Friday, 26 February 2016

Nearly done

Despite the doom & gloom weather forecast of heavy showers (how strange for a UK weather app to focus on the negative!) the sky remained blue, the sun shone, the humidity rose and we sweated like pigs even on a nice flat road and a tailwind to help us along.

We stopped off along the way to admire the Caribbean Sea and do a bit of impromptu mid ride yoga. 

There's kate busting her moves. She also tried busting that coconut on the ground near her in an attempt to get the fresh water out of it. She got the water.  It wasn't fresh. Oh well, back to the downward dog.....

By lunch time we were in the little town of Cahuita. We stopped off for more tuna & tomato wraps before hitting town and doing the rather tiresome accommodation hunt routine.

The town is a pretty low key place that seems to exist solely on tourism. It's chilled out, with a few restaurants to choose from and a national park next door. We'll probably hang here for a few days. We've been on the go for 9 days, moving from place to place. That probably doesn't sound too bad to some but I can assure you it gets tiring.

We'll be home in less than 2 weeks. Well, I say home but we haven't actually got one to go to as its rented out. That was all part of our plan so that's ok. When I say plan that may lead you to think we've got a plan. We haven't.  We have a back up plan. Can you have a back up plan when you haven't actually got a plan, doesn't it get upgraded to 'the plan'?

It rained the next morning, those miserable negative forecasters got it right for a change. We were planning (more planning, we're supposed to be relaxing...) to go for a walk in the national park but what with the drizzle, Facebook appealed more.

We saw a gap in the weather so headed out

We saw a few monkeys (zoom in for an in flight experience)

Some very shy blue crabs (not available for photos) and a spider

And a squirrel, don't forget the squirrel.....

Then, all natured out, we got all arty

Then (how much more of this action can you take?) there were some shrieks in the distance. An elderly American lady shouted that she'd spotted a rare and Lesser Spotted White Arse, well 2 actually and I'd say they were quite spotted what with all the sweaty time they'd spent on a saddle over the last few weeks. Yes, overcome with the romance & adventure of our Indiana Jonesesque morning we'd decided to go for a quick skinny dip in the warm and welcoming waters of the Caribbean Sea. Very nice it was too. It was only afterwards that we saw some dirty urchin hiding in the bushes watching us....

Sorry but it's afternoon now and it's raining again. Nowt else to do but one finger typing....

We're quite looking forward to coming home. I'm actually a bit excited. It's not that this lark isn't fun but we've had enough of it for now. In many ways I'd like to continue the odyssey but it's the reality of it that drags. The shitty beds, groggy bathrooms, uncomfy chairs, limiting menus, sticky tablecloths....  The place we're staying at now has a kitchen, great we can cook some nice dinners. Zoom into the photo

Look at the grime everywhere (this is quite a nice one, we chose this place cos the kitchen was good). The cooker only has one burner, the other one has rusted away and fallen out. The cups and plates are all chipped. I was trying to cut up an onion and couldn't work out which way up the 'sharp' knife should be, it was so blunt and the handle has long gone...
Some people will call me a whinger, some will think I'm one but not say it, others will say it just to wind me up regardless of whether they think I am but that's mostly an annoying bloke thing to do but that's another story..

It's weird, at home I'd never 'allow myself' to just sit about typing b@llocks, all afternoon. I'd always have to be doing something productive. On trips like this there's freedom and time a plenty to just sit about and that's great. What is rare on a trip like this (for me anyway) is for something or somewhere to 'hit the spot' and be exactly how I like it. Something or someone always seems to take the edge off it. Someone smoking, shit loud music, arse busting chairs, dirt, biting insects.... Oh blimey, I'm doing it again!

You see, I'm excited about coming home because of all the fun things to do there. I'm removed from the reality of doing them and only seeing the good bits. A weekend away camping in the Lake District sounds great. I can imagine gorgeous spring weather, a welcoming English pub, history and a sense of belonging there (no, not in the pub!). I'm glossing over the reality of the experience as a whole and only seeing the 'brochure bits'. The traffic jams on the M1, lunch at the motorway services, the not so gorgeous spring weather.... But for now, until good old England breaks me again, sending me running (or pedalling) for some far flung land, I'm revved up and ready to give it a go (well, except for the motorway services that don't have an M&S that is....)

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Go green, go Costa Rica

We spent the afternoon relaxing at the river in La Fortuna

We're trying as hard as we can to eat healthily but weren't convinced the chef at this place was really on board

We left the next day with a loose plan to ride/bus it to the seaside for a nice holiday before we come home.

