I have joined a mad Irishman on a cycling trip around the world.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Costa Rica and Nicaragua

Costa Rica has been the sea, more firemen, and mountains.We took it easy for the first few days, camping near the beach and swimming and staying with firemen.

Nelson was my favorite fireman
Near Punta Arenas

We were back on the Pan-American highway for a day which was horrible. There was no shoulder and truck after truck came thundering along in both directions, we had to dive off the road once or twice to avoid being squished. We turned off and headed upwards to Monte Verde,  a moutain surrounded by cloud forrest. The road was steep and untarred, just rocks and gravel. It was really hard work. It took all day to do 22km. As we reached the town the wind picked up and a fine but freezing rain was falling. Two young boys accompanied me up the last hill, (I was barely cycling faster than they were walking) and I reached the top without noticing.

We took it easy for a few days and went to visit the cloud forest. We didn´t see any of the promised sloths, monkies or frogs, only two turkies which a guide was pointing out as we happened to be passing. But the trees and vines and moss were impressive and we managed to spend a few hours there. On our way out we found a humming bird cafe with loads humming birds zipping around.

Before leaving Costa Rica we managed to find a mirror for my bike. It is amazing, I don´t freeze every time I hear a truck coming and am much happier trundling along. I´m king of the road now.

Lots of volcanoes in Nicaragua
Crossing into Nicaragua I clocked two thousand kilometers and felt very proud. Everything immediately got very dusty. But it was flat for a change and we flew along  past volcanoes and windfarms.For a break we visited Ometepe, an island in Lake Nicaragua. After another stomach churning boat jouney made worse by the bikes and bags being tossed around by a tosser, we found a nice hostel called Indio Veijo, The Old Indian. The Old Indian himself was a friendly man with a great huge single dreadlock and a monkey on his shoulder. There were many animals, two monkies, a mad dog, a deer which thought it was a dog, a squirrel which jumped into Julian´s lap and ran up my arms, a cat, five kittens and a duck. We camped in the garden among the animals for a few nights. One night the dog got loose, I woke up thinking it had nicked one of our bags but it turned out to be the duck. The dog was happily running around with the duck dangling from its mouth by its bill and the deer running after. I thought about chasing the dog and the deer around the garden but the biting monkies were awake and after a while the duck seemed to stop struggling. "The Old Indian is going to be sad" I thought as I climbed back into the refuge of the tent. However in the morning the duck was happily waddling around apparently none the worse for its ordeal.

Mad dog...
...and the deer in cahoots

We cycled one day to Ojo De Agua, a mineral pool where people go to get young again. After splashing around for a bit a lady with a camera asked if we would answer some questions about the island for Nicaraguan TV. Julian agreed and told her yes, the island was very nice and he did like it and yes, the pool was very nice and he did like it. That was about it. I kept quiet thinking I´d only embarrass myself, it wasn´t until afterwards Julian told me I had a dragonfly sitting on my head and it had been there the whole time.We also visited some petrogliphs, this time by a very slow bus. The petrogliphs were made by the Nahutal people around 3000BC.

Nicaraguans are very friendly on the whole, only the kissing noises and whistles which follow us everywhere on the bike get a bit tiresome. Julian has taken to kissing back. We hope to be in El Salvador for Christmas.

Pedaled: 2410km

Monday, 22 November 2010

Pirates of the Carribean

Our last stop in Colombia was a pirates' paradise. They were forever trying to plunder it, including Sir Francis Drake who held it under siege for one hundred days. In the end the Spanish inhabitants built a wall all around the city to keep the pillagers out. We splashed in on flooded roads and set about finding ourselves a pirate ship to sail to the idyllic San Blas islands and on to Panama. We found one, complete with pirate captain with plenty of tattoos, gold hoops in his ears and stripey jersey. He had a great ship's dog, a slobbering jowly boxer who loved to shake his slobbery bits everywhere. It was all very exciting and piratey. There were even two attempting to stow-away, South Africans really from Sierra Leone traveling on French passports who didn't speak any French. They didn't make it but caused the captain all kinds of trouble. After a week, we set sail, off on our voyage to the San Blas islands still inhabited by the indigenous Kuna people.

The wind and current were against us most of the time so progress was slow. After a couple of hours I started feeling a bit queasy. By lunch time I was throwing up overboard. By the evening I had nothing left inside and was feeling pretty miserable. It took us fifty long and rolling hours to reach the San Blas. There was plenty of rum but even that didn't help. I certainly did not feel like an old sea dog. The captain thought that I might be helping to lure fish to the boat but we only managed to hook a bird which wasn't very nice. All in all I wanted to get off.
Trying not to bog it

The San Blas Islands were very beautiful. When we finally stopped we jumped in and swam towards the white sand and palm tress, only slightly marred by the abandoned TV set. After a couple of days swimming and having got through immigration control, our party started to disband. Some left for a party they had heard about on one of the smaller islands, one to catch a flight from Panama city and some to head to Bocas del Toro. So with just Julian and I and the crew we set off to sail through the night to Puerto Lindo. It was horrendous.

