Remembering the unforgettable

I like to travel.  I once heard of a group of roaming gypsies all with the name Marks.  I figured I must be related because the pressure valve on my content-o-meter can’t pass halfway before I start to fidget restlessly wondering  where to go and what to do next.   Right now that meter is back to 0 and my pocketbook has warned me it better stay there for a while.

And that’s OK because what a grand adventure it was.  To be honest, I still can’t believe we pulled it off.   The trip was little of what I had expected but so much more than I could have imagined, if that makes any sense.   Despite our slew of bike troubles, touring by bike is seriously fantastic.  It heightens all the senses and brings your surroundings to life.   If you’ve ever raced in a big event like a marathon, century ride, Spartan race or similar you understand the many stories that make up the race.  It’s the same with touring, the mix of terrain, weather, scenery, rest stops, mishaps and triumphs along the way made for unique stories inside the ride each day.  I love that nothing ever went like I thought it would.  Our shortest mileage days were some of our most challenging and our longest, hardest days were some of the most rewarding.  With so much going on, we both felt as though we were gone 3 months rather than weeks.

I thought the route overall was a home run.  Okay,  maybe minus some shortcuts!  I loved the mix of rainforests, volcanoes, small villages, classic cities, unique beaches and yes even some remote dirt roads.     Some paved roads were a bit dangerous, but riding early and wearing high visibility clothing helped offset those risks.  We never felt in danger riding and surprisingly the Panamericanan Highway was far less busy than other roads in both countries.  I wished we’d had more time in La Fortuna, Ometepe, and Granada.   Those Tamarindo sunsets made it the perfect place to end in grand style.

While the scenery was truly breathtaking,  the real highlight was the people.   Despite communication that, at times consisted of little more than hand gestures, we always left those interactions with laughter, gratitude, and love for newfound friends.   In both countries we found the people to be kind beyond measure,  hardworking, simple, and faithful.  I envy their Pura Vida (pure life) mantra.  They seem so free of stress and so connected to family and each other in a way I haven’t seen since I was young.   I particularly enjoyed meeting the children.  They were always fascinated by the goofy Americans.    Riding from La Cruz to Flamingo we encountered a long stretch of road without services,  a kind man directed us down an offshoot route in search of a Pulpería for refreshment.  Resting there for a spell, I struck up a conversation with a pair of wide-eyed 9-year-old cousins as we shared our snack with them.   They were learning English in school and were so excited to use it with us and giggled wildly at my bad Spanish responses.  It was simple, yet so amazing and brought me such joy.

I’m also glad we went during the rainy or (green) season as they like to call it.  We certainly found ourselves under a faucet on many occasions, but it was often invigorating and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the lush and vibrant landscape everywhere we went.   Going at this time also enabled us to see the popular places without many tourists and we never had trouble finding a room.

I asked Liam what his favorite parts of the trip were.  He mentioned the time when he heard trees rustling and looked up to find the trees full of monkeys.  He loved Toad Hall and its fried ice cream which was such a welcome relief after a hard day two.  He loved getting to see fireflies, staring into a volcano and swinging from the rope swing at Ajo de Agua.   He also enjoyed discovering new foods and has already begged his mom to prepare Gallo Pinto.   He ordered beef tounge for breakfast one day because it was on the menu.  I really admire that about him.

For me, some of my favorite moments were watching my son buy dog treats and carry them in his front bag to hand out to the skinny dogs he encountered along the way.   I loved watching Liam pull himself off the ground and get back on the bike crash after crash and hill after hill.    I loved singing to Abba in a car with 3 strangers who could barely pronounce the words as we went from bike shop to shop looking for a part.  While riding, I loved catching up to an oxen cart full of men who let me hang on for a few moments to rest while we bantered about me pulling them.   I loved the dark alleyways of Granada’s grand market where anything could be found.  I loved visiting the Plaza Majores of each town we encountered. I loved riding that one wave all the way to shore. I loved rappelling off the end of a rope into the river.   I  loved witnessing a man take a chunk of aluminium and fashion it into a bike part for me.  I loved the expression on the man’s face when we emerged from the jungle into his back yard covered in mud.  I loved that it was hard and it had a little bit of everything in it but mainly I loved meeting new people and making new friends.

