Monday, April 30, 2007

Fortuna & Lake Arenal

We ended up wasting a few days in San Jose which was actually a bit of a dump ("Do you know the way to San Jose? etc" Yes, unfortunatelly I do!), waiting on a shop to open (bit of advice- never arrive someplace on a bank holiday weekend), but it turned out that they didn`t actually have the part I`d ordered weeks ago (a stiffer spring for my rear shock). Thanks for letting me know, Larssen Motors of San Jose!

After that, it was up to Fortuna to see the active volcano, Vol Arenal. We camped for the first time in ages which was nice but after bumping into Sandra and Lars (from the boat) I was almost a little jealous of their $20 a night room with a/c and cable tv and then I remembered that I was really hardcore and I don`t really need such luxuries....

We thought about doing one of the tours to see the volcano at night which all include a visit to one of the 3 thermal baths here but opted instead to take a ride out there ourselves. There was a faint glow at the top but it wasn`t really worth getting the tripod out. After a bit of research, I decided on going to the Eco Thermales baths as the write up for the Baldi Thermal baths wasn`t that great. At Eco, there are 5 baths, stepped upwards, each getting hotter. The idea is that you start off at the cooler of the 4 hot baths, working your way up, then finish off in the very cold one at the bottom. It was a fantastic place and very luxurious but you could only really stay in the hottest one for just a few minutes before you start getting an idea of what it`s like to be a lobster in a pot.

Pleasingly, they also operate an `honesty`system (don`t laugh) for the bar. You leave all your stuff in your locker so you have no cash on you. When you go to one of the bars, you order what you like and then you tell the person on the front desk what you had as you pay on the way out. And lets just say I enjoyed my `one` beer very much thanks, hic...

Eco Thermales with free bar, er I mean `honesty´system

We left Fortuna with the intention of doing some serious miles, but in fact we only got as far as the German Bakery by Lake Arenal, which is a staggering 40kms away. We only popped in for some elevenses (great Apple Struddel and ice cream) but it turns out the bakery is owned by Tom who is a bit of a bike fan and all round top bloke. We were invited to stay in the nice cabaƱa round the back and were also taken on a tour of the lake that night in his rather fab 8-seater speedboat. When we returned later that night, the power had gone out in the town again so we raided the bakerys various fridges for all sorts of cheeses, sausages and breads to have by candle light. Way to go Tom!

German Bakery, Lake Arenal

Tom, owner of the German Bakery

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Costa Rica- It`s a little bit like Wales!

Its a pretty tedious border crossing from Panama to Costa Rica. We took turns in doing emigration and imigration. I took the former which was relatively painless. Michelle took the latter which took about 2 hours while I chatted with the locals outside which wasn´t too bad.

A bit like Wales, sort of

Once through, we rode to Uvitos, a small place on the Pacific coast. We´d read about a hostel called Cascada Verde which was a commune type farm where you could camp and help out, that sort of thing. Once we eventually found the place, it was no longer working as a farm or commune. After speaking to a german guy living there, he let us pitch our tent in a timber shelter as long as we promised not to create any work for him. As it turned out, there were some other people living there while the place was in limbo: Polly, a vet from the UK who´d studied in Edinburgh and another german guy helping to renovate the main building into a hostel. The house in a fantastic setting up in the hills accessed only by a steep dirt road, the building itself is open so you can see all the nature around you. It was very generous of the people living there to let us stay for a night for free, even providing coffee the next morning and use of their kitchen.

Cascada Verde- Very ´Open Plan´

Just the ticket for a morning dip

Hats off to Panama

Panama City

After a night in Portobello, the following morning was taken up with a bus into Colon to get the paperwork for the bikes which took several hours. Once back in Portolbello it started to chuck it down with rain so we had a very enjoyable and wet ride to Panama City. Lots of people mentioned Hotel Montreal as a place to stay but once I found out they wanted $33 for a night, the next on on the list was Hotel Buena Vista on the same street and for $17, we got a double room with a/c and secure parking. Dodgy lift though.

After months of Indain and Chinese food deprivation, we were thankfully able to sort that problem out in Panama City. Its a pretty modern place, full of huge skyscrapers and new developments all over the shop but still retains the old town sector for that colonial charm. We got ourselves along to the big ditch, the Panama Canal which is fairly impressive to watch. It takes on average, about 8-10 hours for a ship to cross from one side to another across the various locks. For some reason I was expecting the tankers to shoot up 20 odd feet as soon as the locks are opened but in fact, its a fairly stately affair. The visitor centre is well organised with videos and an informative display of how the whole shebang works.

Miraflores Locks

Next stop was Boquette, a swiss alps sort of place in the hills. The temperature plumeted and suddenly we were caught in yet another rain storm with serious mist. I´d like to say the scenery was great but we didn´t see too much on the way up though the next day revealed lush greenery and a town surrounded by mountains. There´s a lot to do here including rafting and hiking etc but as we´ve been delayed so much we are pushing onwards to Costa Rica.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Worse things have happened at sea you know
Long story short- Hung about in Cartagena for about 3 1/2 weeks waiting for a boat, any boat. During this incarcination, we went up to Taganga for a week. I tried diving but pretty much hated it, not comfortable with all that breathing underwater stuff you see. Then back to Cartagena for a few unsucessful views of incredibly dodgy supply boats and finally the only boat we can get is The Melody, a 44ft sailboat.

