Tire troubles lead us to Granada
When I last updated the blog a week ago, we had just arrived in Somotillo, 6 km from the Honduras/Nicaragua border. After one false start where the hotel we found tried to charge us too much for a single cot, we found ourselves at a friendly posada just off the main drag. The room was tiny — I mean really tiny — but we still managed to jam our bikes into it with us. We also had the chance to spend the evening chatting with a couple of motorcyclists who crossed the border that day too.
Seth and Ross are on their way to Patagonia too.
Ross and Seth, two brothers, are also heading to Argentina like us, albeit on motorcycles. As much as we thought that we had difficulties crossing the border, it seems as if they had the same challenges and more. The guys run a construction business and thus are taking advantage of the offseason to do this trip, raising money for a cause as they do so. Best of luck, guys!
Why is there a school bus (chicken bus) in the stream?
When we left Somotillo the next morning, I immediately got the feeling that there was something wrong with my bike. There seemed to be a wobble, mostly noticeable when I was coasting. Was it the road or my bike? I couldn’t tell, but since Rebecca didn’t seem to be feeling the same thing that I was, I surmised that it had to be my bike. But what? On 3 separate occasions, I dismounted to look at the rear wheel but could see nothing amiss.
It’s very common to see untethered animals on the side of the highways, or sometimes on them!
The road we were traveling on initially that day was beautifully paved and extremely quiet. In fact, I think we passed almost as many horses as we did cars. It’s funny to see herds of goats rambling across a highway, or cowboys — who often really are boys, not men — driving cattle up the road. It’s status quo around here though and the cars who do travel the roads are used to it, most often patiently waiting until the path is clear.
After some time, we came to a fork in the road leaving us with a decision to make: do we continue along the nicely paved road which potentially could be a bit of a longer distance, or do we take the dirt route that we had plotted which almost assuredly would be tougher and slower? It’s times like this that our chubby tires make the decision for us. After all, we aren’t riding bikes like we are to travel on highways.
How can we tell when we’re nearing the top of a climb? These very visible towers often reside there.
The challenge with the dirt route we had plotted was that we weren’t sure if there’d be any places to obtain water and we were carrying precious little of it. As luck would have it, that problem was solved early on when we stopped to rest for a moment and check our GPS. José, the owner of the house adjacent to where we had stopped, came over to us with a couple of friends and we struck up a conversation (our bikes are great icebreakers). When I asked him if he had any drinking water available, he said, of course. I followed him to his house and we topped up all of our bottles by siphoning water from a barrel. Water problem solved (but we did later treat the water with our Steripen before drinking it).
Although we haven’t seen any live ones yet, we have come across two large Boas on the roads, each of which, I assume, had had a bad run-in with an automobile!
The riding that followed was excellent. Yes, some of it was quite rough and there was some climbing to contend with, but it was beautiful. We also saw first hand how often horses are used as transportation in that area. We passed numerous cowboys, a number of motorcyclists, and a few guys on bikes. There was not a single car on those rough tracks.
No cars on this track. Just motorcycles, horses and bikes!
It was Sunday and we saw a number of people out enjoying themselves. Some were playing baseball while others were bathing in streams. I also got the feeling that there might have been some cockfighting going on somewhere nearby as we saw several people with roosters. One was riding his bike while cradling his rooster in one arm while another was standing on the side of the road with his rooster on a leash. That’s not too common, right?
We only saw this one large tree statue in León but they were all over Managua.
By the time we made it to León, we had covered 91 km. While that’s not our longest ride to date, it is probably the longest one we have done where we traveled on so many dirt tracks. As is typical, we had no idea where we’d stay that night so upon reaching the downtown area of León, we stopped to do a quick Google search. Within just a few seconds, a couple stopped to ask if we needed directions and when we inquired if they knew of a hotel, they called over an acquaintance on a bike and asked him. That guy said follow me and led us down the road to what turned out to be an awesome place. Ignacio, at Hostel del Rey, set us up with a huge room. Cost per night: 500.00 córdobas, about $16.00 US.
Prior to our arriving there, Rebecca had Googled “things to do in León” and the one that most caught her attention was Volcano Boarding. Similar to how northerners ride toboggans down snowy slopes, tourists climb the nearby Cerro Negro, an active volcano, to slide down its rocky hillside. Sounds cool, right? We thought so.
You could hire one of the guys to carry your board for you. Not us, of course!
Volcán Telica in the distance.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” — George Bernard Shaw
Apparently, there are a number of companies that offer this trip (we later learned that there are 27) but Volcano Day was the one that was recommended to us. We’re glad that they were. We had an awesome time with them and our guide Marvin was excellent. It’s worth noting that we were probably twice the age of every other participant in our group. We were definitely not the ones who were tired from the climb though. 😉
What a blast!
After the volcano boarding was completed, the participants were invited to take a free shuttle to Las Peñitas, a nearby beach, to swim, have some food and drinks, and relax. With no other plans for the day, we decided to join in and we’re glad that we did. Some crazy fun times ensued.
Coincidentally, just around the corner from the hostel where we were staying was a small restaurant called Cafetin Don Jack’s. Jack, we later learned, hails from Smiths Falls, a small town very close to where I grew up. Not only was the food there awesome, but it was fun chatting with him. So much so that we ate our dinner there all three nights that we were in León.
While chilling in the city another full day, we debated where to go to next. Should we go back to Las Peñitas to hang out by the beach a bit more, or ride on to Miramar, another Pacific-coast beach area? Because the former would have required doing some backtracking — something that goes against my strong goal-oriented nature — we decided to ride to Miramar. Unfortunately, my bike had other ideas.
