If you go down to the woods today….

After our detour to Estonia, we jumped back on a ferry across the Baltic Sea to Finland. We had been visiting cities for the last couple of weeks and now we wanted to escape the crowds for a while so we charted a course North with our destination being Rovaniemi, a town on the edge of The Arctic Circle. Instead of heading straight there though, we decided on more of a zig-zag route to take in a few more locations.

We headed out of Helsinki into the Finnish Lakeland area. Lakeland is about 200 miles in length and a similar distance wide. There are an astonishing number of lakes here, the amount depends on what definition of a lake you use. There are 55,000 greater than a hectare in size and over 188,000 if you include the smaller ones. Either way, it’s more than enough to keep us busy for a week or so.

“How many lakes have we counted so far?”

The first thing we did was seek out Route 62. Regarded by many as the most scenic road in Lakeland, it twists and turns as it makes its way through pine forests and between lakes. Often the road disects one of the lakes with the tarmac only a couple of feet above the waterline.

It was a great driving route.

We drove the first half and then found a small cabin on a campsite close to a lake and stopped for the evening.

A cabin in the woods tonight please!

The following day we finished off Route 62 and both agreed it was incredibly scenic but, as we were to find out, the whole area is almost as good. We then headed for the town of Savonlinna, one of the major attractions in Lakeland. Our route took us further East and as we followed our progress on GPS we noticed we were inching closer and closer to the Russian Border. Finland shares a border of over 800 miles with Russia, the vast majority of it being unpatrolled forest and forest track. At one point we had to take a swift about turn when our GPS showed us to be right on, or maybe just a little bit over, the border!!

Maybe we should get out of here….quickly.

Our wandering along the border put us in the location of one of many quirky sites that Finland has to offer. Often in the middle of nowhere, and with little our no advertising, are strange pieces and collections of ‘art’. This one, near the Russian Border, was a collection of over 250 life-size figures most of which are in yoga positions.

“I think I will give this lesson a miss.

The figures have an almost menacing look about them which makes you feel they would be quite at home in some zombie horror movie. Just to make it even more strange the artist has left them to be covered over time by the forest, so most of them are starting to be covered by moss and tree roots.

After leaving the Russian Border and the army of ‘moss covered zombie yoga statues’ behind, it took us a few miles to clear our heads and before long we were pulling into the beautiful town of Savonlinna.

Savonlinna was really pretty.

The sun was out, the sky was completely clear, and it was lovely and warm. Not really what we had expected of Finland. Little did we know what was to come.

Savonlinna is home to the most Northerly intact Medieval Castle. It is perched on its own island in the centre of town and is a majestic sight. The town also has a beautiful waterfront promenade and a small beach, which was very popular with the locals trying to cool down in the heat.

We both could have spent a little longer here.

Next on our tour of The Lakelands was Kuopio. It was a beautiful scenic drive from Savonlinna, and although Route 62 had been exceptionally scenic, the three hour drive up to Kuopio was comparable. There were endless lakes connected by bridges which gave you a bird’s-eye view, and roads which skimmed the water and gave you a duck’s-eye view! Whenever the road dragged you away from the water it was lined with purple and pink lupins and a covering of buttercups thrown in for good measure. All the time the backdrop was thick green pine forest and overhead the sun shone down from a clear blue sky.

It’s turning into a great Road Trip.

We have done road trips in many many countries and this one was right up with the best.

Kuopio is the largest town in the area and is set in the heart of the lakes. We were there during Midsummer Holiday Weekend, which is a big thing in this part of the World, so we booked ourselves onto a campsite on the edge of town for three days and settled down to enjoy the hot weather.

The campsite was on the edge of a lake. But I suppose with 188,000 of them, everything is on the edge of a lake. It had a large grassed area with a small beach and it was mobbed. The thermometer was pushing 30 degrees and it was mobbed. It looked like a mini Bournemouth Beach on a hot Bank Holiday. We pitched ourselves up in the middle of it all and soaked up the atmosphere.

At this time of year Kuopio only gets a couple of hours of darkness. So with the heat staying in the sunshine and the holiday feeling in plentiful supply the beach area was still busy until after we left at 10.30!

10.30pm and time for bed!

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Kuopio but we had to leave as we had an appointment elsewhere in Finland that we just did not want to miss.

Our route to Rovaniemi and the Arctic Circle was North West from Kuopio but Steve had found something we really wanted to do which meant heading North East instead and back towards the Russian Border. While doing some research he had come across a Wilderness Centre that apparently organised bear watching trips. This was something we had to investigate.

On our way we passed another of those ‘out in the middle of nowhere’ Finnish art collections. Strange, quirky, weird? Call them what you want but you can’t help but look.

This particular one was a field with 1000 figures made from a pair of crossed sticks, dressed in old clothes, and given a piece of turf for a head! We wandered about in the field trying to make some sort of sense of it all, but failed. We did get a few photos though!

Weird?

A couple of hours further down the road we were still discussing the ‘stick people field’ when the asphalt ran out and we found ourselves on a dirt road. On and on it went and we had to be really on the lookout as reindeer were regular pedestrians here and didn’t like to get out of the road very quickly.

“Can we just squeeze past please?

After 45 minutes on the dirt road we finally arrived at the Wilderness Centre. We quickly pitched our tent and realised we were the only ones camping. We had some food and at 5pm we set off on our bear watching trip with six others and Marco, our Finnish guide.

Marco drove us deeper into the forest until the dirt road ran out. Then we continued on foot until we reached the ‘hide’, which was pretty much the same principle as a bird watching hide.

There’s always one!

Steve checked his GPS and once again found we were only a couple of hundred metres from the Russian border.

We entered the ‘hide’, took our seats and started our wait. We had been briefed by Marco with regards to staying as quite as possible. Essentially, only breath if you have to!

Sarah had brought along some snacks, which we had been advised to do, as we could be there for several hours. However, maybe a bag of pretzels wasn’t the best choice. You could have heard the bag opening in Moscow. Six heads snapped to the right, in Sarah’s direction. If looks could kill!!

After an hour of waiting we had seen ….. zero bears. Steve dozed off and the clock ticked on. After two hours we had seen …… zero bears. Steve dozed off again and the clock ticked on. After three hours we had seen ……… so many bears we had lost count!

About two and a half hours into our wait, something could be seen moving in the trees near the start of a clearing. Out into our view wandered a big brown bear. He looked massive to us but was apparently only a four year old juvenile. He stopped, had a sniff around, looked over his shoulder, and two more bears came out of the trees and joined him.

He is a biggie!

It was amazing to see them so close up. You could hear them breathing and munching away as they wandered around looking for food. We were mesmerised as they hung around for about five minutes and then disappeared back into the Forest. Only a couple of minutes later a huge female appeared preceeding two cubs which were only six months old. They were so active, running around, fighting each other, standing up on their back legs and climbing up trees.

Does it get any more cute?

For the next couple of hours it was a procession of bears, females, juveniles and cubs. There were no big males, apparently they do a lot of sleeping now the mating season is over. But we saw well over 20 different bears, come and go throughout the evenin. Marco said was quite unusual as the most he has ever seen is 21 and the least was five, so I suppose we were quite lucky. We both agreed that it was one of the best wildlife experiences we had ever had.

They were so close.

The time flew by and it was 10.30pm before we knew it and time to leave. It was then that it dawned on us as to why we were the only campers at the centre! We were staying in a tent only a few kilometres from a big old family of bears. “Don’t worry”, said Marco, “You will be fine, they only ever come close to the centre in The Spring”. “Let’s hope these bears are pretty good with their knowledge of the seasons”, said Steve as we zipped into our sleeping bags!

“I wonder why we are the only ones camping?”

The next morning we emerged unscathed, packed up our gear, and headed back out onto the dirt track. “Where to now”, said Steve. “I know”, said Sarah, “Let’s go and see Santa Claus!”

OK. Just one more bear photo!

A Tale of Two Cities.

Not the Paris and London William Shakespeare wrote about, but our version features Helsinki and Tallinn.

Whatever was going to follow Stockholm was going to find it a hard act to follow, and to be honest Helsinki struggled. That’s not saying Helsinki is a bad place, far from it. It has a lot to offer and we spent three days seeing most of what the city had to offer at a much slower pace than normal.

Once again we managed to find a campsite with easy access to the City Centre. The site itself was one of the best we have been on during this trip, with plenty of space and loads of facilities including the obligatory Finnish sauna and access to a small beach.

Plenty of space at this site.

Two minutes walk from the site was a Metro stop and in 15 minutes we were in the centre of the city. Straight away we started to notice differences between Finland and Sweden. We had thought they would be very similar considering Finland was part of Sweden for hundreds of years but in many ways they are poles apart.

The first thing that is noticeable is, unlike The Swedes, The Fins aren’t big talkers, whether that is to strangers, neighbours, family, anyone in fact. They are on the whole uncomfortable with eye contact and conversation.

Heavy Metal music is huge here. They have the most bands per head of population than anywhere in The World and this is reflected in their dress which can be quite dark and almost grunge like. Then there is their hair. Not a subject Steve can be really called an expert on, but if he had any it certainly wouldn’t be dyed every colour of the rainbow, which is a very common look around Helsinki.

Helsinki is a relatively new city. Turku, close to Sweden, was the capital until The Russians took over in the early 19th Century and they moved the capital closer to St Petersburg and built Helsinki which was a small fishing village at the time. This is reflected in the architecture, with most of the buildings looking very similar to one another. In fact, some are actually identical. They are, however, painted in more pastel colours which does brighten things up.

The beautiful Helsinki train station?

We joined another free walking tour. Which was good for getting our bearings and identifying a couple of places to revist. It also took us to the Helsinki version of Changing of the Guard. This actually could not have been on any smaller scale. It was a straight one for one swap, literally a changing of “THE” guard!

