Voyage To Colombia–Part One


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The morning of departure we got up early, left the stinky hostel, went to the shops to stock up on beer, rum, assorted snacks, and Dramamine, loaded it all that along with our luggage into a taxi and made for the docks and boarded the MS Independence. There were twenty eight of us in total, nine bikers, fifteen backpackers and four crew.

The website depicted the conditions on board as being the height of luxury, but once we were on board we started to see the reality of conditions. The cabins in general were fairly shabby, but hey at least it’s a place to sleep. Berths weren’t assigned so you just grabbed what you could. Five of us annexed a tiny cabin with it own bathroom and shower. What we discovered soon after was that the bathroom in our cabin was one of only two on the boat that was working and would have to be used by all twenty four passengers! This meant there would be a lot of traffic in and out of our cabin at all hours.

Just before sailing the Captain called everyone together for a pep talk. He went through a few basic rules, such as don’t touch any controls, don’t open deck doors at night, and then said that if you were “positive”, the trip would go fine.

What a strange thing to say. Its like something they say to soldiers entering a battle, I thought to myself.

Strange as that was, we were then informed that the toilets could only be used when the pump was on, and it would be on only for a couple of hours around mealtimes. If you needed to go another time just go over the side or in a bucket! This was certainly not mentioned on the website. After much protesting the Captain grudgingly agreed that the pump could be switched on in an “emergency”.

The sailing from Portobelo, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia would take five days with four nights spent at sea. There were two distinct legs to the the voyage: The first three days were spent island hopping among the San Blas Archipelago. From there it would be a thirty six hour open sea crossing to Cartagena. The rest of this post deals with the island hopping part of our voyage.

Over the course of the next few days we sailed between postcard perfect desert islands. The San Blas archipelago really was a paradise, and it was hard to believe we were less than ten miles from the mainland. The islands are inhabited by the Kuna Indians, who make their living from fishing and selling crafts to whatever pleasure-boaters pass through.

We stopped for several hours a few islands and docked overnight at one of them. Basically each island was as beautiful as the next, so I’m just going to focus on one here. Not to sound jaded, but if you’ve seen one desert island, you’ve seen them all!

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Early Morning – San Blas Islands

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San Blas Islands

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The Bad Ship Independence

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Pristine Beaches – San Blas Islands

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The Johnny Maracas Cafe – The Happening (& Only) Place On The Island

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Kuna Woman & Children

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The Johnny Maracas Cafe & Patio

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A Slice Of Paradise

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Freshly Chopped Coconuts For Brunch

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Taking a Fiteen Minute Walk Around The Island

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Sailing Along The Archipelago

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Lobster Dinner For Those Not Seasick

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San Blas Islands – Wrecked Ship Off To The Left

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In spite of the let downs of the accommodations, life on board was a lot of fun, at least for those of us who didn’t get seasick. Even though we were relatively close to shore during this phase of the trip, there were strong swells causing the boat to pitch back and forward at fairly sharp angles. Ever since I’d gotten on board I’d been popping Dramamines like a fiend, and the strategy seemed to be paying off. Not once did I feel nauseous, I had a hearty appetite (and the food was great), and could even sleep ok down below in the fetid and sweltering cabins. Unfortunately a few people were having a miserable time with seasickness, but at least during those first few days there was plenty of opportunity to step on dry land. By the way, I’m going to let you in on a sure-fire way to ward off  seasickness : sit beneath a tree. Works every time, trust me! You can thank me later.

As a group, us passengers bonded very well. Apart from the bikers, who I already knew, there were German, Swiss, American and Australian backpackers. Being at such close quarters all of the time there was no choice but to be social with each other. Needless to say, copious amounts of rum, beer and wine helped things along immensely.

The Captain, Michel, was quite a character, and that’s putting it mildly. He had some very strange views of the world. Among which was that the world is overpopulated by eighty percent and that in the apocalypse that was sure to soon befall the human race, only twenty percent would survive. He obviously included himself in the twenty percent, and would survive Armageddon at sea, on this very boat. For that he needed more crew, according to every female passenger under thirty years old, whom he shared this vision with and asked them to join his crew.

