Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ukuleles, Sloths, and A Big Canal, April 25-28

Our day in Panama City included some errands and a wonderful jaunt around the Metropolitan Park, a tropical forest within the city limits.  We walked a few of the trails, finding loads more than we ever expected to.  Most interesting without a doubt were the leaf-cutter ants.  We came upon one of their thoroughfares across the trail, a deep groove eroded into the leaf litter and dirt by millions of tiny steps.  
The ants without leaves were heading for the trunk of a huge tree, climbing 
vertically hundreds of feet to the top, finding a suitable leaf, and then descending with their package back to the ground and the nest, which we later found to be about 50 feet from the tree.  The ants don't actually eat the leaves; when they return with their onerous packages, they deposit them to the capable jaws of another caste of workers, who then feed the leaves to a fungus that they're cultivating underground for food!  There are other castes, too, not involved with food production.  We observed an immense amount of ants bringing a whitish substance out of the nest little by little and depositing it a few feet away, perhaps cleaning out the garbage?  The mound they were making was already a few feet high.  The organization and structure required to make all this happen simultaneously, with surely much more happening that I don't know about, is mind-boggling.

In addition to the ants, we saw tons of birds, of course, and two wonderfully cute sloths!  
We were even lucky enough to observe one in between its 20 hours of daily naps.  Less fun were the park's informational signs, snooze-inducing placards with technical language about mosses and other bryophytes.  We were also disappointed by the fact that we only saw a few other people on this beautiful Saturday afternoon.  Where was everybody?

The next morning we biked out to what we've heard to be Panama's main attraction (just beating out the sloths): the canal.  We marveled at the ingenuity of the system, at the fun that the engineers must have had thinking up ways to move massive ships from ocean to ocean.  A few ships passed while we were there watching, helped to get in position by two tugboats and then guided through the locks by a number of tiny train cars on the edge of the concrete dividers, their tracks inches from the dropoff to the murky water below.  

Our bikes at the canal

If you look closely at the picture above, you can see a small package attached to the side of each bike.  We bought cheap ukuleles in Panama City!  The perfect travel instrument, they take up very little room and weigh almost nothing, and we're super excited to have more music in our lives.  We've waterproofed, padded, and attached them securely; we'll see how long they last.

With the canal, the railroad, the roads, and the wildlife corridor connecting the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, a lot of things here are on the move.  Including us, though not very far today.  After watching a few gargantuan cargo ships squeeze through the Pedro Miguel locks, we biked out to Gamboa, walking across a horribly rickety, one lane bridge in the process, our sights set on Soberania National Park.  We eventually set up camp in the forest along the Pipeline Road, a world-renowned bird and wildlife watching spot.  As night fell, it seemed like all the animals were at the foot of our tent, because every few seconds there was a new hiss, chirp, grunt, moan, croak, crash, whine, or whistle, sometimes together, often very near, and always superimposed upon the constant thrum of the jungle.  The dense greenery itself seemed to be contributing to the din. It was quite an experience to be out there in the middle of all of it, sweating away.

The next day, a late morning walk on the Pipeline Road drained our energy, as extreme heat and humidity tend to do, so we spent the rest of the day at the Gamboa park making vague, music-like sounds on our brand-new ukuleles.  We were going to camp in the park but decided to ask the firemen, whose station was adjacent to the grassy space, if we could instead set up on their lawn.  They acquiesced and, even better, offered us use of their exclusive pool!  We followed one of the firemen to the pool, finding out that the word "pool" was an understatement for this aquatic complex.  A 12-foot diving well, a 25-yard competition pool, and a kiddie pool were together dwarfed by a peeling white grandstand, the only writing on which was, in large, official letters, "NO NECKING."  For the only rule, that seemed a poor choice.  

Our bikes at the fire station

Really the pool was probably built by the U.S. when they controlled the canal, and it's fallen now into the hands of the municipality, who has no idea what to do with it.  Other than using it as a large billboard to enforce prudence, of course, and giving overheated bicycle tourists an unexpected respite from the heat.

