©2019 by Jelle.

Costa-Rica & Panama

25/1/2019

It was about 45 kilometers to get from the touristic San Juan Del Sur (Nicaragua) towards the border with Costa Rica. I spoke to a Nicaraguan guy who couldn’t find work in Nicaragua. His plan was to illegally cross the border with Costa Rica via a muddy mountainous path, because he didn’t have the required papers to enter the country. I was lucky with my Dutch passport and entered Costa-Rica without problems. At the border crossing, I met a couple that just started cycling. They were going to Mexico and told me that they slept at the terrain of a restaurant that was run by a Dutch couple. I had to check that out, of course. Right before it was getting dark, I arrived at restaurant ‘Bambo’s’, owned by Vilma and Edward. Vilma is originally from Nicaragua, but had to flee the country with her family when she was a young girl. Communism was coming up in the country, and they were relatively wealthy farmers. The government was confiscating many of their possessions, and a violent and bloody incident very close to where they lived caused them to flee. Her parents took the brave and dangerous decision to leave the farm and the cars behind and took the kids and their remaining twenty cows over the mountains towards Costa-Rica. These cows allowed the family to start something new. Eward is from Zeeland (a Dutch Province) and runs and owns this restaurant/camping/hostel/ for a couple of months now. The location is perfect for tourism between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, so the collapsed tourism is also noticeable in this business. It’s still not very busy. Let’s hope that tourism will recover.

 

I was slightly worried about my tent in the very strong winds. Luckily, I had some good cover and the chances that my tent would blow away is pretty low with my stuff and myself in it. Many branches didn’t survive the night, but my tent was still standing like a house. In the morning, there was a big iguana across the road warming himself up in the morning sun. A very impressive sight.

 

 

Costa-Rica is an expensive country, so I’m going to travel like I did in the United States and cook my own meals again. The only problem was that I almost ran out of gas, but cold food out of a cannister is pretty good after a day of cycling. I ended the next day at the fire department of Santa Cruz, I could spend the night there. I was surprised by the modern and organized location. Many departments in Central-America are located in old and dirt buildings, but this one was brand-new and clean. I even got my own mattress in an airconditioned room, what a luxury!

 

From the fire department, I cycled to Alexander that I knew via other contacts. He lives in Puntarenas, a port city that I could reach by ferry from the peninsula where I was. I arrived two hours before schedule, so I could take an earlier ferry to Puntarenas. While waiting in line to get on the ferry, a guy (Osvaldo) approached me and proposed to put my bicycle in his pick-up truck to avoid the bicycle fee they charge. He also told me that I should send him a message if I would cycle through his village, I could spend the night there.

 

Waiting for the Puntarenas ferry

 

I went to Alexander’s house and we celebrated Christmas together with his neighbors. He needed half the day to recover from that night, while I was up early for a walk through town. It was like a ghost town, everything was closed, except for the bakeries and the Chinese supermarkets (they simply never stop working). I prepared a nice Christmas breakfast with a baguette, omelette, fresh coffee, ham/cheese croissaint. Everything was there, except for my family. You miss your family double as much during Christmas week.

 

I celebrated Christmas with this family

 

I left the next day towards Osvaldo’s house, the man that I met on the ferry. He told me that he owns a supermarket and that’s where we were going to meet. I arrived just before it was getting dark and that is where Osvaldo picked me up with his pick-up truck. The supermarket was pretty big and very modern, I did not expect that. The supermarket is a family business that exists for twenty years now and they gradually expanded. It has a bakery section with cafe. Osvaldo had eight brothers and sisters and many of them work in the supermarket. It’s clearly a very close family, because they also live right next to each other.

 

I wanted to see the capital of San-José, but I didn’t feel like cycling in the huge city area around San-José. I had the opportunity to leave all my stuff at Osvaldo’s house and take a bus to the capital. That’s what I did. The bus departed right next to the supermarket, so that was perfect. I did not like the supermarket very much, also because much of its sightseeing possibilities were closed due to Christmas break. The capital is not a popular and common place to celebrate NYE, most people go to one of the many beaches. I decided to spend one night before returning to Osvaldo’s house.

 

San-José is eigenlijk een metropoolregio in een vallei

 

Osvaldo could use some help in the supermarket and I was happy to help out. I worked over 5 years at a big supermarket in the Netherlands, so found it interesting to see how everything was being managed at this small-scale facility. It’s definitely not as efficient and organized as the chain that I worked for (Albert-Heijn), but it was actually pretty well-run. I helped out at the section with the fruits and vegetables. Osvaldo bought everything he needed at a wholesale market earlier that morning. I also helped out to translate all the pastries at the bakery section, because they have many clients from the Unites States and there is no one in the shop that speaks English. The idea is to eventually have bilingual stickers to present at every product.

 

I was really grateful that the family invited me to celebrate NYE, so that I would not be alone. It was a very religious and special NYE, one that I had never had before. In the evening, we all went to the church and everybody prayed right before midnight. There was a big barbecue and everyone brought their own dish to share each other’s food.