Minutes into our ride out of León Google played a trick on us.
Just a few hundred meters from where we had planned to turn off the highway to make our way to the beach, the wobble that I noticed in Somotillo resurfaced. This time around I asked Rebecca to ride my bike to see if she could feel it too. Not only could she immediately feel what I was talking about, I could see it as I followed behind on her bike! My rear wheel was definitely out of whack.
Closer inspection showed that the rim was OK (that’s good news!) but the tire had a huge bulge in it (that’s bad news). Thinking that the tire could possibly fail at any minute, we decided that the prudent thing to do would be to head towards civilization, Managua, instead of towards the beach. Boo!
Managua was, at that point, still a good 60-some kilometers away and because we had started so late in the day, it was unlikely that we’d make it the entire way. We continued on along the now-busier highway, ultimately stopping for the night in the small town of Los Cedros. It was good that we had done some research on this town because if we hadn’t, there’s no way that we would have found the little hotel that we did. It was quite far off the highway. Total cost for a basic room to sleep: only $250 cordobas, about $8.00 US!
I found this horseshoe on the side of the road and have carried it with me since then. We could use some good luck!
Although it involved a steady climb, we banged off the miles from Los Cedros to Managua fairly quickly. It was during one stretch of this climb, early in the day, that I mused over a cycling/life parallel. That being, when faced with a vigorous headwind and a long climb, put your head down and keep on pedaling. True, don’t you think?
Because we arrived in Managua so early, we bee-lined it to one of the bike shops I had scoped out: Nica Bike Shop. When I explained our problem, the guys there were very helpful. Although they didn’t have a tire that they could sell us, they called around to all of the other shops to see if one was available. One particular shop answered in the affirmative, saying that they did have 27.5 x 3″ tires in stock and so, with money in hand, one of the guys from Nica Bike Shop taxied over there to purchase them for us. Since we were going to go to the trouble of having the rear tires replaced, while he was gone, Rebecca and I stripped all the bags off our bikes so that we could get them serviced too. As it turned out though, the guys at that other “Pro” shop either lied or were stupid. They did not have the tires we needed and so wasted both our money (for the taxi) and our time. We were not impressed!
The guys at Nica Bike Shop were very cool. Two thumbs up!
After researching our problem a bit online, I read that adding a tube to the tire might help to alleviate the issue (remember that we have been running them tubeless). The guys at Nica helped me to do that, and sure enough, although it didn’t fix the bulge completely, it did make the bike more rideable. We decided to forgo the extra service until we could source some tires so after putting our kit back together again, we left the shop to go find a place to spend the night.
Our hotel room in Managua had an “exercise bench.” 😉
With no tires available in Nicaragua, it seemed our options were among the following:
- Have some tires sent from the US. While the tires themselves could be purchased cheaper, we’d have to deal with the cost of shipping, the time for them to get here, and quite likely some generous import duties.
- Have some sent from Costa Rica. Were there any available? We expected that there would be but that hadn’t yet been established.
- Ride our bikes to Costa Rica. We had hoped to spend some time exploring Nicaragua so weren’t really all that keen to blow it off. We also weren’t sure how long my tire would last.
- Take the bus to Costa Rica. If tires could be sourced, we could try to find a place to leave our bikes in Nicaragua while we traveled to Costa Rica to purchase what we need.
Of course, the latter three all depended on me finding tires in Costa Rica, something that had not, at that time, been done. When we awoke in Managua, we ultimately concluded that all of the above solutions could be just as easily dealt with from Granada, a city we had hoped to visit, instead of Managua. So, after riding around the city a bit in the early morning, we bid Managua adieux and jumped back on the road, hoping that my tire would last until we at least made it to our destination.
These huge colorful trees are all over Managua!
The ride to Granada was basically uneventful although because we were concerned about the tire, we stuck to the well-traveled roads instead of something more pleasant. After riding for a couple of hours, we stopped to rest for a few moments in a shady spot on the highway. We were surprised when a guy on a large BMW motorcycle drew up beside us to ask if we were OK. Chris, we learned, was also on his way to Argentina (and here you thought that our idea was original!) although he shared that he was doing it in stages, leaving his bike from time to time to return to work. That day he was on his way to Managua. Since we were traveling away from Managua and were on a divided highway, we deduced that Chris had seen us and then turned around to check to see if we were OK, going out of his way to do so. Awesome, right? Once again, we meet the nicest people while traveling!
Chris went out of his way to make sure that we were OK.
The sun was hot that day and the traffic was busy but we ultimately made it to our destination around mid-afternoon. We were not, however, so lucky as to have a helpful local immediately direct us to a place to stay.
In some ways, it is often easier for us to show up to a town with only one hotel as it eliminates the decision-making process for finding a place to stay. Granada has a lot of options for accommodations and so we spent the better part of an hour riding around the town, visiting hotels and hostels. Ultimately, we ended up following Vincent, a French-Canadian backpacker to a spot right in the heart of the city. The Lemontree Hostel, formerly Hotel La Bocona, is an extremely scenic building complete with a nice, clean swimming pool. They had no private rooms though so for the first time in our trip we find ourselves staying in a large dorm room. Fun, right?
We took advantage of the hostel’s good wifi to, once again, dig into our tire problem. After going back and forth with a supplier in Costa Rica who did have some tires available and our old cruising friend Brandon, now back in the US, we decided to just go ahead and have the tires sent here to us from CR. It’s worth noting that Brandon was basically ready to fly down here to see us in a week or so to bring us the stuff that we need. How cool is that? Answer: Amazingly cool! Hopefully, he’ll still come to see us anyway!
Not a bad place to hang out while waiting for our tires to arrive.