For takeaways, I witnessed Liam’s confidence increase each time he accomplished things he was sure he couldn’t.  Hopefully that will spill into his future.  For me, this was the first time in many years I found myself at the absolute mercy of others, and to witness the outpouring of assistance and compassion offered to us really opened my eyes as to how I can do better serving others.

I wrote this blog to let family and friends know of our progress and as a memento for Liam.  Our updates have now been viewed over 3000 times and the comments and support have been absolutely astounding and overwhelming.  Thank you all for coming along with us on this journey.  If I have inspired anyone to plan a big adventure of their own then it’s been well worth the time.  And as a reminder, I have all the gear now and am happy to lend it out so start planning.  I know I already am.

 

 

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Stand directly undneath, now you know how it feels to ride in Costa Rica in June 

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Traditional breakfast with Gallo Pinto volcano, cheese, plantains, and huevos.

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Contemplating how to unclip next time

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How not to land from the rope swing.

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Oh Crepe!

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Life in the market

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Theres not a marshmallow roasting stick long enough.

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mindboggling, with just a chisel and files.

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Colors of the town.

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Lost to Caterina

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Liams backside just before it turned a deep shade of red.

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No Flamingos Beach

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A gentle reminder.

 

 

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Day 21 Campeones

Upon hearing the generalities of our story as we arrived yesterday, the kind bellman who took our photo and helped store the bikes took note.  Today each time we entered the lobby he would loudly proclaim “Mi campeones!” (my champions).  It’s silly, but it was so nice to be recognized that way.  We have also been so overwhelmed by the support of family and friends who have cheered us on along the way.   It seriously helped immensely!  I know our feat carries little importance in the big picture and pales in comparison to what others endure or accomplish every day but for us, especially Liam, this was a big deal, so thanks.  

Despite a restless night bathed in aloe vera, I was ready to go by morning, Liam not so much.  At breakfast neither of us were too excited about any planned tour so Liam stayed to chill by the  pool while I went in search of some beach volleyball or surf.  With a fist-pumping YES! I found both.  A couple of great games with newfound friends was a blast and when followed by spectacular surfing my perfect Tamarindo dream was complete.  There are bigger waves at nearby beaches for the hard core surfers so Tamarindo beach is a great mix of families and tourists on medium sized waves.  It was ideal for me and I rode wave after wave to shore until I collapsed in euphoric exhaustion.  Later Liam joined me in the surf.  Finally too exhausted to do much else, I returned the board and just sat for an hour in awe, transfixed by another amazing sunset.   A celebratory steak dinner with Liam was accompanied by a great mariachi band crooning to us the likes of “Labamba” and “Ring of fire”.   I couldn’t have scripted a better day.  

Liam trying to capture his souvenir.

Pretty in pink

Because you need more sunset photos

Ya see what I did there?  That there’s trick photography. 

Thinking, “if I get one more request for Airana Grande #@$/%*@”.

Day 20 The finish line 

Yesterday’s big effort took a toll and the  combination of air conditioning and a comfy bed finally allowed me a dreamy sleep.  In fact, after going to breakfast and heaping piles and piles of free into our bellies, we returned to our room and promptly crashed for another two hours.   After coming to, we tearfully bid adieu to the lovely Flamingo resort.  Our nostrils cringing from the stench of our riding clothes, today we donned only bare chests and swimsuits for our triumphant manly armor.   I may have heard some giggles at our distinct jersey-defined tan lines but We were not deterred.

