“For what?!” I reply.
“Jeez, everyone wants a dollar here!” I retort angrily pulling yet another dollar from my fairly vacant wallet.
The officer at the gateway smiles a smug grin as he hands me the useless piece of paper in exchange for my dollar bill and waves me through into Nicargua, now $33.00 worse off.
Alas, there’s no rain and a very pleasant town greets me, in the form of Ocotal where I sample Empenadas filled with meat, rice and potato before heading to camp in the mountains.
“What’s that?” asks one of the family.
“Carrot,” I say as I slice it into the pot.
“What did he say?” says another salivating. “Zanahoria.”
“what’s that?” she asks.
“Potato.” I say
“Mmmm, potato.” “what did he say?”…..
“Arroz!” I say, pre-empting the question to the group of people sat around my tent, eight all told, sat there, salivating and drooling as the pot bubbles over the purring primus stove
“Esta simplamente arroz y verduras!” I say, but apparently it’s like caviare to them and I can hardly not share it and end up giving half of my dinner away despite, s always, being desperately hungry. You’d think they’d never eaten and, in this case, I believe they had at least never eaten these vegetables.
I leave in the morning, before eating to selfishly eat my breakfast and after which try to get a photo of the family printed as a gift but there is none and so I head along a dirt road through the mountains and damp cloud forests towards Nicaraguas coffee region around Matagalpa. Abundant with more coffee than I have seen so far, sacks and sacks, bean after bean drying in the sun as far, almost, as the eye can see and finding a great camp spot on Lake Apanas.
I loop down and around towards Estanzuela and it’s gorgeous waterfall tucked away in a small cove, where the water sprinkles down peacefully into the tranquil pool below. I sit in blissful solidarity eating my lunch and jotting more notes in my diary before heading to Esteli; a long lattice of house and tiendas (small shops) running parallel with the fairly dreadful Pan-Americana highway. I replace the suspension seals here, the forks still full of the Honduran rain and mud, and oddly fond memories.
The map shows a trail heading east, a dotted line towards two of Nica’s many volcanoes, turning north to run adjacent to them before east again on a rough track that bisects the two volcanoes towards the Pacific coast. I find camp nearby on the windiest place I could have found, but with a lovely family before starting on my way after cup of warm milk straight from the udder. The rocky road was quite rough for little Rodney, but the next day and half was some of the best riding I’ve had in a long time, chicken buses use part of the route so it’s obviously not too bad.
I rise up again, up over mountains to a view of the vast distance ahead of me, like the map in three dimensions, the vastness of this one road seems huge and the trees on the plain give an appearance not unlike the head of broccoli, dominated at the far end by the two huge and smoking conicals of the volcanoes.
I get fairly well lost, fairly repeatedly and when finally back on track find a great camp spot looking out to the volcanoes and, despite asking for permission am asked why I won’t camp with the locals in the village…..for the view of course, though they seem not to be able to comprehend.
I can’t wait to get started again the next day and perhaps in my eagerness get lost following misinformation of a sun-shrivelled, silver moustached cowboy, riding ridiculous trails to several dead-ends. But the effort is worth it, as always, close now to the volcanoes I’d wanted to glimpse, to be dwarfed by, overshadowed.
I’m also surprised to find myself riding a deep “wash” where the water funnels down, reminding me of Anza Borrego and gave really fun riding in sand deep enough to keep you on your toes but not so much to be pain! The only downside is that it takes me back to the assfault of the Poo-Americana. But, all is not lost when I can find a great beach camp!
I spend Christmas here, on the beach around Leon and have the good fortune to meet lovely people to spend Christmas with, Jan and Leslie. I spend a few days at Leslie’s place too, taking in a Leon Leones baseball game and checking out the city and eating fresh seafish! Special thanks to Jan and Leslie for your kindness, I really appreciate al you did!
The long Central American fault line of volcanoes continues, with Volcan Momotombo, a huge black heap rising abruptly from the green surroundings, on my way to Masaya; it’s volcano and town. I camp at the Mirador above Lago Apoyo and visit the mighty Volcan Masaya, it’s huge smouldering sulphurous crater, red, yellow, white and brown – the entrance to hell so the Spanish Colonials thought when they saw it, and placed a cross there in hopes of banishing the demons….or something….
In the town of Masaya I hope to find some of the treasures of it’s famous artesans market, but find only tack.
“I can’t know every rule in every country can I? You should give people a law-book when they enter at the border so we can learn.” I say in deference to the police officer who says I crossed a white line – apparently illegal – on my way out of Masaya where celebrations are kicking off already for New Years Eve with fancy dress, fireworks and food….
