Saturday, June 26, 2010

The bike

I don't usually elaborate too about the equipment I happen to be using, for me they are just tools, a mean to an end and in no way should they ever be the focal point of any endeavor they are a part of. But given how the bike have dictated many of memorable experiences on this particular ride, I feel I am obligated to reminiscent a bit about my poor old Trek touring bike.

This bike was an replacement of my first touring bike that was stolen in Granada Spain, and it has performed admirably for the past 11 years and well over 15 000 kms spanning several continents. So much so that I have completely neglected the fact that machine do age and do require regular cares. That was certainly very true with my saddle bags. They are more than 20 years old and the company made them is no longer making them. Though they still sort of working, but the rigorousness of the road have taken their toll and they will be put to retirement at the end of this ride, unless I can somehow rejuvenated them back to their former glory.

Given how trusty my riding equipments have been, I did not spend too much time inspecting all my equipments before setting out for this ride. To a point that I even neglecting to change to semi worn tires, thinking they should be good enough for this relatively small ride. Big mistake.

So this is a brief compilation of all that went wrong with the bike as associated equipments.
Both tire were replaced, one in Costa Rica, one is El Salvador. Rear rim was cracked, had the spokes realigned and trued once before swap it to the front where the load is significantly lighter.
I had more punctures on this ride than any of my previous rides, maybe just bad luck but I almost exhausted all my puncture patches and is now down to just two healthy spare tubes. had to replaced the bike chain and the freewheel hub body is about to go. Replaced the rear brake pads. Both rear bike panniers also experience break downs as the plastic back panel final gave away due to old age. The rain covers for both pannier is long lost its ability to keep rain out. The front derailleur do not shift up to the large chain ring despite all the effort in adjusting it.

Let see what else have gone wrong, oh, the MSR stove sprung a fuel leak the first day, the flash light has severe battery leak and despite my best effort in cleaning it, it worked on and off through out the trip. Both turtle blinking lights' batteries decide to die out together. It made the few tunnel crossing quite hairy as I rode in almost total darkness.

Moral of the story, make sure everything works and working well before embarking on any journey, luck favors those who are well prepared.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Wash your

It's been a long while since I used the hostels, and I almost forgotten how it was. There are some strange characters at these places and because of that, sometime magic spark flairs out when all the right elements come together in one comic collision. It also mean that there can be very weird vibes, usually further enhanced by drugs and alcohol. Yes, there are healthy amount of drugs and alcohol here in central America. Oh, I finally learned that weed is actually the same thing as marijuana. I did say I don't get out much. No longer are there only the international hostel association hostels, private hostel have over taken what once a almost militant approach to cheap stays, now it's more or less a cheap hotel experiences. There is a wide range in both quality and style of managements. Some are very easy going, spacious and clean spaces while others are cramp and dirty. Some are tranquil while there are others that are more like a non stop party place. Gone are usual rules like partake in daily cleanings and curfew hours...except that they still want you to wash your dishes, now.

The average of the wandering wonders/backpackers are still around 20-30 years of age, grungy, edgy, hippy and you can tell them apart miles away. Their typical attires are, sandals, baggy trousers, local made tops, long hair, nose/ear rings and tattoos. They walk around with an air of superiority, a mix of both disdain and wonderment looking at the locals, specially the one dressed in traditional wares. They are guarded, alert when alone as if any approach to them is a want or a potential danger/ripoffs, yet when in a large group, they have this attitude that the world is their playground, or better yet, the place where they are merely visitors is a living zoo or museum to them, they are the masters.

Gears they carry also have changed somewhat, where once the coolest electronic gear is a Sony walkman, now they walk around with cell phones/netbooks. A large portion of their hostel experience is spend online on either facebook or youtube. Most are going through the usual angst, what is the meaning of life, how to get this and that the cheapest way possible, bus schedules, feeling soured feeling being ripped off by local merchants or how they scored one on a local merchant.

How things change and don't change....

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

$20 Hair Cut

The last time I got a hair cut on this trip was in Nigaragua, 007 Hair Salon. Yes, I did ask for a James Bond cut and it costed fair market price, just like the the little kid next to me who got himself a cocky-de-doo-a much geled spike upfront that is the rage of central america hair style.

All through out the trip, in my most excellent broken, bastarized Spanish I would just ask for what I want, most of the time I do get what I want but sometime there are some happy surprises and I nevered felt the typical price gouching. I never felt the inclination the bargain either since what I have been charged is consistent with what every one else is paying and charging. But since been in Mexico, I felt I have been over charged twic already. As the title says, I just had a $20 hair cut, the most expensive hair cut in my life. I could have rant and rave but since I didn't ask for the price first, I figure I was in no position to argue. Second, the amount will not make her rich nor make me poor so I just bite the bullet. Lesson learned, ask for the price first if it may be beyond what you what to pay for something.

