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…

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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?

Nope….

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

Nope…

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

Nope…

OK, one more try with the GPS…

Nope…

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.