The countryside here is so green and lush. It's the only country out of all those in SE Asia and C America that has looked like we imagined it to. Huge trees with great big exposed roots, banana plants, palms, giant ferns, loads of things with massive leaves... If when I die I come back as a plant, I'd be happy to live here. Will someone please sort that out for me?! Hot sunshine, loads of rain, fertile soil, ooh yes, that would be the life....

We rode past loads of fruit farms and were overtaken (most times a bit to closely for comfort) by massive trucks full up with pineapples or oranges. I've no idea how the ones at the bottom aren't turned to juice within minutes. It was funny to think that  any of those fruits could end up in your local supermarket within a day or 2 of us riding past them. If you see one with a Costa Rica sticker on it, please say hello from us. Check this place out

Possibly a bit of a grand claim but certainly a move in the right direction. They seem pretty switched on here to looking after their country and their environment. There is way less litter around. We haven't seen any road gangs picking it up so it must be a case that people aren't dropping it. Has this been achieved through education? If yes then bloody good on the government I say.

It's not all modern and normal though. A lot of the people in the town of Aguas Zarcus certainly weren't normal. 

After a scrummo lunch we sat waiting at the bus stop for a couple of hours and seemed to attract every drunk, looney and weirdo the town had to offer. Some of them were quite amusing and even talented (especially the old dude who did brilliant dog & cat impressions) but I have to say we could have done without it really.

I'm clearly running out of things to write and photograph. Here are 3 old land rovers we spotted during the day and a cool motorised bicycle at night

After a night in some random town we're now sitting at a bus station trying to get to Puerto Limon. The road East is busy, hot and horrible. It looks a bit dangerous with lots of trucks and no shoulder. But, to be honest, we really can't be bothered to ride today. One bus came but it was full, I think we might be here a while... What to do?

I don't think this is our favourite country of the trip but it's defo the one that gives the most bang for your buck. It's certainly not the cheapest or friendliest but it is the easiest, nicest (as in clean & sensible) and most normal of all the CA countries we've seen. If you ever fancy coming to this neck of the woods and you've never done this type of thing before it would definitely be the best bet for a first timer in a proper foreign land. Buy a map, hire a car and go!

It's funny, as we get back into 'normality' it begins to feel like home. It's only when you pop over to a street stall to buy a juicy mango for 20p that we remember we're not at Basingstoke waiting for the National Express to Weymouth

Eventually a bus came that we could get on. No seats were available though so we sat on the floor of the wheelchair area amongst the luggage. Pure class.

 As many of us do I'm sure whilst on a long, uncomfortable bus journey, I sat there staring into space imagining myself on a Caribbean beach, well it wasn't that hard, we were only an hour or 2 away!

Oh and if you enjoyed my deep n meaningful posts you might also enjoy this from my sister.

We're available (as a double act on a BOGOF deal) for ladies tea parties, stag do's, posh dinners, weddings, funerals etc.  Can't say fairer than that eh? 

Ooh, gotta go, my phones ringing, must be our first booking. "Hello, yes we can do a talk on 'Living in the now', who's calling? The History Society, hmm....."

Monday, 22 February 2016

The Proclaimers

Back in 1998. a bespectacled Scottish duo thought it ok to write a song about walking 500 + 500 miles and jolly good it was too. I'm not going to write a song but I am going to proudly proclaim that we have now ridden 1000 miles. I'm also going to say that we have no intention of riding 1000 more, with or without wearing our glasses!

The moment came at around lunch time so it seemed a good opportunity for a bite to eat and a photo to mark this auspicious occasion. Now it happened to be the forth lunch in a row we'd eaten tuna and we were just outside the town of La Fortuna but as hard as I racked my brain, I couldn't quite manage to get a cheap gag out of it!

Now, riding 1000 miles isn't the only thing I want to proclaim today. I want to take this opportunity to say how wonderful my wife Kate is. Most of you probably know that in 2013 Kate was diagnosed with breast cancer. She spent the latter half of that year being chopped, chemo'd and radio'd. All of that naturally put her mind and body through a hell of a tough time. But since then, in her true 'just get on with it' style, she's cycled nearly 1000 miles across the length of France, 1500 miles through South East Asia and now 1000 miles through the mountains of Central America (including the bits she had to push!). I think we should all stop what were doing for a minute or 2 and have a little think about that and anyone else you know who's been through (or is going through) any kind of tough time. 

Now that I've interrupted your day, hang around a few minutes more so I can tell you what I was thinking today.