Ummmmm!

Probably the most impressive two buildings in The City are the two Cathedrals. One is Lutheran and the other Russian Orthodox.

The white imposing Lutheran Cathedral dominates the city. It is set in the centre of town, at the head of a large open stone square and definitely looks the part from the outside. The inside, however, is a completely different story.

Beautiful……on the outside at least.

There is apparently a joke in Helsinki which says they spent so much money building the Cathedral there was nothing left to decorate the inside. Lutheran churches are always plainly decorated and the Helsinki Cathedral epitomises this. Five minutes inside and you have seen it all ….. twice!

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral down by the docks is very different in design, very dark and ornate. Although the inside has more to see than its Lutheran counterpart, you can only access a small part of the building and we were, in truth, left a little underwhelmed. It’s hard not to compare them against the magnificent churches of Spain, Italy and France.

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

Luckily our weather in Helsinki was beautiful and ideal for strolling around the city, people watching and trying to spot a couple having a conversation!

“Someone talk to me…….please”

On our other full day, we made the 15 minute ferry ride to the island fortress of Suomenlinna. Wherever you look this is always number one on places to visit in The City.

Walking around Suomenlinna.

Eight hundred people live on the island and they were getting close to a million visitors a year pre-Covid. It has a long and turbulent history and was a nice enough place to stroll around for a few hours in the sun playing with the cannons. It also had an old, small submarine exhibit and Steve relived some of his dim and distant past.

Steve wanders down memory lane.

After Helsinki we had a few days in hand. We had finished the cycle leg of this trip considerably earlier than we had expected and we were paying for it a little as we were both pretty tired. So we decided to go somewhere for a rest and a break from camping. We had never been to Estonia before so we boarded a ferry for the two and a half hour crossing across The Baltic Sea, booked a swanky apartment, and headed off to Tallinn for five days.

Off to Tallinn.

One thing we can say about travel is that very rarely places are as you imagine them to be. Before visiting a country you build up an image about it, driven by what you have seen, read and been told. Sometimes the image is close and sometimes it is way off the mark. Tallinn was more of the latter.

We knew there would be an Old Town and that lots of cruise ships visit but other than that we knew very little. It was an old Soviet State so maybe it was struggling to throw off that part of its past.

We loved it. One of the first things that struck us was how clean it was. Oh, and people talk to one another. The Old Town was much bigger than we expected and we spent a few afternoons wandering and exploring.

Tallinn was a pleasure to wander around.

One thing we didn’t realise was how technologically advanced Estonia is. Apparently, there are more ‘Start Up’ companies per head of population than anywhere in The World. Two in particular caught our eye, driverless buses and small robotic boxes on wheels moving around the town. At first we couldn’t work them out but after a bit of digging they turned out to be delivery robots!

“OK, I give in, what are you?”

We did another free walking tour where we learned quite a lot about Estonia and its history of invasions and the various Nations who have ruled it, until it gained independence only 31 years ago.

We spent a few days wandering around the Old Town and along the very modern looking seafront promenade which is still being developed with ultra modern apartment blocks and the beautiful city gardens.

In the evenings we relaxed in our amazing apartment in an old converted warehouse, which was possibly the best accommodation we have had this year. It even had a sauna in the bathroom. Unfortunately the weather was so good it was too hot to use for its designed purpose but Sarah did find a great use for it!

Eight loads of washing have to be dried somewhere!

On the whole we took time out, relaxed and recharged our batteries after a hectic and heavily camping loaded six weeks, and prepared for the next six weeks which is very likely to be hectic and heavily camping loaded!

So our Tale of Two Cities didn’t have any unusual incidents or funny stories. It was just sightseeing and relaxing. However, we have been saving one incident for just such an occasion (actually we forgot to include it at the time!).

We need to go back to when we were at Amsterdam airport in May. We had checked in our luggage and our bikes for the flight to Milan and were making our way to the gate. Normally we walk but on this occasion we decided to use the travelators to save our legs for the upcoming bike ride. As we travelled along, enjoying our free ride, we were admiring a series of huge aerial photographs of various locations throughout The Netherlands. We had spotted a bridge connecting a series of islands which we had driven over in the last year. How were we to know the travelator was coming to an end? Where was the warning? Sarah got there first, side on. She hit the end and then static floor, struggling to keep her balance with her legs and arms everywhere. Will she fall? Won’t she fall? must have been the question on the other passengers lips. She was just gaining her composure when Steve hit the end, grabbed hold of Sarah, and we went into some sort of crazy pirouette dancing move which would surely have achieved a ’10’ on a popular TV dance competition. Remarkably we stayed off the floor and on our feet. We regained our composure before walking on in fits of laughter. I’m sure we brightened up a few of the other passengers days!

“Mine is bigger than yours”

Old Friends and New Places.

Once we had finished our Rhine cycling trip and arrived at our car in Amsterdam, we made a quick change, loaded the bikes onto the cycle carrier, and 30 minutes after finishing one trip we were starting the next.

Our plan was to drive to the North of Germany, jump on a ferry to Sweden, then do a big loop through Sweden, Finland, Lapland Norway and Denmark before making our way back to The Netherlands for a ferry home. Oh, and we are considering a side trip to Estonia!

Before any of that though, we had a social call to make to our friends, Mark and Lisa, where we stayed for just one night in their amazing new home which is now almost fully modernised. It’s strange to think we were there at the very start when Steve nearly got stuck up the chimney!

A great place to live.

It’s a great place to live with sheep, cows and swans almost in the back garden. They cooked us dinner, we had a good catch up and in the morning we were off again. We are returning for a few days with them in September and we are all looking forward to it.

So it was back into Germany for a couple of night’s recovery. We had really pushed on for the last five days of the cycle and we were both in need of a rest. We had booked an Airbnb in the small town of Lüneburg. We had never heard of it before, but it was just over halfway to the ferry and looked OK from our research.

Luxury! Well for us anyway.

It was a nice enough town, but more like the best of a bad bunch than the jewel in the crown. We strolled around the medieval streets and had an enjoyable day doing not much at all and made a good start on our recovery.

An easy walk in Lüneburg.

Our ferry was due to depart from Rostock a Baltic Sea port at the very top of Germany, but we drove to the close by seaside town of Warnemünde which is a popular stop off point for cruise ships ploughing the Baltic route. We really quite enjoyed it and think we would have enjoyed more time there rather than in Lüneburg. It had a wide seafront promenade, a pretty town centre and a harbour area where the fishing boats had been turned into takeaways selling all sorts of things from waffles and bratwurst to fish and chips. There is obviously more money to be made selling the fish hot and battered rather than catching it cold and slippery!

“I can’t believe people are in bikinis “

Our hotel for the night was a little strange, with plenty of unusual decor and furnishings. Our room even had three tree trunks in it. It was very comfortable though and another step on the recovery road.

Room for a dozen or so in this chair.

The following morning we were up early for the ferry to Sweden. We both enjoy a ferry trip and we have done quite a few over the last 20 or so years. It can be quite a relaxed way to travel but in some countries it can be chaos.

“That looks like our ferry, better get a move on”

This crossing was definitely the former and the six hour crossing went smoothly and we spent most of the time catching up on admin and research for the future. There always seem plenty of that to do!

A little blustery.

We arrived in Sweden, a new country for both of us, to warm weather and blue skies. We had landed near Malmo in the very South West of the country and were ultimately heading for Stockholm around eight our so hours drive away. We had filled up with fuel in Germany, which was 20p per litre cheaper than Sweden. We have around 5000 miles to cover on this trip and in this day and age strategic fueling will make a bit of a difference. So we were straight out into the Swedish countryside on our way for an overnight stop in Kalmar.

The first thing we noticed was Sweden is green, very green with a never ending scene of fields and forests. The rape seed fields stand out bright yellow against the green background and the whole picture is dotted with red painted houses. It seems every house in Sweden is painted red! It all looked very pretty and tranquil.

Driving along in Sweden.

We made our campsite in good time with still five hours of daylight left. It doesn’t get dark until after 10pm and first light is not long after 3am. So we were able to pitch the tent, cook, eat and clean up after dinner and there was still plenty of time for a walk around the lake.

I think we will see lots of lakes on this trip.

After a leisurely start the next morning we hit the road to Stockholm. We both felt the tiredness was fading away and were excited about visiting the Swedish capital and had managed to find a campsite close to the city centre. We slotted into our routine of swapping drivers every hour with the non driver doing the navigating. This proved an easy task, with only a couple of roads to travel on, it felt a bit like driving back in OZ.

We stopped for lunch and arrived at the site late afternoon. We decided to start our assault on the city early the next morning which gave Steve the opportunity to get out on his bike and Sarah to start her new book. It had been a month since we left the UK and she hadn’t read a single page. It sort of indicates how busy and tired we were on the bikes.

Stockholm was totally amazing. We loved every minute of it and by the end had promised each other to definitely come back again.

Typical Stockholm
Narrow alleys all over.

We started with a free walking tour of the Old Town. These are always a great way to orientate yourself and learn a little about the city and its people and there are always a few weird and interesting facts thrown in. One thing that kept reoccurring was that Swedes like to keep things simple and straightforward. They don’t like to over complicate things. On the whole we found this to be the case and even in a country where we did not know a single word of the language, we never really struggled. Steve, however, said that they should maybe revist the IKEA concept as that is the most complicated shop on the planet. “It’s easier to get in and out of Hampton Court maze”, is his view on that one!

Changing of The Guard Swedish style.

Next, was a visit to the Royal Palace to watch the ‘Changing of The Guard’. We weren’t expecting too much, after all we have made numerous visits to London where ceremony and pageant are second to none.

