Two-Wheelin’ the Isthmus

I currently work as a mountain bike guide for a company that brings people from the UK to the Central American isthmus for vehicle-assisted cycling tours. We ride from Granada, Nicaragua down to Panama City, Panama over the course of two weeks. Wildlife and rum both abound.

Here are some observations after finishing the first trip:

– British people are proper, but not too proper. They tend to think that a faked British accent (even if it’s good) is cute at first but quietly annoying after a short amount of time.

– Scottish people are pleasant and love to tell stories.

– Apparently most people need coaching on how to change gears without demolishing the chain.

– Then they need more coaching.

– Vaseline in the chamois is happiness. So is cold pineapple and coconut juice.

– Jerseys and gloves get uncontrollably stinky with stage biking.

– Making it clear that you have control over where a group of clients with real money eats/sleeps to restaurant/hotel owners is an effective way of getting free/discounted stuff.

–  This part of the world seriously needs to evaluate how people cross its borders and then change everything about how it’s currently done.

Total mileage: 387

Daily Summaries

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 1:

3 dreadful hours at the border. Hotel Patio del Malinche is beautiful, classy. Bikes are prepped. Pick up clients tonight in Managua. Mileage: 14

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 2:

Met group. All from UK except one from Norway…named THOR (no joke). Easy ride around Lake Nicaragua and lunch on Asese Peninsula with views of Volcan Mombacho – finally two-wheelin´! Donated used baseball mitts to local youth team. Sulfuric gas and smoke coming out of crater at Volcan Masaya. Paid little boy to teach me how to make woven palm flower at Masaya Market – bought one, gave it to him, told him to find a pretty girl and report back. Mileage: 14

Crater at Volcan Masaya | Masaya, Nicaragua

Crater at Volcan Masaya | Masaya, Nicaragua

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 3:

Goodbye Granada, hello Ometepe Island. Ride through Pueblos Blancos, roadside furniture for sale everywhere. Packed ferry, choppy waters nearly tip bus. Sticky cruise to Charco Verde Hotel. Volcan Concepcion looming, fertile soil left and right. Fish tail sticks out of soup bowl for dinner. Mileage: 25

Concepcion Volcano, Ometepe Island | Nicaragua

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 4:

Morning dip in Ojo del Agua followed by ride back to Moyogalpa. Magpie-jays! Nap time next to Thor. Bumpy road through La Chocolata to tiny local school – “conscious” tourism hard when few actually care. Statue of Jesus points us down to San Juan del Sur. Pool after long day in the saddle. Reminisce about same sunset shared once upon a time with Tom. Mileage: 45

Ox Cart Ahead | La Chocolata, Nicaragua

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 5:

First real climb challenges group as we ride towards Costa Rica border. Floating in the middle of the pack means lost in my thoughts. Border crossing bullshit means lost in Duty Free. Beautiful twilight ride in foothills of volcanoes; challenge Thor to race, Helena joins, I provide commentary: “And the long-haired American surges ahead to take the lead from the struggling Brits!” Police stories in London from Keith. Deer joins us during dinner. Mileage: 35

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 6:

Tenorio River float trip, I play nature guide; first Boat-billed Heron! “That Swiss nazi stole my belt!” Huge blue sky, open savannas. Heat. Sweat. More sweat. Gorgeous ride towards Lake Arenal. Time trial with Grapefruit Calves Paul, get crushed. Incredible views from hotel, fresh mandarins plucked from tree near room. Eggplant parm from the gods. Rum. Mileage: 30

Tenorio, Miravalles, Rincon de la Vieja Volcanoes | Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Tenorio, Miravalles, Rincon de la Vieja Volcanoes | Guanacaste, Costa Rica

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 7:

Morning yoga overlooking creek. Glorious ride around Lake Arenal. Jane takes a spill, cracks helmet but not spirits. Homemade tortilla with Ronald, the driver. Wash and service bikes. Expensive dinner “cortesia de la casa” (on the house) for being a guide. Paul returns at 2AM. Mileage: 39

