Toad Hall

View of Toad Hall Costa Rica including pool and house - and tropical jungle

This motorcycling caper ain’t half bad! Our accommodation at Toad Hall

21 September – Day 61

Samara, Costa Rica to Fortuna, Costa Rica
Distance: 200kms

It took us a looong time to get going this morning! We started our day with what was a fairly average breakfast and then a fantastic swim. The water was the perfect temperature, with lovely, glassy rolling waves big enough that it was fun to float over them and not so big that you thought you might get smashed. Sensational. It was hot early, so we procrastinated and just faffed about, delaying the inevitable. I’m not sure if you’ve ever worn heavy, baggy jeans in hot and humid weather? I can tell you that the jeans stick to your legs, making it hard to pull them on – the kind of stickiness that’s like a wet plastic bag. It can also be hard to even bend your leg at the knee, as the denim stuck to your skin acts as a sort of brace. So yes, we were putting off putting on our bike jeans for as long as possible.

Eventually, we got going and it was actually pretty nice riding. It wasn’t as hot on the bike as it was off the bike, there were some windy parts for Adrian and not much traffic. We stopped for lunch by a lake by a volcano which was pretty impressive… and we decided to find some accommodation nearby.

Enter Toad Hall. We’d been seeing signs for it for several kilometres, including “world’s best guacamole” (a VERY big call), “shoes”, “wine”, “great accommodation”, “pub”. After we decided against the first place we stopped at, we made the call to find this Toad Hall. And – it was excellent!! For many reasons, including that the moment we pulled up outside, it started to absolutely bucket down with rain. I think it was a sign.

In a role reversal, I did the room checking/price negotiating – and I did a fantastic job, if I do say so myself! We’re in the “Jungle Suite” which is actually more like an apartment than a suite and has an amazing, 180 degree view of the lake and surrounding tropical rainforest, from the floor to ceiling windows that form one wall of the suite. There are some rescue birds in aviaries just below our room, including parrots that whistle, cackle like Dr Claw at the end of an Inspector Gadget episode and also a wicked witch sort of a cackle, and call out ‘hola, hola’ on a regular basis. It’s hilarious. And so nice.

Oh and the guac? It was very good!

 

20 September – Day 60

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua to Samara, Costa Rica
Distance: 267kms

If ever there was a bureaucratic process in need of improvement, it’s the process to cross the border from Nicaragua into Costa Rica with a vehicle. And I’m saying this as someone who has experienced more than her fair share of bureaucratic processes in the past! Wow. Talk about long and convoluted…  to get the bike in, we (well, Adrian) had to go from immigration, to customs, then back to immigration and then back to customs. No biggie, as often there are different offices involved. It’s just that for some unknown reason, in Costa Rica these two offices are 400m away from each other – which means walking over 1km just to get in to the country! In hot, humid conditions. In full bike gear!

Anyway, we got through in the end and made our way to Samara. The roads were pretty good… fewer speed bumps and chickens than previous countries.. and more horses. We were stopped at one checkpoint not too far from the border and the police officer took down Adrian’s details and then waved us through. Not sure what it was about….maybe to cross reference with immigration that we’d entered the country legally?

Samara is a little beachy town with a relatively high proportion of westerners… which means it’s reasonably expensive for Central America; prices are pretty close to Australian prices. Still, the beach is lovely!

 

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A day of highlights

View from cabana down across the town to the coast

The view from our cabana in San Juan del Sur

19 September – Day 59

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Distance: 0kms

Today was a day of highlights.

The first highlight for me today was getting some washing done. Seriously. I know that sounds like a strange thing to consider a highlight, but when you’ve only got two t-shirts, when you don’t always stop somewhere for long enough to get washing done and dried, and when every day is hot and steamingly humid, the thought of a freshly washed shirt is definitely something to be excited about. For me, and presumably anyone and everyone I happen to walk past on any given day.

The second highlight was the discovery of a combined bookshop-café. My favourite! With excellent, excellent books and organic shade grown in-house roasted Arabica coffee from the proprietors’ very own coffee plantation located just up the road. And delicious smoothies.

The third highlight was getting my legs waxed by a woman who knew what she was doing. Again, a leg wax generally isn’t something to particularly celebrate… but when your last leg wax in Central America took almost a hour, included at least 20 minutes of the waxer individually and painfully tweezing hairs with unnecessarily sharp tweezers AND left you with legs almost as hairy as they were before you walked in to the joint, a good wax somehow seems more valuable.

The fourth highlight was an excellent dinner at a restaurant just down the hill from our cabana. The restaurant had its own generator. This was a highlight in and of itself given that the power went out at 4pm and didn’t come back on until about 10.30pm. It was our fourth blackout in four days.

Tomorrow we’re off into Costa Rica – I’m looking forward to seeing how it compares with Nicaragua (which I’ve really liked).

