I have a problem with numbers. Lots of zeros simply confuse me. And to make matters worse, the word for ‘thousand’ in Spanish is ‘mil’. So when you ask me how many kilometers we have ridden, twelve thousand kilometers is said as ‘doce mil kilometros’. Okay, so I have been living with that for a while and can just about handle it. But converting money is a complicated task for me in any currency, regardless of the language, and when I am charged with the task of withdrawing money from an ATM, well, let’s just say that it makes no sense that I have become the person burdened with this responsibility. You can see where this is going right?
In Costa Rica, the rough conversion I stored in my brain was that $10 USA was $5,500 Costa Rican colons. I wanted to take out $100 because it would be a while until we were near an ATM again. So I inserted my ATM card trying to quickly do the calculations, when suddenly the Spanish word for ‘thousand’ hijacked control of the zeros in my head, and instead of entering 55,000 colons, I entered 55,000,000. More than US$10,000. Of course, the ATM would not allow such a huge sum to be withdrawn, so I then commenced to enter smaller amounts, yet still in the range of thousands of dollars. Taking a minute to check my calculations, I could find nothing wrong with my conversion and became distressed that our card had stopped working. I confidently explained to Brendon the amounts I had entered and experienced a look from him I had never seen before. I think you would call it incredulous. The zero hijackers swiftly took cover and I was able to see my error through Brendon’s furrowed brow. My next attempt saw the successful withdrawal of $100.
We are currently in the coastal town of Nueva Gorgona, about 80km north of Panama City. The currency we spend here is US dollars – phew. Panama is the 11th country on the TotallyTandem map, and final Central American destination. I can’t really believe it. 11 months on the road and we have cycled the whole way. Well, nearly the whole way, barring 50km. We never got to post an update of our last days in Costa Rica.
After 6 glorious days relaxing on the beach in Hermosa, we were reluctant to pack up our campsite. It’s a really special place and by far the cleanest beach we have visited in Central America. Since leaving the States, Costa Rica is the first country to show interest in environmental conservation, with the people starting to demonstrate efforts in protecting and maintaining the natural beauty of the country. The tap water is clean enough to drink in most places and no one carries arms. I had no idea what a difference that can have on your internal feelings toward a place. I guess in many ways it reminded us of Australia and we felt at home there.
The Panama Coast International School had invited us to come and present to their students, so with a date to aim for, we extended our stay as long as possible at Hermosa, and then made a beeline for Panama.
It was 10 days straight riding of around 670 km. And of course, in the 1st 20km of our 1st day back on the bike we had 2 punctures. Excellent.
We woke up on our 2nd last day in Costa Rica at our beach campsite in Dominical. Planning a short day of around 60km, we packed up early to try to smash out a few km before the sun really started to mess with us. The days cycling swiftly became shorter than anticipated. Goober clocked up 755m on the odometer when – clunk, scrape, clank – the pedals suddenly had no impact on the movement of the bike.
Having ridden 12,000km, a lot of the gear on the bike is wearing out. But having never ridden this distance before, we can only guess which parts will need the most attention and when. And because we are VW drivers at heart, when something breaks and prevents us from moving, we have to assume the worst.
Our beloved Pino tandem ‘Falkor’, has lots of specialized parts that can only be sourced through Hase dealers, of which there are none in Central America. We knew this before we got here and have done our best to arm ourselves with appropriate spare parts. But you can’t exactly carry a spare bike around so we don’t have a replacement for everything. With the sounding of this great clunk, scrape & clank, Brendon assumed the part that had failed was the freewheel bearing, a spare part that we are not carrying.
So here we are. Fully loaded and stuck on the side of the Pan American Hwy in Costa Rica, with Brendon spitting & cursing.
We can turn the pedals but it does not turn the wheels. We are well and truly stuck and the feeling of hopelessness starts to roll in along with the thunder claps and grey clouds. Please note, this does not reduce the heat in any way.
I am always at my best when there is a problem to be solved and my overwhelming optimism usually kicks straight in. ‘We can work this out’, I start to chant. But the only solution I can summon is packing up the bike & catching a bus to Panama. It’s a horrible thought, one that will certainly only elicit more swearing. So I keep my mouth closed, my head in my hands, and let the rain start to fall. It does indeed start to feel a bit hopeless.
We couldn’t have been there for more than 5 minutes when a young lycra-clad cyclist rides up to us. Of course he cannot see the doom hanging above our heads or the injury that the bike is suffering. He has stopped to express his amazement at the wonderous contraption that is Falkor, a bike that he has never seen the likes of before. This must happen to us at least 5 times daily, and usually we love this chat, but at that moment, are firmly rooted in disaster.
It is Brendon that opens the discussion about the possibility of bike shops in the vicinity, and so the conversation of the clunk, scrape & clank begins.
The next 30 minutes was a completely ridiculous turn of events that had our new friend ‘Andrey’, correctly diagnose our problem as a worn rear hub and deliver us to a coffee shop where we took shelter from the rain and waited for his father to arrive with a truck to take us & Falkor to his bike-fixing-friend.