We were though pleasantly surprised with the 45 minute display of marching, running, rifle swirlling and all to a horse mounted band. Not quite Buckingham Palace, but still very good.

We then did our usual thing of putting our walking shoes into action and strolled around different areas and islands of the city. Stockholm is built on 14 islands, although there are 24,000 in the whole archipelago, so plenty to keep us busy!

We came across a majestic looking church and Sarah wandered in to have a look and take a photo, only to realise she had strolled into the start of a wedding. No-one seemed to mind though, The Swedes are pretty easy going.

We had ended up quite a long way from the main hub of the city, but the public transport system is amazing. Besides the metro, buses and trams there is an excellent ferry network all covered by the same daily ticket. So we jumped on one for a harbour cruise back to town.

Out on the water.

There was no excuse in Stockholm not to put back in some of the calories we had expended on the cycle, with pastry and cake shops everywhere and a couple of refuelling stops a day were essential. Steve particularly liked the local ‘kanelbulle’, a cinnamon and cardamom flavoured pastry.

The long days can really catch you out and by the time we had made it back to the campsite it was approaching 8pm and we still had dinner to sort out. It is light at the moment here until way past 10pm.

It had been a great first day in Stockholm. More of the same tomorrow please!

We started the following day by taking advantage of the ferry system and took a boat out to one of the furthest stops. It was a great way to see the concentration of islands, large and small, some containing whole suburbs and others just a single house!

Stockholm from the water.

We used the metro to get back to town and took one or two detours to take in some of the subway art. Most of the stations have some sort of decoration but a few of them are pretty special.

Our favourite two stations.

In the afternoon we went to Djurgarden or ‘Museum Island’, as it is known. Most of the City’s museums are located here as well as a roller-coaster fairground. The choice of museums is many and varied and there were two or three we fancied seeing, including The ABBA Museum!!

We started of at The Vasa Museum and made a huge miscalculation on time. This is the most visited Museum in Sweden and is utterly brilliant. Well we both thought it was.

We loved this museum.

Essentially, The Vasa was a 17th Century warship that sunk in the harbour on its maiden voyage due to a design fault. It was eventually located and salvaged in the 1960’s and after years of searching and painstaking reconstruction it has been put back together and cleaned, and is now 98% the same ship that sank almost 400 years ago.

Amazing preservation and detail.

It is huge and impressive and the whole museum is a great experience, designed incredibly well with all sorts of films and displays. You get so close to the ship from ground level to right up above for some great views.

Unfortunately, we spent so long in The Vasa Museum our time ran out for any other museum visits. Oh well, its just another excuse to come back to Stockholm in the future.

Our final morning was spent on our bikes. We got them out and spent a few hours cycling between the City’s parks for yet another different perspective of Stockholm, before making our way to the docks to board yet another ferry. This time an overnight one to Helsinki, Finland.

Stockholm was a real big hit with us and easily ranks right up there with our favourite cities of the world. Let’s see what Helsinki has to offer.

Finland here we come!

“Have you seen my bumbag?”

Rudesheim turned out to be a lovely place to stop and have a day off the bikes. Our accommodation was right in the old town, not The Ring of Uncertainty, which was still there but much smaller. We were staying in a 400 year old house which had been tastefully decorated and was very comfortable.

Our accommodation (not the whole building)

We spent our day off by catching the cable car up to a huge statue which overlooks the Rhine and commemorates the unification of Germany in 1871. Normally we would walk up but energy preservation was becoming a priority. The views were stunning especially on a beautiful sunny day and we were both looking forward to the scenery we would encounter on the next day.

The easy way up!
The “Germania” statue.

We did walk back down to town though. The walk wound its way through vineyards as the area is famous for producing Reisling wine and it was good to stretch our legs a little.

The town itself was probably the best we have seen in Germany. It is very pretty, with some green park areas but its location right on the banks of The Rhine was the real attraction. It was obviously very popular with several river cruise ships using it as a stop off.

One of many pretty streets.

We also spent some time planning the final stretch of this trip. We still had 275 miles to go and had planned to do it in six days, five days of cycling and one final day off. We were, however, struggling with where to have the day off as nowhere was really jumping out at us. But our main issue was the weather forecast, with a significant amount of rain set to drop in five or six day’s time. After a long discussion we decided that tired legs were better than enduring wet camping and cycling, so we would push on and try and finish in four and a half days. We would average just over 60 miles a day, with already tired legs and carrying the weight, it was not going to be easy.

Time to head off after a good break.

We also had the added complication that it was a holiday weekend in both Germany and The Netherlands, so finding available campsites at the right distances presented a challenge. But after plenty of phone calls and a bit of pleading by Sarah, “We only have a really small tent and no car”, we managed to secure some places to camp.

Our first day out of Rudesheim was, as promised, pretty scenic. We entered the Rhine Gorge and for the first time since the first couple of days of the trip our view was not of flat, wide open fields and farmland. Now it was steep sided hills, with vineyards and forests.

One of several castles along the way.

The route took us along a wide cycle path of varying quality, sometimes perfectly smooth, but sometimes a bit of a boneshaker and Steve could hear Sarah cursing behind whenever we hit an uneven patch! The main thing though, it was perfectly flat and hugged the river for the first 40 miles. With a castle perched at what seemed like every curve of the river and numerous pretty villages to pass through, the time flew by. We were also spoilt for choice when it came to places to stop and flash up the stove for a coffee!

A classic Rhine scene.

Our easy, scenic ride came to an abrupt end as we exited the gorge and entered the city of Koblenz. Cities are invariably difficult on bikes with navigation issues, traffic lights, traffic, pedestrians etc, which all add up to slow progress. It is also more tiring. Steve compared his bike to a heavily laden truck, in that it takes a lot of effort to get it going from a standing start, plenty of time to slow it down and needing a lot of space in which to turn it.

We battled through Koblenz and emerged on the other side, unscathed. One more stop for a drink and we rolled into our campsite after 66 miles of ever changing scenery.

Not too busy yet!

The site was right next to a spa and thermal pool, which sounded very tempting. But we were tired, hungry and it was also getting cold, so we decided against it. Nothing stops the Germans in this department though and they are well know for their love of naturism. While we were eating dinner a man appeared on the terrace of the spa in all his glory. “That reminds me”, said Sarah “I must have a bratwurst on this trip!”

The next morning we were up and away early. We had another long day ahead and were expecting it to be our hardest yet as, due to our new schedule, we had to negotiate three major cities, Bonn, Cologne and Dusseldorf. It was a cold morning but we were up for the challenge as we boarded a ferry to cross back to the West Side of the river.

Catching the morning ferry.

There aren’t too many bridges across the river outside of the big cities. Many of them were bombed during WWII. However a network of small ferries has sprung up carrying cars, cycles and pedestrians from one side to the other for a small fee. We have used them a few times and found them incredibly handy.

All that remains of the Remagen bridge.

In short we made great progress through all three cities. The cycle network was extensive, well maintained and hugged the river fairly well all the way. We had no major navigational errors and, in fact, had to take a detour into Cologne to see the impressive gothic Cathedral where we had lunch.

The areas between the cities was big industry. This is one of the big industrial areas of one of the big World economies. Chemical plants, motor manufacturing and oil refineries are on a big scale. Some of the sites were several kilometres long and made for a different vista than the previous morning.

Miles of industrial sites.

After clearing Dusseldorf we were back on a cycle path next to the river, in green fields with the smoking chimneys behind us. With another 73 miles completed, the legs a little more tired, and the finish another day closer, we pulled into a fantastic campsite, once more right on the river. After a great warm shower, we set about cooking dinner in the warm evening sun, feeling quite pleased with the last couple of days. We had cycled 139 miles in two days, the furthest Sarah had completed in that time, with or without panniers.

That won’t last long.
“No, I can’t wait”

It was now time to turn West as The Rhine headed towards The Netherlands. After the previous two contrasting days, this was a little boring as we made our way through rural Germany. The cycle paths, however, were excellent but for the first time in what seemed like ages we had a bit of a tail wind.

The evening’s accommodation had been the most difficult to secure. Saturday, on a Holiday weekend, at the beginning of summer was never going to be easy. Sarah found a Bed and Breakfast place right on the Dutch border that also had camping in their orchard so that’s where we pulled in.

How should we describe it? Let’s go with rustic! Essentially it was a small holding with pigs, chickens and a donkey, alongside the most uneven small orchard ever.

Camping buddies.

Sarah went to pay the owner while Steve looked for a flatish area to pitch the tent. He was still surveying the Himalayas when Sarah returned with a sort of quizzical smile on her face. “The woman said we can sleep in the dining area of the B&B as long as we are gone by 8.30 when the guests have breakfast”. “How weird”, thought Steve, “But it has to be better than sleeping on Krakatoa!”

We made our way to the B&B building only to be met by the woman who had an even better plan. Now we were to sleep in the hallway upstairs outside a room that was empty that night. We blew up our airbeds and unpacked a few things, when the woman emerged yet again, this time with bad news!! Apparently her husband had rented out the room without her knowledge and the occupants had just arrived. The woman was insistent that we should not move and luckily the occupants were a couple of Dutch cyclists on a four day trip. They were not concerned at all by us sleeping outside their room. In fact, they pulled up a chair from their room and we sat chatting until almost midnight!

We do stay in some strange places.

The following morning with no tent to pack we were away early and laughed out loud at our strange night’s accommodation. “It was essentially BYO B&B”, said Steve. “Bring your own bed and bring your own breakfast”.

Back in The Netherlands.

Our final full day of cycling was back in The Netherlands. Cycling is massive there and it seems that every single person has a bike. The cycle network is essentially a road network with similar rules and regulations. It is very busy around towns and cities, and everyone seems to know what they are doing. Everyone that is except the two crazy English touring cyclists!