The Captain said if anyone would like to “learn to sail”, he would be happy to show us the ropes (no pun intended as we used motor power 90% of the time). Among several others I was up for this and on the first night at sea it was my turn to join him on the bridge for “training”. Even a landlubber like me could see he rarely ran the radar and not once did I see the radio turned on. It was all compass and steering with him. I stood there watching him steer and waiting for instruction, but none was forthcoming. Maybe I needed to ask a few appropriate  questions to get seafaring class going. Here was my best guess  at a knowledgeable, maritime question:

Me: “Errm, so this boat has a Volvo Marine engine?”

Captain: “No, No! Volvo piece of shit! Boat, he have Caterpillar engine! Is number one best marine engine!”

Me (Nodding sagely): Aah yes, of course!

Captain:”……”,  ***Resumes peering into the dark night***, “…….”

Note: This exchange was important. You’ll find out why in my next update.

So I just continue standing there, watching and waiting. About fifteen minutes later the Captain abruptly announces:

“Ok, now you drive boat! keep 110 degree heading! Wind coming from northeast! When wave hit boat, you steer him to re-adjust heading! No touch throttle, just steer him! I go now now, come back later!”

Me: “Wait! , what!?”

With that he was gone and there I was at the helm, untrained,and unsupervised. Bear in mind it was dark, the sea was choppy, and I’d been at happy hour with the others just a short while before. Also, I could make out lights on the shore just a few miles off to my right port? starboard?

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One Man Two Wheels White-Knuckled At The Helm!

Ok, so how hard could this be I thought to myself. Basically its steering and I’ve steered cars lots of times before! I kept the heading for a few minutes until a larger wave hit the front bow. No problemo, lets go ahead adjust a little to get back on course. Ok, I adjusted a bit too much. Lets counter adjust! No, too much counter adjusting…lets try to counter-counter adjust then!

And so on I zig-zagged, until I realized I’d almost turned the boat around and in the opposite direction. Instead of hitting the waves almost head on, there were a few minutes when the boat was facing the waves broadside. That’s when things started to get a lot rougher. Not to worry though, lets just call for the Captain! I asked one of the other passengers who was sitting nearby to go and find him. At eighty five feet length, it’s a small boat, but it took what felt like an eternity to locate him. Eventually he showed up and regained control of the boat.  And he was pissed off:

Captain: “Why you drive like idiot?? The boat, you drive him to South Pole!”

Me: “Because a bigger idiot left me alone in control!”

Captain: “If you steer car like this, you drive him in bush!”

Me: “ When I steer a car the road isn’t moving underneath me!”

I was as furious as he was at that point, but then, one of the passengers stepped in to cool things down, and everything was back to normal again, and on the correct heading.

A little later the Captain apologized to me for leaving me alone in control of the boat and offered proper training the next day, in the daylight. I declined this but we agreed I could stand watch if I wanted to.

Over the next couple of days a few more passengers tried and failed to control the the boat, with the exception of Gui, who had never sailed before but turned out to be natural born sailor. We later realized was the the boat was so under- crewed that the Captain was counting on at least one or two passengers to help sail it! like I said earlier, none of this was on their website when I booked.

But in general, those few days were idyllic. I spent most of my days on shore at the beaches or lolling about on the sundeck, socializing, and thanking my lucky stars I was where I was. Things don’t get much better than this.

Until they got worse, that is. And things were about to get much worse……

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Catching A Boat: Panama City To Portobelo


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I had to make my way over to Portobelo on the Caribbean coast to get the boat to Colombia. I needed to take a boat since the road ends a few hours beyond Panama City. From there to Colombia its nothing but an impenetrable, seventy mile tract of jungle known as the Darien Gap, so the only options for onward travel are either by air or sea. Well, flying the bike over sounded a bit boring so I booked a place for myself and the bike on a boat leaving for Cartagena, Colombia. All passengers with bikes needed to get there a day before departure to load the bikes.

Its only a couple of hours from Panama City to Portobelo . Given that its such a short trip I wasn’t going to post an update, but for once I travelled with another motorcyclist so there are “action shots” of me to show.

I met up with David, the other biker, and we promptly set out only to get lost in the city streets almost straight away. We asked  a policeman for directions, and instead of trying to explain the way to us, he said to just follow his squad car. So we got a police escort out of Panama City. Nice! He didn’t turn on the lights or siren though, so that’s a pity.

Anyway he led us to the entrance to the trans-isthmus highway and off we went.