 Only a few miles into the ride we detoured and rode down Brasulito Beach to Conchal Beach to snorkel.  Riding in packed sand was a new challenge and with our weight we slid around a bit.   The snorkeling was surprisingly great. After finding the sweet spot we saw eels, pufferfish, and starfish.  We found Nemo and Dori and other large schools of fish whose names we didn’t know.   Though we have visited a number of different beaches now, I love how they’ve all been very unique.   This beach was composed completely of shell fragments, and if you think sand gets in places, wait until you toss around in a shell beach.  Those tiny buggars cling to places, all the places!   From Conchal our adrenaline pumped as we got entered Tamarindo.   Yes we were finishing our ride but something else seemed odd and then it hit me,  this was the only day of riding we’ve had with no major obstacle to overcome!   Of course that epiphany came before realizing the price we paid for our shirtless machismo without sunscreen!   

Arriving at our hotel, the smile on Liams face was priceless.  After traveling at least  590 miles, it was all done and now we could celebrate with a full rest day tomorrow.  Tamarindo is a hip spot with a great beach and after watching the most estupendo sunset of my entire life, it deserves all the praises it gets.   Our hotel is nice and before I knew it Liam had already purchased a $4 coke from the swim up bar.  It’s a far cry from the 20 cent sodas of Nicaragua.   I don’t knock places like this though.   In fact, I think I can appreciate the $10 hostel but also admire a swanky resort for its advantages.  One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about this trip is seeing the full spectrum from hip touristy areas to tiny remote villages and I am left with a great adoration for both.    But wait!  It’s not time to wax philosophical yet!  We still have tomorrow to adventure!  That is, if we can pry our sunburnt bodies off the bed.

Liam’s attempt at landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

A favorite snack of ours, a version of a snow cone but with condensed milk and some other white powder mixed in.  

The finish line.  

Liams shoes.  After crashes and mishaps galore, a nice reminder of how hard this was.  Notice the butt clinging shells. 

Mono is Spanish for monkey so I guess you could say Liam caught mono at the pool today. 

A sunset so amazing you get three pictures of it.

Like me, just waiting for someone to play.

The stuff dreams are made of.

Day 19 Nothing can stop us now.

Upon returning to our room last night we discovered that Liam had left the light on and door open.  We now had approximately 200 new moths for roommates.  One massive moth the size of a bat with eerie red eyes wouldn’t leave after we turned lights off.  Wielding a towel, so ensued Liam’s hilarious attempt to corner and dispose of the beast who fluttered away at every attempt.   

Neither of us slept well,  but we had agreed ok, maybe I had coaxed, Liam into getting up early and pushing 80 miles to Flamingo beach all in one day.  That way, we could have a short final day of riding tomorrow plus a rest day to finish out our adventure in style.    Right off the bat everything was thrown at us.  A headwind the entire way was coupled with construction delays’ searing heat, wrong turns, bike tune ups, pouring rain, and near the end a dirt road that was supposed to be paved with massive hills that required all we had left just to push the bikes up them.  I feared we would once again be left in the dark in a remote jungle but the downhill came just in time and we cruised down to Flamingo with the days last light.   It took thirteen hours but we freaking conquered the day, and it was awesome.   As we entered the lobby of 4 star hotel dripping mud and rain all over thier crisp white Italian tile I was sure they were going kick us out the door.  But they honored the amazing $65 with breakfast deal I found online earlier.  It was a nice way to reward Liam for a hard day.  He was in heaven.  There would be no moths here.   Gone were the tiger print sheets and shared bathrooms of nights past.  The only problem now is getting him to leave this place for the last 15 miles today.

This time better be the top.

Another one of the many many times it wasn’t the top but I had mistakenly told Liam it was.

300 thread count sheets only moments away!