Back on the beach

Town square in Granada

Granada, Nicaragua. And yes – those are storm clouds in the background! And yes – as a result, we were drenched.

18 September- Day 58

Managua, Nicaragua to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Distance: 219kms

Adrian was feeling a bit better in the morning – so although the lovely Reyna (Salvador’s mum) insisted we stay if he was still sick, we decided to pack up and head for San Juan del Sur. It was a pretty easy drive (by Central American standards) and included a nice little stop in Granada – a Spanish colonial town.

We made it to San Juan del Sur by mid-afternoon… which was perfect timing for a walk on the beach! We stayed in a lovely little cabana on a hill just above the town with an amazing view out to sea… very nice.

San Juan has a smallish and well-kept town centre and seems to be a bit of a ‘gringos in residence’ town as well as a tourist destination. It’s apparently just around the corner from the beach used in ‘Survivor Nicaragua’.

The key feature of the town is really the beach – and it was lovely. It’s renowned for spectacular sunsets right over the water. We didn’t really experience that as there were too many clouds (have I mentioned that we’re travelling in the monsoon season?!)… however from the dusty pink, the purple and the orange hues I could just make out as the sun set, I’m sure at other times of the year it truly is amazing.

After a very light snack (for Adrian) and a normal dinner (for me), we called it a day… although significantly improved, Adrian was still on the flaky side and in need of an early night.

A friendly reminder not to drink river water in Nicaragua :)

Adrian looking sick

**Re-creation**Not a depiction of an actual illness**
Clearly I didn’t actually take a photo of Adrian while he was sick – that would be cruel. However once he was feeling better, he kindly agreed to pose for this re-creation of the scene.

17 September – Day 57

Managua, Nicaragua
Distance: 0kms

It is so lovely and relaxing in Salvador and his mother’s home – it’s like being at home. So much so, that we decided to stay here for two nights and just spend today relaxing… particularly after the massive day yesterday, with canyoning in the morning and then not arriving until after dark, we felt we’d earned a day off.

We did make it out of the house briefly and rode to one of the local volcanoes… other than that, we just read and worked on improving our Sudoku times! Gotta exercise the brain somehow..

During the day, we commented on how it was remarkable – and remarkably lucky – that Adrian hadn’t gotten sick from all the river water he’d ingested during our canyoning escapades yesterday. Ha. Famous last words. From early afternoon onwards, he started to go downhill and by about 4pm he was curled up in the foetal position in bed. I’ll spare you the details; suffice to say it involved the expulsion of liquids from every available orifice. Fortunately, this ceased by about 10pm and he was able to get some sleep… and hopefully he’ll be feeling better in the morning!

Canyoning – and a warning from the police…

In lifejackets, getting ready to jump into the river

This was just before our last jump across, in a calmer yet still pretty fast flowing section of the river. You can see our helper on the RHS, with the rope. The snake appeared just below where we’re standing – which is essentially also where we jumped from.

16 September – Day 56

Somoto, Nicaragua to Managua, Nicaragua

Distance: 225kms

It wasn’t raining, so the canyoning was on!! One of the brothers in the family we were in had been down to the river in the morning and said it was pretty high due to all of the rain from last night, but still doable… so we were off!

Armed with lifejackets, our little canyoning party comprised the two of us plus our guide, Olvin (another one of the brothers). There were others heading down to the river too, but each little group had its own guide. Our first challenge was to walk across the river which was flowing  very, very fast and was about waist deep (for me). Even that was akin to some sort of resistance workout! From there, we hiked up to a lookout, back down to the river and into a boat where another local rowed us upstream to the start of the rapids. Apparently, in the dry season, the river is calm and absolutely translucent. I’ve seen photos, so I know it must be true. For us, however, the river was a foamy brown, powerful looking force to be reckoned with. I was not feeling excited about potentially jumping into a surging mass of brown water were I couldn’t see through the water to check whether there were any rocks or other submerged objects that might, you know, break my back.

It was once we got out of the boat that the fun really began. Having decided that we looked like swimmers, Olvin began leading us to a small waterfall at the top of the river. At its easiest, this involved us clambering along rock ledges at the edge of the water. At its more challenging points, it involved us waiting for Olvin’s local assistant to swim across the river with a rope around his belly and throw one end of the rope back to Olvin. The assistant would brace himself against rocks on the other side of the river (and I mentioned it’s a canyon – so I’m talking sheer rockfaces here), Olvin would pass one of us the end of the rope and instruct us to jump into the rapids and pull ourselves across, hand over hand. In parts, the rapids were so strong it was a serious workout just hanging on to the rope, let alone dragging ourselves forward. We must have done this at least ten times, slowing zig zagging our way across the deep,fast flowing parts of the river to reach the waterfall. We had one jump to go, and Adrian was about to take off when Olvin’s assistant started whistling urgently at us from across the river. ‘Serpiente! Una serpiente’ he cried.

