy to access just off the road and down a short muddy path.
We then walked a loop back up the hill and around into Fortuna. On route was a chocolate plantation with a welcoming sign, we popped in and and read the many information boards. We now know that the small black bird with the bright red back is a sergeant bird. Just as we went to venture into the wooded area a lady came and called us back, it turned out that the tour was not free, it was a whopping with $25 dollars a head, bugger that.
The walk around the town was actually quite nice, a mix of locals homes and small hotels interwoven in the forest. We got to see squirrels, Toucans, sergeant birds, turkey vultures and many other colourful exotic bird species.
Fortuna town has loads of bars and cafes and tourists shops, we stopped in a local cafe for some lunch.  I was offered some of the best cocaine in the area but declined the kind gentleman.

Ginette – Even without the beard Gary is offered drugs everywhere we go, I’m not sure what this says about him…

Thursday 23rd Jan

The weather yesterday was not as bad as the forecast so today we chose to do a 32 mile stretch along our plotted route, it was downhill and flat for the first half then up hill for the second half ending in a large town called Ciuadad Quesada.
On route we spotted toucans, or as there were three in a tree threecans. We saw a sleeping Sloth and also a huge Iguana resting high in a tree branch.
As we climbed to to the town we disappeared into the clouds again and the drizzling rain soaked us through.
Our IT systems are playing up again, I think this damp weather is getting into the devices.   The iphone won’t hold charge and the volume is going up and down on its own, you have to force it to shut down as the normal button has no effect.  I have bought another couple of charging cables, these cables don’t seem to last very long. The I phone is now packed in rice to hopefully dry out.

Ginette – apologies for the lack of photo’s we are unable to download them from the iphone.

The room in the current hotel Casa Mariana was really nice, a big room with neat decor and full wet room.

24th Jan 

Ginette hit by a lorry.

Today we were headed up and over the central mountain range with a view to make it to the lower hills on the other side.
We had a morning of climbing, we cycled for 10 miles all up hill having to use our lowest gears to plod up the steep climbs. The weather was wet and misty with very poor visibility at times. This was a great shame as the 10 miles up hill could have been just as well been a hard workout on a tread mill as there were no views to enjoy.
The traffic was busy with some large lorries using the same road, you could hear them well before they passed us, most gave us room but some of the winding bends meant the longer lorries had to take the bends using both sides of the road.

We reached Zapotec when the traffic slowed to a near halt, but one of the long lorries pulled back in too early and swiped Ginette with its rear wheels.
She wasn’t knocked off the bike but was thrown to one side and a saddle bag was ripped from the bike. Ginette forearm came up like a balloon instantly, the truck driver stopped but we didn’t need his assistance so sent him on.
As we were  opposite a local shop Ginette went over to get some ice for her arm. The lady shop keeper was very attentive and concerned, she called in the local nurse to take a look at Net. An English speaking lady, Beatriz, helped translate for all concerned.
We agreed that Ginette should go to the hospital to check her arm, it swelled up the moment she made contact with the lorry.  Ginette and I didn’t think it was broken but as she would be cycling with this injury we needed to be sure. The nurse was keen to order an ambulance but Ginette would not hear of this, she was fairly certain it was simply bruised.  Beatriz found a taxi that would take us and the bikes but it was going to be $45 and we did want to spend that much. Beatriz kindly offered to take us to the taxi reducing the cost to $26 dollars.
Beatriz left and returned 1/2 an hour later with her pickup and all of her family, Ivan her husband and her 10 year old Daughter and 6 year old son.
This family then loaded us and our bikes and took us all the way to the hospital in San Ramon (approx 15 miles a way).  The kindness of strangers is a wonderful experience and makes this trip all the more worth while.

I left Ginette in the hospital whilst I found us a hotel, by the time I got back she was all done and waiting for me, no bones broken.

Ginette – the things I do to keep this blog lively, my arm is very bruised and swollen but no serious harm,  I was really impressed with the hospital,  I was in and our within an hour at no cost to us at all.  
The kitchen in the hostel was poor so we ate out but it was not great our Chinese meal was covered in some sort of gloopy gravy.  When we got back to the “villa hostel” the gates were closed and it took 10 minutes to get anyone’s attention.
All in all a pretty miserable day other than meeting Ivan and Beatriz.

We didn’t even get to cycle the 15 mile downhill section.

Ginette – as they say tomorrow is another day, hopefully we will make the seaside and the sun will shine.  We hope you are all well and enjoying 2020.

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Christmas and New Year- Central America

Christmas Day in a hotel in San Jose los Cabos and on the beach sunbathing, we cooked our own dinner and swapped the few presents we had for each other. I am really pleased with my two new tee shirts, one is covered in tweety bird cartoon pictures.

We split on Boxing Day, Ginette to the airport to meet Hayley and me to the next apartment in los Cabos up on a hill.

The apartment was in a complex with a small gym that didn’t work well and a very cold but pretty swimming pool.

We spent the 5 days here walking, sunbathing, swimming and window shopping.

Ginette – Hayley and I struggled to find the apartment as our mapping systems would not work. We decided to jump off the bus in the town and flag down a taxi, this step was easy but it took the taxi driver a further 40 minutes to find the apartment. this was in despite of the fact we had the address and a map.

