Happy New Year!

I hope this message finds you all well! I’m spending New Years with friends and relatives of some family friends in Rionegro just outside of Medellin, Colombia. I wish you all the best and Happy New Year!!!


Day 129 – Medellin, CO

Day 129 – Medellin, CO      12/28/10      Mileage: 0

Business opportunity in Medellin…laundromat! I asked a dozen people if they knew of one and the closest I got was a dry cleaner…and they said it would take 3 days! I walked probably 20 square blocks figuring surely there must be one in the heart of a bustling city…but…nope, I didn’t see one! I finally gave up and knocked on the door of a hostel and the owner was kind enough to do my laundry for $5…and would have it back to me the next day. Anyway, next up was lunch at 12:30 with Santiago who is the cousin of a friend of my parents and gracious enough to meet me and show me around! He picked me up at the Shamrock and took me to the heart of the downtown for lunch where his family owns a restaurant. It turns out he has a passion for travel also and took a year off for an around the world backpacking trip. He lived abroad in France and Venezuela for a while as well and speaks very good english.

After lunch…which I was treated to…he showed me some of the sights downtown.


We also took the elevated metro which was a great way to see the city.

Santiago is very proud of his city and it shows in the way he talks about it. I told him when I first hatched the plan for this trip, I was debating whether to skip Colombia because of the prevailing perception in the US, but the more I read the more I looked forward to visiting. He said that Medellin and Colombia in general has made an amazing turnaround from the legacy of the drug wars and violence. I know he is right because I’ve seen it for myself. I feel safer and more at ease here…in the small towns and cities…than I did in Mexico or other countries in Central America, maybe even Costa Rica. He also told me of a project that the Medellin government undertook to build a library in the roughest part of the city, high on a hill. They had to go in with swarms of armed police at first, and now it is a popular place to come, even for tourist like me. We took a “public transit gondola” to get there, which itself helped to turn the area around.

The black building is the library built in what used to be the roughest part of town.

These projects are a testament to the good that government can do to improve people’s lives when they have the people’s best interest in mind, and not their own or that of the special interests. So I said adios to Santiago and took the metro back to the Shamrock. I spent some time getting some posts up on the blog, and then parked myself in a nearby cafe in the Zona Rosa to write more and take in the scene before calling it a night.

Day 128 – Santuario, CO to Medellin, CO

Day 128 – Santuario, CO to Medellin, CO     12/27/10      Mileage: 89

It was going to be a short ride to Medellin, so I was in no rush to get out the door. Plus, it was raining…another excuse to linger a bit longer. Around 10 the weather cleared and I hit the road.

I read about a nice scenic overlook called El Penal…a 20 kilometer detour off of the road to Medellin. Since I had plenty of time today, I decided to go check it out.

El Penol is a big rock outcropping with stairs going up a crack in one side to the top where the view is spectacular.

It turned out to be a pretty unique place and the view from the top was amazing…well worth the $4 and 460 something stairs!

The view from the top…

It reminded me of the lakes region of the Adirondacks. After lingering a while at the top, I headed back down and went to the nearby town of Guatape for a lakeside lunch.

Stomach stuffed with food and eyeballs filled to the rim with scenery, I retreated back to the main road and on to Medellin.

Coming into town off of the mountain pass were some great views of Medellin.

The northern part of Medellin.

In town I fought my way though the city traffic but lane splitting is practically a sport down here, so on a bike you can still weave your way through.

In this picture you can see that the rider has his license plate number on the back of his helmet and the vest he is wearing. The reason for this is that back in the day when there was much violence in Colombia, the prefered assassination vehicle was the motorcycle. They would ride with 2…one for driving and the other to do the shooting….and the motorcycle could make an easy getaway weaving through the city traffic. To combat this, the government required all riders to wear there license plate number on a reflective vest and on the back of their helmet. I’m not sure if this is still strictly enforced, as some riders no longer wear them.

I found my way to the Shamrock Irish Pub pretty easily and was greeted by Leiday(XXXXXsp) and a DR350 out front.

Albert the owner and fellow motorcyclist who is originally from Scotland was home visiting relatives for the holidays, so I would not get to meet him this time around…too bad.

I heard about his place through the AdvRider website…an Irish pub in the heart of Medellin, friendly to motorcyclist, near many motorcycle dealers, secure parking and a room for rent adorned with motorcycle artwork…sounds like a no brainer to me! Leiday(XXXX) showed me my room and afterwards I pulled the KLR inside behind Al’s 950 Adventure.

Once settled I took the obligatory walk around the neighborhood and all I can say is Colombia continues to wow me…great climate, cosmopolitan cities, beaches, great roads, free tolls for motorcycles and tons of great looking women! Sounds like paradise to me….and it would be if they had snow for skiing! Oh well, 9 out of 10 ain’t bad… 😉

Day 127 – Puerto Boyaca, CO – Santuario, CO

Day 127 – Puerto Boyaca, CO – Santuario, CO     12/26/10     Mileage: 95

After a nice breakfast in the hotel restaurant, I hit the road towards Medellin.

