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In Honduras I would recommend to stay in Comayagua . It is not far from Tegu and it is easy to find cheap/secure accommodations and you can even take the public transportation to do some sight seeing around.
If you have the time available, do what ever possible to make it to The bay Islands (Roatan). Its an experience that you will not regret or ever forget.
I just got back from, Bucharest, Constansa, Bacau....you guys have a fun country .
Hey maluk, the ride tale is a little behind so we already passed Honduras in reality. Unfortunately we did not had time to go to the islands. But we had a great time in Honduras and the country was very interesting. That will be in the next story. But until then.... we have something special for 1st of December.
1st of December is the national day of Romania. We are far away from home but since we started, we never felt alone. We met friends along the way that made us feel at home and made us wanting to discover more.
So, for our National Day, we thought to kindly ask some of them to send a message for Romania. And… they did! Canada, Alaska, USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Venezuela and many onthers teamed up to wish. “La multi ani Romania”.
The movie that follows is the result of their excellent acting talents and my lousy editing talents (first time when I try making a movie) So here we go:
no, we have not crossed yet the Darien Gap. We are getting ready to do so, hopefully on 8th of December. Now we just entered Panama.
I will of course share the experience of the crossing. I have hopes that it will be very nice.
Honduras: 16 – 18 November
I must admit that when I was planning this trip I didn’t really like the idea of going through Honduras. I didn’t know too much about the country. But I think that most of the people that are on a similar trip try to pass Honduras in one day. If you stick to the main road, PanAmerican highway, there are only 140 km from El Salvator Honduras border and Honduras- Nicaragua border. If you manage to cross the first border early, 140 km later you are already in Nicaragua. But we don’t want to use the PanAmerican border crossings. And then, why not spend one more day in Honduras? Therefore our plan is to go up North from El Salvador, crossing into Honduras through a less transited border (already a habit).
Leaving El Salvador (we heard that this can get complicated at the main border crossing) is very easy. Nothing complicated, not even a “guide” offering his services, peace and quiet. A yellow barrier later we are in front of the Honduras border crossing. We almost passed the building.
This is it! A small room and a window. You give them your passport, pay 2 dollars and get a stamp on your passport. Simple and fast. Wait, it’s not that easy. We are in but what about Gunnar? Where is “Aduana”? A few hundred meters further down the road…. a new and good looking building.
We get there, park the motorcycle and… let the fun begin. There are many free desks (the building is new and modern), but apparently not anyone around there can handle such an “important” business such as the temporary importation of a motorcycle in Honduras. I am told that I have to wait for the “jefe” to come and process my papers. So we wait for about 20 minutes for the boss to show up. I am smiling at the guy behind the window (the one that cannot help me) and he is smiling at me. The difference is that my smile is… more sweaty (it’s almost noon and outside is really hot) and he smiles back a little more… chillier (there is AC on the other side). Meanwhile Andreea is hiding in the shadows leaning against the building. Unfortunately that’s not cold either.
It’s hard to describe how hot it is outside. I feel like I’m in an old provincial town, somewhere in the dusty Baragan (a part of Romania), on a long August day, and no one is in a mood for doing anything. Nearby, in the parking lot, the wind plays with the dust, sending it in small swirls through the sleeping trucks.
Eventually, the man who was supposed to help us shows up. I regain my energy and go to him joyfully giving him all the details. The guy is nice and wants to help us. He checks out the motorcycle, the VIN and says “Bueno” then heads back to his office. “Great, this will be over in no time!”, I’m thinking. I follow him, already making plans about what we are gonna have for lunch in Honduras.
When we get to the office, him on the AC side, myself with the sun on my side, he tells me I only have to make some photocopies and I am good to go. “Ah, but I already have copies”- and then I say to myself “What do you think, hombre, that this is my first border crossing, paff, we came prepared!”.
The official looks at me with pity (as if he wanted to tell me “yes, I’ve seen this bravery before”) and then starts: 3 copies of your passport, 3 copies of the registration permit, 4 copies of your driving license, 3 more copies of the passport page that has Honduras entry stamp and then some more of the papers he just prepared (he hands them to me through the small window of the office). He is telling me all this in Spanish while I’m looking at him with dumb eyes trying hard to remember all the documents I have to photocopy and the number of copies. I’m defeated, I surrender and tell him I don’t have so many copies. 1-0 for Honduras.
