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Panama

It was quiet a hilly introduction to Panama and i was camping somewhere on top of these hills between Changuinola and Almirante before taking a boat towards “Bocas del toro” on the island of Colon the next day. There were dark clouds over the island and once we arrived, it had started to rain heavily. I put on the raingear for a short distance to a hostal that offered camping and spent three days mostly lying in the hammock and reading. The hostel had a nice wooden tower with view of the ocean and a nice breeze coming through that was missing five meters below. Refreshed, i continued over the hills between the caribbean side and pacific coast through the “Reserva forestal de fortuna”. The downhill after a night spent camping in the hills was fantastic and i was in such a good mood that i took a wrong turn and was just too lazy to stop and ask for directions as i slowly made my way towards Boquete, which is rather the opposite direction that i wanted to take. But the road was inviting and sometimes you just want to get lost. Just before nightfall a guy in a car stopped and offered a place to crash at his finca. Once he toured Europe on a bike himself before he was sent to Panama with a job and settled there. Growing up in Germany, he still knew a little german, and so we communicated in a mix of german and english mostly, with the odd spanish word thrown in. I was thinking i would be offered a patch of gras to pitch my tent, but in the end found myself in a guesthouse complete with swimming pool, which was just heavenly after a long day in the saddle.

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Retracing my steps the next morning, i soon found myself on the panamericana. There are hardly alternatives towards Panama City if one wants to make progress. For the most part it was rather dull but as i still wasn’t sure how i wanted to get to South America, this gave me some time to think this over. Spending a rest day at Santa Clara beach my camera was stolen. Just returning from the internet café, i forgot to put it in my tent and left it outside. To make things worse, i had just put my sd cards with all the fotos in the camera bag before i left the café. A thing i did for the first time during this trip. Bad timing. I met an argentinan couple who stayed with some fishermen next door, and we had a delicious dinner made in the kitchen shack directly at the beach. I had already encountered the marañon fruit in Guatemala which consists of two parts. The cashew apple and the nut. As we met again for breakfast the kitchen was shrouded in smoke as the two were roasting cashew nuts they had collected the day before. One has just to get rid of the charred shell and is presented with this most delicious nut.

I did not cycle into Panama City and just took the Amador causeway after the “Bridge of the Americas” to enjoy a view from afar. This causeway was erected in between islands with the construction waste of the Panama Canal. There are a couple of las vegas style hotels which are closed and slowly falling apart and today the causeway is mainly used by cyclist to go for a spin close to the city. Stopping for a coffee, i had a great view over the skyline. Cycling back, i left the city to my right and followed more or less the Panama canal railway towards the San Pedro locks and was watching a freighter making its way slowly through them. The road continued to the national park Soberania where i found shelter from heavy rain at the park entrance. The weather wasn’t inviting to explore the area although the scenery looked amazing. At least i got a glimpse of the park on a wonderful road through the densest rainforest i have seen so far. Plants seemed to be growing out of each other, the trees were ladden with other plants and there was hardly any sun reaching the floor, which seemed to be a never-drying mix of fertile earth, decaying wood and leafs. I reached Portobelo the next day for lunch before making my way to Puerto Lindo, from where the boat would be laeving to Cartagena in Colombia. By then i had decided to go with a sailing ship through the San Blas Islands. which is a bit more expensive, but with food included, no charge for the bicycle and some days in these carribean islands seemed to be a good way to get to South America. In Puerto Lindo i visited Sandra and Bert whom i had met at the spanish school in Xela and who are now proud owners of the Bambu Guesthouse. It was a warm welcome and later they invited me to stay in one of the rooms. The terrace and bar have a beautiful view over the bay and their garden bordering the forest made for welcome visitors such as tucans, hummingbirds and different types of monkeys.

