Last section of our trip to Central America, we leave on February 26 from Curridabat in Costa Rica. We reach in 2 days the banana plantations of Zent where we spend 1 week on a voluntary basis.
We set out again on March 6 towards the border of Sixaloa which goes smoothly under a lead heat. The road is cluttered but full of dangerous trucks near Almirante. Then it climbs it climbs in pouring rain to Hornito Lake and its massive dam! An amazing hostel “Lost & Found” offers us a nice mountain hiking stopover. We then go down the slope to the TransAmerica road that we take (luckily, there is a side shoulder protected from trucks) to Las Lajas. A relaxed German accommodates us for 2 days, enough time to see the beautiful deserted beach, then we finally reach Santa Catalina on March 14!
Last moments of calm and sunshine, we camp on an islet accessible according to the tides and reluctantly abandon the project of a last dive in the Coiba national park due to its closure linked to COVID19 .. .
Quickly, we leave and urgently reach Panama City by bus which will be our way out to Europe and containment. It was too short and incomplete but this short route along the Talamanca mountain range will have delighted us!
In 12 days of cycling on Honshu (interspersed with 10 days of volunteering), we covered 800km and 10km of vertical drop in total.
The regions crossed, from Kyoto to Chiba and finally Narita, simply offered us splendid landscapes at every turn and a new change of scenery in the middle of autumn. The weather (as often in Japan) was sometimes capricious but the roads remained pleasant in almost all circumstances! Just like our guests, whom we still thank warmly. Here’s our story day by day.
Day 1: Kyoto-Toyosato (80km)
Kyoto is a small paradise for cycling and tourism. Bike paths are plentiful and it is very easy to get around during the day, from Nishiki Market to philosophy path and multiple temples. G etting out of the city is quite easy, Maps.Me gives us the opportunity to discover a first tiny road in the forest and we reach Lake Biwa. Reputed because bordered by a cycle road (200km of periphery!), we unfortunately do not enjoy much because the weather is bad. Headwind and intermittent rain, we arm with courage and we end up reaching Toyosato, its cultivated areas (rice, soy, etc.) and its haven of peace at Jacquelyn, our host Warmshowers.
Day 2: Totosato-Sakahogi (90km)
We are heading to our first mountains in Japan. On Jacquelyn’s good advice, we sinued between the woods following streams. Zen atmosphere and a little cool ness. In the afternoon, we reach Gifu and its multiple commercial areas. Not very sexy to pedal and we have to slalom between medium-sized roads not too dangerous and sidewalks shared with pedestrians. Camping, charming lying simple and free, is a nice reward.
Day 3: Sakahogi-Nakatsugawa (70km)
The night was cool and the dew takes us half an hour to find the tent. We go back to the East and our first real passes. Always lots of forests and some beautiful descents, we reach Nakatsugawa at 4pm. Wild camping spot in the municipal park and pubs to watch the Japan-Samoa rugby match. From the pasta to the stove as a feast and then a half at the bar nearby (500 euros …), a very nice evening.
Day 4: Nakatsugawa-Iijima (90km)
3 big passes on the day’s program, we tackle it quite early and the day goes smoothly. The roads are almost deserted and quite steep. Before the descents, a brake check is necessary and sometimes you have to wear a small wool. Drew, from Seattle, with his vintage road bike, catches up with us at the second pass and stays in our mini peloton until mid-aprem. A very nice meeting.
Day 5: Iijima-Suwa (80km)
On the way to Lake Suwa! The roads are not pleasant because they are too busy but you get by by sailing “on sight” on Maps.me. The weather gets worse as we approach the lake and we will end up going around it on its bike path a little in spite of us to find affordable housing. An “adult only” hotel will do the trick, a hot shower and in bed.
Day 6: Suwa-Fujimi (30km)
The exit of Suwa is a bit painful: the commercial areas follow one another and we spend a lot of time slaloming on the sidewalks because of the lack of a pleasant bike route. We still end up finding a parallel road on a balcony that takes us to Fujimi where we dive towards the river and its Michi-no-eki (rest area) adjoining. We take advantage of heated public toilets and wifi and then we set up the tent below at the front.