 The road started out fairly flat but soon turned into the mountains. The sun was shining, the truck traffic was light, the KLR was firing on all, well, one cylinder and there were more twists in the road than bowl of linguine. That’s a pretty great morning by any measure! 

Here’s another reason to like Colombia….motorcycles don’t have to pay tolls! The narrow lane between the two yellow curbs on the right is the FREE motorcycle lane!

My good fortune continued when I turned off the road for lunch in the little mountain town of Santuario.

Wow was this a great little town! I parked the bike on the main square and me in a sidewalk cafe overlooking it. It was Sunday afternoon and everyone was out and about.

On a side note, I was told that the Colombian women were gorgeous. Trust me gents, as someone who worked for years in NYC for a women’s luxury fashion company, it is absolutely true! This town seems to be particularly blessed, maybe there’s something in the water…I don’t know. But, regardless of that, or admittedly because of it, I decided to stay the night if I found cheap digs…which I did. After stashing the bike and my gear, I walked around town and they have a thin slice of heaven here for sure.

Mmmm…meat and motorcycles…   They go together like peanut butter and jelly…

And the police ride dual-sports…

Many of the older gents wear fedora hats with ponchos over their shoulders.

The town feels totally safe and there are people everywhere walking, shopping, relaxing or doing what I was doing…just taking it all in.

That night I had a light dinner from the street vendors in the main square and a few drinks around town. Tomorrow I will (finally) ride on to Medellin!

Parting Shot: Even the horses like it better in town…

Day 126 – Bogota, CO to Puerto Boyaca, CO

Day 126 – Bogotá, CO to Puerto Boyaca, CO      12/25/10      Mileage: 140

I met Brian for breakfast at the hotel and he and Andy hit the road shortly after heading south for Cali. It was nice to catch up with Brian again, and I probably will catch him again at some point.

Brian and Andy getting ready to head out…

I was heading northwest towards Medellin, but the wifi at the hotel was quite good so I made use of it to get another blog post up before hitting the road. Just after packing the bike it started to rain…crap. Oh well, such is life and hopefully it will clear up shortly so I can enjoy the twisty mountain roads between here and Medellin.

The rain did eventually let up and then stopped altogether…sweet! Now I can not only enjoy the twisty roads but also the views which were great!

Entering one of many military checkpoints along the road. Personally I’m glad they’re there. All the soldiers here carry really big guns! Here’s a close-up below…

It was still tough to make time as there were many slow moving trucks and few opportunities to pass.

 I had one close call passing a truck…let’s just say if I were driving car it would have been a head-on with the truck coming the other way, but on the bike I was able to squirt by between the two trucks. My butt puckered up so tight I’ll be farting bits of my seat for a week. The upside to having a close call is it brings you back to reality, reminds you of your mortality and for me it refocuses my eye on the prize…to get to the tip of South America (and back home in one piece)!  I wish I had the helmet cam on movie mode…it would have been a hell of a movie!

Soon it became apparent that I was not going to make it all the way to Medellin before nightfall, so at 4 in the afternoon I pulled off the road at a $10 hotel that was quite nice for the money. I had dinner at a little roadside stand…2 epanadas, yogurt, and 2 beers.

Tomorrow it’s back on the road to Medellin…

Day 125 – Bogota, CO

Day 125 – Bogotá, CO      12/24/10      Mileage: local miles

This morning Brian and I met for breakfast and it was good to see a familiar face. He has had a bad cold for 2 weeks and had some trouble with Girag. Apparently it took 4-5 days for the bike to get from Panama to Bogotá. I hope my KLR is here in Bogotá as I’ve sent 2 emails to Girag for an update and have not heard back. Well, only one way to find out, so after breakfast a hopped a cab to the international air cargo terminal to hopefully spring my bike from the slammer. Once I found the Girag office, I was pleased to find out the bike was indeed here in Bogata…awesome!

So with my and a new stack of paperwork, I was off to Colombia customs to import the KLR.

This is the Colombian aduana building at the airport freight terminal

The paperwork only required one visit to a pair of nice ladies who took care of the whole import permit for me.

I thanked them for their refreshing efficiency and went back to Girag with my freshly minted import permit.

Inside the Girag warehouse

The bike looked to be in one piece…great…now if only I didn’t leave the damn key back at the hotel. Crap! Looks like another hour taxi tour of the city…which I’ll call a $25 spanish lesson also as I got to practice with Jose, my round-trip cabby.

This white building behind the wall is the US Embassy here in Bogotá….

So now I’ve got the key and back at Girag I sprang the bike from the warehouse and I’m off and riding in Bogotá!

To get out of the warehouse, they put a ramp down from the loading dock.

Back at the hotel I stashed the bike in their secure lot, dumped my gear and went out to explore the city and get a lite bite. It’s late afternoon on Christmas Eve day and I’m surprised to see everything is still open…but it allows me to get a good feel for the city instead of being all closed up. I stopped for a beer and some tapas, but aside from that I walked around for almost 5 hours seeing the sights.


This guy had a funny street game going…you place your bet on which bowl the guinea pig will run and hide under…a sort of guinea pig roulette!