Between the towns and cities it was pretty straightforward with plenty of time to think ahead. But when it got busy, especially in the centre of Utrecht, we have to admit there were times we just closed our eyes and hoped for the best. We emerged unscathed, although we did hear lots of shouting behind us a couple of times, but who knows what that was all about?

A Dutch road block

We made our final night’s camping at the same campsite we had stayed on three weeks before and it was another beautiful evening with the sun setting at almost 10pm and staying fairly warm until not long before.

Our last evening on this trip.

The following morning we emerged from the tent at 6.30am, both of us excited about the prospect of it being the last day and a short one at that.

“Can you pass me my bumbag out of the tent”, Steve asked as he got dressed. “It’s not in here”, came the reply …. Panic hit!

To cut a long story short, Steve carries the passports and bank cards in a bumbag. He always has it. For four years it’s been part of him everyday. It’s not the most fashionable item and he sometimes gets annoyed with it. But it’s worked well ….. up until now.

He had gone to the toilet at 10pm the night before, hung it on the toilet door and, probably because he was so tired, he forgot it. When he went back in the morning it was gone!!!

Hardly any of the other campers were awake and no-one had handed it into reception. It was only a smallish campsite, maybe 50 or so pitches, so we decided to wait and speak to everyone in the hope someone had taken it for safe keeping.

While we waited we started to prepare for the worst and could only see a mountain of issues and complications and changed plans ahead.

We positioned ourselves by the shower block and one by one the other campers came and went with no bumbag. After an hour of waiting we were giving up hope when Steve spotted a man walking towards us swinging a black bag. His hopes were lifted but then he thought, “No, it looks like his wash bag”. However, as he got closer he realised it was his bumbag!! He gave the man a huge hug and thanked him a thousand times and we set off on the bikes with our plans still on track.

The morning was spent mostly in a state of relief as we moved away from The Rhine and towards Amsterdam Airport where our car had been parked 19 days before. Our attention was brought back into focus as the roar of jet engines overhead signalled our proximity to the airport. After almost 900 miles in 16 days of cycling and way ahead of schedule we rolled into the car park. Another long distance cycle was completed, and we were both shattered!

Back at last. Now what’s next!

We made a quick change in the car park, loaded the bikes onto the car, and set off to our friends, Mark and Lisa, for a quick visit.

“STOP”, shouted Sarah, as we approached the barrier!! “Have you got your bumbag” 🙂

The Ring of Uncertainty.

Bad Säckingen turned out to be ‘Sort of alright Säckingen’. We have noticed that lots of German towns and villages (even the really pretty ones) have an Old Town which have remained, to a certain extent, intact. Then around this area the town has expanded out in the modern world, with housing and services to supply the people who work or live there. This is pretty much what happens everywhere all over The World. But we have noticed that in some areas of Europe particularly in France, Spain and Italy, there is a definite open space between old and new. This is especially the case in Andalucia and The Luberon. In Germany, the ring around the old town is, how can we put it?…. a ring of uncertainty! You just have to be that little bit more aware of your surroundings.

In Bad Säckingen our apartment was in the ‘ring of uncertainty’. The block didn’t look anything special at all but the apartment itself was lovely with a comfy bed, comfy sofa, comfy everything. It was just what we needed for two nights of good rest and a full day off the bikes!

Outside of the apartment block.
Inside was great!

We had never heard of Bad Säckingen before and only chose it because of the impending rain that was forecast. Over the years we have almost become amateur meteorologists. We regularly monitor weather patterns and various international and local websites to make adjustments to our trips. Most places have an optimum time to visit in order to do the things you want to do. As a basic example, you wouldn’t go to The French Alps for the best skiing in July, you would go hiking or mountain biking instead!

During our trips we also hold back or push on when depending on the weather, especially when rain is predominantly in the forecast. Which brings us back to Bad Säckingen. Heavy rain was forecast and we did not want to cycle or camp in it, so a day off was needed and Bad Sack seemed as good a place as any.

Back in Germany after a short walk to Switzerland.

We woke up on our day off to heavy, steely grey skies, but no rain. So we decided to see what the place had to offer. We threaded our way through the ‘ring of uncertainty’, passed a few drunks, along some less than sweet smelling alleys and under some graffiti decorated subways, to emerge in a pretty German medieval town.

The Rhine at Bad Säckingen

It had a large central square, occupied by a church, lots of cobbled streets that twisted and turned at all sorts of angles, and a long covered wooden bridge that stretched across The Rhine to Switzerland.

It was a pretty but not amazing town. We stopped for a coffee and Steve sat at a table outside while Sarah went to order. Then out of nowhere a huge gust of wind blew through the street taking chairs and advertising boards with it. This was followed by a crack of thunder and an absolute downpour as if someone had just ripped open the clouds. Within seconds the street was a river. The woman running the coffee shop was frantically trying to get everything inside so we jumped in to help. The woman was genuinely surprised at our efforts, so much so that she gave us a small sticky waffle for our trouble. “Don’t tell anyone about this”, said Steve “We are not on a working visa!”

We watched as the rain turned to hailstones and the sky turned almost black. We laughed at how it would have been cycling along in the deluge. “A good call I think”, said Sarah.

The rain eased but continued lighter and we made our way back through ‘the ring of uncertainty’ to our lovely, dry apartment and enjoyed the rest of our day off.

The following day was planned to be our longest day of cycling on this trip, 72 miles, so we were up early and ready for the off. Unfortunately, as Steve prepared the bikes he noticed Sarah’s back tyre was quite soft and further investigation revealed a slow puncture. But with a quick change of inner tube we were soon on our way.

The weather front had passed but had left behind some cloudy skies and colder temperatures. But after a few small hills we soon warmed up and were flying along the Rhine towards the city of Basel.

The main square in Basel….not too exciting!

Today was to be another one of those ‘three countries in a few hours’ day. We crossed into Switzerland along the wooden bridge we had seen the day before, then we navigated through Basel and turned North and into France.

We decided to leave the path along The Rhine and hit some of the rural French roads which are nearly always great for cycling, and we weren’t disappointed, so we made some great progress. Sarah spotted a tabac and patisserie in a small village. We stopped and she emerged with two take-out coffees and a couple of amazing fresh croissants and sat on a wall to devour them in seconds. Getting calories was always high on the agenda.

“Feed me”
“And me”

The day moved on and so did the clouds. As we arrived at our destination in Colmar the sun was out, it was hot, and we pitched our tent in a great spot at a campsite by the river.

This is more like it!

Colmar was one of the places Steve had wanted to visit on this trip so we had decided to take the following day off in order to see it.

Pretty Colmar…..
….with interesting public toilets!

This turned out to be a good decision. Colmar is beautiful and we had a sunny day on which to explore it. The town and the surrounding villages are said to be the inspiration for the Beauty and the Beast story. It is real fairytale stuff with half timbered, crooked, colourful buildings and narrow cobbled streets. A picture postcard at each corner. It is very popular and busy with its fair share of cafes, bars, restaurants and tourists shops, but definitely worth the visit.

A great view at every turn….
…well, almost!

Our next day was one of ease of navigation. We left the campsite, crossed a road and joined a cycle path which ran straight for about 15 miles. The path then turned left and ran along the side of the Rhine Grand Canal for about 35 miles, straight, straight, straight until it popped us out right in the centre of the city of Strasbourg.

The route was far from boring with changing scenery along the way and plenty of activity on the canal. Cyclists, anglers, day cruisers, transport barges, house boats and even a ‘stag’ party!

The Rhine Grand Canal.

We made a quick stop at the impressive gothic Cathedral which is impossible to photograph completely because of its size and location amongst tightly packed streets. Then we crossed back over The Rhine into Germany and to the adjoining city of Kehl for another night under canvas.

It does have a top.

The next two days were almost identical to one another. We followed the route along the Rhine and passed through one non-descript German village after another. At one point it felt like we had gone in a big circle as the villages were so similar. We also found it very quiet, almost eerily so. It was the weekend and many places were closed. As we passed a couple of villages we saw almost no-one. So for a couple of days we just put our heads down and got through the miles.

I have no idea where we are?

The campsites were also nothing special. However, on one of them we did bump into a lovely South African couple who now live in The Netherlands and were cycling in the opposite direction to ourselves. We shared a picnic table for cooking and eating dinner and spent a couple of hours chatting and exchanging travel stories. It’s great to have these chance meetings with people with a similar outlook to ourselves. They invited us to stay with them at the end of our cycle but I just don’t think we can make it fit, which is a shame because we did share a few laughs with them.

No. We are not at a festival!

The miles rolled by and we slowly edged closer to our next day off which was to be in the town of Rudesheim. Rudesheim has a big reputation and is also at the start of the Rhine Gorge, which for many is apparently the most scenic part of the trip. “I wonder if we will be staying in The Ring of Uncertainty”, thought Steve, as we cycled into town.

Gas, Gas, Gas!!

After our amazing train journey to the top of The Oberalp Pass we stepped out into cool temperatures and a landscape still covered with large areas of snow yet to melt. It looked a lot colder from the train than it actually was and shorts and a cycling jacket were all that were needed.

The start of a long ride.
“I hope it warms up from here”

It was a beautiful sunny day and after the obligatory photo shoot at the “Oberalp” sign and the lighthouse which has been placed there to mark the Source of The Rhine (Yes! Lighthouse) we started our journey of around 900 miles along the river.

“I have no idea”

We were up at around 7000 feet so the only way was down. Steve has cycled many times in The Alps and is used to the switchback descents. But for Sarah it was a first and it was made even more difficult by the weight we were carrying. A slow and steady start soon began to gather momentum as the severity of the switchbacks became less and less. Our speed began to increase and before long we were hurtling down the mountain at speeds approaching 50 mph! “It’s a good job we fitted new brake pads for this trip”, screamed Sarah!!

