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


  1. Christ, I'm stressed to hell just laid in bed reading about your trials!! Gutted about the scam but at least you get it back.
    I've stumbled across an article that you two may like. It's a long one but worth reading to the end though

    1. Cash safely back in bank. Card cancelled. All good. Had porridge for breakfast today, sound a bit less stressy for ya?

  2. Sounds like a tough couple of days. Hope Costa Rica improves so you can have an enjoyable final couple of weeks to end up your trip.