Back at the hotel I met up with Brian and Andy who is another rider originally from the UK but living in NYC. He road down from NYC and was also heading for Argentina. Undeterred by the fact that it was Christmas Eve, we wandered out to see if by chance there was a restaurant that was still open.

Well, as you might have guessed, there wasn’t….so we ended up getting some Italian takeout (calzone for me) and a few beers and went back to Andy’s hostel for Christmas dinner.

Ordering dinner from our “street pizzaria”…

From L to R: Andy, me and Brian

While certainly not traditional, it was still good fun.

Day 124 – Cartagena, CO to Bogota, CO

Day 124 – Cartagena, CO to Bogotá, CO 12/23/10 Mileage: Riding 0 / 1 airline flight

No alpine start for me today as I was still feeling the effects of those caipirinhas. That’s it, I’m not drinking anymore…..or at least not before lunch. 😉 Armed with my camera I spent the next 3 hours on a photo safari around old town Cartagena. It was like the proverbial shooting fish in a barrel as Cartagena is very picturesque. The old town and its Spanish colonial architecture is contained within the walls of a fort perched right on the Caribbean Sea…pretty idyllic. History is everywhere you look and you can feel it’s depth as you stroll along the tight colonial era streets. Here are the pics…

I stopped into this stand that makes great fruit juices and smoothies…

Fresh fruit is available everywhere on the street from these carts…

I toured the Naval Museum which was nice and only $3.50

On the way back to the hotel, I swung through the local market which is always interesting!

After a nice lunch I went back to the hotel to collect my bags and head for the airport for my flight to Bogotá. The airport had free wifi and seats with with power outlets which was nice for a change…I think all airports should do that! The flight was short and uneventful and once on the ground I hopped a taxi to the Dann Colonial Hotel which is where Brian has been staying the last few days. I dropped my bags and wandered out for a quick bite and then called it an early night.

Late night street pizza in Bogotá


Day 123 – Panama City, PA to Cartagena, CO

Day 123 – Panama City, PA to Cartagena, CO      12/22/10      Mileage: 0 riding / 1 hour flight

I had some coffee with my morning wifi and was out the door at 8:30 to tour the famous Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal. I was really looking forward to this and it was well worth it. I got to see two ships transit out of the locks along with a 50′ sailboat…pretty cool! They also had a short movie and some nice exhibits.

I spent about 2 hours there all together, then it was off to the airport to catch my flight to Cartagena, Colombia…country # 11! The flight was short and uneventful and I was jazzed to be in South America finally! I parked myself at the Casa Viena and immediately walked out to the old city to see the sights. It was already dark, but I took tons of pictures anyway. Old town Cartagena is a very photogenic place…there are great pictures lurking everywhere you point your camera. I’ll let the pictures tell the story…

After walking around I had a light dinner of salmon ceviche and vino blanco, and followed that up with a few drinks at a cool little bar that makes a mean caipirinha! Don’t ask me how I know…

Day 122 – Panama City, PA

Day 122 – Panama City, PA      12/21/10      Mileage: Local miles

I spent the morning, you guessed it, using the hotel wifi and making plans for the road south. Afterwards I rode over to the Girag air freight office at Panama City’s Tocumen International airport freight terminal to get information on shipping the KLR to Bogotá, Colombia. I have been looking for a sailboat to take me and the bike from Panama’s Caribbean coast to Cartagena, Colombia…but so far I haven’t found a viable option that will fit my time frame. Let me back up a minute for the folks who may not know that there is no road between Central and South America. The Pan American Highway (indeed all roads south) ends in Panama and begins again in Colombia. The inhospitable and roadless jungle that separates them is called the Darien Gap. The only way to get from Panama to Colombia is by boat (there is no regular ferry service, only chartered boats) or to air freight the bike over the Darien Gap. So, it’s the latter option that I was at the Girag office for. I spoke with Madeleyne who laid out my options….pack the bike and ship it right now or wait a week for the next flight….crap!! I wasn’t prepared to pull the trigger just yet as I was still waiting for some emails back for the boat option. Hmmm…wait a week in the hopes that a boat will turn up or just pull the trigger now. Oh well, f–k it…I pulled the trigger! I didn’t have a flight for me yet…or even the money in hand to pay for the bike, but it was 1:30pm and I had to have the bike prepped and paperwork through customs in under 2 hours for the bike to make the flight! Crap! This was gonna be tight!

First I went to try and get $900 out of the ATM in the freight terminal next door as without that, the KLR wasn’t going anywhere. Money in hand, next I got the paperwork going with Girag while I started to prep the bike and gear for the plane ride to Bogotá. I was in my riding gear, so I did a striptease behind some freight pallets into my street clothes.

The bike is prepped and waiting with the other skids of freight!

