March, April, May in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama
albano, Cali (Colombia), June 2000
The border to Nicaragua is quite a tough one. First, I fill in a form with two officers outside. Then, I have to pay about two US-dollars in the main building. I insist on paying in national money, but my small bill is not accepted, and there is no change for the big one. While they find some, I fill in another form for my bike, an then, the office issues a permit for it. Finally, I get a big vehicle stamp into my passport.
Some hundred kilometers further on is Managua, on the lake of the same name, where I pass the last days of the month. There are huge green areas, where once stood buildings. Some people are living in concrete skeletons close to wealthy hotels and shopping centers. The new cathedral looks like a factory. In the streets of Managua, I meet another touring cyclist, Daisuke, a Japanese on his world trip.
On the first of April, we leave the city together. In the afternoon, we arrive in Granada on the big lake Nicaragua. Daisuke stops, when he discovers another Japanese by the side of the road. The two exchange a few words in Japanese, and, once more, we are invited - for a walk through the city, then for homemade Japanese food and for an overnight stay.
The next morning, we even receive lots of medicine on our way. Two days more to the border passing the two vulcano cones, that tower up from the lake. Then, another complicated contact with the country's administration. First, a long queue at the cash desk. Then, in another building, several bored officials, that occasionally make a stamp into a passport, if you have payed before. Next, another half hour's queueing for a free stamp on my vehicle-form, which is withdrawn a few kilometers later on, by yet another official. Daisuke has no form, but he passes with a few friendly words. Entering Costa Rica is considerably easier.
The following morning, another surprise awaits us. We have locked our bikes outside of the hotel room. My friend has even left the bags on. And somebody judges it a good idea to take along a few things, including my bike-pump. Weird encounter in the evening in Liberia, when we are looking for accomodation: A drunken fellow takes us to his house, and his mother tells us to leave again, if we didn't want her son to steal our belongings.
On Tuesday 6, we climb up to Lake Arenal, reservoir an tourist attraction. The coastal road is rugged. We move slowly, and for a change, we go to see the varied botanical garden. Later on the same day, we are surprised by little Switzerland, an accumulation of original Swiss farm houses. The night, we pass in tent on the flank of Arenal vulcano, which, from time to time, attracts attention by a roaring rumble. in the morning, it even shows itself without clouds.
From here to San José, we have to cross some mountains and find more Swiss symbols: black-spotted cows with bursting udders on juicy meadows. We stay in the capital for a few days.
On Sunday, I meet a Swiss guy with lots of troubles: luggage and passport stolen and a weeping girl-friend in the police station. I lend him some coins to send a word to his parents. Later, together with my Japanese friend, we meet the unlucky fellow again. He has even more bad luck: I don't lend him more money for a hotel, as he doesn't want to introduce me to his girl-friend. Some days later, I meet him a third time - on the notice-board of the Swiss embassy, together with the hint, that some of his stories might be faked up.
Besides that, San José has a regular pedestrian zone and an eminent zoo. We also visit the embassy of Japan and some young people that work for the Japanese development programme.
On Thursday, April 15, Daisuke and I seperate. He continues to the Carribean and i to the Pacific side of the country, crossing its highest pass. In this region, it's raining practically all around the year. There is no exception, when I pass. The downhill on the other side is particularly cold and, due to the precipitation, many parts of the road are without pavement. The following hills are full of pineapple plantations.
On Tuesday, I turn right towards Osa peninsula, and I accept the offer of the country's only gasoline station inspector to give me a lift to Puerto Jiménez, in order to evite the awful gravel road. The next day, a collective taxi takes me with only my full backpack to Carate on the south coast, from where I walk, together with three Northamerican women, along the sandy beach of the Corcovado National Park, preferably inside the woods to evite the heat, where we meet red crabs and monkeys.
After a night in Sirena park station, we move about twenty kilometers inland to Los Patos station. There, we find refuge from a tropical rainstorm, that has just announced itself during a few seconds. On the third day, we leave the park crossing a river at least ten times. Further on, we catch the supply jeep of the ranger station, that brings us back to Puerto Jiménez.