Our next morning ride was pretty uneventful, humid but shaded in the forest, and we then attempted to take the toll road north to Colon.  For the first time ever, we were stopped by a policeman and told to turn back and ride on the smaller road.  We offered to pay the toll and explained that riding on the smaller road, though it seems safer because of reduced speeds, is much more dangerous for us because there's no shoulder, no space to ride.  No luck.  He responded by saying that we were here just because it's shorter, not safer.  We declined to argue, turned around, and hopped onto the dreaded shoulderless road, which actually did have a gravely shoulder some of the way and wasn't as horrible as we had thought it might be, partly because it had mango trees!  We ate four right there, at the biggest stockpile we found, and a whole bunch more throughout the day.

The rest of the day brought us, again for the first time on this trip, to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean!  Woohoo!  We arrived in the port town of Portobelo, where, tomorrow, we are going to board a small sailboat that will bring us, over the next five days, to the San Blas Islands on Panama's northern coast and ultimately to Cartagena, Colombia.  South America, here we come!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Mega Skyline: Panama City

This morning, up bright and early, we nabbed a bus to Panama City.  There's no more construction after Santiago, but we had read that the Pan-Am, the only option, stays big and trafficked all the way.  Normally we would find different roads to take, but in Panama there just aren't other options. Knowing that the riding would be hot and stressful, we made the decision to spend our time in Panama enjoying the parks around the canal instead. 

Setting foot in Panama City was like entering another world.  Shiny, chaotic, and sweaty come to mind, only a few of the many adjectives that could be used to describe this cloud-scraping megalopolis. 
Luckily, it wasn't too hard to find our way out of the busy streets and out onto a newly constructed bike path. We spend an awesome afternoon cruising the green space along the coast and checking out the new biodiversity museum.  
Part of the impressive skyline
Quite a contrast from the rest of Central America! 

The Biodiversity Museum, building designed by Frank Gehry

Bridge of the Americas, Panama Canal


"Should we go to Panama?" Tam asked me this morning as we stood facing the road, packed and ready to go.  "Yep," I replied, grinning.  We were ready to take on the next country, our last in Central America.  But it wasn't that easy.  About 30 km of shoulderless, trafficked road lay between us and the border, and while we knocked it out pretty quickly, it certainly was stressful.  Trucks and buses and whatnot.  Anyway, the border still snuck up on us and the bureaucracy wasn't too tough to negotiate, so soon we had our feet on the soil (ahem, pavement) of Panama!  The road was much wider than that on the Costa Rican side, all the trucks were forced to wait at the border, and we had a tailwind, so, despite the humidity, we enjoyed the ride.  Yet, as we approached the city of David, Panama's second-largest, our shoulder turned to gravel and the traffic increased to the point of being an almost continuous line. The last few kilometers were slow while navigating the shoulder and the trucks, and finally we made it into the city, where we're staying at a hostel.  

I didn't take any pictures today, so here's one from the archive:
End of the Dalton Highway, northern Alaska

Tonight was spent planning: there's only one road that connects here with Panama City, and it's under construction for about 200 km, so we hear, and then very busy near the city.  Not too many riding options.  As for tomorrow, we're going to head north into the mountains, to, and perhaps past, Boquete.

Quetzal! April 21-23

April 21st
There's free oatmeal and bananas for breakfast at the hostel this morning. We fuel up and then set out to begin the long climb to the mountain town of Boquete. The road we're on, strangely enough, is paved better than the Pan-am, with four lanes, a shoulder, and very minimal traffic. We see lots of other cyclists out (I imagine that this is a popular big hill climb) and some road signs that inform cars to respect cyclists. I'm happy with our choice of road. 

The climb is very gradual and the clouds have cleared enough that we have a view of the jagged volcano we're hoping to climb tomorrow. Otherwise, the scenery is unremarkable. The most exciting thing that happens on the way up is that we hit the 10,000 mile mark of our entire journey! Woohoo! 