Next I paid for the flight and once all that was sorted it was off to the Panama officials to get all the appropriate stamps and signatures. I wondered why if I’m paying Girag $901.38 they are not doing this instead of me…but at this point I didn’t care and would do whatever it takes to get the bike on that plane! At the customs offices, I was pointed to the right office after a few attempts and got the first of 3 stamps I needed. Next I was pointed to the agriculture inspectors office (or that’s what I think it was at least), and she seemed to have an issue that I had ridden through Central America and wanted to ship the bike on to Colombia. She had a somewhat heated discussion with some of her colleagues, but I missed most of it with my limited spanish. In the end she begrudgingly applied her stamp, signed it and passed it back to me. I smiled, said thanks and went in search of the last stamp at the police checkpoint. This official also wasn’t happy with something with my paperwork or maybe they didn’t know what to do with a motorcycle…I’m not sure. She also spent a few minutes chatting with her coworkers, but in the end applied her magic stamp…success! One last window where the official said the policia woman didn’t fill out the stamp correctly. Crap! So I ran back, she had another look, muttered something, put a few more pen strokes on the stamp and handed it back to me. Now back to the last window and….success! I ran back to the Girag office with my freshly stamped, signed and otherwise processed paper pile. Sweet! It was now 3:45, 15 minutes past the deadline but it didn’t seem to be a problem. Done deal….the KLR has a plane ticket to Bogotá! Now, errr…perhaps I should look for one for me! I hailed a local cab to take me to the main passenger terminal where I caught a cab back downtown. The 2 cabs cost $40 in total….3 tanks worth of gas for the KLR. I could go over 600 miles with that same $40…oh well. Once back at the hotel I booked a flight using some of my frequent flyer miles (thanks Jimmy Choo!). Since I was going direct to Bogotá, I would of had to backtracked north to see Cartagena and then down…an 800 mile detour. I really want to see Cartagena, so I booked a flight to Cartagena, then on to Bogata. This way I get to see it without having to backtrack so far north. After that I walked around Panama City for a bit and found some dinner.

Old Panama City

New Panama City from Old Panama City

Tomorrow I’m going to tour the Panama Canal locks at Miraflores, then it’s on to the airport to catch my flight to Cartagena!

Day 121 – Boquete, PA to Panama City, PA

Day 121 – Boquete, PA to Panama City, PA      12/20/10      Mileage: 311

Today was a transit day with a little over 300 miles of mostly super-slab down the Pan American Highway to Panama City. I spent several hours in the morning updating the blog and bouncing emails, so I got a late start and arrived late in the day and had to ride the last few miles at night…something I loath doing.

Some nice section of road coming out of the mountains before the Pan American super slab…

I think I like the new bridge better…

What to do when you’re grinding down 200 miles of interstate…dick around with the camera of course!

I’m doing 60 in the picture above…looks like I’m standing on the side of the road…

 The big news for the day however is that I found a solution to my rear shock problem…or more specifically, a solution found me! Ricor Racing Shocks, maker of high performance motorcycle shocks, has offered to “sponsor” my ride! I was speechless at the offer and it took me all of about 3 seconds to think that one over! So, Don from Ricor is sending me one of their high performance shocks and a set of “Intiminator” inertia valves for my front forks…for free.

Shameless plug:  www.ricorshocks.com

Out of the ashes of a big problem comes an opportunity to make my bike better than new! The KLR is an unsophisticated motorcycle and that goes for the suspension as well. Having the opportunity to not only solve my current problem but make the suspension perform much better than new is a huge bonus! It also could not have come at a better time as the worst (best?) roads of the trip will soon be under my wheels in the mountains of Peru and the Bolivian Altiplano. So a big thanks to Ricor for helping me out of a jam!! With that, it’s on to Colombia and South America!!!

Day 120 – Boquete, PA

Day 120 – Boquete, PA 12/20/10 Mileage: 0

The highlight today was a 3 hour coffee tour I booked with one of the local coffee growers named Cafe Ruiz. It was expensive at $30, but I have to say it was worth every penny. It was a complete education on coffee from how it’s grown, processed, roasted and ended with a tasting. Our tour guide (there was a young gal from Philly with her grandmother on the tour also) was Carlos and he knows everything there is to know about coffee and is a real connoisseur. First a little background from the man…Panama is the seventh largest grower of coffee with 60-70 percent of it grown in and around Boquete. Panama has brought home the gold medal at what amounts to the coffee olympics for something like 7 out of the last 10 years. Because of this, Panama is widely recognized as a very high quality producer of coffee. Indeed, the most expensive coffee in the world is grown in Panama right here in Boquete…the cost, $500 per pound! The tour started at the farm where the coffee is grown. Cafe Ruiz takes a very eco-friendly approach to growing coffee and indeed their “coffee fields” look like wild forest more than a traditional crop field like you might expect. Mixed in with the coffee plants are banana and other fruit trees, bushes and other shade trees all there to serve a specific purpose.

The pic above and below are the coffee “fields”…looks like wild forest to the untrained eye…

If you look close, you will see the ride red coffee fruit.

New coffee plant seedlings being started…

From left to right…a coffee fruit, coffee bean, coffee sprout and the young plant inside the sprout….

Different kinds of coffee grown at Cafe Ruiz. Arabica Geisha, on the right, is the one that fetches $500 per pound from another local grower.