The scenery was great.

The views were unbelievable. Snow capped mountains, blue sky, lush green fields and meadows full of wild flowers. Add into the mix a splattering of Swiss style houses and it made a picture perfect scene. We were loving it.

Eventually the gradient became less and less and we found ourselves cycling along the valley floor in the same scene as before but viewing it from a different angle, the bottom rather than the top.

A view from the cockpit!

We moved on through villages and open meadows towards our campsite close to the town of Chur, the oldest town in Switzerland. We rounded a corner and were faced with a hill …. going up! We knew the hill was there, but we hadn’t expected it to be so long and steep. It was like someone had given us a grand piano to carry. On top of this, Sarah had been struggling with a chest infection for a couple of weeks which just wouldn’t go away. In fact, we had had some serious discussions in Belgium and The Netherlands as to whether we should abandon the trip or not, but she decided to give it a go.

“How much longer is this hill”?

Everso slowly we moved up the hill, hoping the next bend would be the last only to find the asphalt stretching on and up again. The clock ticked on and the sun started to drop and the bends kept coming. We stopped at a garage to buy some drinks and have a brief respite before plodding on again. Eventually after what seemed an eternity the top came into view. We cycled over and freewheeled the four miles down to the campsite.

The tent was up in a flash and after a shower and cooking some food at the great camp kitchen, we sank into our sleeping bags and slept like babies. It had been an incredibly long day. Starting in Italy, then the train journey into The Alps and the cycle to the campsite. Sarah had done amazing to get through it.

The next morning we emerged to another beautiful day and only then realised what a scenic spot we had been camping at. We were tired but eager to press on and Sarah said she was feeling a little better each day.

We picked up The Rhine again after passing through the town of Chur and it was now starting to look like a big old river. We had seen it grow the previous day from a fast flowing stream as at propelled down the mountain looking milky blue and glacial. It was now becoming slower and wider but still had a glacial look about it.

A thumbs up is always a good sign.

We followed it almost all of the day travelling along lovely wide asphalt paths. We saw occasional day cyclists and the odd dog walker, but essentially we had the route almost to ourselves. We enjoyed the odd glance behind us to see the snow capped mountains slowly shrinking in the distance and appreciated the hot weather which had replaced the cold chill.

Steve looks back to the start.

At one point we crossed the river via an old covered wooden bridge and found ourselves cycling into the small principality of Lichtenstein. It reminded us a little of Monaco. Everyone looked wealthy and the main square was surrounded by high-end fashion shops and every major watch maker we had heard of. We sat in the small main square and watched the World go by eating our sandwiches and soaking up the sun.

Not your normal border crossing.

After leaving Lichtenstein we found ourselves at the border of three countries where the small Principality ran into both Austria and Switzerland. We followed the Rhine North East into Austria and on to our next campsite.

We had arrived in plenty of time so we had a walk to the local supermarket, bought some ingredients for a small feast, and headed back to cook. Steve got out our stoves and gas. “NOOOOO”, he screamed, as if the world was ending! “What’s happened”, cried Sarah as she rushed to help. “I bought the wrong canisters in Italy. They don’t fit our burners”. Thankfully it isn’t often that we make silly mistakes but when we do it hurts. Neither of us could be bothered to go back into town and find a restaurant. So with no cooking facilities available on the site our feast became a snack of a couple of brioche buns dipped in yoghurt!

The next day we set off in search of gas, hungrier than two ticks on a teddybear. We made our way to where the Rhine enters Lake Constance in the town of Bregenz. We found a sports and camping store and bought the last four canisters. “This will see us through a couple of weeks but we will need more”, said Steve. “Getting this type of canister in Europe looks a bit of an issue”. Sarah then raided the Aldi store and bought enough croissants and wraps to fill an army!

A full stomach and opera in the background.

Bregenz is famous for opera. They have a festival there each year at an open air theatre right on the lake. They were in the process of building this year’s set for Madame Butterfly. There were photos around from previous years and the sets look out of this World.

After our monster lunch, we followed Lake Constance around its North shore and into Germany. It is absolutely beautiful and has a wide promenade, full of activity, and the miles rolled past as we watched the ever changing scene in front of us. When there was nothing to see on the promenade there was always the lake to admire.

We arrived in Freidrichshafen in early afternoon. We had found a lovely little hotel on the outskirts of town, costing not much more than a campsite on the lake, and as it was Sarah’s birthday the following day we took the opportunity to eat out at the pizza place opposite. Beer and pizza …. so much better than brioche and yogurt!

Thats more like it!

Sarah woke up on her birthday in a comfy bed, but there was no day off from the bike. Steve pointed out that we had spent the last seven nights in seven different countries, which is something we probably will never do again.

“Happy Birthday to you”

We headed off, back along Lake Constance, and followed The Rhine out to The West and back into Switzerland. The route was a little more difficult to follow and at times moved away from the river and into forests along gravel tracks. These were slower going and harder on the bikes and us! But the different scenery helped the miles pass by. We also stopped for coffee and apple strudel in the fairytale setting that is the town of Stein am Rhein

The incredibly pretty Stein am Rhein

We finished the day back down alongside the river on a gloriously sunny afternoon as we pitched up close to the scenic town of Schaffhausen. We were next to a couple from Australia who were on a six month tour of Europe. We swapped stories of OZ and Europe and it was strange to have a long conversation in English!

Swan Lake.

The next day was our sixth straight day in the saddle and we had a rest day planned for the day after. We had also booked a small Airbnb for a couple of nights. So we made our way along the river talking about how much we were looking forward to a day of rest and wander around the medieval town of Bad Säckingen. Let’s hope it turns out to be “Good Säckingen!”

Steve with gas canisters that actually fit!

Country after Country after Country!

It seems like a long time has passed since we last embarked on a long distance cycle ride. October 2019 to be precise, when we finished our trip down the Pacific Coast of The USA from Canada to Mexico. Since then we had spoken a few times about planning to do another one and now seemed as good a time as any.

We packed up our car, a different one to normal. Our old Mercedes had finally given up the ghost, not only electrically but also mechanically. We had hoped to get one more trip out of it but with the number of issues it had, and the difficulties in obtaining some parts, it became too much of a risk to drive long distances and too expensive to repair.

Loads of space!

We were taking the new car (well, new to us) and leaving it in Amsterdam as we plan to go straight on to another adventure immediately after this one. So we crossed The Channel by ferry, drove a little through France and made our first night stop in Ypres, Belgium.

The Menin Gate at Ypres

We were hoping to get to Ypres by 8pm in order to witness The Last Post at The Menin Gate. This is an impressive memorial in the town to the fallen soldiers who were killed in the area during World War One and never received a burial. Thousands and thousands of names of British, Australian, Canadian, South African and Indian soldiers are inscribed on the walls of the memorial. Every evening since the memorial was built in 1928 a bugler has played The Last Post at exactly 8pm. The only time this was interrupted was during the German occupation in WWII, when the ceremony was instead conducted at Brockwood Military Cemetery in The UK.

All sizes of buglers are available.

We were surprised at the number of people who came to witness it and a number of wreathes were laid. It is a moving ceremony and made even more poignant as The Last Post was played at Sarah’s father’s funeral earlier this year.

It is an impressive memorial.

After spending a comfortable night in our new ‘two man’ blackout tent we were on the road early the next morning across the border to Utrecht in The Netherlands. Our Dutch friends, Mark and Lisa, recommended it, describing it as “a mini Amsterdam”.

It definitely has an Amsterdam feel.

They were exactly right. Canals, cyclists, ‘Coffee Shops’ and similar architecture. We spent a relaxing afternoon meandering alongside the canals and drinking coffee.

After another night under canvas we embarked on what we knew would be two long and logistically difficult days.

Camping on a farm near Utrecht.

Firstly, we drove to Amsterdam Airport, parked up the car and left with our bikes in boxes and our luggage in panniers to board an early afternoon flight to Milan. It is never easy moving to and through an airport carrying bikes and luggage. There is a lot of lifting, maneuvering, cursing and getting in people’s way. By the time we were sitting down on the plane we were already feeling we had had a long day.

The source of The Rhine is way up high in The Alps, 7000 feet high! There are a few options to get there but the only realistic way for us with all the weight we are carrying was to arrive by train. Steve had mentioned the idea of cycling, however, he had only just started his ‘pitch’ before Sarah well and truly ended it for him. “If I have to cycle over 800 miles carrying this weight, I’m not starting with a 7000 foot mountain”. To be fair, Steve agreed!

We arrived at Milan Airport with luggage and bikes intact and set about assembling them in the arrivals hall. We were under a bit of time pressure as we had to cycle over 30 miles to our Airbnb before sunset at 9pm and we needed to make a small detour to pick up some camping gas at a Decathlon store on the outskirts of the city. We provided some intriguing entertainment for people who were waiting for arriving passengers and there was a sense of disappointment as their family or friends arrived before they were able to see the finished article.

Steve hard at work in ‘Arrivals’

We managed to get the bikes together and loaded securely and by 6pm we were out of the airport and rolling. Normally we would have covered the distance easily, but Steve hadn’t been on his bike at all in Central America and Sarah hadn’t been on hers much since she got off it at the Mexican border with sore everything in 2019! Also the panniers and camping equipment seemed much heavier than last time. Or are we just three years older?

We arrived at Decathlon and Steve rushed in and out to buy gas and we moved on again. It was a beautiful sunny evening as we wound our way up and down through rural Italian villages, with tight streets, sometimes cobbled. Normally it would have been an enjoyable route but all we really wanted was a long, straight, flat road to our destination.

