English Summary No. 9

Hi folks, I know these English texts are getting rare, it's just that they take so much time that I think I will have to cut them a bit shorter.
After leaving Cali we cycled up North towards Medellin where we were invited to stay with friends. After two days on flat roads we reached the Zona Cafetera and we were back in the hills. (The bomberos in Buga were very helpfull and even gave us a bedroom with private bath. The ones in Cartago couldn't/didn't want to take us in.) After several hot days in beautiful countryside we reached la Pintada where the last long climb up to Las Minas began. We also stayed in Sta Barbara which is a bit more than halfway up the mountain.
After some ten days in Medellín we were happy to be on the road again. Somehow, Colombian hospitality seemed to be too much for us. One and a half years of travelling made us feel like we were up to surviving by our own and being treated like little children made us want to escape back to freedom. Another big mountain was waiting for us just a few kilometers after Medellín. It would have been nice and cool there, with rain  in the afternoon it was rather cold and annoying. We found a cheap room in Don Matías after a long and steady climb. The next day was full of long and short ups and downs together with some rain until Yarumal, where bomberos don't have room for cyclists. Another day was rather eventless. More ups and downs until La Ventana, then a long and fantastic descent down to the river Cauca where we felt we were getting boiled. It was just brutaly hot. From now on it was going to be flat with only very few hills for a long time.
Following a tip from Scott we visited Mompóx and were very impressed by the positive attitude of people who lived in an area that has been flooded for several months. We also liked the pretty colonial town and the sandy path that finally brought us back to a bigger gravel road that brought us to the main road leading to Sta Marta. We had planned to do a trip to the Tairona National Park, but when we found out how much they carge we skipped that. We didn't like Sta Marta much. When it rained half the city was flodded and smelled  nasty. So we left soon and made it to Cartagena in two days, setting a new record of 136 km in one day. Information about that city had been correct. It has a beautiful colonial center but was quite expensive. We spent two weeks there before boarding the Stahlratte, a relatively big sail ship, to take us to Panama. The four days on the ship and swimming in the Caribean sea were fun. The fun ended on the road from the little port of Cartí to the Panam where the climbs were so incredibly steep that we gave up pushing after 5 km and hitched.
Arriving in Panama City wasn't exactly entertaining, way too much chaos and traffic. We spent two days there, visited the Canal and the historic center and then set out again. We managed to find the Avenida de los Mártires which is supposed to be the safer route to the Puente de las Americas. The fist day was hilly, the second mostly flat, the third very hilly again. The only thing worth mentioning during these days were my three flat tires. We slept at the bomberos' in San Carlos, Natá, Santiago and Gualaca. The day after Gualaca was finally different. We crossed the mountains from the Pacific side to the Atlantic on a typical panamanian road: absurdly steep. Before noon, now up in the mountains, it startet to rain and got cool, so we stayed at the restaurant Brisa de Hornito in La Mina, drank a hot chocolate and had lunch. As the rain didn't stop, the nice lady offered us a room in ther house for free. There were no beds, but two old matresses and we were gratefull for not having to get out into the rain to look for accommodation.
The next day started cool but dry. We had another 22 km of steep ups and downs until the descent to the sea began. Racing down the mountain was big fun. Bad luck only in Palma Real, where there was no place to sleep. We finally found somebody who gave us permission to camp in the comedor of the local school. Panamanians have always been very helpfull, we really liked this country (also for its cheap stuff in supermarkets). Next morning we rode the remaining 46 km to Almirante and took a boad that brought us to the Bocas del Toro islands. We figured we deserved a few days to relax.
And that's what we did. Our first afternoon on the island was filled with siesta. The second day was so rainy that we had a good excuse to not do much more than laundry. Then we made a nice boat trip with snorcheling and fun with big waves on the red frog beach. On the last day we did a little bike tour and found the Playa de las Estrellas, a beach with a lot of cute starfishes.
Already the next day we headed for Costa Rica. That meant 20 km of more steep hills until Changuinola, then another 30 km flat to the border. There was no sign whatsoever but the friendly locals pointed the bridge out to us. We had to pay USD 3 each to get the passports stamped in Panama, but no payments were necessary in Costa Rica. From what we had heard about Costa Rica it was suposed to have a rather high standard and was more expensive than other Latin American countries. The many gravel streches on the road mad us doubt the thing with the high standard but we should soon find out that the country is, in fact, very expensive. It was extremely hot again, so after 30 km we tried to find a place in the town of Bribri. Bad luck again, no bomberos, no room at the red cross, schools full until 10 pm and the padre  of the church wasn't there either. Happy or not, we went on to Cahuita, a touristy town 20 km further. The hill we had to climb was neither high nor steep, but the road was gravel and all the traffic made sure we weren't only sweaty but also dusty.
In Cahuita we encountered Costa Rican prices for the first time and wished to be elsewhere. As there were no bomberos and we couldn't camp at the police station we had to find a hostel, where they charged USD 7 for an unconfortable dorm bed. Things didn't get any better the next day in Puerto Limón. Couldn't stay at the bomberos' and nearly despaired when seeing hotel prices and quality. In all South America I have never seen so crapy hotels that were so expensive. Not to mention the good ones...
Finally we decided to stay at the Continental which was the cheapest but not the worst. Only bad thing was that we weren't allowed take the bikes inside the house. There was a supposedly locked parking lot guarded by a poor lonely pitbull. Next morning when we went to find a car wash to wash the bikes, Martina's saddle cushion was gone. So much about a secure parking lot. Then they charged us a dollar each for for not even a five minute shower for our bikes. So far, we never had to pay anything, sometimes we even got free soap. When we told the ladies from the hotel that some stuff was stolen from our bikes they didn't seem to be particularly bothered. And we still didn't get permission to park the bikes inside inspite of lots of room. We tried the hotel International across the street, but it's the same administration, so no luck either. I asked at the Hotel Ng but the lady was about the unfriendliest person I've met on my whole trip. What's wrong with this country??? In the end we moved to the Hotel King which is not superfriendly but the bikes are now (hopefully) safe on the balcony.
Martin's package from home, the only reason why we even stay here, has arrived. It seemed to have been complicated to receive it from customs, but no expensive taxes were raised. Now we are waiting to get some bad bugs out of our stomachs and then try to get out of the country as fast as possible.

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