Arabica coffee originally comes from Ethiopia…as does Arabica Geisha despite the Japanese sounding name. Geisha is a town in Ethiopia, hence the name. Arabica thrives in climates 1500 to 1800 meters above sea level, mixed sun and shade, rich volcanic soil and lots of rain…all things that Boquete has! All coffee “fruit”, which each contains two coffee beans, are selected and picked by hand when they turn red in color and are ripe.

Next we were off to the facility where the coffee fruit gets processed just down the road.

The coffee fruit is taken to a tank where they are “floated”…or more precisely sunk.

This is the tank where the floaters are separated.

It’s the floaters that are no good and are sold to shit coffee makers like Nescafe or Folgers…no kidding! The joke around here for Nescafe is to call it No-es-cafe…spanish for “not is coffee”! So after the floaters are separated and removed, the coffee fruit is put into a machine that squeezes out the 2 beans inside.

This machine squeezes the beans from the ripe coffee fruit and separates any un-ripe beans.

 The whole lot is then put in a fermentation tank for 1 day, then the beans are cleaned and put into a “pre-dryer for 3 hours.

This is the fermentation tank.

this is the pre-drying building and the pre-dryers below.

After that the beans are put in natural fiber bags and aged for 3-6 months.

Our guide Carlos holding some aging coffee beans.

After aging, the beans are put into a machine that removes the outer two husks leaving the raw green coffee bean.

Next they are sorted for size, shape, density and color before they are put in large driers for around 36 hours.

Above and below are the coffee dryers.

 After drying they are ready to be bagged and shipped! It’s quite an involved process when you think, or at least like I thought, that you just pick the raw beans and roast them.

Cafe Ruiz exports 95% of there coffee “green”, or un-roasted. What roasting they do is mostly for the domestic market, and that was our next stop. We enter the coffee roasting house and as you can imagine, the aroma was unbelievable! But before we could go into the production area, we had to put on these sexy duds….paging Dr. Neugarten.

Once inside we got to look at and smell several kinds of beans and different roasts…and the different aromas were amazing.

Cafe Ruiz’s second roaster purchased some 50 years ago…it still works.

This is their main roaster

Then after looking at some of the roasting equipment, we were off to the tasting. We got to sample some of the goods and it really was enlightening and every bit as complex as wine tasting for those with a developed palate(which I of course lack). Yet, even I could tell a huge difference between the different roasts. As the tour was wrapping up, in walks some of the Ruiz family which was a treat. Mr Ruiz Sr. is 89 and still works everyday. Mr. Ruiz Jr. manages the local operations.

From L to R: Mrs. and Mr Ruiz Sr., Mr. Ruiz Jr and our guide Carlos.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience and I would highly recommend the tour if you are ever down this way!

So, here are some other facts and common coffee misconceptions, straight from the man who is definitely in the know!

– Darker coffee beans make “stronger” coffee. False, it’s been roasted longer and is therefore more bitter, but not necessarily “stronger”.
– Darker coffee beans have more caffeine: False, caffeine is lost in the longer roasting, hence the same bean with a lighter roast will have more caffeine.
– How to get a “strong” cup of coffee with more caffeine then? Use a lighter roast, but more of it per cup.
– It takes on average 48 beans to make a cup of coffee.
– It’s rumored espresso was invented in the early 1900’s by a factory owner in Italy that was looking for a way to make coffee faster to get his employee’s back to work sooner!
– Flavored coffee is exactly that…flavored syrup that is added after roasting. There are no coffee plants that produce coffee that tastes like “chocolate hazelnut swirl”. ( And no self respecting connoisseur would be caught drinking it either!)
– Ever wonder why espresso is often served with a little cookie or biscotti? It’s to take the bitter taste of the espresso off of your palate.

So there you have it….everything you never wanted to know about coffee!!

Day 119 – Boquete, PA

Day 119 – Boquete, PA 12/18/10 Mileage: 0

Today was more or less doing chores, getting the blog updated and other miscellaneous online housekeeping done. The hotel’s wifi is tango uniform (which is “military speak” for “T U”…which stands for “Tits Up” which means “it’s totally f–king broke and ain’t workin no more”) so I parked myself at the Shalom Bakery for 5 hours and nursed 2 americano’s and a cinnamon roll. I spoke to the owner for a bit and he’s a nice guy from Korea. His spanish is much better than mine, but with his Korean accented spanish and my meager english accented spanish…our conversation was comical! So, why a Korean guy with a bakery called “Shalom Bakery”…he just likes the word “Shalom”…too funny!

I also took the obligatory walk around town and noticed there were at least 20 hostels in town…a sure sign that Boquete is on the rise as a tourist destination.