I find an even better camp the next night at the same lake, lake Apoyo though this time right next to it with the beach and the lake, it seems,all to myself! The wind lapping waves gently on to the shore, the water clean and clear,turning purple as I sit in the setting sun drying off after a lengthy swim.
The tranquillity there was far removed when I hit the bustling market town maze of Rivas near the large Lake Nicaragaua, but I´m only there to stock up and head out to Chococente to watch migrating turtles arrive on the beach shore at midnight for my own unique new years eve celebration….alas,there were no turtles, perhaps due to a full moon. I wake tired the next morning and continue south
along the coast, some fine stretches of white sandy beachs, though often heavily gringoed or “ricoed” I do find patches of almost deserted sand.
Hoping to see toucans I head to the cloud forest atop the extinct volcano Mombacho. A gruelling 5km hike leads only to cloud and wet green things and return completely knackered to buy empenadas ungenerously filled with pineapple jam and find a great camp with a friendly chap who hated Americans, Nica’s president and thought Nica was the safest country in central America surrounded by robbers and drug gangs and guns…I tried to correct him,but alas in the morning he played the same old tune.
I see a border crossing on the Pacific coast “Tourist Crossing,” anything would be better than the Pan-am crossing, bound to busy. Alas, I was informed not to take this road and end up on the only other option….the Pan-am. I ride in as the rain begins to fall, slapping on the vinyl sides of the trucks queuing up and long line of forlorn people returning after new years celebrations on the beach. The paperwork takes a while and I cross the gates into Costa Rica all too late and take the first campspot I can find. It’s a beautiful spot as the sun sets, setting the distant volcanoes alight with a wild array of pinks and violet, but the ferocious wind here makes me fear if the tent will tear in two as it is stretched and quashed by the violent thrusts of wind.
A visit to the national park; Rincon de la Vieja is in order and whilst the main trail to crater is – unsurprisingly – closed due to the high winds an enjoyable trail among Ceiba trees, bubbling mudpots,steaming sulphourous pools, monkeys and iguanas is a fair substitute.
“There’s this one….” says the shop owner at Motoshop in Liberia, gestering to a Chinese made tire, “or this one…” pointing to a Korean made ‘Golden Boy.’ “You’ll never get a puncture with this one!” he adds. I take the nobbly Golden Boy and four hours later have a puncture! I fix it up in the seering heat and meet friendly Anastasio who offers me a place to camp, at a place named Buenavista. He clears away a patch of scrub on the top of the hill behind his house wondering why I won’t camp at his house….because I want the buena vista! He and his family sit up there watching the sunset and I am fairly sure it is the first time they have ever done so! preferring to normally hideaway in the shade out of the heat,behind the hill at the house.
I wanted to see the lavarous slopes of Volcan Arenal, but was beaten back twice, once by a dead-end dirt track I attempted and rain and the other by more rain, cloud and ferocious winds…and another puncture! So instead I head to Nicoya,a peninsula in Costa Rica for soem fine riding along dirt tracks, beaches and rivers,ending at the delightful fishing village of Manzanillo with perfect views of the bay of Nicoyo and a friendly lunch time companion too, Oscar a fisherman who had 10 children…all boys!
A short stretch on the poo-Americana takes me to and beyond Miramar where, with the help of friendly locals I find a great camp with huge views….all at the end of a very rocky and extremely steep track that sore me pushing Rodney again!
I walk in the fincas mountains and jungle, take a dip in the river and then judder my way back down the track, back down to sea level through to the capital city of San Jose and then climb up into thin air over 3300mon my way to Volcan Irazu, above the fluffy blanket of cloud, Rodney stutters and splutters to a chilly nights camp with a lovely family and views of extraordinary awe.
As always I don’t what to do, especially with the high prices here,and do the same thing as always; take the nearest dirt track I can find. This one I struggled to find, searching around San Jose and it’s suburbs in search of it, but the effort was it and the track rising up out of San Jose’s valley up over the mountains, steeply down, then backup into cloudforests on my way to a fairly large river crossing before reaching Perrita was a delight! Beyond the end of the trail, breaking through the large groves of date palms, I search for a deserted stretch of beach I’ve heard about….surely it can’t be true,but it’s worth a try.
“Nah, you don’t want to go there!” the man says when I ask him, “there’s nothing! Absolutely nothing!”
“That’s what I want!” I say.
“No, you want to go to the beach there….or that way…there’s people, bars, discos….”
“No really, I don’t want any of that….I want nothing.”
“OK if you want….but the road is like a minefield!”
It was a pretty bad trail, but not impossible and after much more effort I reach the end of the trail, two palm trees swaying away at the end…I expect the disco any moment and ride up suspiciously….the club….bar….but….could I have done it…found the perfect beach…I step off the bike a remove my helmet walking on to the sand and was greeted by miles and miles and miles of deserted beach.