Don't get me wrong, the people here here are extremely friendly and polite, I refuse to let these few negative experiences cause to lose faith in humanity. That has to worth a whole lot more than a few dollars.

Fire and water, elements of life and my misery

So incase you have not been following the world news, Volcano Pacaya just erupted and Tropical storm, almost Hurrican Agatha just hit Guatemala. So there I was riding and camping in this rian and ash muck, not knowing what was hitting the area exactly, thinking: they don´t call it the rainy season for no good reason. For the first time I was afraid that my tent will not hold up. So much so that I went and bought bought a black plastic tarp to help out my super light tent fly. It rained five days straight. Actually to call it rain is putting it mildly, it's more like torraintial down pour, as if one is camped underneath Niagara fall, and have Lake Erie poured directly over your tent, all night long complete with lightning ripped apart the night sky and thunders tugs and tears one's nerve. Then the ash from Pacaya came into the mix, nothing was being cleaned, and nothing was ever dry...I thought I was the most miserable creature to walk the earth. That was until I rode into Antigua and found out what was happening to the people and their see the old lady crying in the market because her house has collasped and family members missing. Although I was still wet and cold but all of a sudden, I felt I was still being the fortunate one.

So live life as if it's your last day because you just don't know what can happen tomorrow!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Magic box

So long story short, I end up having to check into this no-tell motel, or auto hotel/love motel as they call them down here. This was in Salvador. So the idea behind these love motel is so people can drive there and have their secret rendevou without ever been seen by anybody. I must cofess I don't get out much and just didn't get the idea that one can check into a place without ever seeing anyone. At this point I was wearing the entire road's dirt and mud, soak to the bone from the all day rain of an almost hurrican that just hit central america, I was trying to figure out how much this love motel was going to cost me. The three kind hearted yet half witted stooges that took me there just can't seem to smart enough to explain to me how this motel system works, or I was just too thick to understand. Anyway I final figure out that it should cost no more than $6 per hour and $23 for the night, the place is deluxe. So I checked myself in by roll my sad looking bike, loaded with mud and rain into the garage and close the garage door behind me.

So as I am stripping out of my wet closes, trying to organize things of what is not yet wet and what must be washed first, I hears this knocking...let me describe the room first, it a seemingly normal hotel room, except with lots of mirrors surrounding the supplies are very much within reach, the air purfumed, and romantic music automatically came on as I enter the room, the light is generally dim and pinkish. There is a big TV enbeded into the wall opposite of the bed and below it is this wooden box extrudding out of the wall. I have no idea what that box is suppose to be for at first glance. So there I was, with my gears spread through out the room, semi naked trying to find some dry/clean cloths to wear after the impending shower. The large ceramic floor is all wet with water at this point and slippery like a skating ring. As I am gliding around the room, I hear this knock, I ran outside, nothing, open the garage door, nothing, so I went back to my cleaning chore. More knocks, I check all the doors again, nothing, the knock again and it certainly meant for me but where was it coming from??? I was scratching my head big time. It was then I realized the knocking was coming from the extruding wooden box, what the %&%$"?????? so I scrambled over to it, slipped and fell for my effort. It can be opened from the top, so I did. It's two way box where money and supplies and be exchanged without bothside seeing each other's face. She gave me the towel and the remote control for the TV while I was trying to confirm how much the night was to cost me in my now excellent spanish, not! She said something 13 and I thought it was 30, Ok I gave here 40 and she instantly gave me back the extra 20 and said "un momento". So I waited, standing there wet and semi naked. She came back, with 2 beers... what the...!!!! more confusion ensued as I am bend over trying to stick my head through this box to get some face to face interaction so my crude spanish can be better understood. Eventuall she got tired of trying to explained how it works to me and told me to call the secretary and lied to me that she will be able to speak to me in English. So I let her go, and made the phone call. After much exchange in my broken Spanish and confusion, I finally figured out it costs $20 for the entire night, the $13 was for the first 4 hour and somehow they will come and collect the other $7, the beers are complimentary:)

So that was the magic box. my dinner also came through it the same way, I order it though the phone, there was a knock from the box, food came in, money goes out, changes came is a faceless exchange of money and services.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Gang of Granada

I have been held hostage by the biker gang of Granada, Nicaragua. Lead by their Jefe Martin, who doubles as a bike mechanic by day and pro bike gangster by night. I made the mistake of bringing my wrecked rim to him where he made the fixed cheap and then enticed me with all sorts of stories of beautiful ride to spots where there are little to no tourists. I was hooked.

