Firstly a personal note: Having cycled South America, Paola and I got married in Colombia. I can’t put into words how happy I am to be able to share my life with her, I also feel very proud that we managed to do this halfway through my big adventure, and after 8 months cycling all the way to Ushuaia. It was a totally new experience for Paola and we now have memories we can share forever.
We had a lovely honeymoon in Cartagena, and Santa Marta, and saying goodbye again was super tough. Let’s just say it was emotional as there really are no words to describe the pain we both felt. But Paola knows I still have the burning desire to finish what I started, to cycle the world. Not just straight across, but every continent, and every punishing kilometre until I am back home, with her in my arms. The compromise I have made is that I will finish cycling the world as quickly as I can, starting with an attempt to cycle from Panama to Alaska in 2 months!
Panama Airport to Panama City 12th August 30km
I landed at the international airport just outside Panama City. I had a few issues as the officials didn’t seem to like me putting the bike together in their baggage collection area. Including a few wrong turns, the ride took a bit longer than I hoped. Fortunately I found my way to hostel Mamallena which was great value at 13 dollars, with a comfy dorm bed, air con and wifi. A good night’s sleep after a long day waiting at airports was very welcome. Also, I acquainted myself with Balboa, the lager of Panama. Nothing very special, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Panama City to Santa Clara Beach 13th August 116km
Panama was painfully slow as the hills are continuous and don’t allow you to get into a rhythm. There are no big mountains but the hills simply don’t stop. My dreams of notching up 200km gradually faded with each slow climb. The heat is also extremely intense. I was soaked through. I think even my sweat was sweating. I arrived at Santa Clara Beach and it was already getting dark. A campsite called XS was near the road so I stayed there rather than cycling 14km to the beach. It hasn’t rained for over a month, but that night a torrential storm arrived. I am no longer carrying a tent and only have a bivvy bag, so I grabbed everything and took shelter under a roof, and slept in a hammock. The campsite has a plethora of parrots and toucans in large cages and when the thunder crashed, some parrots started squawking loudly, but then to my surprise, one actually shouted “shut up” at the others in perfect English. And they actually did.
Santa Clara beach to Santiago 14th August 120km
I was lucky to meet a guy from the U.S. peace corps who was working in Santiago, teaching. Ben asked me to stay at his place rather than spend money on a hostel. Saving money was a real bonus but the best thing was meeting such a nice guy, and another new friend.
Santiago to San Felix 15th August 118km
Very hilly and lots of negotiating roadworks. I was hit by a massive thunderstorm at San Felix and hunted out a hostel. I ended up at a terrible hostel called the San Felix hostel. A guy in a nice little bar where I got some food (it was the only place open), told me there was a better hostel. It was too late by then.
San Felix to Costa Rica (Paso Canoa border) 16th August 126km
I was determined to get to the border. I made it but it was dark by the time I got through migration. I was stung for a ludicrous 40 dollars at a hostel at the border. Definitely recommend avoiding this. But I didn’t fancy continuing in the dark and so I had little choice.
Like Panama, almost everyone in Costa Rica accepts dollars, but since a tourist boom, everything costs more. The coastal road was much flatter than Panama had been, and I had moments when I saw some fantastic wildlife, including red Macaws, monkeys and even crocodiles.
83km to just short of Palma Norte 17th August
I was struggling with the heat and some soreness as I hadn’t yet taken a break. I was sitting and eating some lychees (lychees and coconuts are sold by the road) when a young guy called Gabriel started talking to me. In order to avoid another heavy hotel bill, I accepted his offer to sleep at his cabin. There were lots of chickens about, and I had to keep the door closed to keep them out.
18th August 113km to Quepos
19th August 170km to a restaurant with cabins 30km short of Cañas
The road along the coast are much easier and after the beach at Jaco, there is a bridge with crocodiles underneath. They were huge but they moved very slow. And then there are two big climbs. The road to Cañas becomes narrow too. It was the first night I had cycled in the dark and the first day cycling over 100 miles, so I wanted to get off the road and I stopped when I saw the sign for cabins.
20th August 78km to Liberia
I was was glad I didn’t reach Cañas the day before as It was just one big construction site. The heat went up a notch and the hills were starting to take their toll. I was beginning to suffer so I decided to stop in Liberia for the night. I was lucky to stay at Hotel Liberia, which cost just 12 dollars for the dorm, but felt like being in a posh hotel, with a wonderful Courtyard restaurant to sit and drink and relax.
21st August Liberia to Rivas 113km
I crossed the border into Nicaragua, and spent a night in Rivas. As I sat at a bar, a huge procession with loud music passed, as it was a school’s anniversary. Carts with kids dressed as Disney princes and princesses were accompanied with massive speakers booming out Reggaeton. When they party in Central America, they like everyone to know about it. A reasonable ten dollars was all it cost to sleep in a decent room at hostel Lidia just far enough from the Panamericana to give me peace and quiet.
22nd August Rivas to León 191km
I chose to skip the colonial wonders of Granada, and the capital Managua and go straight to León. It was a long day with a huge climb up to almost 1000m, at El Crucero, which was cold and misty and felt like being on the Scottish moors. Then a very long, amazingly fast downhill to Managua is followed by a gradual descent and flat end of the day to León. It was a long day but very enjoyable.
In León, I stayed at an awesome hostel called Trailwinds. Great staff and a lovely relaxing place, very tastefully decorated. And just 8 dollars a night. I relaxed and enjoyed a rest day there, and wandered around the streets.
León to Chuloteca 161km 24th August
Feeling relatively fresh, I ploughed on into Honduras. It was the first place where the shoulder that cyclists and pedestrians use was in better shape than the road. But that’s only because the road is so bad. Dodging cracks and potholes all the way to Choluteca made the evening very slow. The city is also a very bad place to find reasonable accommodation. I stayed at a place called the Piscina which was very bad and quite expensive at 25 dollars.
Choluteca to San Miguel 160km 25th August
There is only a small part of Honduras on the Pacific Coast so I only spent one night in Honduras before crossing into El Salvador. Boiling hot all day, I had to stop to refill water as often as possible. I met two other cyclists on the way so that was great. These kiwi lads said that if I couldn’t find a cheap dorm I should try the autohotels. Well these places charge by the hour and are aimed at amorous couples, so I knew they wouldn’t be like a normal hotel. Gabe and Tom told me their last place had a pole and a mirror on the ceiling. At San Miguel, I stopped at a place that looked like a castle. The room was 18 dollars and had everything I needed including wifi. The 3d wall decorations of naked ladies and the swing (yes, a swing) were a little more than I had expected. I think I may have still been giggling when I fell asleep.
San Miguel to San Salvador 141km (plus a bit of getting lost) 26th August
I always struggle in big cities but a tough day of big climbs had made me physically and mentally exhausted. There were no signs coming into San Salvador and I went the wrong way when the Panamericana split. At a roundabout I was told I was in Soyapanga, and they added it was a dangerous area. Finding my way back to the right road meant I was cycling straight through an area of town with a very bad reputation but I found no trouble, just a few shouts of “gringo”. Even then, after getting back to the right road, it wasn’t as easy as it looked on the map, and I found myself in another dodgy area being whistled at by ladies of the night. I managed to reach the meeting point at 10pm, shortly before a big storm hit us. After the rain had passed, my friend Michael drove in front of me to lead me to his place. In the darkness, I hit a big hole in the road, and got a puncture. I ended up carrying Silver through the streets like an injured war hero.
That night I was so exhausted, but I had made it to San Salvador. I was safe and well, and with friends.
Central America 1720km
Total so far 34,644km