Riding Through The Fear: Esteli, Matagalpa & Laguna de Apoyo
Kelly went home. Despite us begging for her to stay and threatening to kidnap her, she returned to Canada and her work commitments leaving us feeling bereft. At least we still have micro-Kelly.
We spent that day doing laundry, planning our next move, and enjoying Reyna’s amazing hospitality for one last night. Phil had been up at 5am to drive Kelly to the airport, so he had some sleep to catch up on as well.
The next morning we set off back up to Esteli to see our friends Ivan and Priscilla and meet their children Lara and Teo.
We had stopped there our first night in Nicaragua, but arrived late and left early, and didn’t even get a chance to see the kids. They welcomed us back and we became instant friends and playmates with Lara. Teo is an incredibly happy and well behaved baby.
Priscilla is a wonderful photographer. She took some very fun pictures of Phil and Lara.
Ivan and Priscilla told us all about Costa Rica, which is where they are originally from, and fed us mangos from their tree, which Phil managed to fall out of the next day.
Despite spending so much time at his mum’s house, we had never actually met Salvador (Salcar on ADVrider). He and his friends Bruno, JD and Fabricio were riding from the Caribbean back to Managua, so we arranged to meet them in Matagalpa. As we entered town we passed 4 men on motorbikes going the other way – it was them! We pulled a u-turn and followed them into the hotel parking lot. We’d all arrived in town at exactly the same time. We had barely parked the bikes and met everyone when a Honda TransAlp with two riders pulled up. Oliver and Heather who we’d met on the beach in Las Penitas!
We did some tough negotiating at the hotel, which was much posher than we would normally stay in, and by agreeing to not use the air conditioning we got a room for $30US including breakfast.
Salvador had just finished his trip through Africa and had lots of stories to tell. We all went out for dinner and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. JD, a fellow Canadian, very generously bought our dinner – Thanks JD!!!
Oliver and Heather will be meeting up with a friend from Wales in Costa Rica, and provided us with a hope of getting a battery for our star-crossed GoPro. We ordered one to be delivered to their friend and we’re hoping that it makes it in time.
The next morning our short but sweet motorcycle party was over, everyone went their separate ways. The staff at the hotel were extremely helpful and hopped in their car to lead us to a place down the street where I could change my oil. It turned out to be a small hardware store, which seemed to have everything we could possibly want.
I upgraded to 20W50 oil from the 15W40 I have been running. We also bought replacement fuses, a new tire pressure gauge, Nicaragua stickers for our boxes and a socket set to replace the one lost in my stolen bag. I changed my oil out front while chatting to one of the guys who works in the hotel and Phil did his long overdue “doohickey” adjustment. (Very easy to do, except that his crashbars prevent him from accessing it and so he has to loosen them, and his skidplate, just to loosen and re-tighten a bolt.)
We were ready to head South again, and after debating the pros and cons of going the opposite side of Lake Nicaragua and over a boarder crossing that we knew would involve one of us taking a bus into Costa Rica to buy insurance, we decided instead to make a second attempt at reaching Laguna Apoyo.
For a popular tourist destination, Laguna Apoyo is very difficult to get to. Despite internet research, when we got to the village of Catarina, and the viewpoint they have there looking over the Laguna, no one seemed to know how to actually get down to the shore. We bought a few mangos from a roadside stall, and I pulled up a website on my phone. It said there was also a road down from a nearby town, Diria, so we rode there to see if we could find someone who knew the way.
In the town square I asked a couple of ladies about the road down, they agreed that there was a road down, but expressed concern about the road conditions and whether we’d make it down on our bikes. My heart dropped at their suggestion of it being a difficult road. I hate difficult roads.
A male friend of theirs came over to see what the gringa on a motorcycle wanted and told me the road was straight ahead and that we’d make it down “no problema”.
Note to self: Always listen to women when they express doubt over road conditions. Men don’t know what their talking about.
We rode on about a block to where the road forked. I wasn’t sure which way we needed to go, but a man on a motorbike who looked about 100 years old told us that it was straight ahead, a 4km road and that he could make it down on his bike so we’d be fine.
I started giving myself a pep talk. “It’s only 4km.” “It can’t be that bad.” “Just stay calm.”
We rode through the parking lot of a lookout point and the road became two brick tire tracks. Better than just a muddy track, but still less than ideal. Especially when navigating steep, tight turns where the mud between the two tracks had been washed out.
