Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Cartagena, Colombia to Managua, Nicaragua
At the end of our adventures in Colombia we were faced with the challenge of traveling to Panama. The Darian Gap marked the no man's land between the two countries. A wilderness with no roads and notorious for cartel activity and smuggling. our choices for travel were between air and water. We boarded the Wild Card, a 60 ft steel hulled sailboat to make the crossing from Colombia to Panama. We would spend the next five days living on the ship with 20 other passengers, four crew, and a one year old dog named Max. (photos 1 and 2)
Our first two nights and full day on the boat we spent on the open sea. The experience of being out of sight of land for a full day was new to us and reminiscent of the feeling of crossing the salt flats in Bolivia. Nothing but the horizon line in all directions and no reference point other than what you are immediately surrounded by. A sense of drifting in a void. A feeling of being in a place not meant for humans. Of intruding upon an empty world of wind and open sky unbroken but for the occasional pod of dolphins or school of flying fish. Aboard the boat we passed the time watching the waves and getting to know our fellow travelers.
We awoke after our second night of rolling in our bunks to the sight of the San Blas Islands. An islands chain of 378 separate islands off the caribbean coast of Panama. With crystal clear water, white coral sand beaches, and lolling palm trees they embodied a vision of paradise. We jumped off the boat to swim to shore in water only slightly cooler than the tropical air and spent the rest of our day snorkeling and lounging on the beach. The next few days passed in much the same way. Days spent on paradise islands enjoying seafood and coconuts in the sun, exploring the bright and lively world under the water with snorkels, and lots of rum. When our voyage came to an end we were ready to get off the confined decks of the boat and to be back on the mainland. The trip had been a good adventure and much enjoyed but it felt good to be loading up the bikes again. This would be the first time that the road we set out on would eventually lead us home.
After waiting for Cameron to rejoin us in Puerto Lindo, we put tire to pavement again and crossed from coast to coast ending our ride in Panama City. (photos 3-6) We regretted not having enough time to explore the City more than a few blocks but enjoyed and nighttime stroll through the historic district. A strange mix of buildings. The dilapidated and abandoned standing shoulder to shoulder with refurbished and modernized opulence. A pattern we would see more of as we crossed the country. A mixing of two worlds. One the exported vision of the American dream. Road side shopping centers, mega outlets, and new car dealerships standing stark against the trash lined streets and corrugated iron roofs.We passed a protest march demanding to improve the local school because it had dirt floors and no running water while just down the road stood billboards in English for half a million dollar beach front condos. An unsettling difference between a vacation destination being transformed into something resembling Florida rising up next to shacks and farms where people still live off the land and sea.
Our next day riding took us to the crossing of the Panama canal. Halfway over the bridge walking our bikes along the guard railed sidewalk we were stopped by the police and informed that bikes were not permitted across the bridge. It was made clear to us that we would be arrested if we tried to cross and the only solution we were provided was to return to the city and hire a taxi. This marked the fourth time in two days that we had been stopped and questioned by Panamanian law enforcement and the second time we had been informed that bikes were not permitted to pass contrary to any indication otherwise. Needless to say we were not happy campers as we spent the next hour trying to hitch a ride across the bridge.
Eventually we got picked up by two Spaniards in a small mobile home van. (photo and video 7 and 8) We piled our bikes in and chatted with them as we drove over the canal. When they dropped us off they left us with a moving answer of "Help is the greatest coin in the world" when we asked why they had helped us. We have found this to be true again and again over the last seven months on the road. It is a truth that transcends all divisions. The act of giving help when you can is a gift anyone can give. It is an important truth to remember as we face a world becoming more and more divided by differences.
The Panamerican highway stretched ahead of us and we rode. Through traffic, dirt shoulders verging on ditches, and sweltering heat we rode. The kilometers dropping away as we put in long hours on the road. We thought we had experienced rain before but the rainy season in Panama took things to a new level. The daily downpours came in sheets of water that turned the shoulder of the road into a literal stream. The soaking storms coming as a relief to the dripping heat and humidity. Our days spent half drenched in sweat and half in rain.