The scenery along lake Arenal was lovely. 48km of winding ups & downs through a mix of jungle and cleared land. Steep driveways led up and down from the road and the whole place really reminded us of our old Australian suburb of Austinmer.

Cool tree

And what one looks like when it's cut down

I stopped before a narrow bridge to let some cars coming though who were coming the other way. I was then going to get a happy snappy of the river but... The arrogant twat in the last car didn't wave 'thanks' or even acknowledge me (it's one of my pet hates this one). I was so busy being annoyed that I forgot to get the photo and rode on in a right old huff until the next big climb where thankfully the huff just turned into puff.

Why do I mention this? Well it just goes to show that despite the fact Kate and I have done all these great adventures that others say they dream about, we're still just who we always were. 

Now at the risk of sounding repetitive (well, let's face it the whole blog has been so far so I may as well continue in the same vein...) I just wanted to say to all those people who dream about "another life out there they don't have the chance to live" that it may not actually make that much difference even if you did get the chance to go off on your own great dream adventure. When you'd get back you'd still just be you. When you were out there, guess what? Same thing! 

I can't speak for anyone but myself but after doing a few of these big trips, I've got to say that the reality does in many ways under deliver compared to the dream. Maybe it's because we're coming to the end of our toughest trip to date, maybe I'm going soft??? Sure there are some great bits but they're certainly linked together by a load of pretty ordinary or hard or grotty or boring bits. What I'm trying to say is that the whole concept of Micro Adventures (which is just a fancy name for 'getting away for a few days doing what you enjoy') is a great one. These big trips are a bit of a blunt instrument to achieve fun or satisfaction.

Years ago I was talking to my big sister Sarah. I told her that I wanted to go off to Africa (or similar) to do some "fantastic volunteering doing something fantastic". She asked why I always seem to do these 'big things', why didn't I just stay at home and do some kind of local voluntary work? It was the 'giving' I wanted to do wasn't it? So why uproot my life for that, it wasn't necessary. I took her advice and every fortnight for the next 18 months I took 2 old ladies shopping and entertained them with my dubious charm & wit. D'you know what? I loved it. I got so much out of it. Would jetting off to some African village to do whatever have been better and how exactly do you judge 'better'? I can't answer either of those questions.

So.... What I'm getting at is the same old broken record (that I think I should actually start listening to myself a bit more often!) is to look around you at what you've got or could easily get and jolly well go and enjoy it.

Thank you. Oh, by the way, I I'd manage to get a photo of another river. I hope you like it!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Why do we do it?

We had a microwave in our room in Upala so treated ourselves to some hot porridge with sliced banana for brekkie. Yummo!

It was a lovely ride to San Rafael de Guatuso. Gentle hills, pleasant greenery and not too much traffic. Mind you when it came it was either very close, very big or both (this one is giving kate a very wide berth)

We dodged a few rain showers (that'll explain the greenery), one at a supermarket and the other in a bus stop (all class us). We'd covered our 43km easily and even had a little picnic on the way

Me having fun

We checked into a place and haggled some breakfast into the deal. She also let us use her little kitchen to make dinner. Mind you, boiling spaghetti in an electric frying pan was a first...

Why then, what with all this blissful ease would we decide to turn off this nice, rolling, easy road to La Fortuna and choose instead 21km of dirt road heading south over a mountain range followed by what looks to be a very wiggly (read steep up & down) Tarmac one? Why? Hmm, good question...

It started off ok, our all inclusive rice n beans, egg and fried plantain certainly was, if nothing else, good fuel for the road ahead.

The scenery was definitely getting better

Don't get excited, that's actually a picture on our hotel room wall added purely for hilarious comedy value

Here is the river for real

And the start of the road 

The scenery improved more as the climbing started. It really reminded me of parts of Australia where I'd ridden my motorbike. Did someone mention riding a motorbike? Oh that would just be so silly. Imagine it, an engine, a comfy seat, the open road....

The road surface at first was ok, just bumpy to ride on with our not particularly 'fit for purpose' bikes. When it got a bit much we just pushed

We had some cloud around to keep the temperature down to about mid eighties (27 for the youngsters reading) but it was really humid and we were sweating buckets. Luckily there was a little shop in one of the villages where we guzzled down some cold, sugary pop. 

More climbing, the surface was now beginning to break up making the riding much harder. Our rear wheels keep spinning and the skinny front tyres were digging in, pulling the handlebars all over the place. We tried pushing but with the big arse panniers in the way you end up pushing the bike with it tilted over a bit. The front wheel then just kept slipping sideways. I have to say, we're beginning to get a bit tired of all this caper....