Day 7: Fujimi-Minami Alps (40km)
Last pedal strokes for this first week. The weather is sublime, we do rather well to “grab” pleasant roads. Around noon the Fuji appears in the distance and we begin a gentle and long descent to Kofu, witnessing the passage of the rice harvest (by machine, we are far from the artisanal methods of Laos!). M inami-Alps here we are. Our environment for the next 15 days will be made of apple trees, cherry trees, persimons and irrigation canals lined with micro-roads ideal for the “bike-taf” HelpX that awaits us!
Day 8: Minami Alps-Fujikawaguchi (60km)
With our heads full of memories and delighted with our volunteering experience, we leave Minami Alps in the late morning until the heavy downpours of Typhoon 20 calm down. Past the Kofu basin, we begin a long climb, passing first in a few deserted villages and then in a forest path lurking with dead leaves, supposed to be closed in prevention of typhoons. The fog makes the atmosphere really special and we are relieved to finally find the pass. A few dozen kilometers of bumps and a tunnel (not very reassuring by bike but well lit) and we finally reach Lake Fujikawaguchi! Mount Fuji is well hidden behind the thick cloud ceiling…
Day 9: Fujikawaguchi-Hadone (70km)
At dawn, on the roof of our hostel, we discover the Snow-capped Fuji. It’s sublime! Until the early afternoon, this landscape will captivate our winding roads towards the second Lake Yamanaka, bordered by a very pleasant bike path.
After a good break, we set the throttle to Hadone where our American hosts Warmshowers Rich and Joan are waiting for us. The descent is really dizzying (often 15%) and we are not dissatisfied with doing so. We arrive at night and spend a great evening chatting bike, Japan, work, etc.
Day 10: Hadone-Miura (60km)
Departing 9am from Hadone, we follow a fairly convenient canal to the bay. The marine atmosphere of the Pacific Ocean is exotic after more mountainous days. Surfers are very numerous although the waves are quite rare! As we approach Miura, we choose to use the centre of the peninsula rather than the coast. It’s a bit hilly and full of tunnels that fortunately have wide sidewalks. The weather is getting worse and we are getting lost in Miura because we have not properly placed the gps coordinates of our host. Fortunately, Stephen eventually locates us and tells us the way forward. Relieved, we arrive at night and enjoy an excellent meal prepared by his partner Kyoko.
Day 11: Miura-Chiba (80km)
We will remember this 25 October for a long t ime… It’s rainy day in Miura, and the sky doesn’t pretend. Waterspouts and gusts of wind but we have no choice: we have to reach Chiba so we don’t have to risk missing our plane the next day. We put on our k-ways, our rain pants and let’s go. After 10km, soaked to the bone, we take the ferry to cross Tokyo Bay. 40min later it’s left for 70km of non-stop shower. Sometimes the rain stops but it starts again and floods appear on the outskirts of Chiba. We take refuge years a department store and finally arrive at their destination at 6pm. Aya and her son Kai welcome us, then Yujio comes home from work. They are charming and especially experienced cyclists: South America, Central Asia, their photo books make you dream. And the meal we also share!
Day 12: Chiba-Narita (50km)
Last day, we have to close the loop. The temptation was great to put our bikes in the car trunk of Yujio towards the airport but we decide to rally the last 40 kilometers on our mounts. The road is pretty good, apart from the dangerous tunnels on the outskirts of Narita. 1pm, we have 3 hours to disassemble, pack our bicycles to check in and then board for Los Angeles!
Borders are an inexhaustible topic of discussion for all long-haul travellers. Before we left and since we were in Southeast Asia, we read and re-read dozens of tips, tricks, warnings about this or that change of country. So here, after more than two months on the bike, in the chronological sense, our humble experience on the subject. Scoop in the key!
Singapore??-Malaysia??: Easy busy!
Place of passage: Johor Bahru
Date: June 18, 2019
Visa cost: €0
Duration: 30 days
The approach route is quite simple, we double dozens of trucks at a standstill and then we put in line with scooters and motorcycles. It rolls at pace to emigration and then all of a sudden everyone accelerates on the huge bridge 2-4 lanes, we do not make the smarts by bike. Malay immigration is quick and simple. A little intimidating as a bike trip but you get away with it.