Good bye, my friends, when I take the boat to Golfito on Saturday 24. Back on the main road, I am pedalling towards Panama and am soon stopped by the next rainstorm. They are a daily nuisance, now. When I arrive at the border, I learn about a new fee: Every person leaving the country has to fund the Costarrican Red Cross with with a certain amount.
In Panama, before getting to David, I am bulldozed by the noisy parade for one of the candidates for president, and I am surprised by yet another unconditional invitation. I may be a part of a vermin exterminator's family with all the according privileges. My temporary home is so comfortable, thet I hardly ever leave it during the four days, I stay here.
By the end of April, and the beginning of May, one can find me on the main highway towards Panama City. I'm cycling across the elections: Walls and poles are decorated with beaming faces. The people opt for a change. On Sunday, the heave the opposition forces to power.
One day later, I cross a Dutch cyclist on his way across the Americas. And another day later, a lonely policeman stops me on the motorway - no sanctions, just curiosity, as always. The bridge across the Canal is somewhat tricky for cyclists; narrow lanes, haevy traffic. I choose the sidewalk and have to carry the panniers detatched from the bike across open shafts and some compressor tubes.
In Panama City, once more, the differences between the districts are striking: dacaying blocks on one hand, beaming glass skyscrapers on the other, but also colonial-style buildings, renovated and unrenovated ones. One evening, two hardly sober fellows engage me in a conversation just in front of my hotel. Short time after, a police patrol and a hotel guest, that want to help me, find out, that my interlocuters can't prove their identity.
On Sunday, May 9, I move to the other end of the Canal, to the twin-cities Cristóbal and Colón. On my way, I see the locks on the Pacific side and, next to them, the headquarters of the US Armed Forces, who's presence is due to end this year. Nevertheless, with English as an important language and dollar bills in circulation, US influance will go on showing in everyday live.
This night, I may camp on the ground of the fire station close to the Coco Solo wharf. In the morning, I reach the nearby freight port through lakes of water and along rusty shipping containers. Here, I want to catch a boat along the north-east coast to Colombia, as there is no road connection.
But the security guards of the port are not helpful at all. there is no normal way to get into the area without cargo, and they let me wait outside al day long. Somebody tells me, that a ship is leaving for my direction tonight. With lots of insistence, after dark, I am brought to the captain, but he strictly refuses passengers. Finally, they show mercy to me, and I may pass the night inside the fence. Another day and a half of wating outside with little information passing: the only ship for me should arrive within a few days.
Back to the fire station, I may stay until the arrival of the mysterious vessel. It's difficult to be on good terms with the animals here. Crabs and frogs in the tent are no problem, but the mosquitoes are doing their bloody job 24 hours a day, and one of the fire station dogs seems to hate me, and even more my bike. One day, a friend takes me to the Gatún Locks, where the ships master the difference between the sea and Gatún Lake in three stages.
Colón, the city with its freeport and its mainly black population is not really spectacular. But it bears a little surprise for me: When i'm walking through the streets, suddenly, somebody is grasping my bag from behind. I land on my buttocks, but the bag and its strong strp are still on my shoulder. I see a black man decamp. Not much later, a police car stops by my side, and I am told to get on. They have the guy in the boot, we drive to their headquarters, and he gets some months of prison.
After two weeks of waiting, there is still no boat for me, just new words of hope and consolation. On Monday, May 24, they finally find out, that the boat has sufferd damage en route and is being repaired. That was enough waiting. I call Panama City and book a flight for the next day.
In the afernoon, I leave my fire station and, after a night in the saddle, with lots of molesting dogs, I find the airport, that has been moved recently. I make the bike smaller and visit the migration office befoe the small air-plane takes off.
The third landing is Puerto Obaldía, a village smaller than its landing field, close to the border with Colombia. There is no regular boat service today. After passing with the Colombian micro-consulate, I hire, together with another traveller, a dugout, that brings us just across the border to the next country.
© 9-11-2000 albano & team