We are 4 star snobs

Day 18 Farewell Nicaragua

For some reason Liam didn’t want to try the shortcut I had mapped out for today.  I think he has developed a newfound fear of the word.  So we ended up traveling some familiar roads back to the border which is never as fun because, hello, been there, saw that!  We did have a much better view of the volcanoes of Ometepe today so that was nice.  We could have done without the flat tires and headwind though.  The border crossing was a breeze and Costa Rica welcomed us back by quickly serving up a big plateful of hills just to remind us of the buttkicking it gave us the first time.  By late afternoon we rolled into the town of La Cruz.   It’s a lovely place perched on the edge of a massive overlook that allows for ocean views many miles away.  It’s much more upscale than I expected or perhaps I’d just been in Nicaragua too long.  Crossing back today, we both sensed for the first time, that the journey was nearing its end.  Hopefully there is still more adventure in store, like tomorrows questionable shortcut I’m not even going to tell him about! 

Guess who discovered how to put drinks on my tab?

A better view of Ometepe Island

Jumping into a refreshing pool after a long hot day of riding feels like jumping into a pool after a long hot day of riding.  I kid you not, it’s that good.

How all days should end

Day 17 Rest days are work

I wish I could just relax on a beach or in a hammock for hours.   With repairs, organization and planning it leaves little time and I want to play!   Walking into town this morning I loved seeing large families gathered together relaxing at the beach.  Nicas are hard workers, it was nice to see them enjoy a day.   My morning was spent chasing after and setting up a new phone after my poor battered s7 fell victim to my fumbling hands one last time and said, no more!  After all that I needed some fun.   The surf conditions were not ideal but we opted to hit a small beach not far from town.  Catching a wave is magical, I think even more so when your not great at it.  But my favorite moment was during a long break between wave sets.  It was sunny, yet somehow there was a warm light rain and an amazing rainbow.  Hugging my soft foam board, the smaller waves nearly rocked me to sleep.  Finally I was relaxed.

Liam looking ligit, just before getting tossed in the shore surf.

Ligit surfers

I need to take relaxing lessons from this guy.


Our gracious host San Juan

Day 16 We were being watched

I knew today would be risky and hard, and it was, in more ways than we could have imagined.   I had connected dots on Google Earth to eeck out a route to San Juan Del Sur from Gigante but in my research found nothing about anyone using those roads to link the two surfing towns.   The locals I asked hadn’t heard of such a route either.   Given our bike woes I was tempted to bail, which would mean missing out on Nicaragua’s liveliest beach town.   But this is why I had come, this is why I seek to get lost, for the challenge.   When one old villager reluctantly agreed that it was possible my juices were flowing.   I knew it would get much worse but the road we started on looked great and any miles on good road means fewer miles on bad.   I was focused on making it to a river crossing that could quickly end our chances when a bigger obstacle appeared around the bend.   The road was gated and standing there were two men armed with semi-automatics and hand guns.  I put on my best smile and greeting as we approached.  One man engaged me in conversation and I told him of our plans.  He shook his head no.  I don’t know why I persisted.  Hello! Devin!  You moron, look around at the big drug money hacienda on the right!  But no, there I am pulling up Google maps on my phone to show him the route we planned on taking.  And right then it hit me that it’s not just the challenging terrain that keeps people from traveling this way.   The two men spoke for a time.  I was now content to abandon our plans when he suprised us by letting us through.   With Liam there they must have presumed that we were low risk.  So we went on.  If we could fjord the river, only smaller streams would remain.  Stories of crocodiles in the rivers had Liam nervous but the water was only up to our knees at its deepest so we made quick work of it which emboldened our hopes.  After the river we traveled a short distance before I saw a man stopped on a horse up ahead.  I used that as a cue to check my Google blue dot and sure enough we had gone just a little off course.  Our easy riding was over, now it was more a path than a road and soon it was singletrack, hopping logs and splashing through streams along the way.  A few miles in, a man on a motorcycle approached from behind.  Thankfully, he was pleasant given the large machete at his side.  In hand gesture conversation he told us about a steep mountain ahead.   Then he left up ahead of us.  Given the debris, I knew this route hadn’t been used in a long time.  We were being watched.   Which, along with being deep into a remote jungle with howler monkeys yelling from above made for a rather eerie feeling.  The man wasn’t lying about the steep rocky climb.  We could barely push our bikes while hiking up it.  Near the top, the man on the motorcycle returned the other way, perhaps content that if we were willing to climb that hill we were too crazy to turn back.   The next few miles were an absolute hoot.  With spectacular views we rode for miles down jungle ridgelines on a mix of smooth and rocky singletrack.  Our hopes were high.  Each mile was a mile closer to waiting villages and perhaps better roads.   However, as we dropped lower, the conditions worsened.  Quickly the trail became mud, like all mud.  There was no escape.  Our wheels gummed up so quickly that we were soon dragging our stalled bikes.  Liam frequently lost his shoes as we struggled for over a mile in nothing but muck.  Exhausted from the effort we finally emerged into a small village of a few homes.   We had made it!   There an old man kindly allowed us to wash off.  It took forever just to get the bikes ridable again but better roads lie ahead.  Of course we couldn’t just have a victory cruise down into San Juan Del Sur, so I broke a chain just to keep things on par for bike issues.  After a failed repair I just scooted down to town occasionally tethering my bike to Liams on the flats.  San Jaun was a welcome end to a hard fought day.  Getting the bike fixed introduced us to a expat from New York who helped us find a good hostel to crash.  After some rest we walked the town and dined at at a restaurant overlooking this amazing bay.  Perched on the hill is a massive Christus, he looked down on me as if to say, “I got you, I’m watching over you, just stop being so dumb!”  Later we passed by the town square where a festival was taking place with families, food and music everywhere.   I must say, I really love Nicaragua where even the henchmen are quite nice!

