Quite possibly one of the best trips I've ever been on! Due to a combination of a fantastic group, amazing guides, superb scenery, beautiful, friendly people en route and a feeling of really pushing myself!
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
First and foremost being able to complete far more of the trip than I thought possible! Let me be the source of reassurance to those of you who don't know if your fitness level is up to scratch... I do no exercise. In fact I positively loathe exercise but my friend and I booked this trip on purpose to make us attempt to get fit. Even though we booked 10 months in advance I then got myself a job in Costa Rica and so only actually got to start "training" for the 5 weeks before the trip. I never got more than 10 miles in any of my practise rides.
Yet I still completed 207 and fo the 350 miles, even though I was last almost every day and by some way, and could have completed more had it not been for the rum and cokes of an evening and the fact that sitting on the party bus chatting to Luis was so much fun!
Yes this is a cycling holiday but for me the emphasis was on "holiday" so why was I going to kill myself? If you're more of a serious rider you may feel you want more miles per day. In fact some days have optional extra rides for that reason but for me this trip had the perfect combination of cycling and time off.
Other than that...well Granada in Nicaragua is stunning, sunsets on Ometepe island unrivalled, playing cards for 5 hours at the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border without anyone getting fed up, the thermal springs at Arenal volcano, dancing the nights away in Cahuita and Bocas, having children along the road waving and shouting hi, the dodgy border crossing into Panama, abundant wildlife and, surprisingly, the Panama Canal that turned out to be fascinating!
- What did you think of your group leader?
Rob was a fantastic leader. He seems so laid back yet everything was so well organised and even when things out of his control went wrong (like a 5 hour border crossing from Nicaragua to Costa Rica), he didn't flinch and his calm nature kept everyone else calm. This is Latin America after all and Rob certianly goes with the flow and it rubs off!
He was fantastic when 3 of us missed our connection at Houston and then didn't get our luggage until Day 4. He and the group rallied around to lend us clothes, shoes, helmets, saddles, toiletries etc which took all the stress out of it. Nothing was too much trouble for him. Other group members who have done several Exodus holidays said he was by far the best guide they'd had on any other trip.
His fellow guides were just fantastic too. Luis the driver kept the party bus going and makes a great dance partner. Always willing to stop more frequently along route if you need a break from cycling and always willing to beep you as he passes to encourage you to keep going. Quite how he keeps his eyes on the road yet spots wildlife left, right and centre, stopping the bus for photo opportunities is beyond me.
Paul and Alfonso I spent most time with being as I came in last almost every day. They literally pushed me up some of the hills but were also extremely encouraging when I wanted to push myself. They were incredibly fit and made sure everyone was looked after but always returned to the back to make sure we made it. I think they probably completed each stage twice.
Also great dance partners and always up for a party. Fortunately I speak Spanish and so spent a lot of time with them but their English is very limited although Alfonso can speak more than he lets on, so either go all out on the sign language or learn some key phrases before you come out. "Get me on that bus", "Are we nearly there yet" and "time for a beer" are useful starters for 10.
On a serious note all 4 of them are a true credit to their company and deserve all the good feedback they've got.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
- Don't worry about your fitness level! You can always get on the bus, the boys will always help you along and wait for you, and no one will be annoyed you're slower. In fact on several ocassions by the time I'd got to the rest point the quicker ones had been there half an hour and already left. If you're too far behind they'll gently suggest you get on the bus but even I didn't need to do that. I knew my limits!
- Take more money than you think you'll need but all in dollars is fine. I found the meals to be much more expensive than I know food can be bought for in Central America. The first clue is in the price of the holiday I guess but for me this was way out of my budget and my only suggestion would be that Rob recommends some eating places that cater for all budgets. Fortunately not all lunches and dinners were taken as a group and I was able to get us to cheaper, more authentic places. We got on so well as a group that even on non-group meal days we still all stuck together!
- Padded cycling shorts!! Having borrowed them when I had no luggage for 4 days I didn't give them back - a godsend!
- An iPod as you can put your music on in the bus for the longer transfers. As much as we loved the salsa, merengue and tropical beats the boys put on, there are just some days you need the whole bus singing along to 80s power ballads...
- Some kind of day sack or cycling top with pockets. I missed out on many photo opportunities on route due to not being able to carry my camera on the bike with me. Make sure there's a waterproof cover for it though. A ziplock bag works well.
- A Spanish phrasebook if you don't speak it. I can't stress enough how many doors a few words of Spanish opens and how much it will enrich your experience
- Spare underwear, a change of clothes and some smaller than 100ml toiletries in case your luggage gets lost!
- Patience and a good sense of humour.... manana manana is not just a saying, it's a way of life and not everything goes to plan but it doesn't need to stress you out if you don't expect everything to go to plan.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
In the words of Nike - JUST DO IT!
You will regret it if you don't. Even cycling in torrential tropical rain, downhill, not being able to see a thing, drenched to the bones is an experience everyone should have.
This isn't just about cycling and pushing yourself but about seeing an area of the world that is spectacular in terms of scenery, culture, friendliness of people, flora, fauna and just having a darn good time. You'll make great friends and I defy anyone not to fall in love with the area. I'm flying back in 2 weeks' time... not to get on a bike I hasten to add... but I would definitely do this trip again! :)