All of this was of course in Spanish, and we can discuss the bike with a fair amount of confidence, but the exact details of what was gonna happen next were not precise. 12 months ago I couldn’t have accepted this situation. I would have been like; What is happening? Who is coming? When will they be here? Do they definitely know what we need? How long will it take? And what will this cost us? But now, I was happy to order some coffees and wait out the rain.
In our last blog I mentioned that when we have been unable to solve a problem ourselves, someone magically appears to help us out. This was a perfectly crazy example of that exact phenomenon.
It’s just too much for the brain to handle to think of all the events that went together to put us all in the moment at that time. All the tiny instances that put us and Andrey there at that specific point to meet on the road. And I could go on for days about the awesomeness of this randomosity (like that? I just made up a word).
But what it amounts to is this; the part could not be fixed but needed replacement and none of his local bike-fixing friends had the parts. So Andrey, along with us and his mum & dad, sourced a bike mechanic some 50km down the road that could remedy the situation. They promptly loaded us, and the bike into their truck and drove us there. What they had previously planned for their Saturday prior to all of this we could not decipher, but they were pleased as punch to find this unraveling in their presence and couldn’t be happier about their part in it all. Amazingly crazy and wonderful.
Cut to us bouncing along a dirt road, Falkor with both wheels off in the back of the ute (so we could fit her in) and arriving at an incredibly well-appointed mountain bike shop in the middle of nowhere. It’s the kind of shop that cyclists touring through Central America dream of finding. We meet Alejandro and his father Jose, who swiftly get to work replacing the hub. This means, rebuilding the entire rear wheel, which means re-lacing all of the spokes.
Let me take you back to our final days riding through the United States when we were breaking 3-4 spokes a day. And then we met Matt the incredible bike mechanic of ‘Black Mountain Bikes’ in San Diego, who rebuilt the rear wheel for us. Since his excellent work, we have had no broken spokes on the rear wheel.
While delighted at the turn of events of being able to repair the bike and continue riding, we are both silently imaging the certain spoke-breaking days that will follow. I have had to really ask myself about whether this is the end of optimism or the simple realism of learning from past experience. A fine line.
With hugs all round to Andrey and his family, we waved them goodbye and settled into our afternoon at the bike shop. We were well looked after again and Falkor has a new rear wheel complete with new functioning Shimano hub. And Bremma has another bag of broken bits to turn into jewellery.
Great thick grey clouds gathered, and while Alejandro opened up some coconuts for us to drink, the rain really started to come down. Pelting down in fact. It’s now 2.30pm and as we have basically covered the distance we wanted for the day, even if it was all by car, the idea of setting off in the gloom was less than inspiring. He offers us a spot to camp for the night and we spend the afternoon being entertained by his charming 7 year-old daughter, ‘Melany’.
These funny turn of events really change the shape of our thoughts.
As we sit outside the bike shop under the shelter of his carport, with warm drinks and home-cooked food lovingly prepared by his wife Nancy, it’s hard to imagine what this journey would be like without ‘disaster’. It’s the unexpected bits in life that challenge all of us. Imagine always knowing, always being able to provide the solution and never having to rely on the help of others. How much can we learn from being truly self-reliant?
Since then, we have crossed into Panama, broken 1 spoke, had 1 more puncture, bumped into Ben & Tina (the Aussie cyclists we met in Nicaragua), and cycled a day of 110km to arrive on the Panama Coast. Our knees are still aching.
But what a difference a day, and a shower, makes. On Monday we had the pleasure of meeting the students and teachers of Panama Coast International School and sharing our journey with them. It was a lot of fun and gave us new perspective on our journey. Now we are relaxing for a few days in a gorgeous house by the beach (thanks to Kathy, the Principal of the School), with an assortment of appliances at our disposal. Ahh, a toaster! Last night we had roast chicken and veggies, tonight its sausages!
It is our last few days in Central America and it feels quite strange to have such a huge part of our journey come to an end. I still can’t believe we cycled all the way! But what better way to mark the end of this chapter than to spend the last few days catching up with our mates ‘Branjo’ (Brenna & Joe, the other Aussie cyclists we met in California). They joined us yesterday and we will spend the next few days relaxing, getting clean, sharing stories about our trips & the bad things we have smelled, and of course, eating. Brenna has already baked a cake for Joe’s birthday and I think watermelon shakes are on the menu for this afternoon. I might make a Quiche.
We have booked our boat trip to Colombia and set sail on June 12th. A very symbolic way to mark the beginning of our journey through South America. Our next goal is to meet with brother Michael in Medellin on July 17th.
But for now, I am gonna just take a dip in the pool. Or maybe a splash in the sea. Nah, I think I will just stay inside & take another shower. It’s such a treat to be out of the sun and the heat.
Hey check this out! Can you believe that the TotallyTandem community has raised $9,819 for World Bicycle Relief! Woe! And double woe! That is 73 bikes empowering 73 individuals and their families! What’s more, its 73% of our fundraising goal! We are so grateful to you all for your support and encourage you to spread the word to your friend and co-workers about World Bicycle Relief and the Power of Bicycles!
Together we are truly making a real difference!
Some more fun pics of our ride here;