I’ll bet even the crocodiles are nice.  

Traffic

Liam surprised that more people don’t take this route.

I hear it does wonders for your skin.

The river crossing to our hostel requires a ferry in high tide but is walkable otherwise.  Just move fast.

Locals futbal game

Comfort from above.

Day 15. Flailing in the surf

The plan for today was already tricky, dangerous, and arduous.   Thirty miles of dirt roads to San Juan Del Sur could catch us up to schedule and give us a rest day there.   However, the last 15 miles could involve impassable streams or hours of hiking as the road only exists roughly on Google earth.  Things had to go perfect to even attempt it.  A halfway bailout option was there just in case.  Things started well enough except for caked on mud under fenders slowing us down.   But then 15 miles in I fell victim to another broken spoke which led to more bike issues and my happy level sunk to a new low for this trip.  I but my lip to avoid a flurry of curse words, but oh they were definitely there I tell you.  Surely we couldn’t attempt the sketchy road now.  Luckily we were close to the bailout option where I had been intrigued by a surf hostel that was perched between two beaches.  We limped into the little fishing and surfing village of Gigante Bay just after noon and made our way up to the Monkey House Hostel.  The astounding views alone were worth the $10 a night bed.   Liam quickly scampered down the steep cliff pathway to the beach while I cleaned off the bikes.  Finding and fixing the bike issue gave me enough mental relief to allow for a hard nap in the arms of a hammock.  Liam found a new way to get injured by way of rocks and did a number on his shoulder.   Our planned afternoon surf lesson was cancelled due to high swells so we opted to try ourselves.  My great affinity for surfing in no way matches my skills in the sport.  The rough surf didn’t do anything to enhance my claim to be a surfer either.  But boy did we have a ball getting battered about in the waves.  Liam rode a few waves to shore on his knees and really loved it.  Hopefully the professionals can step in and teach us both soon. 

  Now I know writing from a hammock with waves crashing about can seem a bit idyllic and romantic but you know as my luck goes three bugs have already landed on me freaking me out and twisting me all sorts of sideways in this thing.

Off to the right

Or look to the left.

Mad stacking skills

Seriously it was a hard day!

One flew under the cuckoo’s nest

Half tempted to steal this boat and just float the rest of the way.

Day 14  The best bad road. 

