Newsletter from San José, Costa Rica (UK)
There’s been a lot of cycling since I left Cartagena, Colombia (and South America) on Feb. 17th – or rather since I left the sailing boat in Cartí on the north coast of Panama after a 5 day boat ride.
The boat ride was a very mixed experience for me and the rest of the crew on board the boat. During the first 36 hours we crossed the open waters, and right from the start it seemed as if the maritime goddesses threw all evils at us. Waves were 4 meters high, sea was really rough, and just after we left the Bahía de Cartagena (Bay of Cartagena) my saliva started doing weird things and my stomach prepared for that big boogie-woogie to come. It was Hell on Earth.
I soon found my spot in the back of the sailing boat were puking over the rail was possible. The schizophrenic waves tossed the 43 foot boat around like a paper aeroplane in a tornado, and most of the 11 travellers on board took turns at the puke pole position in the back of the boat. It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t pretty. My silent prayers and the seasickness tablets in my belly didn’t do no good in the hopeless battle against Mother Nature. Mad dog.
It seemed like the torture would never end, but after 1½ days of brutal punishment we came to anchor at Cayos Hollandéses, a string of tiny coconut islands off the north coast of Panama that belongs to the San Blas Archipelago. We all got the natural colour of our cheeks back as soon as we entered the calm waters around the islands, things got back to normal, smiles were seen on all faces again, and life suddenly became something attractive again.
The shift from Paradise (in Cartagena) to Hell (the 36 hours on open sea) and back to Paradise (the San Blas Islands) can be a swift one sometimes.
The next 3 days were spent chilling on the boat, sharing stories with Federico, the Brazilian captain, and the other 10 travellers (Canadian brothers Dan and Tom, an Aussie couple Andrew and Tory, a Buenos Aires couple Joaquín and Sofi, Sydneysider Gabriel, Spanish Alejandro and Toon & Guillermina from Belgium with whom I had a great time).
We were snorkelling, walking around soccer field sized paradise islands Robinson Crusoe style feeling like an outcast, bon fire on the beach, swimming in the turquoise Caribbean waters, visiting traditional villages with the indigenous Kuna people (culturally very interesting to me), feeling dreamy and trying to forget about that horrible passage from Cartagena.
In the morning of Feb. 22th it was time for goodbyes with the crew that I’d been enjoying hanging out with. The fifth continent was below my wheels, and I was back in my lycra outfit and started a mad race towards the Costa Rican capital San José (via Panama City).
I wanted to get to (or as close to as possible) the capital before March 1st when Rune, my best friend from back home, would arrive in the evening to come and travel with me for some 3 weeks. Ahead of me was some 1.000 km (incl. a few mountain ranges) according to my maps, and with only 8 days to goof around with, things looked pretty tight from my perspective.
I wanted to see the infamous Panama Canal but couldn’t really afford staying a whole day in Panama City, so I killed two birds with one stone, and went to see the very impressive Canal in the morning after I arrived in the Panamanian capital, and hit the road in the afternoon.
I managed to click 84 km in just 4 hours that day, feeling great about the progress, and crashed at the fire station in Playa Coronado where the kind fire fighter staff let me put up my tent in the backyard, let me have a strongly needed shower (temperatures in the tropical lowlands were soaring around 35 degrees C in the shade of which there was hardly any. Up to 46 C in the sun. Sweat boy, sweat!).
Over the next 6 days and 750 km my mind was in a constant expedition mode. Nothing could distract me from the disciplined focus on the roads ahead along the not-too-busy, not-too-interesting westbound Panamerican Hwy. Near the village of Tolé in western Panama, I camped in the backyard of a local die-hard campesino (farmer) who turned out to be deaf-mute which made communication both different and inventive.
Leaving Panama after only 5 days with lots of turbo felt good in a distinct I’m-on-the-move-kind-of-way, and Costa Rica – WT-country #32 – was a reality even before I knew of it. On my first night in Costa Rica I found refuge at the local fire station in Palmar Norte where the fire fighter Enrique showed me great hospitality and put me up for the night in the station’s a/c bunk bed room, took me for a spin around town in the massive fire engine, lights flashing and all, cooked a meal for both of us, and shared lots of stories from his time as a fire fighter.
Next day I reached the beautiful Pacific coast near Playa Uvita where I had lunch and a quick swim in the warm waters before heading inland towards San Isidro de El General passing a mountain pass at around 1.500 m on the way.
8 days and nearly 1.000 km non-stop since I started pedalling this North American continentI reached San José, totally exhausted, happy, and excited about meeting up with my old uni-mate who would arrive just a few hours after my own arrival in the capital.
What a ride! So intense, satisfying, and mad…
Tomorrow (05MAR09) I’ll leave San José together with my friend Rune who’s here in Costa Rica to travel with me for a few weeks. It’s been three years since we last saw hung out, and it is wonderful to be sharing time with your mate again. Do expect certain delays in WT-world.
From Costa Rica with love,