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David Setting Out

The ride over on was uneventful, on a nice, wide, four lane road for most of the way. At one point we rode into a torrential downpour. I could have stopped to put on my rain liners, but the rain was warm and I figured my riding gear needed another wash anyway, so on we went.

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En Route To Portobelo

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We Stopped For A "Snak"

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Police Checkpoint - As Usual We Were Waved Through

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Riding By The Caribbean

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Me On The Move

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Portobelo

We arrived into the small port town of Portobelo not long after that. There were nine other bikers taking the boat. Some were there already and more rolled in a short while after us. Some of them I knew from the road, others I hadn’t met before. We all convened for a meet and greet lunch/early happy hour.

Known bloggers amongst this group are:

  • And Yours Truly of course, but you knew that already!
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Beer & Coconuts

Later that afternoon it was time to load the bikes onto the boat. We were promised that the boat would be docked at the pier and that the bikes would simply be winched aboard. But no, the boat was moored out in the bay so we hand to ride our bikes down on to the beach by the old fort, push them up a plank into a small dinghy, motor out to the boat and winch each bike off the dinghy. When you are dealing with five hundred pound bikes this gets complicated, time-consuming and strenuous.

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Bikes Assembled For Loading

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Its a Delicate Operation

We took off all the luggage from the bikes in an effort to lighten them and also removed fragile parts such as windscreens. There was a lot of scope for damage in this loading operation, so better safe than sorry.

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Removing The Windscreen

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The Loading Continues

It was decided to load the lighter bikes first. Mine is one of the heavier ones so it was one of the last to be loaded. I spent a good four hours waiting for it to be loaded. Nothing to do but take some more photos, then.

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Portobelo Fort

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Portobelo Harbour

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Its Getting Darker

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Still Waiting....

Finally around 8 PM, in the pitch dark, I loaded my bike on to the dinghy, went out to the boat and winched it on board. The winching on board was nerve racking for a couple of reasons. I was standing in the dinghy, trying to keep my balance while the bike dangled on a hoist ten feet above my head. At first I was worried that the rope broke the bike would fall into the bay until I realized it would fall on me instead. I was relieved when it was finally aboard and tied down on the open deck. To finish off the procedure I sprayed an entire can of WD40 on the bike to protect it against salt water damage.

After loading a couple of more bikes, we were done at last. The original arrangement was for all the bikers to sleep on board that night (non-bikers would board in the morning) but that didn’t happen. Bizarre as it sounds, the captain of the boat had a falling out over a dog with a local hostel owner , with the result that somehow we were not allowed to board that night. Don’t ask me to explain it, I don’t think I could if I tried. What its got to do with us bikers I have no idea, but there are some things that are not worth even trying to fathom. All I know is that the only alternate accommodations at that late point was a bed in a stinky hostel dorm room. We finished off with a few night caps and off to bed early for the next days sailing.

I’ll sign off this post with a photo of the boat I was to take. Believe me, you are going to hear a lot more about it in the next couple of updates. Oh boy, are you ever going to hear about this “yacht”.

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The MS Independence Waiting In The Bay

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Panama City


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 Up to now I’ve avoided big cities if at all possible due to heavy traffic and navigation issues. In fact, if there was a way to avoid Panama City I would have taken it. What a mistake that would have been.

The approach to Panama city was memorable. The suburban buildup started about thirty minutes out, but puzzlingly disappeared the last few miles before the city. The road was surrounded by thick jungle on both sides with no buildings  to be seen. Then, I rounded a bend and the Bridge Of The Americas, which spans the Panama Canal, loomed ahead of me.

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Bridge Of The Americas - Image Courtesy of PR Photography

What a thrill it was crossing this magnificent bridge. I knew getting to the bridge was an important milestone on the trip – more or less the halfway point of the trip – but I was not expecting such a welling up of euphoria as I crossed the bridge. Going over the highest point of the bridge the astounding skyline of the city appeared before me. After over seven thousand miles and so many months of villages and small towns, arriving at this metropolis was exhilarating.

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On Move Shot Over The Bridge

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Down Into Panama City

Maybe I was a bit too thrilled. As I was going over the bridge I pulled into the slow lane so I could get a good gawk at the ships passing through the canal below. Well, the car ahead of me had the same idea and slowed down to stare at the ships also. I looked back at the road just in time to swerve and avoid him. No matter, the elation of being here was just too overpowering to worry about minor things like traffic hazards.