After a few days of rinse wash and repeat we took a lovely rest day camping on the beach. At playa Las Lajas we enjoyed the sun and practiced surfing on the gentle waves. We watched beautiful sunsets and felt like we got to see a different side to Panama then just what the highway had to offer. Our ride to and from the beach was rolling farm land and lush jungle. An escape from the rushing shipping lane of the Panamerican. (photos 9-13)
Then it was on to Costa Rica. We crossed the border and took a ferry across to the Osa Peninsula. A part of the country notable for the Corcovado National Park. One of the most biodiverse wildlife preserves in Central America. while we did not have time to enter the park itself we did get to ride around its edges and see Scarlet Macaws and Toucans flying over our heads.
We chose to take a "shortcut" and found ourselves on the dirt road less traveled and the steepest road we have seen so far. (photo 14) This single lane dirt track was at such a steep angle that at times we all were forced to walk our bikes. Something that none of us had done before. The loose gravel would make wheels spin out and kill momentum. As we sweated and dragged our bikes along step by step, the rain came. We could hear it coming across the jungle with a rushing sound of downpour on leaves. when the curtain of water reached us it turned the little dirt lane into a full stream of muddy water running inches deep in places. You would take three steps forward pulling the weight of the bike behind you only to slip back two. The 17 km of road took over three and a half hours to complete. It was a three and a half hours that made us thankful that after 7 months on the road we have become ready to face challenges and conditions that would normally leave someone defeated without prior experience of these crazy conditions.
We finished our ride that day riding into the night. Surrounded by the strange noises of the jungle and the calls of distant howler monkeys, we pushed on. Noah's family was meeting us for a week long visit in the little surf town of Dominical. We had planned to meet them the next day but had decided to push on and get there that night instead.
We were greeted with great excitement and welcomed to the house they had rented for the week. A beautiful place nestled in the jungle right next to a little waterfall and walking distance to the beach. (photo 15) It felt like decadence to have so much space and more modern amenities. Air conditioning and internet! The novelty of our very own washer and dryer.... what luxury indeed!
We all enjoyed getting to relax and visit with Kim, Bruce, Emily, and Owen. This was the longest any of us had spent staying in one place on the trip so far. It was a welcome change to the constant stress of travel that we had lived with for the past seven months. A moment to to spend enjoying the place we were in instead of just riding through. A welcome rest for body, mind, and spirit. We are all grateful for the McCarter family for visiting and for their supporting us in our adventure.
We went on a guided nature walk in the jungle and saw white faces monkeys, two types of sloths, poison dart frogs, and many more strange creepy crawlies. (photos 16-19) We rented kayaks in the mangroves and snorkeled with the tropical fish. (Photos 20-24) We played in the waves and surfed. We hiked through the rain to a large waterfall and ate fruit the foraging monkeys along the trail tossed down to us. The week passed far to quickly and when it came time to leave it was with heavy hearts we said goodbye. (photo 25 of siblings enjoying some real beer!)
After the week with Noah's family, it was time to continue north. With well over 7,000 kilometers left to ride and only so many days and weeks before the snow, it was business time. Cameron had left a couple of days early from Dominical to ride north to Managua, Nicaragua solo. Photo 26 is a picture of his border crossing - this is the quote that he wrote to go along with the photo on his personal Instagram: "Feeling sentimental - 11 years ago, during the first semester of my senior year of college, I studied abroad with SIT (School of International Training based in Brattleboro, VT) in Nicaragua. I lived with Mamita and her two grandsons, Jorge and Luis. I've visited mi familia Nicaragüense every couple of years since 2006... during those visits, I often proclaimed that one day I'd arrive to Managua by bike enroute from South America. Tomorrow is that day : )" Long story short, Nicaragua is a very special place for Cameron and he was pretty excited to get a little time with his familia Nicaragüense. Though we all wanted to spend a bit more time exploring this region, Managua would mark a jumping off point for really making tracks towards home. The next several weeks will take us through Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and into Mexico, with the goal of crossing the U.S. border by mid to late September. The last photos and videos in the album linked to this entry show Cameron's homestay brother Luis, Mamita, his homestay mother who now must be at least in her 80s, and some of Mamita's coveted cooking... yum.
The next update is likely to be from Mexico City! Until then, thanks for reading!
Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Cartagena, Colombia to Managua, Nicaragua