After their successful abduction, where I have gone with them volunteerly, they made me ride up and down these steep hills, where I need to prove my biker status. Well luckily I made it, otherwise I´ll be the laughing stock of gringo bikers. The Laguna de Apollo was nothing short of spectacular. The gang made me jump in the cool cool water, oh the misery, is there no end.

The next day it was the same, more up and down into the jungle on little forest trail which was more suited for horses, my poor newly fixed rim. 26 km worth of the bone jarring trails and the last Kilometer and a half was actually a hike in with my bike on the back. Oh, I had to carried a 3 litre of cocacola for their planned picnic. The marched me to this natural underground fed whirlpoor on the foothill of a Volcano. Nicaragua is a land created by volcanos and receding ocean. It was such a torture as I had to soak in that clear cool crystal spring to no end, watching native mokey tribe howling above in the canopy...

Luckily because of my prowess shown on my bike, I was eventually let go, teary eyes and all.

If anyone is interested in visiting Central America, make Nicaragua your destination, make Granada and Leon your home, because you are at home once you meet their citizens. They will make you their extended family:D

Sunday, May 16, 2010

secret rendevou of two horses

The night was cool and the star were shining bright...the perfect night after a long day on the bike. So there I was, in my million star hotel de tent, lying on my comfy Thermarest, fast fading into dreamless unconsciouness, then I felt something weird, like I have been watched. As my eyes opens and the focus comes in slowly...ahhh, everyone remembered the movie Abyss, when the water face came into the underwater craft, well, there was this giant horse face less than a meter hovering directly over me. It actually took me a few seconds, between fright and wonderment to realize it was a horse face breathing in front of mine. OK, fine, there was a fence between him and me and he was likely just checking me out and maybe a bit of company over the long night. So after a brief introduction, I went back to sleep while he wandered in the area...

Several hours later, my six sense kick into defcom 6 alert, red alert as I jerked awake. Ahhhh, two horses, this time one is on my side of the fence, and directly over my head is his belly. what, how, where, when and why??????? So now the two horses are happily making out, or should I say necking and having a great time. Meanwhile I slowly slide myself out of the way, fear of being stomped into mash potato should the horse get excited and began to dance. At this point I heard my bike had already been stomped on so I decided to step in and played the intrusive chaperon and break up this intimate moment, but how do one break up a necking couple/pal without inducing too much excitement or resentment. Well, just like in those darken gym, I turn on the light and hope shyness will break up the moment naturally. It worked, the two horses broke up and went away, actually I think they found another dark corner and continue their affair, much to my delight.

But the sad news about all this is that my rear rim is bent and cracked under the stress. It still works now but because all the weight it must carry, it will need to be replaced. I am now resting in the beautiful city of Granada, Nicaragua, hoping the bike shop here carry a rim that I can use.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Walk the line

Or I should say bike the line. Aside from the coastal highway, roads in Costa Rica are largely missing a bikable shoulder. So it reduce to how far you want to bike out there where you belong, as with all other forms of moving heavy metals. I elect to ride on just to the left of the white little line separating the road and the tiny bit of space before gravel and mud begins. Most of the time truck and buses are fairly good about giving me a heathy passing margin, but then there are always exceptions. I love the one, the very skilled one, like the topgun of truck drivers. They can litterally shave my side going at 80km/hr without causing bleeding, now that is skill.

So far I have had two flats, replaced my rear tire and chain...Everything is working out nicely, all except my tent. It´s superlight, and fragile. I hope it´ll last the trip.

Diet wise it´s been nothing but bean and rice, everything else is deepfried to hell. All the same to a hungry bike really.

I will be crossing into Nicaragua tomorrow...wohooo!!!!!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Going Coastal

The first thing I have to figure out in Costa Rica, aisde from what is their currency, is to decide whether to take on the mountain of death to San Jose or the coastal road through Jaco. As soon as I found out that the western coastal road is all paved now...the decision was an easy one:-)

The coast is a wonderful mix of gringo tourist all vying forn a piece of the ecotourism aaction, swing in the canopy, laying about on the beach, secret hikes in the forest to some unknow waterhole, game fishing in the sea, yoga in the clouded virgin forest, all the while the locals toiling away for a mighty dollar clearing the over growth on the side of the road, or harvesting the endless row of imported Arabic palms trees in 30 plus degree heat.