I made my way in to the old part of the city, found a cheap hotel and settled in for a couple of days. The old city was part yuppified, part falling down and had a different atmosphere than anywhere else I’d been so far. It was a mix of Latin American, European and Asian – a true crossroads of the world.

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Happy To Arrive In Panama City

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Old Panama City

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View Of The New City From The Old

I spent a couple of days wandering the city, taking in all the sights

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Old Panama City

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Old Panama City

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New Panama City

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New Panama City

I met fellow travellers, Kary and Omar from Mexico who are also traveling to Argentina in their cool VW Combi. The website is here. They are financing their trip as they go, so if you need any graphic design work done, drop them an email!. See you guys on the road again sometime.

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Kari & Omar

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And Their Cool VW Campervan

I met up with my biker friends from Santa Catalina and we went to visit Richard Harwood and Lupe at their apartment, which had spectacular views over the city. Richard and Lupe have travelled the world on motorbikes, so much tales were swapped and much wine was consumed. Thanks again for the hospitality!

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Socializing With Richard & Lupe

The buses in Panama City have fantastic paint schemes, and the drivers are very proud of them. One of them even stopped in the street when he saw me preparing to take a photo.

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Panama City Bus

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Panama City Bus - The Artwork Is Amazing

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Panama City Bus - The Artwork Is Amazing

The Canal

 Of course, a visit to the Canal is almost mandatory so off I went one afternoon to check it out. The Miraflores locks visitor center is only fifteen miles from the city center. The viewing platforms were mobbed, but it was a stunning sight to see these large ships pass so close by. The sequence below shows a ship passing through the canal from the Caribbean to the Pacific. The price to sail your ship through? Oh, just a quarter of a million dollars (based on tonnage and number of containers).

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Panama – Santa Catalina


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With the usual border paper-chase I arrived in Panama, country number nine on my trip, and the last in Central America.

Literally out of the gate and not two kilometers into the country it was swelteringly hot, with the first severe tropical downpour of the trip. I tried to ride it out for a while but visibility got so bad I took refuge in a petrol station and waited it out. Hopefully this wasn’t a portent of weather conditions for the rest of Panama.

Aside from that the first impression was the great four lane road, after the potholed section on the Costa Rican side. This would continue almost all the way to Panama City so it was easy to make time here. The other thing that struck me was there were almost no motorbikes on the road. In the first few hours in the country I saw no other motorbikes except for police motorbikes.  This was a slight problem as I usually take my cue from other motorbikes as to what is acceptable or not traffic behavior in a new country, so  in a sense I was running blind. Everywhere else in Central America there were more motorbikes than you could shake a stick at and I could quickly figure out if you could lane split, pass on the inside and in general take liberties you could never take in a car.

I was booked on a boat to Colombia on the 12th and I arrived in Panama on the 5th, so I could take my time getting to Portobelo from where the boat would leave. I decided to while away a couple of days in the Pacific coast  beach town of Santa Catalina, and it was a leisurely day and a half cruising through northern Panama to get there.

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Obligatory Morning Break - Union Rules

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As Always, Watch For Animals On The Raod

The scenery was more or less the same as Costa Rica, but a couple of cultural oddities became apparent as I wound my way through the mostly rural northwestern part of the country. The first of these was that the general stores in villages in towns were almost exclusively run by Asians. I went into a small shop in a village to be greeted by a middle aged Asian lady speaking Spanish with a Chinese accent. After months in Central America it was a surprise to see immigrants running businesses. In one shop the lady told me that a Panamanian president invited the immigrants over in the seventies in order to develop rural businesses.

The other surprising thing is that almost each of these stores (and there were at least two in every village) were festooned with the colour scheme of Digicel, an Irish telecommunications company. Apparently they have a near monopoly down here and instead of setting up their own shops they would partner with these small general stores to sell phones and minutes.

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Village Shop

I was sitting outside one of these stores up in the hills, idly reading my map and having my usual on-the-road lunch of biscuits, nuts and fruit juice when I had an up to now rare encounter with the village drunks. A couple of guys staggered over to me, sat down and started slurring:

Drunk #1: “Hola! We were in the cantina across the road and everyone there is  worried about you so we came over to see if you are ok”

Me: “Err, I ‘m fine, thanks for your concern”

Drunk #2, grabs the map: “So where are you going?, we can show you on the map!”