The Boquete town center…

At night I had dinner at the Boquete Cafe which has a nice dinning room and bar. Soon though, music which was 600 decibel’s louder than it needed to be for adequate consumption started emanating from the upstairs loft. I thought, well now, at least I found the happening spot because they must be playing the music that loud to be heard over all of the party revelers! Sweet, so I slicked back my eyebrows, checked my front teeth for stray cabbage and went upstairs on the prowl. Unfortunately, my arrival upstairs doubled the occupants of the loft…and the other person was th DJ with a hearing problem. With that I did an about-face and beat a hasty retreat for the door. On the way back to the hotel I hit the grocery for shaving cream, vitamins and foot spray which I hope will kill whatever has taken up residence in my riding boots before they walk away by themselves.

Boquete’s central park at night…

Day 118 – Santa Clara, CR to Boquete, PA

Day 118 – Santa Clara, CR to Boquete, PA      12/17/10      Mileage: 138

This morning I gave the bike a good once over and did some routine maintenance as the hotel had what amounts to a car port. Once I finished and the bike was packed, I set of for the Panama border…country number 10! The GPS maps for here and all of Central America that I downloaded are a mixed bag and not nearly as good as the U.S. of course. Sometimes they’re OK, other times whole towns or regions may be blank….hence why you always need a paper map also. Well, I was well off the beaten track and the GPS was helpful but with only the general direction I needed to go. The paper map was of little help as the road I needed was not on it….so I was left to do a lot of asking the locals.

Hola, do you guys know where the Rio Sereno border crossing is?

Let’s see…is it down this road…nope.

Hola, do you guys know where the Rio Sereno border crossing is?


Hola, do you guys know where the Rio Sereno border crossing is?


Hola, do you guys know where the Rio Sereno border crossing is?


OK, one more try with the GPS…


Hola, do you guys know where the Rio Sereno border crossing is?

Not looking good…

Hey wait….what’s this?

Holy crap, this is it!

After numerous wrong turns and many stops to as directions from the Tico’s, I finally found the tiny Rio Sereno border crossing which is down a random unmarked dirt road. I was also glad to see that I was the only overland traveler at border….cool! Once I found the right building, I was processed out of Costa Rica in 5 minutes by a guy who live in Freehold, NJ for 3 years….too funny!

This is the Costa Rica immigration building…

Next it was on to the Panama immigration office which also took all of 10 minutes to process through. Next it was to the Panama aduana to get an import permit for the bike, but alas….the office had just closed. Well, there’s actually only one guy who works there, and he was going to lunch…even though it was only 10:45am.

This is the Panama aduana “building”.

No problem though, I’ll have a bite to eat myself and have a look around. At 12:30 the aduana office door opened I started the process of importing the bike. The gent working in the office was a really nice guy and very helpfull…he even walked me around to the insurance office to show me exactly where to purchase the compulsory insurance.

My new friend at the Panama aduana office…

Done! Time to hit the road…

So once that was done, I was off and running in Panama! The road from Rio Sereno towards Volcan is awesome! Rural, twisty, mountainous, perfect pavement and largely deserted made for some great riding and I’d put it on your list if your down this way.

The route to Boquete that was the most direct turned out to have a bridge that was out. Bollix! Now I had to go all the way down to the Pan American highway to David, and then back north to Boquete…a 60 mile detour. Oh well, I went 100 miles to retrieve my bloody Big Sky t-shirt, so I guess that’s not too bad!

My $20 hotel with HOT running water!

The info center on the way into town found me a nice hotel for $20 with…wait for it…actual real honest to god HOT running water! It had literally been 2 months since I had a real shower with hot and cold running water….I might take two just because I can!

Here is todays route profile below….ups and downs usually mean lefts and rights also….that’s the good stuff!

Day 117 – Cartago, CR to Santa Clara, CR

Day 117 – Cartago, CR to Santa Clara, CR 12/16/10 Mileage: 197

After weeks of being in the tropical heat, the cool mountain air of central Costa Rica feels awesome! Dare I say it was even cold last night, as the hotel was at a little over 5000 ft above sea level, or about the same height as Denver, CO.

GPS elevation data from todays route.

So I bid farewell to my love-shack and hit the road headed over the mountains back towards the coast and the surf town of Dominical where I’m going to stop in and say hi to the brother-in-law of my friend Danielle. The road was socked in with fog which was too bad as the views would have been great!

 But as the road climbed it broke through the clouds into glorious sunshine all the way to the top of the mountain pass at just over 10,000 ft!

The view was awesome back over the clouds with distant mountain peaks poking through.

That #$%$@# saggy rear shock. I stopped to take a photo and the damn bike toppled over again. Of course I have nobody to blame but myself, I just didn’t get it on enough of a downward slope…knowing full well the rear shock is toast. Bollix! This guy stopped to help me pick it up which was nice of him…

Ahhhh…this is good stuff!

Once over the pass the road descended into the town of San Isidro before climbing back up and over one last small mountain range before the coast.

 Looking down at the town of San Isidro

This jet was just sitting on the side of the road like it fell out of the sky intact….becasue there is no runway anywhere to be found!

Josh is Danielle’s brother-in-law and he owns a restaurant in Dominical called Maracatu. Unfortunately (for me, not him!) he was out surfing, so all I got was a picture of my bike with his restaurant.

