Leaving Ghand I hit up the oldest colonial city in central America, Granada. Silly beautiful on the banks of lake Managua, packed with tourists yet still nice and purposefull. Leaving town rode to the sound of howler monkeys and hopped on a ferry to Omatepe, an island of two volcanoes plunked in the middle of lake Nicaragua. Riding to the less populated east of the island shadowed by the epic volcanoe conception I found a coffee plantation to set up camp. Best intentions to venture for a few days were sunk by the stifling heat and I instead spent a few days in hammocks with Chiara, Kate and Hayden. Sleeping in a hammock above the tree line we would wake by 5 am every morning to the roar of bugs, birds and a lake sunrise. Another life lesson as I failed to check my trainers as I departed, slid my feet into a sharp pain as a scorpion scurried out. I asked some nicas if I would die and he said only if your tongue swells up and gave me a cup of coffee. I rode off with a days worth of pins and needles and headed back over the water to the Pacific.
Hayden had told me about a quiet beach town 5k down a dusty dirt track and I found him cooking up a Barbie at the town’s surf camp in true Aussie style. He bought me beer for my efforts and I settled into Gigante life. John a Californian that had bought the plot ten years back had a liking for bikers and let me stay for free. I decided to stay for a while and volunteer. Morning swims and the surf, 7.30 yoga followed by swimming the horses, some manual labour, Spanish and English lessons and trips on the sail boat became a two week routine. 10 or so volunteers made up the running of the place and we became good friends and a well bonded little family.
Crossing the border into Costa Rica was like entering a new world. Gone were the horses and carts, entire families on the back of motorbikes and most unfortunately street food. The border itself was remarkably civilised and rather than the political slogans that adorned the Nicaraguan crossing countless advertisements for a paradise home in Costa Rica marked the reliance on foreign money. This had its upsides, the roads were seamless, the remarkable landscape manicured to perfection, pura Vida. The whole country felt like a safari park and its incredible nature was exploited to the full and laid on a plate. Unfortunately with this a lot of street trade is banned, a lot of farmers I spoke to told me of how hard it is for them now to self sustain. I stayed with a lady who had after the death of her husband sold her farm to the enclosing franchise of Palmtica, US owned palm oil producer who were digging their heals into Costa rican land with the longstanding dreaded UFCO. So often central American interests seem to be dictated by political and commercial bullying. Riding off I guessed a bull was posing for a photo so I approached to find he wanted to charge at me. I managed this photo before I jumped the creek and escaped a trampling. I was becoming accustomed to things that kill you. Coral snakes and yellow bellied sea snake alike.
After a little dance on the ferry with some well gone by 1pm Costa Ricans me and bike rolled of the off ramp in Puntareas. Taylor from San Diego told me to head straight out of the shit hole which I planned on doing until I rolled down its high street. Situated on a narrow peninsula only a few blocks wide the town was gloriously humble and dilapidated. Boarded up shacks side by side with beautiful old regality it was refreshingly informal compared to the tourist haven I had seen in Costa Rica thus far. I found a dirt hotel and headed down the docks filled with vultures gnawing away on the scraps. I was instantly called over to play cards with a few of the fisherman and we got on the beers. Street life and food was back for the fimoorst time since Nicaragua and I had it all. Ishsna showed me a night spot round the corner which was so hot condensation poured down the walls. The drums, brass and piano pumped out as intensley then we rolled in to when we rolled out less five hours. I thought of Taylor and the difference between the trips we were on and what we wanted out of travel.
A coke cost near 2 dollars and my reliance on it was such I decided to pack my time in Costa Rica and fly through sharpish. Feeling a little like a lost soul in a country full or rich tourists looking for a slice of safe central America I looked out as Merle, a German cyclist past me as I was chewing down on breakfast. I caught her up sharpeish and we headed for Panama. A car pulled in front of us as we searched for a place to camp and a young lad bounded towards us grateful to have found some help with his English. We stayed for tea and the night as Wendy showed us around her grandparents garden. A tropical paradise of coffee, lemongrass, star fruits, bananas and avocados that were the size of an aubergine.
After my final central American border I found Panama looked a lot like. Costa Rica. Steamy and tropical but a lot wilder. Where as most of Costa Ricans natural beauty is accessible and very tourist friendly the west of Panama was wild and untouched. The road rose and fell through the jungle and I spent nights with the firefighters of small Panamanian towns hopping from one to the next. I enjoyed their company, lots of laughs, in the tiny town of Nata we played basketball all night in the rain. It was quite odd when a call would come through and my new friends would rush off to an emergency leaving me to put my feet up. I tried to make myself useful and made them dinner for their return. The nearer I got to Panama city and the Canal the more developed things became and quickly Panama looked like a country set apart from its neighbours. I met Venezuelans, Brazilians, Columbians, Cubans all looking for a taste of its promise.
The Darrien gap, a piece of land without roads, a mountain range and a swamp effectively diving north and south America. I’d been doing my research and despite wanting to give it a go on foot I was warned off again and again. Especially by the Bomberos, it just seemed a little too dangerous. I opted out of ten days battling carrying my bike across mountains and jungle. The port of Portobello, pre canal the biggest port in Central America and as myth has it the resting place of Francis Drake lay across the incredible Panama canal and a days ride from the city. I awaited in the seach for a sailboat captain to help me into Columbia. I found the sailors bar and chatted away to various captains on coke at 11 in the morning whom it wasn’t a pleasure to charm. I kicked back in a hammock over my first sight of the Caribbean and realised this might take some patience. I tried the next port down the road Puerto lindo a bay full of sailboats in the middle of the jungle. Riding in i met Sebastian and Pepe who were making the trip but waiting to work on their boat for a while first. We shared a few drinks until leaving for the boat in the middle of the night. The stars were in force and my new comrades tried to find where they parked the thing whilst avoiding looking all my stuff. Not expecting to leave for a few days so I jumped on board and kicked dust, drank coffee and read a biblical feminist tale. Not the thing to impress machismo sea folk. I met a couple of French lads going round the world in modest little boats they’d been living on for a while. It would be a great thing to experience but I’m not sure being so confined would do it for me, yet it interested me lots to hear there tales. Little by little I got to know the town’s faces and the colourful subculture of ice long sailors. We waited out the mechanics blessings to leave for Columbia. All being well a week at sea via the island’s of the Kuna to arrive in Cartegena, Columbia.