Once in Boquete, we inquire about climbing the volcano and the other well known trail in the park, Sendero de Los Quetzales (Trail of the Quetzals.) We are told that a guide is required for both and that the cost is $65 per person. We decide to ignore this and go explore further on our own. 

Slowly we start to climb up and away from Boquete. Slowly, because the road has one incredibly steep hill after another. The pain in our legs is compensated by the beautiful scenery. We see only a few houses and cars. Mostly it's just us, the birds singing, and a clear gurgling river. 

After some tough biking we reach the turnoff to the park ranger station and soon after I see a sign for a campground. Here we stop to ask for information and find out that we are in fact on the wrong road to climb the volcano; that road started back in Boquete! Not about to turn around after we had come so far, we decide to relinquish our dreams of climbing the volcano and instead continue another couple kms to the Sendero de Los Quetzales. 

The last few kms are the steepest. We end up pushing our bikes up the last big hill as it starts to rain.
Pushing up the last bit

And then, there's the ranger station! A bright, friendly-looking, two-story cabin painted in warm yellow with green waves.
The ranger station, our tent out front

Out rushes the ranger, Carlos, to greet us as if we were old friends. Carlos has been working here for 12 years and says he can't remember anyone else biking up here; everyone else comes in car or bus. He's a fantastically nice guy. Forget the park fees, we can camp anywhere, or sleep in the bunk beds upstairs, we can heat water on the stove to make dinner, borrow his bird book, and that $65 required guide? No, we can hike wherever, whenever we want. 

What an amazing haven from the now-pouring rain! This is more than we ever could have expected. So many thanks to Carlos! We spend a wonderful evening sharing stories and watching birds. 
As we go to sleep, fireflies start to flow and dance among the dense, damp jungle foliage. 

April 22nd
We wake up early to the sound of birds singing. How wonderful it was to sleep somewhere where it actually gets cold at night! Carlos unfortunately is leaving today for his time off, but he leaves us his key so that we can store our bikes safely while we go out to hike. (Not that we're very worried about them out here.) We say goodbye, then head out. We spend the whole day hiking a little over 4 kms, because we are moving so slowly. There are just too many birds to see! Over the course of the day we see 18 new species (check out the bird list) including several three-wattled bellbirds and elusive resplendent quetzals! The trail is quite beautiful as well. At first we walk through farmland. (I know- it's odd that farmland is part of this national park but the farms were there before the park and the government couldn't kick these people out. Plus the cut in the woods makes for good birdwatching!)
Then we enter denser forest, following, and occasionally crossing clear-flowing rivers and streams. We return hungry and tired, and so happy that we made the mistake of coming here and didn't end up slogging to the top of the volcano today.

A special moment (if you like birds):
The forest is densely green on either side of us, and somewhere in the greenery a thrush is singing its ethereal song. As we squelch through the mud, we try to listen closely for the sound of the quetzal. Perhaps if we hear one we'll be able to find it. Then, suddenly we spot a large green bird soaring through the trees ahead of us. That long tail is unmistakable- it's a quetzal! It stops, I see it! It's perched on a tree right next to the trail.
iPhone + binoculars = quetzal!

We scramble to get a good look at him, but he ends up sitting there for a while and just letting us observe.  The feathers on this bird are so brilliantly colored that they shine like polished gems, stark against the duller green foliage. The long tail coverts blow gracefully in the wind and look rather like the trail to a fancy gown. He sits, slowly moving his head back and forth. Then suddenly, he's in the air again and vanishes instantly, back into the canopy of green. 
We feel lucky to have shared some time with this magnificent bird, free and wild in its natural habitat. 