Kuna huts
With a great swell and the wind in the wrong direction again we motored on and on. Julian and I slept on deck until the rain forced us inside. There the captain and first mate were happily chatting, drinking, smoking and snorting the night away while I tried not to puke yet again. I tried to sleep on the floor next to the giant speaker but the music was the most awful noise I have ever heard, bangs and crashes and helicopters for hours. I decided I would prefer to throw up in the toilet in our cabin. It was one of the most painful nights ever.

Land was a welcome sight the next day. I did think I might throw up once more for good measure as I was still reeling but after some crisps and a bottle of Squirt we set off for the next town, Porto Bello. This was also a pirate town, at one point a third of the world's gold was passing through the customs house, but I have had enough of pirates.

Panama is great, still raining every day. We've taken to staying in fire stations. All firemen are incredibly friendly. We can camp, cook and stay as long as we want. Each fire station seems to have something more and more fun in it.

Julian Fireman
Big Ears hearts the HORN
Practice dummies for firemen (and Julian)
We've been held up. This time it is entirely my fault. After a day of hard climbing on our way to Bocas del Toro, a province and a group of islands on the Carribean side of Panama, we were descending to a small town before beginning another impossible looking ascent. Perhaps as a protest against the hills, pure knackeredness or the only way I could think of avoiding getting on another boat, I fell into a ditch at top speed. It would have been fine, I would have bounced into the grasses well clear of the bike but I managed to get my leg through the frame and around the front wheel.. It hurt. Luckily the mayor was passing and after a brief descussion the bikes were thrown unceremoniously into the back of one of his trucks and we were driven to the hospital in David. A wheelchair ride, xray and "shot in the butt" as the doctor put it later, (all very embarrassing), I was discharged with orders to rest. So we're resting. We hope to be on the road again tomorrow, heading to Costa Rica on the Pan-American Highway. Roll on rolling on.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Week One

This is a blog about my trip around the world on a bicycle. I say my trip, I´ve decided to follow someone on his trip around the world on his bicycle. The bike I´m riding even belongs to him. He is an Irish fellow, Julian, I met in a night club in Bolivia. His trip began in Ireland about two years ago. He cycled out of his front door, across Europe, down the west of Africa and has most of South America. I am joining him about half way through his trip. Having done no training, never ridden a loaded bike, and never done anything like this before, I met Julian in the airport in Madrid and we flew to Colombia where his bike had been resting.

Day one was the hardest day ever. We left Julian´s friend Seamus who we´d been staying with in Medellin (Med-gee-an) for the last week, taking it easy and eating lots in preparation, on Sunday morning. Every Sunday there the main road through the city is closed for a Ciclovia where all the cyclists in the valley come out to play. The first forty kilometres of the trip were easy and fun, the road was slightly downhill, there were no killer vehicles, just friendly fellow cyclists. Forty k, done, easy! It was only lunchtime.

After lunch we started up a rather imposing looking mountain. We were in the tail end of the Andes, a tricky place to start. It was a lot harder than the morning´s ride. It took me four hours to ride 14km up hill. Continuously uphill. Not even a little bit downhill. After about three hours the sun started to fade and we decided we would try to find somewhere to stay before reaching the pass. The first person said no, the next person said no. There was nowhere. We had to keep going. It got dark. I was shattered. There were many many trucks. Mostly friendly trucks, honking their horns to say hello, but trucks driving on the wrong side of the road in the dark honking their horns nonetheless. We made it to the top, ate a bowl of tripe and other inards and I went to bed.

Day two was THE hardest day ever. I managed 30km before going to bed at 4pm, up for dinner, back to bed.

I don´t want to talk about day three. Feeling pretty rough (me not Julian), and not being able to get food down, I scrambled through the morning. The afternoon was 20km downhill and a couple of glasses of Coke which perked me up. Fifty k done! Much better than yesterday. We were heading for Yarumal, the last town at the bottom of the last mountain of the Andes. Only it wasn´t. It was half-way up the adjectival mountain. Knackered and reeling, I steeled myself and pedalled slowly on, grinding away. Looking up, I did have a tear in my eye, seeing we weren´t half way there. But we did get there. We sat on the steepest plaza I have ever seen and chatted with some young ragamuffins.

Thankfully things have got a little easier and I am able to enjoy things more. There is so much to see on the road, cows with giant ears, mad dogs best avoided, giant iguanas legging it away from the trucks. In one day I saw a dead cow, dead dog, three dead buzzards and a dead snake. And the kids are very sweet and not at all shy.

We are out of the Andes now, cycling by the river Cauca, the 111th longest in the world, roads are flatter, although wetter. We are heading to Cartegena where we will catch a sailing boat to Panama. Incidentally it is the wettest month of the year in Cartegena, almost twice as wet as any other month with between 80-90% humidity. It is going to be sweaty.

Julian´s idea of 8km down hill

Pedalled: 308km