As a veteran of several of the more leisurely Exodus cycling trips but no more than an occasional cyclist on the mean streets of South London had I made a foolish decision this time by opting for a tougher grading than on any of my previous trips? At arrivals in Managua I was able to answer my own question as I spied two honed, lean physiques sporting polo shirts emblazoned with Lands End to John O’Groats charity ride ’06.
I must admit my heart sank a little as I wondered whether I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew.
Here we go I thought, a fortnight ahead of heavy perspiration and asking myself why I didn’t set myself a punishing training regime amidst the cols of Crystal Palace in preparation. Fortunately the full group of 16 comprised clients with varying levels of fitness, a wide range of ages and some less confident on a bike than others, which soon put my mind at rest – a common theme amongst the group was a positive attitude, an intention to have fun and enjoy the whole experience as well as the added bonus of getting fitter!
The itinerary is crammed full of highlights, with outstanding scenery the main attraction including cloud forest, active volcanoes, lakes and tropical Islands culminating in a close up of one of the world’s true feats of modern engineering, the Panama Canal. The chance to cycle through three countries on a two-week trip is also a massive bonus – here I have picked out a few of my personal highlights.
The tour started with a gentle introduction into Lake Nicaragua’s tranquil beauty as we leisurely peddled through the rural and lush scenery of the hourglass-shaped Ometepe Island – The twin volcanic peaks of Concepcion and Madera sit majestically at either end of the Island making it a truly spectacular ride enjoyed all the more by the near absence of vehicles on the island. Little is known about Nicaragua as a tourist destination but my hot tip for 2009 is that this unspoilt and verdant land will see an increase in visitors seeking an alternative to the admittedly beautiful but often tourist heavy Costa Rica.
An unexpected surprise for the whole group was the Eco Termales hot springs near La Fortuna. Heated by the active Arenal Volcano the five hot pools and one cold are set in a corner of tropical jungle and with a limit on the number of customers allowed entry they retain a rather intimate feel that is not necessarily the case with other nearby hot springs. The local staff also create quite possibly the finest Pina Colada known to man (trust me I’ve sampled a few on my travels) delivered to you whilst you soothe those weary limbs in a hot pool the size of a cricket square – If there is a better way to relax after a tough day in the saddle then do let me know.
A real highlight of the itinerary is the opportunity to cycle along both the Pacific Coast and Caribbean Sea within 3 days of each other. The ride from Cahuita on the Costa Rican Caribbean coast is one of the most stunning in the country. Cycling through sugar cane plantations and rural villages the final stretch into Cahuita follows a 15-mile coastal road and with the gentle splashing of Caribbean waters within earshot make it a truly memorable biking session. The spicy seafood based cuisine and reggae music scene also make Cahuita one of the top night spots of the whole trip.
We then head into Panama cycling through immense fields of banana plantations and rainforest clad hills. Like Nicaragua, little is known about Panama as a tourist destination but its understated charm, wealth of lush green forests, beautiful horse ‘estancias’ and surprisingly cosmopolitan and modern Panama City make it an undiscovered gem just awaiting exploration.
Another major attraction of the region that as yet doesn’t receive the hype it deserves (although the secret will be out soon) is the Bocas del Toro Islands. Situated off the Panamanian Caribbean coast, this archipelago offers abundant opportunities to wind down after a few days in the saddle – an ideal location for our rest day. Snorkelling in crystal clear warm waters within a few feet of giant swordfish and white snapper before taking a breather with a chilled can of Panama beer takes a bit of beating.
Our nautical extravaganza was complete when the small fishing boat we had hired was pursued by a large pod of bottlenose dolphins that took great delight in splashing about and performing some quite acrobatic manoeuvres right in front of our eyes before swimming off into the distance leaving the humans and no doubt the dolphins chattering excitedly amongst themselves.
I will definitely be doing another Exodus Cycling trip this year. It is more than likely I will turn up under prepared and in a worse physical condition than clients twice my age and regretting my slack attitude to fitness. However, if my past Cycling trip experiences are anything to go by at the end of the tour I will be able to look back on the fortnight with a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement as well as having a lot of fun and sporting a new look honed, lean physique. Well maybe that’s stretching the imagination just a little….
Dan went on Exodus’ Cycle Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama trip.