At one point on a particularly steep, rough bit some young lads bombed down passed us on mountain bikes. They looked like they were having fun and I tried to remind myself that I was supposed to be as well!

Still, there was the view to keep us happy (?). Not really, we both had to concentrate on the riding too much to look up and when we stopped for a breather it was all about trying to see how much further until the bloody top. 

Still, these 2 little kids coming the other way on a horse perked us up but it was all wearing a bit thin. Looking back on it now I'd say we had a good day but at the time, I in particular, was getting a bit ratty.

We were getting hungry. We had lunch with us (same as yesterday, tin of spicy tuna, a tomato and some tortillas) but there was nowhere to sit to eat it. We'd both already had our arses bitten off by ants when we sat down in the verge for a drink.

Eventually, after 17km and about 4 hours we made it to the top. Now we had 4km of downhill to go. The view of the lake was nice but neither of us were particularly interested, we just wanted to get down to the town of Nuovo Arenal and get something more than a seriously bruised banana and half a melted Snickers to eat. 

Parts of the descent were bloody steep. The surface was now bumpy, loose cinder & gravel. It was a tricky balancing act to brake enough to keep the speed under control but not lock the front wheel up, skid and fall off. Chuck in a few over zealous, barking 'guard' dogs  that ran out of the driveways of the big posh houses and it was all getting a bit much.

But, as always we made it. We had our little picnic on the grass outside the church and then used their outside tap to wash our faces in (holy?) water.

We cruised a couple of hotels. One was cheap ($12) but pretty shabby so we opted for the $30 option up the road. We've got 2 beds, a snoozing Kate, a freezing cold shower and a bike parking facility! 

The view's nice as well (lake view, only the best for us), the pool's empty by the way...

Tomorrow we'll ride East along the northern edge of Lake Arenal to the touristy town of La Fortuna. Did you know that we're not Gringos? We thought that the word was used for all Whities. It seems that Gringos are American and we are Euros. The Gringo seems to be quite low on the respect pecking order as judged by the locals here. They are tourist wally's only good for one thing - handing out cash. The lady at our guesthouse last night looked at us and told us we definitely weren't Gringos. That made us happy but maybe she was just saying we were tight!

Friday, 19 February 2016

Getting away with it

The buzzing of my phone on the guesthouse tile floor woke me. 2 texts from my UK bank regarding potential fraudulent use of my bank card. I answered the texts. They called me. I answered the security questions, yes, my goldfish was called Goldie. Yes, my grandmothers favourite breakfast was kippers.... Then we got down to the nitty gritty. It seems that some enterprising person has skimmed/cloned my card and has been merrily withdrawing cash with it at random places around North America. They've certainly been getting around. 17 withdrawals totalling the best part of £4000!!! The Natwest fraud squad bloke asked if I was in the UK at the moment. "No, I'm in Nicaragua" "I'm sorry, where's that?" "It's in Central America" "oh so you're in America?" "Central America yes, not northern America". It seems the fraud dept isn't too hot on geography which isn't particularly useful seeing as I had bothered to list all the country's we planned to visit along with approximate dates for each....

He seemed very apologetic and apparently I'd get a full refund plus £30 compensation for the pleasure of the stupidly expensive phone call to this part of the world. We'll see how we go when we get home...

The early morning boat ride back to the mainland from Omotepe was much nicer than the one to the island. 

We sat on the roof deck and admired nature and science doing its 'weird shit' with a funky cloud sitting on the volcano

The 35km ride south to the border wasn't much fun. The crosswinds were at full force and we were again blown off the road a few times. At least they're putting some of this wind to good use though

We had a pleasant pee/drink rest under a big tree that had a load of Howler Monkeys in it, more than we'd seen in the nature reserve the day before.

At the border we were surprised to see quite a few Cuban 'refugees' camped out. I'm not really sure what was going on but seeing them and a huge queue of trucks waiting to cross was a bit similar to the mess going on at Calais...

We bumped into another cyclist heading north. Adam had finished a work contract in Panama and had some time on his hands so had bought a bike and set off. No plans, no training, no research, just a secondhand bike and the right attitude. Nice one!

Costa Rica is definitely a richer country than the others we've been to on this little sojourn. Roadworks are signposted and managed. The houses are bigger and more properer (just like what my English is). Cars are flasher and I've seen a couple of motorbikes that are fun toys rather than cheap transport.

We rolled into the town of La Cruz at around 3 and checked into a bit of a dive of a hotel. The prices are definitely higher here and we had to make a pretty hefty compromise on our mattress quality to nod the room in at $20. It was basically 2 layers of cotton, barely kept apart by 3 inches of lightweight foam.