It could have been ours!

Now given we arrived in Cartagena before the 15th March as instructed by Mark, the Melody´s captain and given it didn´t actually turn up till the 30th March, I´ll admit I would have rather taken the first barge out of there but seeing as that wasn´t an option, it was the Melody or nothing. Oh and as I predicted, Mark´s promise of a ´quick turnaround if there were at least 2 other people´turned into a wait of another 4 more days and an incredible 9 people on the boat.

So....On the eve of our scheduled departure, we turned up to the marina on the outskirts of Cartagena to get the bikes loaded onto the boat. To do this, mark tied a thick piece of rope around the bike´s frame and handlebars, then after nervously pushing the bike to the end of a narrow pier, the main spinicker line is tied to the rope on the bike. After that, its just a simple matter of winching the line which once the bike starts to get off the ground, it wants to swing into the side of the boat so another line is used to control the lateral movement. I´ll admit my heart was in my mouth a few times but in fact, it went pretty smoothly and after an hour or so, we had both bikes lon the boat, tied down on either side of the mast. Phew.

Don´t f%cking drop it!

So the next morning, we duly turn up at the marina at 6am to meet our fellow yachtie travellers and to finally get moving towards Panama. The plan is for 2 days sailing to the San Blas islands, 2 days on the San Blas islands and one days sailing to Portobello in Panama. Now normally Mark only goes to the San Blas Islands for 2 days, but as we´ve been waiting for 3 1/2 weeks for his boat, he has decided to give everyone an extra day on the San Blas so we´ll be there for 3 days not 2, strewth! After leaving shortly after 6am, we were somewhat detained by the Colombian Coastguards who, after boarding the Melody, spent the best part of 1 1/2 hours along with an a sniffer dog, going through ALL the luggage (which had all been secured by this point) and inspecting every nook and crany on board. Thankfully after finding nothing suspicious, it was out to sea.

Anyway its a little cramped on board, what with 9 people but at least we have the better of the few beds there are. There are 3 ´doubles´, 1 section of couch and er, the floor so they claim 8 beths). I´d heard from one of the guys who was on the boat coming the other way, that en-route from the San Blas to Cartagena, the captain announced that he´s not so good between 1am and 6am and so goes to bed leaving the night-time sailing to the passengers. Unbelievable but true and as we´d had the pleasure of paying double the fare that eveyone else was paying, we made sure that we didn´t lift a finger all night. I did do some sailing from 6am the next morning though, more due to not being able to sleep than anything else. Michelle didn´t take too well to the swell though and after spewing off the back of the boat, spent the next couple of days in bed where the movement of the boat wasn´t too bad.

There really wasn´t much to see for the first couple of days as we were out of sight of land but around 10pm the following night, I woke up (sleeping as much as possible was the best option) to find we´d finally arrived at the San Blas. We anchored next to Old School, Marks shrimping boat that they hope to turn into a floating hostal one day (but not if the Kuna people have anything to do with it though). The next day, we were taken to Pot Luck, one of the islands in a rubber dinghy. It was a nice but very small island of maybe 150m diameter and a few coconut trees although the water was very clear and we managed a couple of hours mucking about till we were summoned back to the ´Mother Ship´ for a dinner which didn´t happen for another few hours. On day 2, it pretty much rained all day so we made pancakes and drank though when it did finally clear up in the afternoon, Mark went off snorkelling with 2 of the passengers leaving the rest of us with nothing to do as there was only one dinghy.

Pot Luck Island

On day 3, (our bonus day if you will) we were all taken on Melody to the Kuna village islands which none of us really wanted because we knew that Mark was actually going to church there anyway so it really wasn´t much of a bonus. We were dropped off to wander around the island and meet the locals, though most of them appeared to be drunk. There really wasn´t much to do there for 2 hours while the captain and his wife went to church (they´re Mormons) and thankfully we were picked up again and taken back to Old School. We managed to occupy ourselves well enough the rest of the time as we all had a fairly good supply of beer and rum. The latter was put to good use by Sandra and Lars, Michelle and I in cocktails made with the plentiful supply of fruit on board.

Thankfully Monday finally came and it was ´up anchor´ as we set sail at 6am, first for El Porvenir for some passport stamping and then to our destination, Portobello. I could feel the stress of the last month disapearing already. We arrived just before dark which meant that by the time it came to off loading the bikes, it actually was dark. The offloading process is similar to the loading one but as there is no jetty for our size of boat, the bikes were lowered onto a small launch with yours truly holding it upright. The launch then motored over to the pier where a group of ´helpers´were waiting. The bikes were then manhandled (in the dark, no one thought to bring a torch) off the launch and up to the pier. The stress of the last month suddenly reapeared at this point as this process was less than smooth. After one of the (very drunk) helpers fell into the water (twice), God knows how but somehow we ended up with 2 bikes upright on the jetty. That is something I´ll never want to do again. We arrived in Panama exactly one month after getting to Cartagena. Next time I´ll fly from Bogotta!

We did meet some great people on board though: Sandra and Lars from Sweden, Volka from Germany, Ethan from Canada, Neil from UK and (another) Michelle from Australia who for reasons only known to herself was going to ´boat-sit´Old School for Mark and his wife for a month while they went on holiday.