That will have to do as the road south beckons along with my desire to reach South America! My goal now was to reach the small town of Santa Clara which is only a few kilometers from the small Panama border crossing of Rio Sereno, well off the beaten track and the Pan American Highway.

Here is yet another reminder why you can’t (shouldn’t) ride fast down here. Here is a shot of an obscured corner where….surprise! Half the road is gone…your side of the road! It was a good 10 vertical feet down into the ravine. Yep…no cones or warning either.

Once in Santa Clara I found a reasonable hotel and then wandered out to find dinner and some wifi.

All the nicest hotels have piles of debris like this one…  😛

Dinner proved much easier to track down, as the only places that seemed to have internet were computer shops that were now closed. Oh well, the blog will have to wait.

Day 116 – La Fortuna, CR to Cartago, CR

Day 116 – La Fortuna, CR to Cartago, CR 12/15/10 Mileage: 103

I spent almost 4 hours at a little cafe this morning updating the blog and looking for information on getting my rear shock spring replaced in Panama city. The bike is running great and I have no complaints or problems save for one….the stock rear shock spring. It is really soft, and even though I am traveling reasonably light and have it adjusted to its stiffest setting, it is sagging so much that the bike will barely stay on the side stand on level ground with bags on. To park the bike on the side stand now, I have to look for uneven ground and lean it to the downhill side. Once I get on the bike, I would say at least half or more of the suspension travel is gone and the ride is terrible on rough roads. So hopefully I can find a shop that can replace the coil spring on the rear shock, or else I might have to replace the shock all together which is big $$$. So after all that internet surfing, I didn’t get on the road until 1 in the afternoon.

The view of Volcan Arenal from La Fortuna….looks dangerously close to me!

A Wave Sport “Kinetic” whitewater kayak….I used to own one of those! (Remeber these John D!)

 The road south from La Fortuna towards San Jose is full of twists, turns, ups and down….in other words, fun!

Traffic in San Jose

Because of the late start, I wasn’t going to make it very far, and nightfall and rain both caught me just south of San Jose.

Are we having fun yet!?

I ended up in a no-tell-motel again, but this one did not have a stripper pole unlike that one back in Mexico.

However, it did come with 2 free beers!

I guess if you’re staying in this kind of place, you want to keep the good times rolling before either of you sober’s up enough to see how truly unattractive the other one is. Anyway, like last time it was quite clean and a bargain at $20. The “regular” hotel just down the road wanted $68! Did I mention it also had a garage?

It’s the no-brainer of motorcycle travel no-braniers. It was still pissing rain and I didn’t want to go back to town several miles for dinner, so I dug out my “emergency” tuna pack which has been riding around in my bag since San Diego. I washed it down with one beer and a granola bar with the other. Good enough.

Day 115 – Jaco, CR to La Fortuna, CR

Day 115 – Jaco, CR to La Fortuna, CR 12/14/10 Mileage: 161

This morning the guys headed further south on their whirlwind blast down to Panama, and my plan was to backtrack slightly north towards Lake Arenal, before turning back south through the central mountains. The weather was perfect and the skies clear and blue…it was going to be another great day of riding. I got off the CA-1 heading through Juntus and up into the mountains.

The road turned to dirt within a few miles and the riding was only rivaled by the spectacular views looking back across the bay to the Nicoya Peninsula in the distance.

Looking across the bay to the Nicoya Peninsula in the distance…

The road turned back to pavement near Lake Arenal and the ride around the lake was picturesque and twisty good fun.

The famous Lake Arenal…

I stopped off at The German Bakery which is a great place for a coffee and a croissant….which is what I did!

These cute little guys were foraging right next too the road…too cute!

Lake Arenal and Volcan Arenal….

I spoke with this Canadian couple for a while…it was their 3rd time to Costa Rica.

I ended up in the town of La Fortuna where I managed to find a nice room for $15 after much asking around.

Afterwards I wandered out for dinner at the Lava Lounge and used the wifi.


They also had Leffe in bottles!! After months of a steady diet of local beers(which are drinkable but average), you have no idea how excited I was to have one of my favorite Belgian beers…I savored every once!

Day 114 – San Juan del Sur, NI to Jaco, CR

Day 114 – San Juan del Sur, NI to Jaco, CR      12/13/10      Mileage: 197

This morning I knew right were I was going back to for breakfast, and upon walking into El Gato Negro I saw 4 guys in moto gear sitting a table. I went over and started talking to them and they are on a 2 week ripper from Texas to Panama! They shipped their bikes down to Texas, crossed in Brownsville and will be shipping the bikes home from Panama. Seeing as we were going the same way, a tagged along with them.

We hit the Nicaragua / Costa Rica border by 8:30am and aside from the usual 20 signatures, 7 different offices, 15 officials and numerous photo copies, the border was smooth and uneventful. But after the Honduras border crossings, anything would seem simple by comparison! All told it took around 2.5 hours or so, and we were on our way into Costa Rica.