We watched the sun drop lower and lower in the sky, the light started to ebb away and a chill appeared in the air as we cycled through the forest. Steve pushed on and Sarah stuck to his wheel. “Here we go again”, she thought, “Day one and it’s already a pain fest”.

We emerged from the forest, entered a small village and Steve took a sharp turn off a roundabout and at 9.03pm came to a stop outside the Airbnb!

We shovelled some microwave food into our mouths, had a lovely shower and collapsed into a comfy bed. “Were we really on a campsite in Utrecht in The Netherlands this morning?”.

The following morning we were up early and back on the bikes. It was going to be another long day. It started with a 30 minute cycle across the border into Switzerland where Sarah bought us some train tickets to the top of the Oberalp Pass, the source of The Rhine. “We have to catch four trains with some tight connections”, she said with a worried look.

Settling down on the train. (Thanks for all the cycling kit Mark!)

The first train arrived with true Swiss precision, on time, to the second. There was space for the bikes and straps to secure them. The train was modern, clean and comfortable and we settled down to enjoy the spectacular scenery.

Train number two arrived and departed with similar comfort and efficiency. Then things started to go wrong. A freight train had broken down and was blocking the line and the train we were on was returning to where it had started. We made the decision to get off in the small village where we had stopped and sit it out until the line was cleared and another train came along. We managed to get a baguette and some ham from the only shop in the village and sat on the deserted platform with our crudely made sandwiches.

Alone on a deserted platform.

An hour came and went and we were just starting to formulate plan “B” when a beautiful sleek looking train came into view. Luckily the line had been cleared and our journey continued, albeit an hour and a bit behind schedule. We then had a stroke of luck when the guard came to check our tickets. She was nothing short of amazing. We got chatting and she was intrigued with our story. She sat down and made herself comfortable. It turned out she was a tour guide before Covid and had to switch jobs to pay the bills. She obviously missed it and was just waiting for tourism to fully return before going back to it. She gave us an hour long commentary as we passed lakes and mountains and bridges and tunnels which were engineering marvels. She also gave us specific and precise directions as to how to cross the platforms and make our very tight connection to the next train. We followed them exactly and made it onto the train as the doors closed and we moved away. We saw several others who weren’t so lucky and were faced with an hours wait before the next train would arrive!

Sarah takes in the view.
The views were pretty special.

Our third train really started to make progress high into the Alps. So much so that we had to physically hang onto the bikes to stop the rolling back, it was that steep. The scenery though was becoming more and more impressive and with the fourth and final train it was even more so. This one was designed with skiers in mind with very few seats and hanging hooks for skis. This time we met a guard who gave Steve an update on the current Giro D’Italia cycle race. The train guards in Switzerland are super friendly.

Plenty of space for the bikes.

Eventually we reached the end of the line and stepped off into cooler, thinner air with plenty of snow on the ground. We were at Oberalp pass, the start of The Rhine and the beginning of our long journey back to Amsterdam. We had landed in Calais at 2pm on Sunday and it was now 2pm on Wednesday. “Have we really only been in Europe for three days”, said Steve. “Yep” said Sarah, “and we are in Country number FIVE”!!

There is a chill up here.

Coffee, Crocs and Crazy Buses.

So we found ourselves in Panama. We didn’t expect to get this far on this trip but it did seem to have a couple of places worth visiting. The town of David was certainly not one of them! It is, however, a good hub with a well connected bus station.

Waiting at the bus station in David.

So that was our first stop and after asking a few locals we were soon on a bus heading for the mountain town of Boquete. We have learned that if you have a question, about anything really, that it is essential to ask several different people and then take the most popular answer as it is very rarely that they are all the same! The other thing we are learning is that every bus ride in Panama is accompanied by constant, loud music of the driver’s choice! Which is OK if it’s your sort of music or you are just riding two stops down the road, but several hours of ‘Panama’s Greatest Techno Hits’ soon goes from being unbearable to torturous. Earplugs have become a travel essential and we have no idea how people sleep through it.

As soon as we got off the bus in Boquete we knew we would like it. It was quiet for a start. It was also quite a pretty looking town and at an altitude of about 5000 feet, it was fresher and cooler. We had been in the heat and humidity for quite a few weeks now so this was a refreshing change.

Boquete was in a lovely location.

The town is guarded over by another huge volcano, but unlike the perfectly looking one in Arenal, Volcan Baru looked just like the other mountains which surrounded the town. However, the pull of these slopes is that it is perfect for growing coffee and the area is littered with small coffee growing farms. One type of coffee bean in particular grows very well here and in the ‘World of coffee’ the Geisha bean is apparently very exclusive, ‘the Champagne of coffee’, some say. We did some research and found it regularly wins top coffee awards and in Dubai sells for upwards of $60 a cup!

We both like a cup of coffee so we decided to go on a coffee farm tasting tour. We were picked up from our accommodation by our great guide who told us there had been 13 on the tour the previous day, which was about normal, but for some reason that day we were the only two!

Sarah with the coffee beans.

We had a lovely walk around the farm, accompanied by the family avocado eating dog. We learnt so much about the coffee growing and roasting, as well as all the other fruit which was grown on the farm. We then had a tasting session of different types of coffee including the Geisha variety which we both put towards the bottom of our preferences.

The expert at work.

There were several coffee tour options available but we chose this one as at seemed more about sustainability and was also involved with coffee related projects in indigenous communities within Panama.

During the coffee harvest workers come to the region from indigenous communities for the seasonal work and are sometimes paid less than US$1 a day. They are also housed in some pretty poor accommodation, even by Panama standards, where rural housing is less than basic to start with. In fact, we actually thought the workers housing on some farms was the stabling for the horses! It reminded us of our Nicaraguan border experience……. One day we will write a retrospective post on that one!

On another day in Boquete we enjoyed an all day hike, high in the mountains. The trail was supposed to be one of the best locations in Panama to see the very elusive Quetzel bird. These birds are said by some to be one of the most beautiful in the World. We were lucky enough to see one in flight but from a distance in Monteverde so we were hopeful on this trail we would get up close enough for a good photo. It was after all mating season when they are at their most active.

There must be a Quetzal around here somewhere.

Umm.. best place in Panama, middle of the mating season, and five hours of walking. How many Quetzels did we see?……. zero, not even a feather! It was, however, an excellent scenic walk and we did see monkeys and a snake. So all was not lost.

After Boquete we decided we would head for some beach time as most of the last month we have been surrounded by hills and forests and we do like our time by the sea.

Bocas del Toro is one of the more accessible beach destinations in Panama but from Boquete it was still five hours, on two different buses, a short taxi ride, and a thirty minute water taxi. So it was still a long day.

The second bus of the day took us almost the whole way across the width of the country. We had to cross a mountain range in the middle, over which the road twisted and turned and the surface varied from smooth tarmac (not a lot) to pot hole ridden dirt (more than was comfortable). The scenery, however, was spectacular and was almost enough to make you forget about the blaring music and rough surface. Almost but not quite!

Steve gets close up with the locals!

After arriving at the water taxi port area, shaken but not stirred, we commenced our relaxed trip out to Bocas town. Well that is how it started out, however, two minutes into the trip and the driver engaged every horse power he could find. The front of the boat lifted way out of the water and we were soon skimming across the Caribbean Sea at a ridiculous pace. “At least he isn’t playing any music”, shouted Steve. “Maybe he is”, screamed Sarah. “We just can’t hear it”.

Steve in the water taxi.

Bocas del Toro is a group of islands just off the Panamanian coast in the Caribbean. It has a definite Caribbean vibe and the locals all speak Spanish with a strong Caribbean accent. There are water taxis connecting the different islands. Some of them are home to bigger style resorts, but Bocas Town (on the main island) is 100% backpacker land. Our accommodation was on the edge of town. It was a bit rough around the edges, with a few floorboards that needed resecuring, somethings worked, somethings didn’t, but it would do us for a few days and besides we had booked a ‘real’ hotel in Panama City for our next stop.

Arriving in Bocas Town.

We stayed on the main island on our first day and took a bus to the very north, about 45 minutes away, where we could access Starfish beach, which was reportedly one of the best beaches in the whole archipelago. It was awful!

At low tide the beach was at best 10 meters wide with compacted grey sand. Over half the beach had been taken over by ramshackle food and drink stalls, leaving virtually no usable beach. The whole scene looked like some building sites we have seen on this trip. Added to this, there were jet skis prowling the water’s edge with the drivers shouting out for potential customers for the inflatable tyres and bananas they were towing along.

Needless to say we didn’t hang around too long and made our way straight back to the bus stop for a return journey to Bocas Town where we boarded the bus with the worst music yet. It felt like a one minute repeat of the same music and played at a deafening level. Plus, the interior of the bus was decorated in bright green fabric. After 30 minutes we couldn’t stand it anymore so we got off the ‘Torture Bus’ and walked back to town instead. Our first day in Bocas had not been a success and we were struggling to work out what all the hype, that we had read and heard, was all about.

Inside “The Torture Bus”

Thankfully, the next day things improved when we took a water taxi to another island to visit Red Frog Beach. So called because there are apparently tiny red poisonous dart frogs that live near the beach. The beach wasn’t amazing but a definite improvement on the previous day. No one seemed interested in looking for the frogs, no one that is except Sarah who walked off into the rainforest at the end of the beach in search of small amphibians. Steve obviously had to follow for fear of missing out.

Unbelievably Sarah found four of them in the thick vegetation and the biggest was less than size of a thumb nail. They are apparently a little dangerous so we were careful not to touch them.

He looks a lot bigger in close up.

We spent the rest of the day laying on the beach and enjoying a dip in the warm water. It was probably back in Escondido, in Mexico, when we last spent so much time on the beach.

Ahhh. Back in the water!