Me: “I’m going to Santiago (this was a lie), but that’s ok, I know how to read a map. I’ve done it a few times before”

Drunk # 1: “Santiago?, you need to take this road”

Me: “The one marked in blue?”

Drunk # 2: “Yep, that’s the one!”

Me: “Actually that’s a river. The road I need is here, marked in red”

Drunk # 2: “ So you think you know the way better than us??”

Me: “Yes. Thanks for your help, I’ve got to go now”

Drunk # 1: “Give us some money to buy a beer”

Drunk # 2: “For helping you!”

I knew this was coming and it was so annoying. At this point I just kept repeating thanks for the help as I got on the bike and prepared to head off into an impending rain shower I would have much preferred to sit out. All the while they kept pestering me for beer money. At some point in the “conversation” a police car pulled up near us. The cops were well within earshot of the exchange but they just sat there watching and didn’t do a single thing. So, thanks a bunch, Police of the town of Ruiz, Panama. Great job keeping the midday streets clear of drunks bothering tourists.

I did get a little revenge for them shattering my peaceful lunch, though: I was parked on a section of dirt beside the road, so I nailed the accelerator hard as I pulled out and left the pair of jerks scattering and cursing in a cloud of dust and dirt. Hah! And the cops didn’t do anything about that either. Really, someone should report them to their superiors for failing to control drunks and surly bikers.

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Scene Of the Altercation

I got to Santa Catalina later that afternoon. It was about two hours off the main road. The first part of the road was brilliant, the best I’ve seen anywhere on this trip. It was perfectly surfaced, with no traffic and rolled over low hills among beautiful forest. The second part was being renovated and alternated between kilometer long perfect pavement followed by equally long gravel sections. Coming off the pavement on to the gravel at speed was dangerous and I dared not brake. I found the best strategy was to ease off the throttle , stand on the pegs, loosen my grip on the handlebars, and let the bike move beneath me as I went through the gravel. I was standing up and sitting back down on the bike like a Jack In The Box for about thirty kilometers as I went through these sections.

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Santa Catalina Sunset

I would never have found Santa Catalina by myself; it was recommended to me by a German friend. I’m glad I made the effort to get there. Santa Catalina is a tiny but beautiful beach town. A bit off the beaten track for sure, but not so remote as to be undeveloped. It had a decent hotel and a couple of decent restaurants. The perfect place to hole up for a couple of nights. That first evening, as I was making my way to the restaurant I saw three overland bikes pull in down the street. I went to talk to them and realized I had met them briefly thousands of miles before and several weeks ago in San Cristobal De Las Casa, Mexico. Small world! Brad, David and Gui are also heading to Patagonia so it was good to talk shop with them over dinner and a few beers.

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Santa Catalina

This was to be the last beach for me for a while. I spent a couple of days relaxing and exploring the area, before heading on to Panama City.

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Santa Catalina

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Santa Catalina

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Santa Catalina

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Setting Out For Panama City

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Into 2012 – Costa Rica


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Crocodiles In The Tarcoles River

Note:I’ve been off the air a while. I’m in Colombia now. Regular programming to recommence shortly.

Having arrived safely in San Jose, I set up camp at the house of some old friends and went about some tasks in the lead up to Christmas.

First off was to the bike serviced. The Suzuki dealer didn’t have all the necessary parts and seemed not overly eager for my custom so I went to La Moto AG, a garage run by a garrulous Australian ex World Superbike racer. They did all the regular maintenance, and most importantly changed out the air filter. It had accumulated a lot of dust and dirt in the last few months so I sprang for a re-usable filter. That way, the next time it clogs up I can just wash it myself and not  need to hunt for replacement parts, which are very to come by down here.

My glasses were not holding up well to the rigors of the last few months so I wanted to get a new pair here. I got an eye exam, two frame and lens sets

Next up on the To Do list was to wash my riding jackets and pants. After thousands of miles of riding in dust , dirt and black clouds of diesel fumes, I looked more like I had been working down a coal mine instead of riding a motorbike.

Finally I gave the bike a long needed wash so everything was spick and span (for now).

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A Pic For Posterity Of Clean Clothes & Bike!

Tasks done I could relax and enjoy Christmas. Christmas customs were a little different in Costa Rica. We sat down to Christmas dinner at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, and then gave out the gifts directly afterwards.