After a cheeky beer with a view that the iPhone could never do justice we headed out to eat. 

I asked a couple of lads where a local cheapo cafe was. They offered to walk us down there, being all friendly and chatty on the way. After rejecting a few of their favourite hangouts they took us on a tour of the towns eateries. We opted for a place that did Chinese food. The blokes then asked for cash for their 'services'. They were quite demanding but strangely pitifully pleading at the same time. They wouldn't give up so we eventually gave them near to their asking price just to get rid of them.

The Chinese wasn't great. It was even less great at breakfast as we sat on our totally dead bed and made special fried rice and veggie chow mein tortillas with the left overs.

The wind had seriously howled all night and we were happy that the roof had stayed on. We still hadn't decided which way we were heading. None of it massively appealed so we thought we'd just go and see what happened. The road south would lead us to expensive beach resorts full of American retirees, the more interesting road east would lead us into the wind...

After just 3km of the Pan Am highway we'd made our minds up. The road was busy and horrible to ride on. We turned east, towards Upala. Flippin eck it was hard work. Thankfully the road wiggled around a bit and had a few ups and downs to break up the massive headwind. When we were straight into it we had to pedal on the downhills, reaching 10km/h if we were lucky. Uphills were down to more like 6. On the rare sheltered sections it felt so easy, like we were just gliding along, totally effortlessly. Eventually we made it to Santa Cecilia. 30km at an average of 10km/h had taken us nearly 4 hours inc breaks.

We ate some hearty soup (always better with plenty of tripe in it don't you agree?) in a little roadside cafe, listening to "The sweet" doing Rock n Roll, followed by "Play that funky music white boy" coming from a distant stereo. All a bit surreal....

We still had 50km to go and from here on and (according to someone's blog) the road turned to dirt for 30km or so. Apparently the bus wasn't due until 1pm but it cruised past at 11.50, just as we were picking out a few unidentifiable floating objects from the afore mentioned soup.... The next one (apparently?) wasn't for another 3 hours.  We had a go at hitching. Within 10 minutes we were bowling down the dusty road, sitting on our panniers, trying to fight the bikes off as they bounced around in the back of a pick up truck. The driver had said he wasn't going all the way to Upala but we didn't actually know where he was going. 10km later we found out. Not far! He offered to take us on for $100, I'm not sure if he was joking! So, here we sit, 50km west of Upala at a little junction with a small cafe. We've got a nice tree to sit under and I guess are relying on the bus as our back up plan. Here's our spot

We knew today would be a bit like this. It's called having an adventure isn't it? We've both still got our sense of humour (for now). Here's proof! Stuck for a Christmas pressie for the man who thinks he's got everything? Problem solved!

Well, 2 hours later the bus finally turned up. Costa Rica, being a flash country doesn't seem to think roof racks on buses are necessary. Oh dear. The ride to Upala would take at least 4 hours and we'd already wasted 2 of them by waiting. We had to get on. The driver didn't look particularly interested or best pleased with my request. I tried the 'look when I unclip these big bags it's just a normal size bike' trick but that didn't work..... Straight to my secret weapon - the sad puppy look! I went into my full on 'surely worthy of an Oscar' routine.  Mournful eyes looked towards him then to kate. I touched my heart. Reached out to him.... Yes I know, corny and pathetic. The emotion actually then started to feel pretty real as the bus pulled forward and started to drive away! 

Ooh, the elation. He stopped just as the rear doors lined up with us. A couple of passengers got the idea and started clearing the copious pile of luggage that was already occupying the wheelchair area. I have to say that I doubt on this route that this space has ever been used for its intended task but right now I wasn't going to bring the subject up. With a quick heave ho we and our trusty steeds were aboard and bouncing our merry way east. 

During the next hour and a half I attempted to look out the window at the ever increasingly verdant scenery whilst holding back the weight of 20 big bags and sacks with 2 bicycles. Oh it were fun. Kate spent the entire journey down on the footwell, barely being able to see out of the window. For all the progress in this country over its neighbours, I reckon that their buses have taken a real step backwards in style. Gone is the macho bravado of the ancient iconic American school bus,  this one would have looked more at home outside Asda in Norwich circa 1993 than the Costa Rican jungle in 2016

So, yet again we scraped through another day of challenges, frustration, highs and lows. We've got reasonable digs for the night, ok speed wifi and eaten a meal that will allow us to survive another day (yes, that is the best I can say about it). More of the same tomorrow I guess.

Buenas noches x