The following day we hired a couple of dilapidated beach cruiser bikes and headed up the coast to Bluff Beach. It was an enjoyable ride, the road hugging the sea most of the way.

“You will be back on your own bike soon enough”

Bluff Beach was in our opinion easily the best of the three beaches we had seen. It reminded us very much of some of the beaches in Australia’s Far North Queensland where we have spent many happy times.

That’s more like it!

Bocas del Toro grew on us during the time we were there and we got back in the water taxi to leave feeling glad we had made the effort to get there. We made our way back on the ‘fun bus’ across the corkscrew road, back to the city of David, for a one night stop before we embarked on five days of luxury (for us anyway).

We were heading to Panama City, an eight hour (£15) bus journey away, or a one hour (£55) flight away. We decided that the cost to comfort ratio swung in favour of the flight on this occasion so we left our hotel in David and turned in the direction of the airport.

In what seemed like no time at all we were on a bus heading into the cosmopolitan capital city of Panama (we had to fit a bus in somewhere on the journey!).

In terms of modern architecture, infrastructure and general facilities, Panama City is way, way, way in front of everywhere else in Central America and it’s high-rise skyline is reminiscent of some of the great skylines of the World. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Hong Kong of Latin America’. This modern city is a complete contrast to the rest of the country.

The Panama City skyline………and Sarah.

There are, however, constant reminders that you are still in Central America and the poverty is still there if you look, but it definitely has a different feel to anywhere else we have been on this trip.

This was our ‘treat time’ and our hotel was easily the best we have stayed in, not only on this trip but also since we finished work and for several years before that as well. Initially we felt a little out of place especially when we marched in with rucsacks on our front and backs, and clothes we had been wearing for a few days. There is a line from a James Bond film which amused us once and we employed it to good effect. “We are teachers on sabatical and we have won the lottery”.

“I think we might enjoy this”

Once again we put on our trainers and walked a good part of the city. We found a four kilometre cycle and walking path which followed the curve of the bay. It was a lovely walk with well kept gardens and was completely flat, which was an added bonus as it was very hot and humid, so we appreciated the lack of hills.

The path eventually led to the neighbourhood of Casa Viejo which was, at one time, one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the city. But it has been undergoing a complete transformation which looks 75% complete, but then most things in Central America look 75% complete…… at best!

The old……

To be fair Casa Viejo is beautiful. The majority of the buildings have been expertly restored and look immaculate. Some have a look of Raffles, the famous hotel in Singapore, about them. There are still the odd buildings in a state of ruin but you can see that in a few years time this will be a standout place in the region.

……and the new.

As we walked back through the city we crossed some small bridges over storm drains. As we crossed one of them Steve stopped dead in his tracks. “Look at that, am I seeing things?”, he asked. There basking in the sun only a few metres away was a huge crocodile. It was between three and four metres long and just looking around. It could easily have made it’s way up to where we were standing and continued on to Main Street, Panama City. Apparently it is quite unusual to see them there (in the storm drain not Main Street!).

A city croc.
He was quite a decent size.

On another day in Panama City we caught the subway and a bus out to the Panama Canal. We were lucky enough to pass through it 10 years ago so it was good to also see it from land side. Unfortunately, no ships were in the lock during our visit but it is still impressive to see and there is a small museum which shows the history of its construction and transition to Panama ownership in the year 2000. It goes a long way to explain the boom in wealth and construction the country has seen since then.

One of the locks at The Panama Canal.

The canal splits The Americas in two. The Trans America Highway, or Highway 1, runs all the way in various forms from Alaska, through Canada and The USA, Central America, and all the way to Ushuaia at the very tip of South America. It is a continuous road except for one small section. That section is just East of the Panama Canal leading to the Columbian Border. This area is known as ‘The Darien Gap’, a heavily forested area inhabited by drug cartels and Panamanian and Columbian rebel forces. Outside of war zones it is widely accepted as the most dangerous place on the planet. Access is strictly controlled by military checkpoints but it is possible to apply for permits to enter parts of it with an official guide. We decided not to bother and headed back to our luxury hotel to sit by the pool!

Our relaxing time in Panama City was over far too quickly and it was time to pack up the rucsacks and check out. Lottery winnings spent!

We now have two weeks to get back to Mexico for our flight home, so we have more crazy Panamanian buses to look forward to!

“Maybe we really should buy a lottery ticket”, said Sarah, as we walked out of the hotel into the mayhem!

Another Day Another Border.

On trips like the one we are doing now border crossings are a big part so we thought we would throw in an extra post specifically on this subject.

When we first looked at doing this trip the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was well and truly on the rise. Some countries around the World were re-establishing restrictions, while others were keeping restrictions in place that had been planned to be removed.

We were looking for somewhere interesting and warm to escape the European winter and Costa Rica had been our initial thought with travel still allowed for vaccinated travellers. However, as beautiful as Costa Rica is, we were concerned a country the size of Switzerland might not hold us for over three months so Mexico was added to the trip. Then a couple of weeks before we left we had the idea of adding Guatemala and Belize as they bordered Mexico and, with some Covid testing, travel there looked possible.

So with a few ups and downs we ticked off the planned countries and found ourselves in Manuel Antonio. We still had a few things to do that we had planned in Costa Rica but we weren’t that far from the border with Panama, so we decided to continue South to another Country.

A land border crossing, especially these days, takes a bit of planning and preparation. How do you physically get there? What documentation do you need? Are visas required? What vaccination level and testing do they require for Covid-19. Do I need proof of exit travel? What taxes do I need to pay? The list goes on.

From Manuel Antonio our crossing would be at Paso Canoas, which is reportedly the most chaotic border crossing in Central America. Since it is not on the regular tourist trail direct buses and shuttles are not available so we were going to have to do this the hard way.

We did some pre-planning by visiting the bus station in Quepos to try and buy a ticket to the border. Our first issue was finding a ticket outlet as they rarely look as you expect and are often not obvious. We have bought bus tickets in cafes, in the back of souvenir shops, in grocery stores and other unusual places.

The bus station in Quepos

Eventually, we located a ticket outlet which was a woman sitting behind a window protected by iron bars and no signage. She was very helpful and said there was a bus once a day to the border which passed by the hospital 10 miles out of town at about 10.15 in the morning. “Excellent”, we said. “Two tickets for tomorrow please”. She printed them off and we even had assigned seats so we left happy with our progress. All we had to do was to make our way to the hospital by 10.15am.

In the morning we left our accommodation at 8.30am and had no sooner walked to the road when a bus appeared. We flagged it down, it stopped, it was going our way, and it was relatively empty. “Maybe the hand of good fortune is with us today”, said Steve.

We arrived at the bus station in Quepos and searched for a bus towards the hospital. It was now a man in the heavily protected kiosk (who was not quite as helpful as the woman) and he directed us towards a green bus. We found the driver laying down across the front two passenger seats. He informed us the bus didn’t go to the hospital and he didn’t know where the bus went from. In fact, he didn’t care and he had bigger problems like squeezing in another nap!

After 45 minutes we eventually found a bus heading our way. It seemed to take in every street in the area but eventually we saw the hospital and jumped off. We still had plenty of time so we grabbed a coffee in a soda near the bus stop and sat on our bags pleased in the knowledge we had arrived for our main bus with time to spare …… oh did we have time to spare!

10.15am came and went. As did 10.30 and 10.45! We were starting to get a little worried that maybe the bus had been early or that it didn’t exist. Then a woman turned up who wanted to be chatty and spoke a little English so together with our little Spanish we sort of deduced the bus actually came at 11am.

11am came and went with no bus and the clock ticked on. It was getting very hot by now, a few inquisitive iguanas strolled by, and the clock ticked on. “We are going to have to start looking at plan B”, said Steve. “I didn’t think we had a plan B”, said Sarah. “We don’t”, said Steve!

“Are you waiting for the Paso Canoas bus too?”

Then, at 11.30am, a big pink bus came around the corner with ‘Paso Canoas’ on the front. We jumped up frantically waving it down and it pulled to a stop. The driver got off, checked our tickets, put our bags in the luggage compartment, and we boarded a completely full bus with the exception of our two assigned seats. The system worked albeit not to schedule. We also noticed that we appeared to be the only non Central Americans onboard. We were certainly heading off the regular tourist route.

The bus seats were very comfortable, however, there was no aircon and it was 35 degrees outside and opening windows just dragged in hot air. But we were thankful we were heading South, we stuck a film on our phone, plugged the earphones in and settled down for the three hour trip.

Forty minutes later we stopped! The bus had already been on the move for four hours before we got on and so the rest of the passengers were due a comfort break. To be fair we were ready ourselves as we had not wanted to leave the bus stop in case it showed up and we missed it.

Time for a break.

Thirty minutes later we were on the move again, watching Ben Aflick do his thing on the small screen. We passed through several small towns which looked pretty disheveled, dropping off and picking up passengers as we went. We noticed that some people didn’t get on they just handed the driver boxes which were then picked up by people at bus stops further along the route. It all looked a little suspicious to our eye but probably just the way things work here.

Eventually the bus came to a stop and everyone stood up. We followed them off and saw we had most definitely arrived at the border. We could see a big building in the distance painted like the Panamanian flag, so we loaded up our bags and headed in that direction.

Don’t forget that exit stamp.

It is entirely possible to walk straight along the road from Paso Canoas (Costa Rica) to Frontera (Panama) without speaking to any official or getting any stamps in your passport or showing any proof of vaccination. You could continue on and explore Panama to your hearts content … until …… you are either stopped by Police or you come to leave the country whereupon you are hit with a $1000 fine.

The thing is, it is quite easy to enter Panama by accident. Paso Canoas is a little chaotic with trucks and buses everywhere and everyone wants to “help” you or sell you something or both. Added to this the sky was turning ominously black, so it was quite natural for us to hurry on through.

