Negotiating a decent rate with Gonzalo, owner of Cabinas Corobici in Cañas made our final overnight stay in Costa Rica a good one: peace-of-mind parking, a rudimentary but comfortable room and a cheap Chinese restaurant nearby where the portions were substantial and the prices not too shabby. Topped off with an invigoratingly cold shower, I could ask for no more post a hot day’s ride.
A long and lengthy border crossing eventually inched us into Nicaragua, and biking Gods be good, meeting three Brazilians on their blingy 1200GSs sped up the snafu no end. Gustavo, the best English-speaker insisted having our paperwork processed before theirs, which after shelling out $20 US to fast-track the chaotic procedure for the time-poor trio yet still managing to finish after us, did leave me feeling a tad culpable. Guilt wedged into my soul with the sure chill of a polished ax head; so sorry guys but obrigado for the supportive intervention and happy(ish) ending.
Headed west, Backyard Hostel in Granada was reasonable if not erring on the party-backpacker paradise. Although in play, I wouldn’t let it ‘collect £200 and pass go’. To its merit, the premises was located in the heart of a bright old colonial city. The colours, architecture and ambience of Granada were dripping with vibrant grandeur, as well as geared towards the gregarious. I loved it and positioned the city as Nicaragua’s colonial capital, which was saying something after 16 months of Latin American cities, some remarkably more alluring than others. Stay open-minded, Lisa even if those eyes are no longer fresh.
To my mind, it was vice versa in León—the guidebook’s colonial capital—where we descended upon a cracker of a lodging Lazybones Hostel in the crumbling city of tired ruins. I guess the place was still charming behind the scaffolding and sheets of tarp overall, although unique selling points of the hostel boasted: a breakfast fit for a king, all morning coffee, easy parking inside and a rather lovely swimming pool amid a vividly cheerful decor. Foremost, a noticeable semblance of quiet after 11pm. Goodness, I’m host to such an old soul. Mayhaps those crazy o’clock starts might be taking their toll on me; no one wants to ride in the mind-befuddling midday heat, least of all Pearl.
Barely making it to Granada, Pearl became consistently hot and irritable in the bike-unbearable temperatures; overheating without a moment’s notice as we entered Nicaragua’s searing region of three-Fahrenheit figures. The air had grown suffocating and pressed down. So close that it should have been visible, like a greasy mist in the air. I went from cruisey to cantankerous—a million miles from cool. There was little and less I could do yet my anger flared; fanned by the heavy heat, it continued to smolder like a buried ember.
As I worked up a fine sweat, a local mechanic ingeniously suggested installing a computer fan in place of the expired radiator fan, which cajoled Pearl to make the distance from Granada to León, although this was by no means a medium-term fix. Or waterproof. It didn’t harm but it didn’t overly help unhindered either. I steeled myself, forcing calm into my voice when answering Jason’s question for the twentieth time—intuition and recent track record telling me otherwise, “The temperature light still hasn’t come on, Jase! The computer fan must be working.” To my chargrin, “No wait, it’s just come on.”
It took time to source a new radiator fan, leaving Jase and me grateful for an opportunity to explore our surroundings. And moreover, stave off feeling fed up with motorcycle breakdowns and bike niggles. Jason had lost confidence in Pearl and I think he believed that something was taking perverted joy in inflicting every conceivable ailment on Pearl and misery on him (my personal mechanic on permanent standby and well, so much more).
Admittedly, she was costing us more than just Córdobas from the travel fund to keep her going; eating into our reserves of riding time, savings and sanity, and swallowing the realisation that Pearl was becoming a false economy. Rightly or naïvely, my faith in her still held water; fix or repair just about everything on her and in my mind’s eye, she’d be fabulous for the foreseeable, and beyond..!
Like Granada, León’s culinary offerings left us ravenous for more. The fare in Nicaragua didn’t cost us several arms and legs unlike in Costa Rica—even if the tap water wasn’t potable—and it’s the land of jungle-clad volcanoes. Initially, it was slightly disconcerting when hearing the ‘potential eruption’ alarm being sounded, akin to a World War II air raid siren but one soon gets used to the disturbing noise and treats it as you might when your office’s fire alarm rings. You acknowledge it during the conversation, dismiss it as a drill and it’s business as usual. Probably unwise to be so complacent—a number of volcanoes in the vicinity are pretty damn lively.