Ginette lost on New Year’s Eve. 

She left Hayley and I on the beach while she went back to the room for a kip,  hours later we arrived with no Net in sight. I found her at the marina and guided her back. She wasn’t lost she says, she just couldn’t find the accommodation?

Ginette – I wasn’t lost, I knew where I was, I just couldn’t find the apartment. I realised after about an hour of wandering up and down the streets from the beach that Gary and Hayley would be worried about me. So i gave up the search and headed back to the beach where I was sure they’d look for me.

New Year’s Eve spent in a restaurant with audience participation liveshow, Hayley was hung upside down and fed tequila shots, we saw the new decade İn one the beach with thousands of others watching a huge fireworks display.

On News Day we paid for a Boat ride to lands end to see some rock formations and arches, also some sunbathing seals, this is where the Pacific Ocean and the sea of Cortez meet.

Cabo San Lucas is very tourist with lots of North Americans either on holiday or living as expats. It’s not really to my taste but I can see why people would use this area for holidays. In the marina entrance boats of all sizes make the way in and out all day, the fishing charter boats have Seals jumping on the stern for a sneaky fish feed and camera shoot.

We hired a car so we could explore further afield plus we could reach wild camping sights to keep the cost down.

Chaco hot spring is down a dusty washboard back road and has camping near a hot spring. The hot spring is fed from under the sands so there are a few pools of warm water but the rest of the stream is pretty cold there is a walk further up the stony riverbed to a waterfall, we tried to find the waterfall but couldn’t find a safe way up past a narrow water filled gully so turned back.

In the lower stream under the small dam I saw a snake in the water and later we all bathed our feet in for a fish foot spa.

The camping was a better experience as we were allowed open fires and there was plenty of firewood around, we cooked all our food this way as well.

Unfortunately I lost one on my hearing aids here, we searched for ages but it’s gone.

Ginette – this was my fault, Gary gave them to me for safe keeping and I put them in my pocket. I felt so guilty I spent the best part of the morning trying to find them amongst the beach and wooded areas we had camped on the night before.

We then moved onto Cabo Pulmo National park which was down about 10 miles of dusty washboard roads, we visited the tourist information and were directed further down the coast to a sheltered free campsite Frailes playa

To reach Frailes Playa there was a pretty bad stretch of potholed road full of water, if it wasn’t for the fact we had seen two wheel drive cars come back the other way we may not have attempted to drive through. 

This area was great with a long sheltered bay and no facilities, we had to improvise a bucket and rope to access water from a deep well.

We went on a Hill climb walk which was a bit hazardous, we had been told about the route but we never found a path so scrambled up and other the rocks and cacti to the top of the hill. Hayley found some of the sections especially hard as she has been trained to climb with harnesses and guy ropes, we were free styling which was rather silly.

The snorkeling was good with plenty of large and small fish of numerous species.

Again we had open fires which does add to the adventure of outdoor camping.

On the way back we again made it through the puddles to playa sirenas. We didn’t camp here but walked along the small cliff tops to a sheltered snorkelling area which again had a large number of large and small fish, the Barracudas where about 3 foot long. We chatted to a family with two kids around 8 years old from Minnosota, they were a lovely family.

We headed out of the washboard road areas back onto the main roads and ended up camping in posh beach side site at Los Braille’s, this is a windy beach so has been adopted by all the kite surfers.

We went to a pub and after just two margaritas I was struggling to stand and by the time we got back to camp was sick and crawling so as not to fall over, I am not sure if my drink was spiked or it was just really strong but either way my body didn’t like it.

Ginette – it was really worrying watching Gary in this state it was like he was paralytic but his speech was not affected and he suffered no hang over.  I am sure his drink was either laced with something or spiked. Hayley had the same drink but although tipsy she seemed less affected.

The next day, slightly jaded but not hung over we headed to La Paz.

On the way we stopped at El Triunfo, an old mining town. We looked around the mine ruins with its large chimney and had a packed lunch in a nice churche grounds followed by ice creams.

La Paz is a clean city, it is by the sea and quite, which is unusual for a Mexican city. We had hoped to show Hayley a more authentic side of Mexico but La Paz was not like any other Mexican cities we have seen on the mainland.

We stayed in a hostel in a 6 bed bunk room with all beds taken.

In the morning Hayley went on a boat trip to snorkel with whale sharks which I think she really enjoyed. 

We drove to Todas Santos and spent some time looking around the gift shops and galleries, then made our way to a free camping beach area that I overlander had on its map.

We camped near the beach, again we had an open fire. Unfortunately the area around us was littered with waste, the area seemed popular with surfers that seemed to have made temporary homes for themselves but had made no attempt to dig a latrine.

There was a beach bar, we met a nice couple. A Mexican man and Danish lady, it was good chatting with them, we had a really pleasant evening.

Hayley didn’t feel too well in the morning so we skipped the planned body boarding and headed to San Lucas to a really nice condo apartment so we could relax, Wash clothes and get ready for the next days flights. The condo felt really luxurious (as it was luxurious) especially after the camping and hostel stays.

Ginette – Hayley coped really well with the holiday, it was quite demanding on her poorly body. We did contemplate two weeks on the beach but she would have been bored to tears. She is definitely Gary’s daughter.