I ride several miles up the beach and find a spot, put foot prints in the sand, take a swim in the virgin waters and get to work on one of the many coconuts,using my screwdriver,wrench and tire levers to open one up! Then I sit drinking coco juice, eating -somewhat sandy – coco flesh and watching the sun; huge and grapefruit red setting behind a small islet to the west.
Paradise is lost however, late in the night when Sergeant Arsehole arrives with his two cohorts; Privates Piles and Trump. They inform me in fairly unfriendly tones,that I am in fact in the National Park – that I thought was further north – and that I must therefore leave, camping is not permitted. “30 minutes!” yells the Sergeant raising his hand in the air as he walks off,Piles and Trump stumbling to keep up behind him. So I pack up in the dark, back down the beach, back up the track through the thick mud of the date palm groves to find a new and slightly less inspirational camp…still, on a positive note I feel I got the best of the campspot, was phenomenally happy and perhaps this was just the price I had to pay to reset “The balance”!
With Costa Rica costing a lot of money I push on with more haste than normal towards the border, and Panamas sleepy border crossing high up in the Chiriqui mountains. Eating a piece of bread near the border I see a man who looks not unlike me, unkempt hair,scraggy facial hair and the shuffling plod of a tired motorcyclist wearing an all-too-hot motorcycle jacket. He’s dirty, a good sign, perhaps not a fairy staying in hostels each night having hot showers. Olivier, a French rider turns out to be a nice fella, the only down point being his bike….almost ten times bigger than mine a BMW1150GS….and -sorry everyone,Oli included- I really dislike BMWs. We talk a long while there,catching glimpses over Oli’s shoulder at the indigenous lady, in deep green and decorated smock, feeding her daughter who wears an equally green dress but with the huge red lapels of children, almost clown like.
We ride off together to the border, and get lost, though we find the sleepy border easily enough afterwards and patiently wait the three staff members there to meticulously finish our paperwork. We cross late in the afternoon and find camp amongst the damp green leaves of a coffee finca and a welcoming party of a fifty strong family….all cousins….Rodney struggling; spluttering again at altitude – though steep here – leaves me pushing him again (POS).
Luckily it’s downhill next day to Volcan, then David; a dump, before heading to Boquete hoping to hike one of the volcanoes there. Alas, after two days and various reports from locals,the weather here is terrible and likely to stay that way, so we camp nearby with good views in the good weather that night before beginning the first of many exciting and scenic rides into the mountains, and what would become our routine in Panama; riding into the mountains-and back again. Here the roads are often one way, leading only to the trail-head of an indigenous footpath, itself leading to the actual mountain villages. Burdened by several bags of shopping, the burly women dressed always in bright green, yellow, red or purple smocks plod along the dirt in flip flops, two and half hours walk away, further into the mountains, home!
We look each day for a trail, a river, a lake to reach and camp at…or sometimes, just roadside when reaching a sheer vertical wall of loose walk that stops Oli’s BMW in it’s tracks…or more correctly wouldn’t stop it when going back down the other side! We turn the bike round on one of the pannier lids, resting the bike on it’s engine cover slipping and falling ourselves all the while before dragging it off the road to camp,brewing coffee and tucking into our regular evening meal, pineapple, bananas and biscuits.
But it’s my turn next to halt proceedings when the loose old chain on Rodney reaches it’s limit,sagging badly and falling off. Oli rides off to get someone to cut the chain off so I can fit the new one I have, alas,it being Saturday he comes back with only a drunk man, a machete and a hammer head. we try a few other tactics sure to fail before another helper offers – very kindly as my mood thanks to the annoying drunk is pretty foul – to camp at his place. And next day helps cut the old one off.
A trip to Panama is surely not complete without a look at the infamous Panama Canala and with much effort we find a camp spot right next to the canal…separated from the canal, by the panama canal railway and a fence, we couldn’t legally be much closer.
In Panama City we stock up on spare parts and carry out vital servicing, for me this means a new rear shock, a clutch cable, steering bearings, fork oil,engine oil, valve time check,engine oil and air filter.
Now comes the BIG question….crossing The Darien Gap, a gap in the Pan Americana heading south means there’s no road into Colombia – though some locals tells us there are roads, but with the fact they are heavily used by only probably the military of Panama and the drug smuggling FARC of Colombia mean I’m not keen…..and that leaves several options, to fly, to take the more common yachts south via the Carribean. I decided long ago to tackle the lesser used Pacific route using only cargo boats, and luckily, Oli was keen too….though I’d avoided telling him anything about he types of boats and motorboats we’d be using…..read about that adventure next!