3.8km down the road forked with three unappealing options. Phil went down the most likely looking one and came back up moments later reporting a tree across the road. He checked out the one on the right that looked pretty overgrown, and reported back that it was also impassable, that left us with option number three. It was starting to get dark.
Phil rode down road number three, and I reluctantly followed, stopping at a giant muddy puddle after some rough, hole and rock filled sections. Phil showed up again shortly after, reporting that this road was one that I would not like, seemed to connect some private properties, and did not appear to go down to the lake.
After having explored all the options, Phil decided that the first one he went down with the tree across the road was the one we needed. He went on ahead and by the time I reached the fork again, I decided to just leave my bike there and walk down to the tree. Phil was having none of that and went back up and rode my bike down the hill.
When Phil said there was a tree across the road he wasn’t joking:
There was no getting around THAT tree!
We pitched our tent on the road on the other side of the tree in the last moments of daylight. A short walk down the road revealed that yes, this was indeed the road that led to the lake shore.
We decided that what we needed was a campfire, and Phil pulled down a couple of dead trees for the purpose. The tree that had fallen on the road was still too fresh to burn well.
In the morning I woke up and wandered down to the lake to find Phil writing in his journal on the peaceful lake shore.
We went for a swim and ate our remaining mangos before packing up to head to Costa Rica.
This is when the trouble started. I rode my bike up the steep rocky, horrible hill (what Phil calls “a technical section”) to where the roads forked, but stopped when it was still too steep to keep Cricket upright. We slid backwards before going over.
Phil helped me pick her up and then he headed up the hill. I always feel very shaken after dropping my bike, and I was not looking forward to the 3km climb out of the lake crater. I talked myself into it and reluctantly started up the slope. I hadn’t gone 10 meters when I dropped Cricket again. This time Phil was long gone, so I started unpacking my stuff to make the bike lighter so I could pick it up on my own. Except I couldn’t. Every time I got it part way up my feet and the tires would start sliding down the hill.
By the time Phil realised I wasn’t behind him and had walked down the hill to find me, I was a tearful mess. We got Cricket back up and loaded, but I was really not happy. Phil rode my bike up a few hundred meters to where the road flattened a little, and I took over from there.
Phil decided to follow me up the rest of the hill. He wasn’t impressed at how slowly I rode up, although he did say I had very good balance, because he couldn’t stay on the narrow bricked tire track at my speed as well as I did. I managed to get up the rest of the road without dropping my bike again, although there were moments where I was very close. Accelerating out of those moments was all that saved me.
As always when riding offroad, I hated pretty much every second of it. It is on those rides that I fantasize about trading my bike in for a vehicle with four wheels, and make plans to find other riders for Phil to go on offroad adventures with while I stick to the tarmac. I feel tremendous pressure to go with Phil because he loves it so much, and I don’t want to leave him to go on his own with no support if something goes wrong. Still I find it impossible to convince myself that I’ll enjoy off-roading one day if I just keep doing it.
Isn’t it enough that I’m riding my own motorbike across two continents? Most women wouldn’t even consider doing that. Do I really have to love offroad as well?
I’ve thought about this issue a lot. When we were riding up to, and in, Alaska, we rode on a lot of unpaved roads (the Top of The World Highway comes to mind). When I was riding those roads I didn’t hate it, I didn’t panic, I didn’t get worried, and shaky and miserable. It’s only since after The Crash that I’ve had those problems. And I wasn’t even driving when we crashed.
I think it’s possible, likely even, that having a concussion, and no memory of nearly a whole day of my life has caused me to intensely dislike riding roads in bad condition. It first surfaced in Arizona, where I nearly ran over another motorcyclist’s head on the Oso Road, and it has been an issue ever since.
It’s not that I don’t have the knowledge and skills to navigate these roads, I’ve taken lessons, and I usually get over the rough sections unharmed. I just simply do not enjoy the process, and have no desire to put myself through it.
I think it’s like people who are scared of heights, they know they will be fine, but they panic anyways.
I don’t know how things are going to progress on this front. I’m not doing this trip to be miserable, but I also have no desire to hold Phil back. I certainly will be taking the paved route whenever there is one, and hope to find other riders to go with Phil on offroad adventures when the opportunity arises. We’ll work something out.
In this case, we made it out in one piece, and we were on our way to the glorious beauty of one of the wettest countries in the world – Costa Rica.
Just had to get over the border first.