 

This is the family where I celebrated NYE

 

A couple of days later, it was time to say goodbye and move on. The family gave me a beautiful and colorful towel with a map of Costa-Rica as a gift and memory of the country and the family. I cycled to La Fortuna, a touristic place that is mainly known for a volcano that used to be active like 9 years ago. This volcanic activity was a big stimulus for the tourism. That tourism decreased a little bit, although it’s still a popular place for backpackers. Daily buses leave the town to go towards the national parks or hot springs around the village. I slept at a camping right in front of the entrance of the national park. You can barely call it a camping, it’s more like a garden of people that just happen to live there. If you want to take a shower, you had to go through the living room and kitchen that grandma was using to cook a delicious meal. The family that lived there told me that during the times when the volcano was still active, their yard was completely filled with tourists. Right now, it was only me and another couple.

 

I left the camping the next morning and cycled around the Arenal Lake, a beautiful lake with a dam that produces a big share of the country’s electricity. There was a beautiful spot to camp right next to the lake. The tropical environment keeps surprising me. It’s like a tropical combination of Scotland, Austria and Switzerland.

 

A tiny but very deadly snake

 

Spotted during the morning walk

 

 

I’m still in contact with many cyclists that I met along the way. Javier is one of those cyclists. I met him just before Los Angeles. He’s currently already in Colombia. About a month ago, he was looking for opportunities to get to Colombia by boat. The border between Panama and Colombia is the only inaccessible part on the entire panamerican highway. The border is basically just one big dense jungle without any roads. It’s also frequently to human trafficking and drugs trafficking. Better to avoid it! He did not succeed in finding a boat connection and eventually flew to Colombia, but he did meet some people with boats. He met a German family that had sailed for over a year and he gave me their contact details, so I sent them a message. They were on an island in Bocas del Toro, Panama. I asked them if they would go to Colombia, which was not the case. Instead, they are going through the Panama canal before heading towards the Galapagos islands, and they told me that they could take me towards the entrance of the Panama canal. So a tiny little bit of cheating, but an opportunity that I’m gonna grasp. My zigzagging through the countries will make up for the kilometers. They had to wait for some spare parts for the engine and I used that time to go back towards Nicaragua to see some parts that I had missed.

 

After about 10 days, I arrived in Limón, the biggest city on the country’s Carribean coast. After Limón, it’s just one coastal highway of about 90 kilometers towards Panama. Despite the fact that there are a couple of touristic villages along this beach, there are still many stretches unused. At the end of the day, I arrived on such an unused beach. I did not see a single person on the beach, so I had my own private beach where I could camp, look for coconuts, swim in the sea and it had an amazing night sky.

 

My own private beach

 

I continued to Cahuita, the smallest touristic town along this coast. It has a national park with tropical rainforest. It was really impressive to visit that. I spend a couple of days here and didn’t do much. I found out that I don’t possess any surfing talent. It was the first time that I tried to surf, and I imagined myself catching the biggest waves on my first try, but I couldn’t even stand up. You have to start somewhere….

 

After a couple of inactive days, I chose to cross the border with Panama on a Sunday morning, because I expected it to be quiet. I was right and quickly passed the border without any problems. Costa-Rica was an amazing experience. Very friendly and hospitable people, impressive nature and well developed infrastructure (something that a cyclist really appreciates). The country in general is more developed than the other Central-American countries. This has a price tag, but you won’t hear me complaining. It’s definitely worth it.

 

I continued from the border towards ‘Almirante’, a deserted port town where I didn’t feel at ease. I cycled to the port that was completely filled with Chiquita containers, clearly a banana republic. However, there was no port activity, so everything was quiet. There is a group of islands close to the coast. The biggest island, Colón island, is reachable by ferry from Almirante. However, the big daily ferry was not running, so I had to take my bicycle on a small speedboat.

 

I thought that the German family were at Colón Island, but I was wrong. They were on the next island. I decided to spend an extra day on Colón island and cycled to the end of it because I heard that there was a beautiful beach over there. I had to walk the last 3 kilometers, because the road was kind of sandy. I reached the beach via a small path and it was indeed a very beautiful paradise like beach. It’s called starfish beach, although I haven’t seen a single starfish. To give you an indication that it’s a bit isolated: It’s inaccessible by car. So people were really staring at me like I was an alien from another planet when I walked passed them with my fully loaded bike. I’m used to the staring, but this was really at another level. I walked to the end of the beach and made a picture to memorize this memorable location.

 

Another paradise


I returned to the port and spend the night there. The next day, I took an even smaller boat to the next island (Bastimento Island). The boat took me straight to the Red Frog Marina. I have had a lot of contact with the family before, but didn’t know what kind of boat they had. That turned out to be a huge and very modern catamaran. Incredible boat!

 

JaJapami. Looking good!

 

So that’s where I met the family, consisting of mother Jana, father Jan-Dirk and their two sons Paul and Michel. Pictures will follow later. It happened to be Paul’s 7th birthday. As mentioned earlier, they have been sailing for a year and a half. They started in France, made their way down to the Cape Verde islands to eventually cross the atlantic. They have been exploring the Carribean coast for a long time, and within a couple of months, they will go through the Panama canal to the Galapagos islands, French-Polynesia and eventually New-Zealand. Quite the trip! I have my own cabin to sleep in, I cannot believe the luxury onboard of this boat. It has a dishwasher, washing machine, microwave, oven, shower, it has everything! The plan is to leave on Sunday, but it’s always depending on the weather. You have to sail on today’s wind.

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