We found the entrance to the Panama immigration, which was locked. Then a truck driver pointed to another door marked ‘salida’ (Exit) which was open. Steve walked in and immediately turned around and walked out saying, “What are we doing? We haven’t been stamped out of Costa Rica yet?”.

Back we went through the chaos of vehicles, people and stalls, past where the bus had dropped us off, and then further along the road. We found, sandwiched between a couple of bars, a small hut where we had to pay an $8 exit tax! This somehow became $9? We are getting used to the occasional dollar being added onto official business in Central America. Arguing it though gets you nowhere, only to the back of the queue. We have been advised by several people to just accept it. There is a definite feeling of some sort of corruption at every level. It is the way this part of the world works.

Sarah queuing to pay her tax.

With our receipt for $8 …. not £9 we walked across the dusty road to another building where an immigration official examined our passports and asked us some questions in Spanish. We just shrugged our shoulders, while he looked at us a little frustrated, then looked at his half eaten sandwich, looked back at us, back at the sandwich and stamped our passports!

Off we trudged back to Panama, just as the clouds split open and then rain started to fall. We went back in through the ‘out’ door and were directed to the end booth where the most miserable man in Panama was sitting. His job was to verify our vaccination status. I could write several paragraphs on this happy chappy, but suffice to say, he wouldn’t accept digital proof, photos of our certificate or photocopies. No he wanted the original!! Thankfully, Sarah was as organised as ever producing the certificate from her bag of tricks. Mr Miserable, took it and kept it and waved his hand towards another booth. At this booth we were met with what was apparently an immigration officer, no uniform in sight, just jeans and a cardigan. But with very few questions we exited the building into an absolute downpour with stamped passports.

Second time lucky. But that sky looks ominous.

Steve saw what looked like a bus station across the road, so we headed in that direction. Steve tried to squeeze between a parked car and a fence but unfortunately knocked an umbrella which was covering a cool box where a guy was selling drinks. The umbrella collapsed on Steve and the cool box, knocking it over and its entire contents spilled out and started rolling down the street through the river of rain water. The guy was going mad, we were trying to calm him down and catch the bottles and cans. We also had the workers from the bus station trying to take our bags and get them onto their bus to secure the fare. It was total chaos.

After a stressful five minutes we found ourselves, soaking wet through, sitting at the back of a bus next to our bags heading towards David, our final destination.

One hour later with the rain stopped and the sun back out, we pulled into the busy bus station. We walked the final kilometre through the town to our hotel. We checked in and jumped straight in the shower. Another day’s travel completed. We would be off again in the morning on what we hoped would be a slightly less arduous day!

Almost there!

Flying in the Forest

After a four hour transfer by bus, boat and bus we arrived in the small town of Santa Elena, which is the main service town for the Monteverde Cloud Forest area. Essentially, the difference between a Cloud Forest and a Rain Forest is altitude with the Cloud Forest being much higher and Monteverde sits around 5000 feet. This also drops the temperature by a few degrees making it, for us, a very comfortable 25 degrees.

The town of Santa Elena was much smaller than we had imagined. The area is well and truly on the ‘tourist route’, so we expected something along the lines of La Fortuna. It was, in fact, pretty much a one street town. It still had everything you needed, albeit on a smaller scale, including accommodation, bars, restaurants, supermarkets, souvenir shops etc. However, its main function appeared to be the organisation of tours to the Cloud Forest to walk at ground level, walk on hanging bridges through the trees, or zipline at speed above them. We ended up doing all three.

Steve wanders across one of the hanging bridges

The hanging bridges walk was pretty unusual as it gave you a different perspective of the forest as you walked through the thick canopy of trees. Some of the bridges were quite long, a few hundred metres, and when the wind picked up or there were more than a handful of people on them you could certainly see and feel them swinging. You could see one or two people who obviously had issues with the height really struggling.

We did our ground level walk through the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. The area had four different trails of varying difficulty and length which allowed at least some sort of access to most people. We were up for a bit of a hike so we covered all the trails, which added up to over eight miles. We probably enjoyed it more than the hanging bridges. Some of the trails were quite steep over uneven terrain and at the furthest points, where fewer people venture, you had a sense of being alone in the super dense forest. I think if you stepped a few metres off the track you would be lost very quickly.

Don’t stray from the path!

We didn’t see all that much wildlife in there but it was more about the atmosphere and location. At one point, quite high up, the forest opened up to a great view across the valley towards Arenal Volcano. It looked remarkably close and we couldn’t believe how it had taken four hours to travel from there. But then looking at the steep, rugged, dense carpet of trees stretching as far as you could see in every direction it was obviously a major achievement to get any sort of road in there at all.

How did it take over 4 hours to get from there?

Our final activity in Monteverde was to go ziplining. This is what many people come here for and so we had to give it a go. There are four different companies that offer the experience, all of which are similar but each one has something different to the others to try and entice the custom. We did our research and decided on one which included a couple of ‘Superman’ style sections, one of which went through a tunnel, an optional 50 metre high ‘Tarzan’ swing, plus it was the longest zipline trail in the area at almost three miles.

All dressed up and ready to go.

When we arrived we found it very busy and on our tour as there were 35 people. Our expectations of the day sunk pretty quickly as we had visions of long wait times between each zipline. However, we were completely wrong. We were kitted out with a harness, helmet and gloves and after a short safety brief, several members of staff set off along the route positioning themselves at the start and finish of each line. This meant that as soon as you finished each section you were unhooked and were free to walk through the forest to the next section where someone was waiting to hook you back on, and off you went again. This reduced waiting to a minimum and the whole experience was amazing.

Someone is enjoying herself

It was one of the best things we have done like this in a long time. All in all there were 14 lines to travel along. Most were seated, a couple of which we were able to do in tandem. It was a fantastic feeling flying through the canopy of trees, emerging into open sky then decending to just a few feet above the trees. The views and the feeling were amazing, we were loving it!

We were surprised how long each line was. Each one was a few hundred metres in length and with some steep forest trekking in between it was quite a strenuous day. Some people were really struggling towards the end, but the last two lines certainly took people’s minds off how tired they might have been feeling. These two were the ‘Superman’ lines, one of which went through a tunnel but the other one was a kilometre long line where your harness was rearranged and you were suspended like Superman under the line.

Off she goes!
You can just make out the line and the “Superman”

You were then sent off from inside the Forest, emerging just above the canopy for a few seconds before the trees disappeared and you were left flying across open sky at 60kph with the valley floor hundreds of feet below, before disappearing back into the forest and the awaiting finish platform. To say it was exhilarating would be an understatement.

Just when we thought it was all over we were presented with the option of doing a 50 metre high ‘Tarzan’ swing. Several people decided against this one including Sarah. She will jump out of an aeroplane, climb an ice covered volcano, zipline through the Cloud Forest and numerous other things but the whole ‘bungee’ thing is not for her. We did one 20 years ago in New Zealand, she ticked the box and retired from that experience. Steve on the other hand couldn’t resist and took on the free fall drop and swung through the canopy to finish a fantastic day.

Steve prepares for the drop!

We had four fabulous days in Monteverde and our expectations had been well and truly surpassed. It sounds ridiculous but we had been unfortunate to have beautiful weather during our stay, with blue skies most of the time and we were slightly disappointed that we had not seen hardly any cloud in the Cloud Forest. However, as we left Santa Elena and made our way down the mountain we were treated to a lovely view in the forest below as a huge cloud filled the tree covered valley. It was the icing on the cake!

A cloud in the Cloud Forest!

Another four and a half hour journey took us South from Santa Elena to the Manuel Antonio National Park. We are finding our current trip to be logistically different from a lot of our more recent trips. We have sort of got used to travelling with a certain amount of freedom to go when and where we want. Whether that is on our bikes, in a car, or in a campervan. On this trip we are bound by public transport constraints, mainly timings and routes. As such, without paying for expensive, private transfers or hire cars, those out of the way unusual places and secluded beaches are beyond us. We are tied pretty much to the main tourist points of interest. Don’t get us wrong, we are still seeing and doing some fantastic things, but we are noticing a certain lack of freedom and a definite increase in how busy some places are.

Manuel Antonio was busy. It is definitely a beautiful location and you can take a step back and imagine what it looked like 20 or 30 years ago. A rugged coast line with steep cliffs dropping into scenic bays. Then a long, crescent bay running into a rainforest peninsula with two lovely beaches, one on either side. It is understandable why it is popular.

You can understand why this place is popular.

But, as is the way with so many places in the world, a beautiful location is discovered and more and more people hear about it. Tourism infrastructure is set up, making it more and more accessible attracting more and more people and the expansion continues. Banana boats, jetskis, parasailing and the likes move in and the place becomes overwhelmed.

We had a pretty long walk and a good camera position for this shot!

I suppose you could look at it, that through this cycle of several years everybody has their own opportunity to sample their own idea of paradise. Whether that is being the only one in the newly discovered beach location, or flying out of control on a jetski or drinking your fill of the local beer with the latest techno music blasting out in the background …. all at the same time! The people who want the quieter time move out, find somewhere new and the cycle starts again.

Manuel Antonio is now a five mile stretch of restaurants, hotels, shops and tour operators stretching back from the National Park to the town of Quepos, with a constant stream of traffic filling the road.

We gave Manuel Antonio a couple of days, sat on all the beaches, and walked the National Park from top to bottom.

A mother and baby sloth….somewhere!
A bit of a cutie.

We saw some wildlife at close quarters and were lucky enough to see another sloth in motion. We enjoyed it but it would not be our number one stop on this trip.

So we packed our bags and headed off in search of something different.

She definitely played the part!