And that’s the End of that Adventure

We were a month in the States.  We left Tony and Steph in Portland and cruised down through green, beary (I saw one) Oregon in the rain.  One Warm Showers host (complete with home cooking) led to another (where a small party was held in our honour) and another (where we were given free run of an apartment for as long as we liked), so we didn’t mind the dampness too much.  That kind of hospitality brings a tear to my eye.

Tony and Steph, just putting their names out there, TONY AND STEPH

Grits and biscuits at breakfast at our Warm Showers hosts’ house. Note the room has a golden glow from the goodness of the breakfast and the people 

raining

The sun came out in California and we enjoyed some stunning coastal scenery and sweet tailwinds.  We took a random side route (the main road has quite a bit of traffic) and visited a friend we had met in Nicaragua.  This involved a couple of days of tough mountain bike touring and fear of mountain lions but was well worth the pain.

The Lost Coast, NoCal

She let us camp up in her tree

Elkward

I was well impressed by the beauty of the West Coast, and the organisation of the State Parks.  There were enough parks that we could camp every night, and most also had a special site just for people with bikes (Bike RIGHTS).  This meant we didn’t have to be right next to the enormous camper vans (the biggest ones are as big as buses).

Hiker Biker campsite in the redwoods

In camp restroom.  Austerity measures seriously affect Californian campers

Ultimately, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.  The Bay was glorious in the evening light, and we reflected on our travels as we left the countryside for the big city, metaphorically and physically.

Actually there were one million annoying tourists stopping and standing in our way, and we were tired, smelly and cranky. We also had to carry the bikes up two flights of stairs, and then we got lost looking for our hostel. I cried twice.

San Fran (apparently locals hate it when you call it that) was excellent, more great food and company.  And then, after 18 months of adventures (including nearly a whole year’s cycling, but only (?) 14,000 km, that was all.  The bikes were packed into boxes for the last time and we exchanged Bay Area fog for Auckland fog and then Auckland fog for Wellington awesomeness. Thanks for reading the blog (and tolerating my overuse of brackets), and indulging with us a little in our extended biking-eating holiday.

We celebrated Independence Day with a trip to Oakland for Chicken and Waffles (to be eaten together with maple syrup). I love lunch.

Love from Kath and Andrew

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The Dream of the Nineties is Alive in Portland

Two planes, and we are in the other part of  the Americas (America).  We spent the last week with friends in Portland, luxuriating in small comforts like drinkable tap water, good food and having conversations with people that aren’t us.

Portland is unassumingly brilliant.  It’s famous for bike lanes, brew pubs, food carts and hipsters, but its laid back livability is what really appeals to me.  It’s kind of like the Lower Hutt of the future (and without Queensgate right in the middle).  It’s not stunningly beautiful, but is full of pretty green neighbourhoods, each with a cluster of great restaurants or bars. These are all linked together by avenues shared by cars and cyclists – I’m sure there are some militant bikers out there* but it seems like there is less of a divide between cyclists and drivers than you might find in NZ.

We have eaten very well in Portland.  At the food carts we tried Cuban sandwiches (better than in Cuba), cult Thai steamed chicken, honey butter biscuits (like salty scones), double fried chips with peanut satay and chipotle jam.  We drank IPA off the IBU hops scale.  We ate at a Southern bbq restaurant (the meat is smoked for 10 hours) and at a super trendy Thai street food joint/whisky bar.  Yum.

Tomorrow we are back on the bikes, off to explore Oregon (which I hear is a bit like Lord of the Rings).

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* Here’s one exception

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Costa Rica: Just like Lord Of The Rings

Costa Rica is like Noah’s ark without Jesus. So many exciting animals! On the boat up the river from Nicaragua (you can’t cycle on water) we spotted turtles, monkeys, fish, a cayman – pretty much a crocodile – and lots of pretty birds. During the three or four days we cycled there we were lucky enough to spot a few iguanas and even a sloth. 

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Hitch-hiking baby iguana

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But who has the scarier eyes?

The country is beautiful too. Forests and rivers and volcanoes are everywhere. Most of them are full of hordes of tourists which made a change from the rest of central america. There are a lot of other similarities to home too. The roads were narrower and had more traffic. The weather changed all the time, and normally to rain. 

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Like Taranaki but more bananas

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There is a sloth and an iguana in this photo. 10 points if you can see either. 

 

ImageThese ants pick leaves, carry them home, chew them and then vomit them out, and eat the fungus that later grows on the vomit. They are farmers. 

 

The prosperity of Costa Rica was enjoyable as a visitor too. The hotels were nicer and there was a boutique beer brand. Supermarkets are full of different (processed) things and guards outside banks and chicken restaurants don’t have shotguns. There were bogans and obese people. 

ImageShe is still excited about the sloth

 

 Finally, here are our maps of cycling in this part of the world. Next post will be from the USA and feature words such as pavement and mom. ImageImage

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Nicaragua, Nicaraguita

Nicaragua was cruisy.  Our cycling route lacked the gradients of Guatemala or the guns of Honduras and we cycled a paltry 500km in just under a month.  It sounds like I´m complaining because it wasn´t hard core enough (which I am) but actually Nicaragua was a paradise of voclanoes and lakes and monkeys eating mangoes.  It even has a bike lane.

Just like Amsterdam

Andrew´s best friends

We started in the mountains in the North, splurging on a night in an eco-hotel/coffee plantation/cloud forest reserve.  In the morning we went for a walk through the ephiphyte choked forest, listening to and watching the local howler monkeys.  I strongly recommend that Karori Sanctuary get howler monkeys.  They sound like lions (eh Nieves).