After two weeks of riding, I have finalkly regain my cycling touring form...specially in the morning coolness, I can easily tap out 60-70km before noon time. Afternoon is for siester and playtime, it´s simply too hot to ride. Thundershower usually rolls in around 3-5pm and lasts about an hour or all night long. I hope my tent will hold together for the remainder of the journey. So far freelance camping is going well, I have had some really interesting spot and have met some really cool locals.

Hopefully the next time I write, I´ll be in Nigaragua.

best to all

Friday, May 7, 2010

Escape from David

Yes, I made it...I have successfully escaped the enchanting city of David. Under the cover of monring that is not yet bright and the attentive eye of smoking budha(Karol from Poland), I quietly packed and was quite sure I was to eascape in peace. Even in the morning haze that caused by excessive indulgement of fine wine from a box, most poeple came out in attempt to stop me from leaving. With great determinence, I weaved my way out of the crowd, shed the caring stares that was darting at my back. I rode away. Freedom at last! Freedom that was paid in full and then some.

Maybe one day I describe all lost souls that came together and created this big bang in the enchanting city of David, hostel bambu-in fact, if anyone is already part of the evil empire facebook, you might be able to do a search on ¨the enchanting city of David¨, there might be a bunch of pictures up already.

It´s interesting that everyone is drifting aimlessly looking for something, and everyone one´s something is drastically different. How desperate are we to wander through the end of the world only to be back exactly where we were.

OK, Costa Rica, bring on those fire stations.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The enchanted city of David

Greeting to all,

I am somehow stuck in the David, so now the name of the game is to "Escape David" The original plan was to stop here for a two day rest, send back some of the stuffs that obviously is unused dead weight, CLA the bike and onward/forward into Costa Rica, but now is the fourth day I am here, the bike is still untouched...

David is the second largest city in Panama, it's about as bland as white rice served with white rice, with white rice as side dish. But being here in the wonderful hostel of Bambu, one Canadian, one Aussie, one Irish, one Slovenian, two Polish, one American will have a big BBQ fiesta, reason, we hijacked the fish delivery truck this morning and scored us a load of fresh sea bass and now the menu has expanded to steak, chicken, corn fresh salad green and vino in multitude of colours...just another day in Paradise, life in the enchanted city of David.

As a mini conclusion to Panama, it far more than I first envisioned it, there were talks of bikers being robbed on the Pan-American hwy but I am certain those were crime of opportunity which can happen just about anywhere in the world. The roads are relatively flat. There were one big climb around Santiago, climbing in the 35 degree heat is mucho mucho no fun. I found the trick is that one need to get up around 4.30am, and hope to get on the road by no later than 7am. Only then one can put in the big gear and get to a century day without expose to the mid day heat and the almost certain late afternoon shower. Freelance camping has been easy, and priming with alcohol from pharmacist before burning automobile gasolina with the MSR is working beautifully.

Panamanian are a wonderfully friendly, an enthusiastic greet will earn you a heart melting smile and salute...a few words of inquisitive in Spanish will get you a world of insights to the life in Panama, if you are asking about their prepare to sample, no argument will get you off the hook, tigers milk is about as awful as anything I have drank in my life.

So if I should manage to get out tomorrow, I will be in Costa Rica by night fall...I hope I will escape the enchanted city of David, I am determined!!!!!

Roberto, writing from the enchanted of David

Friday, April 30, 2010


Panama city

It´s a much more cosmopolitan and very developed city than first envisioned.

It´s not very cycling friendly but like any where else where they are rush to play catch up in traffic management, one can pretty do anything on a bike. The only place is new roads that are like highway but not designated as so, chaotic traffic is not an issue foe cycling, fast moving chaos is.

The old colonial part of Panama city is fabulous, but come and see it soon before it´s all bought up by yuppies. As of right now, there are still a heathy amount of working families living and partying there on the street, once the yuppy takes over, it´ll all be trendy cafes and expensive shops and private residents, very private.

I am about 200km outside of Panama city by now, it´s hot, hot and very hot!!! Freelance camping is good thus far, getting to sleep at night in the heat is tough but eventually one passes out. The roads are generally good with good marging of well surfaced shoulder, but being the only major hiway connecting the country, one can imagin the traffic. Eating is good, lots of rice and beef and chicken and beans. There are lots of chinese here in Panama and they seem to have a monopoly in the supermacado business here. Very bizzar.

I am heading toward Buca del Toro on the Atlantic side of the suppose to rain less on that side.