Hungry for some fun, I left Pearl to cool down in the shade and we jumped onto the first organised tour courtesy of the hostel in León. Taking us bobbling over the sand in a minibus for an hour to reach Cerro Negro, which as distinctly active volcanoes go, happened to be neither puffing smoke nor striking. It is Central America’s youngest volcano however, having spewed into life in 1850, erupted at least a dozen times since but by no means has finished its business post the last messy fallout over León in 1999.
The group that comprised Alexander, the tour guide and the two of us—‘jammy’ is most assuredly the word—huffed and puffed our way up, or was that just me? We took a moderately slow hour to clamber over the black sand, lava rocks and rubble to summit the top, hauled a couple of boards en route, stopped to gauge the magnitude of the concave landscape and warmed our already hot hands on the sizzling patches of sulphurous cinders. At the peak of the hike it was blowing an absolute hooley, a hot hairdryer wind that blew me around like a dandelion seed in a cyclone. Inching closer, my nerves hummed as we dared to take a peep at the steep face of the volcano for which we were expected to bomb down. Not being able to see the bottom I prayed to anyone listening that calamity wouldn’t hit on my imminent daredevil descent, feeling anything but adventurous.
Donning a mechanic’s boiler suit, safety goggles and bandana across our faces, I plonked my backside down on the sled—nothing more than a crude piece of plywood and a rope handle. Teetering at the top of the conical mound, it appeared I was all set. “So the heels of my feet are my brakes, is that right?” I reiterated. You’re catching on, “but remember Lisa—don’t put just one foot down or you’ll come whizzing off”—gotcha!
According to the tourist records of accomplishment, I might’ve conceivably reached over 50 miles per hour…holy flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants moly. I looked up and Jason stood poised with the camera while Alexander gave me a sweep of his arm, urging me to go. After shuffling off, fear started to fray and fun hemmed itself in; I started to pick up speed as I kicked up a cloud of black dust over the rocky cinders. And at enough volcano velocity—just after midway, the tipping point—I managed to skim spectacularly all the way down jubilantly shouting “Weeeee!”
I confess almost peeing my pants from the speed at which I clocked; being blissfully unaware of this beforehand was a blessing but incredibly, the velocity accrued from plunging down a volcano leaves you positively tingling. The drop was at a gut-wrenching 41 degree angle for a stomach-churning 2,000 feet, no wonder I was tingling with scared-out-of-my-wits relief at the bottom—bones intact and body buzzing. Having survived smeared in soot and black sand, who knew volcano bobsledding could be such a white hot rush?
Interestingly, a French chap Éric Barone tried to set a land speed record after having wheeled down Cerro Negro’s cinder cone slope at 100 miles per hour on a serial production bicycle. On his second attempt pedalling the treacherous terrain on a custom prototype bike at 107 miles per hour, he neither made the distance nor set an official record, but did blow his front tyre, collapse the frame and break many bones and more besides. He later learned of his friend, an Austrian guy who promptly followed in his tracks without a glitch, hitch or injury and successfully set the production bike record at 102 miles per hour. Double ouch.
A morning’s worth of running a fool’s errand—sourcing parts for a 14 year old motorcycle can be a chore and there’s much and more to be said for investing in a younger bike whose parts are not as rare as unicorns—Jason finally sourced a radiator fan off a Kawasaki in a scrap yard. It fit like Cinderella’s slipper, my soul gloriously drinking in the sight. I slipped my arm around Jason’s waist, clutching him the way you would to a log in floodwaters. A journey is never as easy as you would hope, and it’s sometimes more challenging than you ever believed it would be. Different visions, woven from imagination and desire—those of a two wheeled trip, certainly one that will give rise to its fair share of mechanical interruptions but not a myriad’s worth of more. Our hemorrhaged budget couldn’t take much more.
For now, a surge of joy erupted from every pore in my body, I was one happy rider again and Pearl permitting, we were good to go.