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Handing Out Gifts

 

I’d been in contact with another rider and he rolled into town on the 26th. Mark’s blog is here. We met up for lunch and swapped tales of life on the road and I helped him track down a type repair shop to change his back tyre.

After Christmas I packed up and headed back out to the pacific coast and searched out a beach to celebrate the new year. I ended up in a village called Uvita and stayed at a very cool, cheap and funky place called the Hotel Toucan. A lot of travelers were staying here for the new year celebration so it was a good place to stop for a few days. The Italian and American owners laid on a great New Year’s party complete with four course meal and live music (including a guy playing the didgeridoo from Germany via Skype).

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Prime Parking Spot At The Hotel Toucan

 

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New Year Festivities
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Wildllife In Uvita

 

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Too Busy/Lazy To Sail Your Yacht? Put It On A Yacht-Ship!

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Verdant Scenery Everywhere

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Chito & Daughter

In the photo above is Chito and daughter. I met them in a bar in Golfito. Chito is known internationally as the “Costa Rican Crocodile Man”. Sadly, Pocho the crocodile passed away recently.

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Beach Near Golfito

After new year’s I headed down through southeast Costa Rica toward Panama with a stop over in the port town of Golfito. The scenery was still as stunning as ever with tropical vegetation encroaching the road, but the road itself got a lot worse the closer I got to Panama. There were potholes everywhere so it was back to zigzagging among the holes and avoiding the oncoming traffic swerving to avoid other potholes. Seems almost normal to me now!

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Onwards To Costa Rica


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The Green, Green Grass Of Costa Rica

All my rushing across the last few countries was in order to get to Costa Rica before Christmas. The bike badly needed a service and I badly needed a rest. I would stay with friends in the capital San Jose. It would be a nice break to stay at a house for once after so many hotel rooms over the last couple of months. I’m over six thousand miles into the trip and could do with some R&R.

I sped off from Granada, Nicaragua with the hope of getting to the border as early as possible. It was a Saturday morning and I had been warned that the border would be jam-packed with travellers going into Costa Rica to spend Christmas season. So I went faster than I should, overtaking each and every bus heading towards the border.

This border crossing was not in any way corrupt like the others, but it still took me four hours to get through because of the throngs and the staggering amount of paperwork required. I wont go into the whole bureaucracy rigmarole in detail, but I’m fairly certain that the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border is one of the seven circles of hell. Let’s leave it at that. If you can’t say anything nice, etc.

Once I got across the border the scenery immediately turned more tropical.  Trees and lush vegetation lined the road as I rolled south and on to San Jose. With this more tropical landscape also came the first rains I’ve seen in more than two months on the road.

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Tropical Bounty Snacktime

The other big difference from Nicaragua was the complete absence of cattle and other livestock on the side of the road. Only a few kilometers before I‘d been keeping a wary eye out for these beasts, and now over the border it was like they had all been raptured by some sort of vengeful animal God.

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A Cattle Free Road, Yesterday.

The travel Gods were smiling on me, however. The sun came back out, the road opened up, and I made great time until nightfall caught up with me. Just as it was getting dark, I found a very modern , slick but still relatively cheap hotel in the unlikely setting of a small farming town. They even had wine! and hot water! I know a good thing when I see so I checked in to enjoy a bit of luxury for once.

Next day was the final push over the mountains to San Jose, where I would hang up my helmet for a while. Costa Rica is much more developed than any of the other countries I’ve been and as such it had a strong biking community. In other countries the only motorbikes to be seen were small capacity utilitarian bikes, where as here I began to see more and more big bikes as I got closer to the capital.  As I was making my way down the mountain a big BMW GS pulled alongside gesturing for me to pull over. We chatted about my trip and Roberto gave me some great contacts for getting my bike sorted out in San Jose.

Then, further down the road I heard a deafening rumbling behind me and was swarmed by dozens of bikes, mostly Harleys. Among thumbs up signs I fell into formation and rode with them a few kilometers to a café. Here I met Moto Club M14, of San Jose.

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M14 Moto Club, San Jose

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M14 Moto Club, San Jose

One of the great things I’ve discovered about the motorcycling community is that even though you are strangers, because you are on a motorcycle you have instant friends whenever you meet other bikers. The generosity offered to an errant traveller is amazing and humbling.