Sneaking by a line of trucks on the Nicaragua side…

Let the games begin…

Checking the bike permits…

Outside the Nicaragua immigration office…

Last checkpoint in Nicaragua…

First stop in Costa Rica….bike fumigation. In Honduras, this cost $11, and they didn’t even spray the bike(which I now know was BS anyway). In Costa Rica, this didn’t cost anything and he did a nice job…as my bike hasn’t been cleaned since L.A.!

Costa Rica immigration…

Costa Rica aduana (customs)

Last window for customs inspection of the paperwork

Final Costa Rica checkpoint…yahoo!

Last checkpoint…

We’re in and on our way south!

I’m not sure who started it…and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it… but before long we were all riding like complete hooligans…and took many liberties with the traffic laws and common sense! It was like a game of you could make the most dicey or ill-advised pass..it was a little nuts and in hindsight a bit foolish. It was however good fun at the time!

We all survived though and pulled into the beach town of Jaco mid afternoon. After finding a room and a shower, we were off to dinner and man is Costa Rica expensive compared to Nicaragua, El Salvador etc. I knew it was going to be but it’s every bit as expensive as the U.S., which is partly why I’m not going to spend too much time here.

After dinner we found a bar that had the Giants game projected onto the side of a building nextdoor…now that’s a big “flat” screen.

 I’m not much for team sports, but I do like watching the Giants every Fall…and I only got to watch one other game back in Guatemala, so this was a treat.

Day 113 – San Juan del Sur, NI

113 – San Juan del Sur, NI 12/12/10 Mileage: 0

Brian told me about a great cafe for breakfast and wifi called El Gato Negro…not to be confused with the hostel I stayed at in Antigua, GU by the same name. They roast there own coffee beans and the coffee is good and strong!

El Gato Negro Cafe, San Juan del Sur, NI

The owners name is Rob and he’s originally from southern Vermont. He grew up skiing Round Top ski area, which is where my buddy Mick owns a ski house that is my home away from home in winter…well except for this winter that is. We chatted for a while and he explained the process..or…more accurately the “art” of roasting coffee beans which was interesting.

Here’s Rob at the helm of the coffee  roaster which is inside the cafe and fills the entire place with the most amazing aroma!

Roasting the beans and checking their progress…

The beans are done roasting and now go into the circular hopper where they are cooled.

 So after my fill of wifi and strong coffee, I was off for a walk on the beach and around town.

I had an early dinner and a few drinks at Henry’s Iguana on the waterfront which seems to be “the” place in town.

Henery’s Iguana Bar

You know you’ve had a rough night of drinking when you end up spooning the curb on the main street…

View of town from my hotel patio…

The sky was very dark despite the city lights and I spent some time goofing with the camera’s night mode (and headlamp)…and got a little carried away. After almost 4 months on the road, perhaps I’m starting to get “the shine”…pun intended!

Tomorrow I’ll be crossing into Costa Rica…country number 9!

Day 112 – Granada, NI to San Juan del Sur, NI

Day 112 – Granada, NI to San Juan del Sur, NI 12/11/10 Mileage: 65

Today was my last day at 1 on 1 Tutoring spanish school and the experience was great. Unlike my last spanish school where I was paired with one instructor the entire time, here you spend an hour with 4 different instructors each day, each focusing on a different language skill. I liked this method and think it’s much better as it gives you 4 different teaching styles as well as different accents and voices to listen to, not just one.

1 on 1 Tutoring in Granada, NI

Roger is the owner of 1 on 1 Tutoring and one of my teachers.

This is another instructor, Omar, who is a really nice guy and suave with the gringo ladies!  😉

Heleng is easy on the eye and sweet to the ear…me gusta.

This is Roger Jr., my 4th instructor and also patient as a saint listening to me bungle every sentence!!

It’s a very good and fairly inexpensive school and I wish I could stay another week. But the big clock is ticking and I have to keep moving south if I’m going to make it to the tip of South America and Tierra del Fuego before winter. So I said adios to my 4 instructors, packed up the KLR and headed south for the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua and the beach town of San Juan del Sur. It was an uneventful and short ride down and I arrived mid afternoon under bright sun and a clear blue sky…perfect. I settled into a hotel (for $10 per night) perched on a hill overlooking the town and beach.

At night I went to the waterfront and had a drink at Henry’s Iguana before having dinner at The Black Whale.

I also walked around town for a bit and it is a super laid back place with a nice mix of locals and ex-pats all living the beach life. I imagine this is what parts of Costa Rica looked like 20 years ago before it was “found”.

Parting shot…

Sunset over the water in San Juan del Sur, NI

Day 111 – Granada, NI

Day 111 – Granada, NI      12/10/10      Mileage: 0

So, nothing to write home about today except that tonight I came across a local band setup in the central park playing Rage Against the Machine covers in english with a heavy spanish accent. Let’s just say that Bulls on Parade sounds a bit better coming from Zack de la Rocha! And of course I didn’t have my camera on me…damn! Tomorrow is my last day of spanish class and afterwards I’m heading for the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua and the beach town of San Juan del Sur.

 I totally blew it with pictures today…so all I have is this lame parting shot…

This cat has the life and gets lovin from everyone at the hostel. (Jilly….tell me that doesn’t look exactly like Lily!)