From the beginning, we’ve seen this expedition as falling into a series of chapters – the wild North, the stormy Pacific, the vast Baja desert – each its own journey with a different set of challenges, dangers and draws. But from the moment we left Mexico, it became clear that we’d crossed into a whole new volume. The very nature of our voyage changed.
For one, we started staying with families almost every night, which meant a lot more contact with locals. There are virtually no campgrounds in Central America and it’s hard to just pull off the road and camp. Most land not used for agriculture or livestock is either steep mountainside or impenetrable jungle, or both. It’s common, however, for households outside of large cities to have a grove of fruit trees with chickens and turkeys roaming around, which means it’s easy to pitch a tent without being in the way. So at the end of each day, we’d scout for a home with lots of space and ask if we could rest for the night.
Ninety-nine percent of the people we approached reacted as if it were the most natural thing in the world to have strangers sleep in their yard. Our hosts would typically come over for a chat while we were setting up the tent and preparing supper. Many times we were offered a much appreciated shower, and almost as often a gift of plantains, mangoes, avocados or bananas. Sometimes we simply satisfied our mutual curiosity about who we are, where we’re from and what our daily lives are like. And sometimes we had truly great conversations into the night.
This contact gave us a real sense of the distinct cultures (shared attitudes, assumptions, and so on) of each country: the generosity and warmth of Guatemalans; the struggle for positive change in El Salvador; the openness and easy smiles of Hondurans; the pride and solidarity of Nicaraguans; the laid-back, pura vida approach of Costa Ricans; the sophistication and straightforwardness of Panamanians.
In Central America we met with three Cyclo Nord Sud partners – one in El Salvador and two in Nicaragua – which added a new dimension to our little ride south. We were moved by the dedication of those working for CESTA, the ANNV and EcoSur, and were able to see first hand how much each organization contributes to its respective community. We came away happy to have the privilege of playing some small role in the noble work these groups accomplish with limited resources and seemingly unlimited energy.
Believe it or not, the actual cycling was not always easy; we hit nosebleed altitudes where it felt like we were breathing through pinched straws, rode through scorched lowlands where the thermometer flirted with 50 degrees Celsius and were crushed by debilitating humidity through the Pacific’s coastal rainforests. To offset our masochistic suffering, we spent four long and luxurious rest periods spread out over Guatemala (San Pedro la Laguna and Antigua), Costa Rica (Ojochal) and Panama (Chame – Altos del Maria). During these breaks we were hosted by transplanted Quebecers (Sophie, Genevieve, Robert and Marie-Danielle and Sylvain and Diane). These bouts with our countryfolk gave us great comfort and much appreciated chances to decompress.
It seems fitting that our overstimulating, overwhelming race through six countries in two months should culminate with a radical break from even basic references of familiarity with our departure from the Pan-American Highway into the dumfounding jungle wilderness of Kuna Yala San Blas on the Carribean coast of Panama. While waiting for our boat to Columbia, we spent two days sleeping in a bamboo hut with a palm-thatched roof on Carti Sugdub, the centre of 49 inhabited Islands of the Kuna nation, where dugout canoes are the main means of transportation. Details to come.
We are now in South America. Capurgana, Columbia to be precise. And we have a strange feeling that our adventure is just beginning…