The road to the eco-hotel. Reminds me of Lord of the Rings

Eco-fancy

More representative of Central American hotels that we have stayed in

We then spent a couple of weeks at La Mariposa, a beautiful butterfly and hammock decorated Spanish language school underneath Volcan Masaya.  The school is not-for-profit and employs about 40 locals, in a real little Nica town.  We stayed with a local family who fed Andrew a giant avocado each night for dinner.

He´s still skinny

We spent the mornings at the school helping out on their farm. Mostly this meant idly watering vegetables, and learning useful words in Spanish like harvest, seed bed and crop rotation.

Once school was over, we cycled down to Granada, a hot colonial town (whose specialty dish is steamed yucca with pork crackling and cabbage, interesting) from where we could take a boat across massive lake Nicaragua, via Isla de Ometepe.  We stayed on the isthmus of the island for two days, cycling around one of its two volcanoes.  Ometepe (touted by one tourist map as the largest island on a lake in the world in Central America) is a magical place where the weather changes every five minutes concealing or revealing the jungle clad volcanoes.

Doorway in Granada, with bullet holes from the revolution

Omotepe´s bigger volcano

The best swimming hole in the world, close to where we stayed on the island

Our banana laden ferry left Ometepe in a bug plague/lightning storm.  We woke up in the fishing town of San Carlos, in time for rice and beans for breakfast, and a quick boat to CostaRica.

Ay, Nicaragua, sos mas dulcita
que la mielita de Tamagas
Pero ahora que ya sos libre,
Nicaraguita, yo te quiero mucho mas

You can´t cycle on water

 

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Graph #3: What´s cool in Hondurus

The third graph in the series… Touristy/Not vs Lame/Cool in Hondurus. Mostly. 

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nb. In the context of us not seeing any other tourists in Hondurus, except for at Copan. Which makes us cool

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Honduras

On the Lenca trail, through green and mountainous and misty central Honduras.  Nice surprises like cyclable gradients, a German brew pub, scarlet macaws, hot pools, cool weather.   Nice images like chickens hiding under a motorbike in a thunderstorm, coffee bushes hiding under bananas trees, fried bananas hiding under refried beans. Towards the end, Tegucigalpa – a city beautiful only on second glance, flame trees and jungle between concrete blocks and hurricane wire.  and we´re pulled along by lunch, we´re pulled along by lunch, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh……

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Cycling Guatemala: it’s really hard, waah.

An annoying thing about reading this blog must be that we go out of our way to seek out mountains and challenging cycling, then complain (boast) about how hard it is when we find them. Nonetheless, you’ve read up till now, so let’s not change things. Cycling in Guatemala was really mountainous and hard. Like a squeezed up version of the North Island, with all the 100m hills turned into 1000m. Luckily unlike the North Island, you can buy frozen bananas dipped in chocolate. Yum!

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On the whole though its food was more or less like Mexican but a bit lamer. Corn based breads with beans, fried meat, and some veges. There were still some chilies round though and the other day one was so hot that my forehead stung when I touched it after having de-seeded the chilies. A lot of the milk and even some cheese comes from New Zealand though, which means that the occasional person has heard of NZ and we don’t always get reduced to “near Australia”.

The mountains make for some awesome scenery however and since it’s getting hotter than hell in Central America at the moment so we are plan our route to stay in the highlands. Guatemala is not a real small country and doesn’t have a huge population, but there seemed to be people everywhere that was even faintly flat. The first 30km or so in from the border was one long village stretched along the road like Oamara along SH1 with houses on either side the whole time but rivers and canyons behind them. Coffee is the cash crop here and we saw heaps of baby plants being grown along the sides of the roads. When they are big enough they get moved up into the big plantations in the highlands.

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The first half of Guatemala ride was through the mostly Mayan villages in the NW of the country. The ladies and some of the men all wear their homemade traditional clothing, and their weaving is pretty good. Apparently the locals can all tell where anyone comes from by their outfit. We were obviously easy practice for them and heard ‘gringo gringo’ shouted more times in the first 10km in Guatemala than the whole time in Mexico. This despite Kath’s efforts to blend in with her new bright pink shirt. I suppose my “Mexico” hat was the giveaway. Often when we tried to buy a meal or ask directions in these towns we’d find that either no one could speak Spanish, or that we never got to find out if they did or not because they’d collapse into embarrased giggling fits when we tried to talk to them. And with 23 Mayan languages just in Guatemala we didn’t even try and learn words in any of them.

We had our first crash between us since I dropped my bike on the Kapiti Coast Cycle Trail on the first day leaving Wellington. Kath decided to get a particularly steep sand-and-rock downhill out of the way quickly by rushing down and banged her knee when she slid off. Luckily we had a week’s holiday to recover and she is stronger than me once again…

After a week on the bikes we arrived in Antigua to meet Tony and Steph on SPRING BREAK. We spent an awesome week off the bikes exploring that corner of Guatemala with them. Tony has already blogged about it. Highlights included fried chicken, a mangrove swamp, and some Mayan ruins. The week was so fun that we were persuaded to return home via Portland rather than via Colombia etc as we were previously thinking.

Then they left and we were back to our daily riding. One day dodging between Lake Amatitlan (Poison Lake) and Guatemala City (Murderville) and we were back in the countryside again. The rum and chicken diet of the week off hadn’t helped our fitness and it was a struggle at first but settled into routine soon enough. One day while we were eating a whole cake for second breakfast we met George and Astrid, a lovely Guatemalan couple who invited us up to their farm for a beer, then lunch, then to stay the night. It was lovely. Here are some of George’s baby coffee plants:

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Next day was Good Friday and all Guatemala was busy making carpets out of sawdust on the road ready for processions. This was a surprise and cycling through them was a fun way to see the action:

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And now we’re in Honduras. Which means…

By Andrew.

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