When they realized I was a foreigner and on a long distance trip, I was peppered with questions from all sides. I felt like a celebrity with all the attention. They insisted on buying me breakfast (even though I’d had breakfast a couple of hours before), and I  posed for dozens of photos with the bike. Most of the bikes were Harleys, and there was one V-Strom (the same model bike as mine, and only the second one I’ve seen since Mexico)  The owner, Oscar, told me where I would find the best workshop to service the bike and offered me a spare air filter off his bike in the event I couldn’t find one in stock. He works at Intel and has many Irish colleagues.

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The Cleanest V-Strom In Central America Is On The Right. The Filthiest Is On The Left.

 They were going back up into the mountains and invited me along , but I was expected at my friends’ house  and had to decline the offer. So after countless handshakes, backslaps and good lucks, they went on their way and I continued on mine into San Jose where I got incredibly lost. On previous, non-motorcycle visits I’d driven in San Jose several times and though I knew my way around but hadn’t been here for five years, so I suppose my memory is failing me! At least I have a record of this trip on this blog, so hopefully I wont forget all this in five years time!

Eventually I found the place and settled in for Christmas. Post on that soon.

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Nicaragua – A Flying Visit


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One Of The Many Volcanoes As I Travel Along The "Pacific Ring Of Fire"

After my overnight in Honduras, I continued on to Nicaragua. The last few countries I’ve travelled in are relatively small so it was almost a border crossing per day for the last week. Today is Thursday so it must be Nicaragua!

The border crossing was very easy compared to the high drama in the last few countries. Nothing to report really, just the usual paperwork and standing in line.

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Another Day Another Country

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Nicaragua. All I knew about the country was its civil war of decades ago and somehow assumed it would be a backward and broken place, still war-scarred. Well, my preconceived notions were quickly corrected during this visit.

It’s the second poorest country in the hemisphere, but to my mind it didn’t look all that much poorer than other Central American countries. While cold war era  jalopies were common enough on the roads, there were plenty of new card and luxury SUVs sharing the road as well.  The towns were a little bit ragged around the edges but felt safe and prosperous for the most part, with some American chains like KFC and Radio Shack being not uncommon.

Also surprising was the excellent state of the roads. No potholes, no washed out bridges, and proper signposting for a change. While I still had to keep an eye out for livestock on the side of the road, driving habits were near first world standards. Nobody sped too much, and the traffic laws seemed to be religiously adhered to. What a change after the last couple of weeks. For the first time in a long time I was able to travel at a steady sixty MPH without tensing up over what mayhem could be lying in wait around the next bend. In fact traffic was so orderly that my recently acquired bad riding habits got me in hot water for the first time in the six thousand miles I’ve done on the trip so far. In Managua, I got pulled over by a motorcycle cop for making a lane where one didn’t exist to overtake a truck . No big deal though. He let me go with a warning so it was a good wake up call to start driving “western style” again. On that note I’d like to point out that in all my interactions with the police on the trip so far, not a single time have I been shaken down for a bribe. They have all been friendly and professional. Lets hope it continues that way.

City navigation became more difficult though. Here the larger towns and cities had a very complex one way system that I haven’t seen elsewhere. Even in smaller cities like Leon and Granada I would spend a good hour navigating in and out. And I only had to ask for directions about twenty seven times going through the capital, Managua. It really is high time I schooled my self on how to the use the GPS that’s gathering dust deep somewhere deep in my luggage.

I wish I could have stayed longer here and explored more, but I only spent two nights here. One in Leon, and one in Granada. Both of them are really nice colonial towns and would be high on my list to visit again someday.

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A Slice Of Paradise For $25 A Night. Leon, Nicaragua

I didn’t see the best scenery of Nicaragua either. Mostly I cruised through farm country, around the base of volcanoes, and along the edge of Lake Nicaragua. It was nice enough, but not too spectacular. I missed all the rain forests and the beaches, but hope to see more of them in Costa Rica, the next country on my itinerary.

In truth I didn’t give the country the time it deserves to explore properly. There’s a lot more to see there, but all in all, my time in Nicaragua was surprisingly orderly if a little boring. Although that’s not a bad thing after the excitement of the last few weeks!

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Roadside Slots Where I Tried My Luck

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Leon, Nicaragua

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Sandinista Monument In Granada

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Nicaraguan Bikers I Met Along The Way

 

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Brilliant Nicaraguan Roads

 

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