Despite starting the morning with a five mile climb,  it felt great just to be moving again.  Our climb topped out at the beautiful village of Caterina.  What a pleasant surprise this town was with flowers pouring out of brightly colored buildings everywhere.  A ride through this quaint place ends at an impressive overlook of Laguna de Appoyo, a massive old volcano crater now a lovely lake for recreating.   We were just leaving when the clouds rolled in and drenched us before we could find shelter in the way of breakfast.  Any breakfast in Costa Rica and Nicaragua features Pinto Gallo, essentially a beans and rice mixture.   After my umpteenth helping I am so over it,  but surprisingly Liam loves the stuff.   Upon scraping his plate clean, the rains let up and off we sped downhill for miles.  Thirty miles in we were making great progress.  My optimism was getting the best of me.  That was until we turned down the road to Popoyo.  I had no idea it was not paved.  22 miles of dirt had me nervous but I told myself it was all downhill,  also a miscalculated optimism, because the countless stream crossings all had steep climbs on the backside.   Still I would say it was the best bad road we had been on because it wasn’t raining or dark and I quite enjoyed riding past little farms and villages where swarms of brightly colored butterflies fluttered alongside us.  On the last stream crossing I found myself up to my thighs in water and my panniers floating off my bike and moving downstream.  Liam just laughed at my struggles while pointing out the bridge and detour only 100 feet upstream.   With no major bike issues today either we finished our 54 miles early in the afternoon and found a lovely place to stay.   Later,  we walked down the beach and couldn’t help from jumping in and letting the waves have there way with us.  It was great to see Liam frolicking about like kids will do which made for a spectacular finish to the day.   Except for the mosquitoes on the way back, if I didn’t already have the Zika then I likely do now! 

Don’t tell my wife but I’m in love with Caterina 

Prime seating 

The water is warm due to geothermal fissures at the bottom of the Laguna. 

A typical Pulpería. A small snack and drink stand found in every village and the source of our countless consumed Fantas and ice cream bars.

Comes complete with front and rear paininrears. 

Without our stuff for camping we’ll just have to make do.  

I still can’t pronounce the name Popoyo.

 

Day 13  The hard part.  Lessons from Nicas

Halfway into our journey and to this point we’ve been right on schedule.   Today however,  we went everywhere but nowhere.   Facing rough roads and zero bike shops ahead of us I had to find a derailleur hanger that fit my unique frame or risk disaster while riding.   Nelson, my kind tour guide from last night had arranged a truck to take me into the Capital city Managua to grab the part.  The referred bike shop was closed despite its posted hours,  and so such began the great chase to find the elusive part.  Pushing further into the city to an open shop came up empty as well,  but they loaned us one their mechanics Antony who had some ideas where to find it.  Embarrassed and frustrated that I was wasting thier day and mine Nelson told me not to worry,  using a popular Nica expression akin to “we’re on this horse now, so we might as well finish the race”.   I was deeply moved that these men were willing to stick with me to help me out the entire day.   Earlier I had felt an urgency to get fixed and get moving.  But then it hit me,  all this time I’d been greatly admiring the slower, stress-free attitude of the Nicas and it was time I took a que from them,  just relax and trust that things would work out.  That was not easy since we struck out three more times.  We stayed positive by singing to Abba and other 70s music which is very popular here.   A final option was a recommendation to have a man machine it for us.   That sounded implausible and it would require returning to Masaya to get the same part off Liam’s bike.   There was no other choice.  Returning to show Juan the complex part, he shook his head no,  but after thier pleading on my behalf he told us to come to his house at 8.   Arriving at a shack of an outdoor shop, 8 men sat inside just chatting and occasionally tinkering with bikes.  It was such a cool neighborhood scene and Juan was at the bench literally sculpting this part with his hands and some rudimentary tools.  I was shocked at his skill and on-the-fly precision.  Everything did work out today, and I again sit in awe at the kindness I have been shown.  I am deeply humbled. 

The Bain of my existence 

My saviors today 

Statue celebrating the game (king of the mountain) ??

The tree of curly fries

 

Men being men

Old school 3d printer

Finished piece.