Malaysia?? Thailand??: Quiet Emile 🙂
Place of passage: Sungai Kolok
Date: June 30, 2019
Visa cost: €0
Duration: 30 days
Despite its reputation, this border was a banality for us. We park the bikes, make the exit of Malaysia in a first building and then the entrance in a second a few meters further. Nothing sorcerer and no incident related to religious tensions or our means of transport.
Thailand??-Cambodia??: The Wild West
Place of passage: Poipet
Date: July 26, 2019
Visa cost: $30
Duration: 30 days
To provide: 1 photo
In Poipet, the “trouble” begins. We are asked to pay US$30 to enter Cambodia except that we do not have any, that no bank offers directly back and that we have Bahts to sell. We therefore choose to try the option of paying in Thai currency with the rate of the day: $30 equivalent to 900 THB. But when we arrived at the visa office, the official did not lose sight of it: it was 1 200 THB, no less. We insist on 900 and then wait 1/4 of an hour before the official comes to ask us 100 thB more for his pocket probably … In the end we paid 1000 THB per person while we were asked 1200 when we arrived. It’s always $5 saved but a small victory for corruption.
Cambodia??-Laos??: The tenacious bakchich
Place of passage: Nongnokkhiene
Date: 12 August 2019
Visa cost: $30
Duration: 30 days
To provide: 1 photo
At the first counter, which looks serious, we fill out the form and pay $30 official and posted. At the second wicket, two officials announce dagy: “$2 each for stamp”. We categorically refuse, Cléa pretends to call the Embassy and then explains to them with composure that no, we will not pay their bakchich. We wait (no luck for them, it rains and we are in no hurry) and the youngest of the soldiers finally gives in after 15min: visas stamped in pocket, and this time without concession!
Laos??-China??: Game over
Place of application: Ventiane then Luang Prabang
Date: 19 and 26 August 2019
Visa cost: $30 (from Laos)
Duration: 30 days
To provide: scanned passport, current visa scanned, 1 photo, detailed itinerary, hotel reservation, A/R plane tickets, 3 latest bank statements, proof of insurance…
Before we even left, we were not reassured by the Chinese visa… Many friends have been denied their applications in third countries (from Iran for example) for obscure geopolitical reasons.
In Vientiane, we make a first attempt: in the hustle and bustle of the Embassy, the official examines our file and coldly announces “you don’t work in Laos, no visa for China“. We ask him when this measure was “2 months.” Disgruntled (we were not aware of this condition, mentioned on any official website), we leave empty-handed and ask the French embassy who refuses to help us. We are trying to call the Chinese Embassy to find out more: to no avail.
In Luang Prabang, 1 week later, we retry and arrive in front of closed doors and a terse statement: the Consulate is exceptionally closed this Monday, August 26. Having no assurance that it will reopen the next day, and knowing that the application is processed in 3 working days minimum with a local festival interspersed, we finally abandon this project to enter Yunnan in September.
We finally chose to head northeast, to the Houaphan region and then Vietnam. Recently, it is possible to apply for an e-visa for land borders, in this case Na Meo. In 48 hours, we received a positive response! Fingers crossed to make sure everything goes smoothly at the border and we can’t wait to discover this new country with a thousand and one facets by bike!
Our project started in Singapore on June 17, 2019. We went up the east coast of the Malay Peninsula and then the golf course of Thailand. We passed Bangkok and then we crossed northern Cambodia and then Laos along the Mekong River.
Without a Chinese visa and attracted to Vietnam, we entered in this country at the border of Na Meo the 9th of September. Direction Mai Chau, Moc Chau, Ninh Binh, Halong then Hanoi in early October!
Baja California, Hidalgo, Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Chiapas and Oaxaca
Updated on 8th of January 2020
A third part of our trip took us to the other side of the Pacific, to Mexico, where we cycled down Baja California and then made a detour to see friends at Ixmiquilpan in Hidalgo, two weeks again on bicycles at the Yucatan and Quintana Roo in December 2019, a few visits to Chiapas and finally 1 week of cycling in Oaxaca in January 2020!
What’s next ? We’ve got the secret wish of finishing our adventure in Cuba and then Colombia on the beginning of 2020… !