Oh yes – about one meter below us, on the rocks, a snake had just slid out of the water and was heading our way. Olvin splashed water on it from a rockpool… and it slid back into the water. We could see it swimming downstream, it’s skinny head bobbing casually above the water. Then Olvin instructed Adrian to jump into the water and swim across. Yeah, right. But – not only did we do that, in the absence of any alternative option we also then floated/swum the approximately two kms downstream to get back to where we started. The whole time, I was keeping my eyes peeled for little stick like things bobbing out of the water. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. This would definitely have been one of those times!

After a quick lunch back at the house, we said goodbye to the family and continued across the country to Managua. Our destination was the house of another biker who blogs on Horizons and runs a motorbike tour and hire business in Nicaragua. He, Salvador, also – incredibly generously – has an open invitation for any motorbike travellers doing the Pan American highway to stay at his house. The house is just lovely… so homely, so peaceful and it was a huge relief to arrive here shortly after nightfall. We were later than we wanted to be (and broke the golden rule of no riding at night) due to the later than expected post canyon start. So I was incredibly happy to be warmly welcomed by Salvador’s mum!

On the way here, we were stopped by the police for illegally overtaking a truck across a solid yellow line – and (we think) for speeding while overtaking. Not that there are any radars, it was just the police officer’s (correct) guess. However we pleaded ignorance, explained that we’d only just arrived in Nica and didn’t know the rules so followed the two cars in front of us (which had also been pulled over)… and they let us go with a warning. That put us a bit on notice, which was lucky – as we must have ridden past at least four other police pulling people over for the same thing. From then on, we generally only overtook the many slow buses and trucks when we had a dotted line. We also saw two pretty serious looking accidents, including one where a truck had flipped on its side and blocked almost the entire road.

Three countries in one day

15 September – Day 55

El Tunco, El Salvador to Somoto, Nicaragua (through Honduras – where we didn’t stop other than at the border on either side of the country)
Distance:  388kms (including two border crossings)

Having stopped earlier than anticipated the day before, today was going to be a long day on the bike… particularly with two border crossings. However it was a Sunday – and a major national holiday (for Independence Day) throughout Central America, so although we knew we’d be delayed by parades, we were hoping for less traffic than normal (and shorter queues at the borders). And – we were right!

All of the border crossings were easier and faster than I expected… although they did, as per usual, involve lots of photocopying including both before and after certain documents were stamped. Also as per usual, the crossings involved the swarm of local ‘helpers’ insisting on walking us through the process… which is totally unnecessary, as we’ve got a rough idea of what to do from previous travellers, and almost without exception, the officials we’ve met have been incredibly helpful. And the locals hanging around the border are generally friendly too. I was only asked for money once, by a woman in Honduras who came up to me while I was watching the bike and essentially said ‘ hey, give me some money.’ This was after she’d offered Adrian a swig of warm coke from her half-finished bottle, then told him that she wanted to marry him! He declined both offers.

I can’t say much about Honduras, as we didn’t stop there at all. The border did feel a little less safe than some of the other borders, but it wasn’t too bad. And we didn’t get stopped by police at all – we’d heard of other bikers being stopped multiple times and hit up for a significant fine for some breach of a rule at each stop.

By the time we crossed into Nica, it was getting late… and it was pouring. No surprises there; it generally rains from about 3pm until morning.  A few kilometres after the border we passed a hotel which Adrian had read about from some other bikers… www.twomotokiwis.com  very, very basic (a cabin/shack, with an outside shower and long-drop toilet) but apparently a fantastic experience. And it was! It was like a homestay with a local family. We were the only tourists there and there was at least one, if not more, of the family (the parents plus six sons and three daughters) chatting with us at any one time. Or, to be more specific, there was at least one of the men in the family chatting with us. The women were hidden away in the kitchen and we didn’t see them other than when they served our food.

The family are also local guides to the canyon in the area, Canyon de Somoto. We decided that, if it wasn’t raining in the morning, we’d go canyoning and experience the famous Somoto ‘jump rocks’ for ourselves.

 

Border crossings along the Panam by Adrian

After researching for potential hazards, tips and tricks for the border crossings in Central America, I came to the conclusion that no two crossings ever appear the same and that generally border crossings have improved a great deal lately. Looking at blog posts from two years ago, it revealed a culture of corruption and bribes leading to extended delays and stressful border and country crossings. I had started writing a bit of a blow-by-blow of our Central American border crossings however they have all been comparatively straight forward. Obtain a temporary vehicle permit and stamp in your passport, cancel the vehicle permit and stamp out your passport. The specific requirements do vary considerably as well as the number of photocopies required however most of the officials have been professional and helpful in their requirements to complete each procedure and I have been able to get by with a minimal amount of Spanish. If any future overlanders have specific concerns, please email us.