April 23rd, A day conducted at high speed. 
It's raining when wake up but slowly clears as we get ready to go. Too soon, it's time to say goodbye to our mountain home; we hop on our bikes and head downhill. The way down goes considerably faster than the way up. In fact we have to stop several times to let our rims cool down! In Boquete we stop only briefly to fill up water and mail some postcards, then it's time for another 35kms or so of downhill back to David. The road is perfect- just the right grade that you don't have to hit the brakes, and you're still going exhilaratingly fast. 

Back in David we attempt to find a vegetarian restaurant recommended by our guide, but can't find it and end up settling on large plates of rice and lentils from a slightly sketchy looking cafeteria instead. Then, on to the bus station. We have decided to take a bus from David to Santiago because several other cyclists that we met on the road and recent blogs have informed us of the awful and dangerous 200km long construction zone between these two places. 
Danny loading the bikes on top of the bus. 

Driving through it, I'm certainly glad we took the bus. There is no shoulder, just loose gravel, machinery or piles of rocks. The road is in various stages of construction, ranging from new pavement to giant holes in the road. Three things I observe seem to convey the state of things. 
1) A worker, hammering in a stake with a large black mallet, stops as the head of the mallet falls off. 
2) A worker attempts to throw a can of spray paint to others on top of a very large scaffolding... And misses. 
3) A sign: "Tramo en Construction" knocked over with tire marks on it.
Of course, there clearly was a lot of good work getting done as well. The much expanded road that will be completed at some point in the future will certainly be a lot nicer than the current one, and probably even good for cycling. 

The bus ride itself isn't too uncomfortable. The driver plays music so loudly that you have the feeling of being in a dance club, and accelerates to the point at which it sounds like the vehicle is about to take off. But, there is air conditioning! And really, nothing else besides that matters. 

Arriving in Santiago goes better than I ever could have expected. The fire station is a block away from the bus station and the guys there are happy to let us camp. They show us the bathroom, shower, and give us a huge mango and giant plates of rice for dinner! The station has wifi, and also happens to be conveniently across from a large super market and hardware store. I wish every city were this easy. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Osa Peninsula, April 14-19

We had a great week with Tam's parents in the backyard of Corcovado National Park.  Thanks for treating us to such a wonderful vacation!  Here are some photos from our time there, all taken by Andie and Michel:

Iguanas on the deck

Tam catching a wave

Spider monkey

White-nosed Coati

Going for a hike

Some kind of flag bug. Look closely; those red spots are part of its legs.

And, on our last night, a beautiful sunset, a rainbow, and a rare glimpse of the endangered, nocturnal Baird's Tapir!

After taking another day in Puerto Jimenez to see off Michel and Andie and organize our stuff, we hit the road early the next morning.  The sun kept getting hotter and the hills steeper until an early afternoon downpour cooled things off.  Nothing much of note happened after that, except for a hilarious phone call with our friend Gus, and we find ourselves now in the little town of Rio Claro.  Panama tomorrow!
There was (still is, as I'm writing this) an iguana in the shower!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Rica Costa Rica, April 10-13

The road out of Jaco follows the Costa Rican coast south for hundreds of kilometers.  We woke up in our air conditioned room well rested and ready to take on the heat, and we knocked out over 65 kilometers of flat road before lunch.  There wasn't much to see, just huge palm plantations, rows and rows of orderly, swaying fronds that would eventually end up as palm oil.  
We passed a factory, too, its towers belching smoke.  I had heard about biologically rich forests being cleared for palm oil plantations in Indonesia and other tropical countries, and although Costa Rica has done a great job of protecting its natural resources, it was disappointing to see that kind of deforestation here, too, in this biologically diverse place.  

Remember that scene from Castaway where Tom Hanks, finding himself marooned on a small, tropical island, starts to hear strange thumping sounds in the night?  We heard that exact sound right after we lay down in our tent, which we had set up under some swaying palms in the sleepy surf town of Dominical.  The source of the sound, like in the movie, was a coconut, which fell from a height of 50 feet or so and landed right next to us.  We moved the tent a few feet away from the tree, yet a few minutes later, when a massive frond fell and speared the empty tent next to ours, we moved way out to the beach.  Far from the reach of murdurous palm trees, we fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves.

