Sweltered by the Sun, Buoyed by the Beach

San Juan del Sur, NicaraguaSan Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

I slipped out of the over-hyped grandiose of Granada in the early morning light, climbed a mellow grade out of town, and was flying along the Guatemalan countryside. Traffic intensified when I joined back up with the Pan-American, but never became a nuisance. A few hot hours later I swung west towards the Pacific coast. The slight 12 mile side-trip gave me a chance at relief in the cool Pacific waters and was worth its weight in gold. A mile or two down the road and I started to hear hoots, hollers, and whistles. Youth, hooligans, I thought; a typical encounter. No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than a cycling team from the capital pulled up alongside me. We shared a few moments of mutual admiration, me for their unhindered, lightweight racing bikes, them at my overburdened, self-sustained death march through Central America. I stuck to their back wheels for a brief moment, basking in my re-acquired strength, before they finally pulled away. After I found a cheap room in San Juan del Sur it was straight to the water for me. The cool water of the Pacific is a greater relief than can be described. Swayed by the idyllic setting on a horseshoe bay and the ambling surfer vibe I took a day off the bike to alternate dips in the water and strolls on the beach with cups of coffee at El Gato Negro.

Wind power in southern NicaraguaWind power in southern Nicaragua
Wind power in southern Nicaragua

From San Juan del Sur it was three long days before I would step into the ocean once more. My routine was established, but offered little relief. I was out the door and on the bike before 6 on most days, but the process of getting out the door and on the bike usually resulted in the day’s first blanketing of sweat. I faced some intense head and side winds as I made my way along Nicaragua’s largest lake towards Costa Rica. A hatch was in process, so I was constantly riding through clouds of bugs (nats or the like). They covered my body, brushed off my clothes, but clotted up on my sweaty arms and legs. My spirits were boosted to see the Nicaraguans taking advantage of the lake affect winds with a smattering of wind-turbines standing stoutly on the land.

wide open Costa Rican countrysidewide open Costa Rican countryside
wide open Costa Rican countryside

Borders on bikes are nice. Usually, about a mile out, I swing to the center of the road and ride by the waiting line of semis. How long it takes for them to get through is anyone’s guess. Once on the other side, in Costa Rica, I had a side of the road to myself while the other was backed up for 2 solid miles. I was being passed by vehicles going my direction about once every half hour. It was typically hot, but I was bolstered by ideas of air-conditioned gas station convenience stores and gatorade; this was Costa Rica, the most Americanized of the Central American countries. No luck came my way. I drank water out of the gas station hoses, usually used to top off radiators, and huddled next to the pumps for the shade provided by the canopies. With 75 miles to my day, I rolled into Liberia and found a dingy hostel room. It had a fan. Ten dollars at the local grocery store got me Gatorade, chocolate milk, bananas, apples, and water. I was back to western prices. Of note in Liberia, my first city of Costa Rica, was the starkly different aesthetic of the central church. Sharp angles and clean white paint stood out against the blue sky, but stood out even more from the churches I had become accustomed to seeing over the last 6 months.

A new aesthetic in Liberia, Costa RicaA new aesthetic in Liberia, Costa Rica
A new aesthetic in Liberia, Costa Rica

Thirty miles down the road the following day and I was eager for a cold beverage, air-con, and a snickers. Two grocery stores and countless other tiendas in two days in Costa Rica and there was not a Snickers bar in sight. I was concocting crazy conspiracy theories about their absence. Was it perhaps tied to the revolt over the American banana empire? Later in the day, when I found an air-conditioned gas station, I too found a Snickers. Oh, the relief, the pure joy, the ecstatic taste of that bar. I can’t imagine what would happen to my life on the sweltering road if I was to not find Coke. In need of shade and shelter, I pushed 85 miles out of my melting body to reach Puntarenas and a cheap hotel. It was as hot in the room as it was outside, but with a fan moving air around the refrigerator-box size room, it offered some relief.

to bike one needs Snickers and Gatoradeto bike one needs Snickers and Gatorade
to bike one needs Snickers and Gatorade

The long days left me with a nice 45 mile cruise down to my next beach stop of Jaco, Costa Rica. Oh, how often the short, easy days blow up on your face and make you eat your every word. It was hot. There were hills. I outdid myself, and had some severe knee pain. While creeping up the last hill before town I passed a Japanese gentleman pushing his loaded touring rig up the hill. We couldn’t really communicate. When the words left your mouth they were swallowed up by the heat and humidity. I pushed on, desperate to finish the day. With the exception of a day or two since leaving Xela, every day ends with a bout of chills that sweep over my body. I consume anywhere from 8-10 liters of water while on the bike, but still have the onset chills of heat exhaustion, or worse. I crawled through a fierce headwind to the resort town of Jaco, then pulled straight into a hostel and booked a room. It was shit, but I assumed I had no other choice, this place was known to be overblown expensive. After a swim and a shower, I walked into town and found a little oasis of a hostel for a few dollars more, and made the easy decision to switch places and waste away a few days in Jaco.


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