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Costa Rica

The sleeping outdoors on a deck chair was a great experience. Once in San Carlos we had some time to kill until the boat would leave to Los Chiles in Costa Rica. The first boat in the morning left without us because some guy in army suit thought that four loaded touring bikes would sink the boat. We spend the time until the afternoon running around town, discussing options, which included entering Costa Rica illegaly at a not yet finished border crossing over land, and talking to the port authorities. Finally our persistence paid off and we were allowed on the boat in the afternoon. We stopped at the border at some grim looking soldiers which made us glad that we did not opt for the illegal entry and soon after arrived in Los Chiles. There was a lot of talk amongst travellers in Nicaragua that you would need a flight out of Costa Rica to receive a stamp as well as a yellow fever vaccination. In the end none of that was needed and instead of any demand, a smile and good wishes for the road were offered. We shared a room and thus had an affordable place to sleep despite the sharp increase in cost since leaving Nicaragua. Paul and i waved goodbye to Tina and Ben the next day as they wanted to take it slower, but maybe we will see each other on the roads of South America.

The road led over rolling hills with hardly any traffic. Soon i also parted with Paul as he wanted to take the quicker route along the pacific while i decided to investigate the Carribean coast. As we shook hands, the dark clouds had already gathered around us and soon i was riding through pouring rain. Soon i stopped as the sight with rivers and waterfalls over my eyes wasn’t the best and read a book for a while sheltered in a bus station. The rain continued the whole night and i just made a rush to reach the next town where the owner of an internet cafe refused to let me use one of the computers while water was still dripping from every part of my body. Inquiring about accommodation, the outlook to pay a little more than ten dollars for a dry place to sleep didn’t seem too bad anymore. The next day’s ride to San Miguel began with a nice downhill until i hit the main road with heavy traffic to and from Puerto Limon. About halfway there i met a swiss and a german cyclist on the last leg ot their tour through South and Central America as they were returning to the port where they would take a ship leaving towards Hamburg after two years on the road. After Puerto Limon came a welcome change as the road became quiet towards Puerto Viejo, a place mainly catering for backpackers. On the next day i visited the “Refugio nacional gandoca-manzanillo” where the rainforest borders directly on the coast.

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Some howlwer monkeys, sadly almost no birds and rather small animals and insects like this spider, into whose net i almost ran, could be seen.

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After a ¨shortcut¨ through some hills on very rocky roads, i cycled the last kilometers towards the border with Panama.

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The old railway bridge serves as border crossing where no cars are allowed which is the reason for the low traffic towards the border. Although there is nowadays a bridge next to it over which some trucks are allowed to pass. It was a rather quick spin through Costa Rica. One reason was the increase of the prices, another that interesting places like national parks are mostly reachable but not explorable by bicycle and finally that after some months in Central America i was longing to reach South America and the Andes.

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Granada y Isla Ometepe

We arrived in Granada rather late. We went out for dinner with a girl from Corn Island who made for quite some contrast to a couple of tired cyclist with her lively manner. The next day was spent with only little time in the saddle. Since i couldn’t be bothered to explore the town on foot, i cycled through the center for a while and then stopped in the central park where a band was playing and people dancing.

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I cycled around a bit more to find a place to change money and some lunch while i was passing a church every five minutes.

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The following day we left Granada on a boat bound for Ometepe.

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We arrived sometime after dark and had a somewhat amusing ride from the dock into town over a sandy and rocky road. Ometepe sure had an island feeling to it. Everything is a bit downscaled and laid back. We had heard about a good place to camp on the other side of the island and started after a good and complementary breakfast the next morning. Around midday we stopped at “ojo de agua”, a natural swimming pool that is part of a finca. It was a good place to spend the hottest time of the day, lie in a hammock and to go for a swim every now and then. When we were about to leave, we met Tina and Ben, a cycling couple from australia and germany. After some initial exchange of greetings we started cycling towards Balgue for lunch and made loose plans on meeting again at the Finca Magdalena, the place where we planned on camping, the next day. We camped on a wooden platform which was something like a huge balcony with a great view over the lake and one of the two volcanos which formed the island.

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We chilled throughout the day until Tina and Ben arrived with their bikes and after they had a look around decided to move in as well. To avoid the panamerican we all decided on continuing by boat to the other end of Lago Nicaragua to San Carlos over night to cross into Costa Rica from there on a another boat.