6:30 am.  Sweating again.  Time to get up.  Numerous hills quickly left us with sweat beading all over, but the road was wide and the riding decent. Two older cyclists from Germany, Silke and Klaus, crossed our path in the late morning, heading north from Panama.  When they said that they were keeping a blog so their children and grandchildren could follow their adventures, we laughed; it's the opposite for us!  They have toured in Cuba for a bit and are now making their way north to Nicaragua, and we swapped info about the road ahead.

The afternoon was like a different day: clouds and rain damping the heat, and a much narrower road.  As the sun started to set, we arrived at the side road to Puerto Jimenez, where we would be meeting Tam's parents the next morning!  Rather than having them drive to pick us up, or try to bike the 76 km early tomorrow morning, we hopped on a bus, hoping to surprise them at the airport.  Unfortunately our location app gave us away, although, surprise or not, it was great to see Andie and Michel when they got off the plane.  We then drove with them way out on the Osa Peninsula, basically to the end of the road, where we will be staying for a relaxing week at an eco-lodge next to Corcovado National Park!  
Water, Sand, Rainforest

Andie and Tam

Thursday, April 9, 2015

High Weight, High Rep Cycling, April 8-9

Our quiet abode in the woods behind, we began the long climb up to San Ramon.  Though the grades were insane- at least 10% on the majority of the hills- I rather liked going up.  When the hills add up to a view, rather than immediately descending, and the temperature gets cooler, and the valley stretches out under you... well, call me masochistic, but I like to climb!  The top of this mountain was shrouded in clouds, and as I had hoped the whole time we were ascending to reach them and have some respite from the heat, I was glad when the mists took over, their ethereal arms grasping the air and whipping it around.  Though there was no view, our bodies rejoiced in the coolness, and as we neared the top, an unexpected surprise materialized out of the fog: a cheese stand!  We stopped, of course, and tried the local products, which we found tasty and similar to the stringy Oaxaca Mexican cheese.
Just under the cloud layer

The short descent brought us to San Ramon, a small city with a nice little park.  We started talking with a guy named Oscar, who was friendly but turned out to be an incorrigible racist.  He told us with satisfaction how all the Nicaraguans and Guatemalans are very bad, very bad indeed, especially those indigenous folks, watch out for them!  We countered with equal delight that we had just come through those countries and had met a lot of wonderful people but none of those that he was referring to.  I would like to think that we changed his point of view, that maybe he'll see the Nicaraguans in a different light now, but realistically, I doubt it.  It's tough to internalize the experiences of others.

After our chat with Oscar, we headed out to the fire station, where we asked if they might let us camp in their yard.  The firemen, the bomberos, showed us around and were so incredibly welcoming, even to the point that they apologized for not being able to offer us a bed!  We made them cookies as thanks (Tam made them cookies as I excitedly hovered and managed not to mess anything up).
Massive cookie, shape open to interpretation 

I was planning today on a long descent to the ocean.  I could not have been more wrong.  The hills were so numerous and so steep that we had to take breathers every few hundred yards to rest our tired legs, and the downhills, equally steep and equally challenging for our cramping hands and burning rims, provided enough excitement for the rest of the day.  And this wasn't even the stretch the bomberos had warned us about; that was next.  Or, it would have been next, but we chose the road more traveled instead, the big toll road.  Bikes aren't technically allowed on the toll roads, but that's never stopped us before, and we didn't have a problem today.  The descent from there was as I had imagined it originally, all the way down to the ocean after crossing a bridge and counting over 30 crocodiles in the river below.  I'll be doing all my swimming in salt water from now on.