Sunset over Lake Arenal | Costa Rica

Sunset over Lake Arenal | Costa Rica

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 8:

Laundry pick-up (fresh chamois!). Humid loop ride through La Fortuna farms. Force Keith to pull over – improvised fan + wet towel = lowered body temp = happy client. HAIRCUT! Strange doughnut craving…strange doughnut craving satisfied. Evening hot springs appreciated by sore legs. Prancing ponies in local horse parade. Paul returns at 3:30AM. Mileage: 30

Ridiculous Men's Haircut Option | "Beauty Salon", Costa Rica

Ridiculous Men’s Haircut Option | “Beauty Salon”, Costa Rica

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 9:

Cold pineapple and coconut water en route to El Tanque are saviors. Enormous lunch buffet while man in funny suit falls from space on television (!?). Picturesque ride along Caribbean coast towards Cahuita. Fix first flat of the trip. Sloths climbing electrical lines and Green Tree Frogs. Rum. Mileage: 50

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 10:

Sea of bananas as we enter indigenous community near Bri Bri. Heat. Bizarre encounter with paranoid gay farmer. Learn how to avoid changing derailleur cable by cutting housing slack instead. Heat. Killer speed ride to catch front of group at Panamanian border – high stress as we cross. Panama SIM card means switching between 3 different numbers for 3 different countries. Windy water taxi ride splashes clients; hilarious for me, swearing for them. Like pulling teeth to get group on dance floor in Bocas del Toro, eventually successful. Rum. Mileage: 33

Cool Down | Bri Bri, Costa Rica

Cool Down | Bri Bri, Costa Rica

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 11:

Extra sleep appreciated. Isla Colon perusal. Tons of backpackers and bad tattoos. The Chinese own everything. Water taxi to Solarte Island, great porch chat with old retired expat named Wilson about Bocas politics/tourism, life lessons, and “nailing girls” as he puts it. Ginger and orange shrimp. Costa Rica destroys Guayana but plays poorly, Paul approves by yelling at television. Mileage: 0

Writing & Reading | Bocas del Toro, Panama

Writing & Reading | Bocas del Toro, Panama

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 12:

Sunny boat ride back to Almirante. Thor’s luggage strap rips (whoops). Humidity through the indigenous communities. Finally fixed the crank noise. Awful fried rice = awful fried stomach. Climb. Mountain fog sits on road, won’t budge. Downhill section goes on and on and on and is amazing. La Hacienda Hotel ridiculously decorated in Santiago. The Pianist with subtitles in the room. Mileage: 29

An Hour Without Pedaling | Boquete, Panama

An Hour Without Pedaling | Boquete, Panama

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 13:

Anne takes an awkward non-moving spill. Panamanian construction guys impressed by bike while I wait for group. Pan American highway crossing of death, another untrustable lunch soon after. Bridge of the Americas over the canal! Suite room ftw. “Let the Dirt Fly!” – cross, lock, and drop it at the canal. Keyboardy Latin music torture. Mileage: 34

Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal | Panama City, Panama

Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal | Panama City, Panama

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 14:

Bad coffee, great breakfast. Final day of riding through Soberania National Park to Gamboa. Ships on a conveyor belt as we eat lunch over the water. Rob ceremoniously delivers woebegone shoes to the spirits of the lake. Martyn shares hilarious stories about having leeches “on me knob”. Ancient part of town reminds me of Cadiz, great memories surface. Putanesca. Proper night out in the city. Club bangers. Rum. Mileage: 9

Photo of a Photoshoot in Casco Viejo | Panama City, Panama

Photo of a Photoshoot in Casco Viejo | Panama City, Panama

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Day 15:

Chaos on the way to the airport, taxi hired to lead us. Hugs goodbye, promises of future visits. Tip money divided, everyone but me disappointed. Ronald and Paul insist on McDonalds. Hours driving back to Costa Rica. More hours driving back to Costa Rica. Torrential downpour forces unplanned night in Parrita after 17 hours in the bus. Mileage: 0

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