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Stage 2

Central America - San Jose Costa Rica to Panama.
884 Kilometers
Started 19th Jan 2000

Following a relaxing day and 2 nights at the Hotel Marina in La Paz Mexico we depart at 7 am for the 15km ride to the airport for the 5 hour flight to San Jose, Costa Rica.

This will be the first of 18 flights around the World during Odyssey. The logistical challenge for the organizers of Odyssey 2000 is now about to commence. The 2 large container lorries (gear trucks) which house the 250 odd luggage lockers that have been with us since day one are now about to be shipped to Athens. They will then be used for the stage through Southern Europe from 16th March to end in Lisbon on 12th May.

In the meantime similar vehicles will be awaiting our arrival in South Africa on 13th Feb, and for the remainder of the South American stage we will be using local trucks The flight South East to Costa Rica took us into another time zone and a warmer climate. So within days of cycling in the dry dusty desert region of Mexico we are now in the lush tropical rain forest region of Latin America.

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With only 4 days in Costa Rica, my impressions during that short stay prompt me to add this area to my return to list one day. It appears to be one of the most stable (economic & political) regions of Central America. The indigenous population of 22 million have a further 50,000 residents from the USA, plus an 8 month tourist season, the attraction for both being the low cost of living and the sunshine. It is also one of the most volcanic regions in the world with over 80 volcanoes (6 of them active). The itinerary of our short visit did not take us near either of the 2 coastlines, one of which on the Pacific stretches for 700 miles whilst the Caribbean coast covers only 140 miles.

Following a rest day in the capital San Jose we were set for a hard days ride of 165 Km to San Isidro. This distance would not normally present a problem for the average fit cyclist, that is assuming the terrain and weather was normal. Unfortunately neither the terrain nor weather was normal on day 22. The first 13 Km out of the City took an hour of riding through the morning rush hour. The route guide for that day indicted that we had a long climb ahead. We did not need the route guide to tell us that, we could see it in the distance. We shortly started a climb which continued for 79 Km to the summit at 3491 meters (11,171ft). This ride under good weather conditions would have been a challenge for many fit cyclists, but from the start we were riding into a headwind plus heavy rain with the temperature getting lower as we climbed.

Day 22 in the end turned out to be one of the longest, wettest and coldest days we have had to tackle since we started. In view of the short daylight hours (dark by 5.30 pm) many of the 240 riders were unable to make it to camp before nightfall.I personally hit a patch of oil on a hairpin bend and took a tumble. Having completed the climb it was now a long descent to camp at San Isidro. However it was dark, I was very wet and cold and feeling shaken up from the fall. In this situation all available sag wagons were put into action to ferry the many riders and bikes who were stranded on the mountain in the dark. I was advised to stay put until a vehicle could pick me up but it was almost an hour before my lift arrived and I think that was the nearest I have ever got to hypothermia.

Fortunately the weather improved over the remaining 4 days in Costa Rica with our final overnight stop in San Vito (elevation 990 meters). On day 24 we left San Vito for another 25 Kilometers of climbing, followed by a long descent with some spectacular views and we now head for the border with Panama where we had been warned to expect some delays.

Bureaucracy in Latin America moves very slowly and the border crossing from Costa Rica into Panama was no exception. The volume of commercial and private vehicles plus many pedestrians in both directions created a very busy daily situation. However the authorities at both crossings were totally unprepared for the arrival of over 240 cyclists plus all the support vehicles.

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Confusion / Delays at Border Crossing

The first queue to exit from Costa Rica and costing 5 colonies was completed (for me) in one hour. It was then 100 yards to the Panama Immigration and customs that we were then sent, where my passport was stamped at window number one where I was told I was free to proceed.

This puzzled me somewhat as all of my American companions were obliged to stand in another very long queue to complete an entry permit costing $5 so I thought what applied to them must also apply to me. My assumption was incorrect as after standing in the queue for over 40 minutes I was again told that I was free to proceed.

So why was I getting this special treatment? it then dawned on me that the sole reason was that I was the holder of a British passport. I later learned that my companions were kept waiting for over 3 hours during which time officials took it in turn to go for lunch. This incident was repeated at other border crossings in South America, an indication of Uncle Sam`s popularity in the region ?

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With no volcanic mountains to climb our few days in Panama were a lot easier than Costa Rica. Panama City was our final destination in Central America with 2 nights and one and half days for sightseeing. It was the canal completed around 1914 by the USA (with Chinese labour) which helped to put Panama on to the World shipping map. There are over 100 major banks based in Panama City together with many fine hotels.

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