Though the heat was as oppressive as ever, we gradually made our way south and ended up in the town of Jaco, where, after swimming in our own sweat for the last five hours, we couldn't bear to spend a noisy, sweaty night in the tent and found an inexpensive hotel that inexplicably offered air conditioning!  I've found my limit of discomfort, and it is sweating all day and all night.
Our location in Jaco.  We're going to follow the coast south over the next few days.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Beautiful Birds and Marvelous Mountains

April 3rd
Our host, Peter, is a professional online poker player!  We spend the day watching him work his 16 tables at a time; taking advantage of his full-feature kitchen to make cookies, bread, and pizza from scratch; and going for a nice evening walk in the lush countryside.

Sunset, Lake Arenal

April 4th

Today we're biking to Monteverde with Peter! All of us are excited for an adventure. We wake up at 5:30 and manage to leave by 6:30. At first we have to ride a stretch of rough gravel, but then the road turns into pavement. The pavement continues longer than we expect. We are all grateful for the smooth riding but it is still tough going with extremely steep uphills and intense winds. We bike up to a set of windmills, and then go up past them. The rolling countryside and Lake Arenal stretch out below us, slowly getting smaller and smaller.

After 17 km or so the road turns to rough gravel. The huge rock pieces, and howling winds that throw us off balance and swirl dust into our faces make riding next to impossible on our bikes. We want to continue but realize that the smarter decision is to turn back. Peter continues with his far more suitable mountain bike. 

Back we go to Peter's house. Once there we repack our things into backpacks and head into town to catch a bus. We need to go to the next town (Tilaran) to catch a bus to Monteverde, but we find out that the bus that leaves from here (Tronadora) won't get there in time. Instead we take a cheap taxi. Once in Tilaran we have some time to kill waiting for the bus, so we decide to see if we can hitchhike. We stand on the side of the road for a while and no one stops. Just as we're about to head back to get the bus, a friendly guy named Jorge stops to give us a ride. Jorge has lived in Monteverde his whole life and is super friendly. He tells us all about his family, business, and a bit of Monteverde history. Apparently the roads are unpaved because, a while back, a coalition of hotels got together to block any paving initiatives because they wanted people to be so tired from driving that they had to stay the night. Now however, with the increase in tourism, many locals support paving the roads because it would lead to an increase in business. Looking at the current road conditions, we are both very glad we didn't ride our bikes, and feel a bit sorry for Peter.  Even with a mountain bike, riding on coarse, loose, potholed gravel is no fun.

We arrive in Santa Elena, the town next to the Monteverde Reserve, and find Peter just having arrived as well. Great timing! We take advantage of the afternoon to hike around and explore town. We walk a short trail past huge strangler fig trees, visit a beautiful art gallery, and look unsuccessfully for sloths. 
Strangler figs develop using another tree as a host, then they slowly take over and kill the host tree, which decomposes and leaves the huge fig standing but hollow.

April 5th
The reserve officially opens at 7AM, but we know that the birds wake up much earlier than that! We get up at 5 and are in the parking lot of the reserve, an open dirt expanse, by 5:30. The morning is frigid and rainy; we're in the clouds.  But in one hour of bird watching we see 8 new species and not a single other human! We are able to see all the birds very clearly because they are out and about and very active at this hour. Some are sitting on the wires and signs, others wandering along the ground. At one point a dog sized animal runs out across the parking lot. But wait, it's not a dog! We think it may have been a white-nosed coati. 
Cloud forest parking lot

Once the reserve opens we each pay $14 to go hike the trails. It is magical listening to all the birds singing. The forest is thick with greenery and song. Unfortunately, it's so thick that we can't see many of the birds; the parking lot was actually a much better place for birdwatching.
One of the lenses has permanently broken off our binoculars, making things extra challenging. We do see a few huge hummingbirds and a grosbeak chowing down on a big orange fruit. Check out the bird list for details!

But there are more than just birds to discover. We see huge scaly millipedes, a big black beetle with three-pronged yellow antennae, and a swarm of army ants. The plant life is a bit overwhelming.  Even "dead" logs can hardly be called that; they are teeming with life: ferns, mosses, bromeliads. Any shape you can imagine, there is a leaf with that shape in this forest. I especially like the tree ferns, which are essentially 30ft high ferns. 
Trees growing from a dead log

Danny found a bib

We walk almost every trail, reaching a viewpoint where we can see Volcan Arenal and miles of untouched, preserved cloud forest. Simply amazing! Later on, we climb a metal tower which rewards us with an even better view. From the top we can see Lake Arenal and both volcanos, Arenal and Cerro Chato. 

We've been at the reserve for more than 7 hours when we return to the visitors center to take the shuttle to town. 
Back at our hostel we have some lunch then get our stuff ready to go. Peter starts biking and we go stand out by the side of the road to see if we can hitchhike. The only bus going where we want to go leaves tomorrow morning, and we would rather stay at Peter's house tonight than pay for another expensive room in this touristy town. After an hour or so of waiting, things aren't looking good. We hop on a passing bus going in the direction that we want to go. Unfortunately, the bus takes a road different than the one we thought it would! We are now going completely in the wrong direction. Checking our map frequently, we're able to get off at an intersection close to where we had wanted to go. 
We still have almost 30 km to go to Tilaran, so we start to hike. Hopefully someone will pick us up even though there is little  to no traffic on this road. We hike, and hike, and hike some more. We are starting to think that we're going to need to ask to camp at one of the farms along the road, when a car stops. Meet Romain and Ouidad, an amazing couple from France on their honeymoon! They bring us all the way back to Tronadora, even though it's a little off the route they are taking. We can't thank you guys enough! 
As we walk into the main square, we meet Peter, who has just arrived. What timing! We head back to his house and make some delicious dinner. What a day!

April 6th
It takes a while to get going in the morning, because our stuff is everywhere. Around 10, we say our goodbyes and roll out. It's a beautiful day, windy (as always) but sunny and fresh after the morning rain. Our road takes us up and down steep hills that border Lake Arenal. The topography is challenging, but we're rewarded with spectacular views.

We're not really looking for birds, but we still see lots of toucans and some aracaris (similar to toucans)! Later in the day we run across a big group of white-nosed coatis right on the side of the road. There is little traffic, and as we head away from the lake we both agree that it was one of our favorite rides. 

We continue straight towards Volcan Arenal, the top of which only peeks out from the clouds for a brief moment. The traffic picks up as we head into La Fortuna, passing thermal hot springs spas and fancy hotels. My legs are very grateful that the end of our ride today is mostly downhill. 

We spend the night in a little town just past La Fortuna. Our Warmshowers host, Esteban, gets home late, but we are still able to spend some time with him and his friend Jose. We are up long past our bedtime eating pasta and sharing stories.

April 7th
Today is exactly 10 months from when we first started our trip!  I can still remember exactly how I felt on that plane ride up to northern Alaska. We end up leaving late in the morning since we're tired from last night. 
Before we go, I do a drawing on Esteban's wall. Everyone who has stayed with him has left a note, and it's pretty neat to look at all of them. Thanks again, Esteban, for your hospitality. 
Our road takes off through the mountains, and although there isn't much traffic, the endless steep hills make for challenging riding. Even though there's a breeze, it's still hot.  We stop at a little fruit stand and each enjoy half a watermelon to cool down. As we start to eat, some loud squawking attracts our attention. Two large scarlet macaws have landed on a tree just down the street. How amazing to see these beautiful birds in the wild! 

Even after our break, we're feeling tired and sore. When a guy we meet informs us that it's all uphill to San Ramon we decide to stop early and have a relaxing afternoon to recharge a bit. Right now we're stopped at an inexpensive little hotel with wood cabins in the woods. It's quiet and peaceful. Back on the road tomorrow. 

Stat Sheet: 10 Months

Miles biked: 9,605 (15,458 km)
Countries experienced: 7
Bird species seen: 276
New bird species seen since entering Costa Rica a week ago: 28
Water bottle cages broken: 6
Volcanoes seen in Central America: 12