I ask for the closes copy center and he points me a small building somewhere in the distance on the other side of the road. Ah, it’s so hot…. and no trees around. I get to the copy center, tell the lady how many copies I need hoping I didn’t forget anything. 10 minutes later I am back to the Aduana office with a pile of documents.
Ready, is that it? No, now you have to pay an auto tax that allows you to ride in Honduras. OK, I pay it, anything for some shadow. Ah, you don’t pay here, you have to pay at the bank. And where is the bank? Far away, all the way to the entrance as you came in, next to immigration office. But it’s OK, you can take your motorcycle to get there faster. I get to the bank and… surprise: 1 hour lunch break. Argh…. super, it’s 12 o’clock and the only bank employee needs to eat also. Good. 2-0 for Honduras. I go back to the Aduana building, tell the border person all about it and then crash next to Andreea (who mind her own siesta all this time leaning against the Aduana wall). I also join this intense activity.
Lunch break is over for my bank employee, I go there again, I pay and go back to the office. Is this all? No, not quite. You need… guess what? 3 copies of the receipt you just got from the bank. 3-0 for Honduras.
One last visit to the copy place and we are finally free to explore Honduras. It took a little bit longer. But, to be honest, the process wouldn’t have taken too long if we hadn’t been there at lunch time and if it hadn’t been that hot. It wasn’t crowded and people were really nice. We are now back on the road. We have 500 km to discover Honduras.
Everybody warned us that the roads here are not that great. And they were right. We barely left the border and we see that here and there there was some repairing needed….
The good thing is that it is easier to avoid the holes when you are on 2 wheels. The bad thing is that if you hit one hole by any chance…. you would probably wish you had 4 wheels, for stability. We cruise carefully (I’m thinking that seen from behind some might think the motorcyclist is drunk, riding all in zig-zag) and we’re moving on without problems. We notice something new to us: some of the locals stopped waiting for the state to fix the road and fill the holes on their own. Many of them are doing it using earth most of the time and sometimes gravel. First rain probably washes everything away.
Don’t think that they are doing it because they want to do something good for the country. Actually, some might do it as an act of kindness but others simply ask money from the drivers as a reward for helping out. We heard that others do only this the whole day, cover and uncover the same hole with the same earth (just pretend they are working) asking for money in return. We don’t want to believe these kind of stories so we mind our own business, riding.
We pass by Santa Rosa de Copan, and Lonely Planet said that this city is beautiful and interesting. We didn’t find it worth stopping and visiting, maybe it was because of the gloomy weather.
We look at the map and discover that a little bit further there is a city called Gracias (a Dios). Long time ago Gracias used to be the capital of Central America. We decide to stop there (we like the name of the place and even for that we feel like it is worth stopping here) and we find a clean hotel, with hot water (that’s a big deal!!!!) and secure parking for the motorcycle. It’s secure if you don’t drop the motorcycle into the lake. Sorry, the pool.
There are many cars on the streets with huge flags. There will be elections in Honduras in two days. We learn that there was a political crisis here in 2009 that brought up coups, presidents were deported and other changes in the system. All these details bring back bad memories as we recognize these bad decisions taken by other politicians from other parts of…. Europe. We hope that these disturbances will remain in the past and the 2012 elections will be quiet. I don’t know much about their campaign but I know they like flags. Many flags and as big as they can get. We couldn’t find a national flag but the flags of political parties were everywhere. Pure madness.
But this is another story. Everyone can read about it and better understand these aspects. Eventually, apart from passions and political fights the important thing is the performance of the ones that rule the country, no matter what their political color or…. shade is. About this situation, apparently a ministry publicly declared somewhere in 2006 that 94% of the founds allocated to his ministry go to the bureaucracy and only 6% is used to make something useful. Interesting!
On the other side, nature and the people we talk to seem to fully compensate. Green forests as far as your eyes can see, guarded by high mountains. The weather is on our side, the sky is blue.
Surprisingly I might say, the road we decide to take has excellent pavement! We love it and we are relaxing, enjoying the road.
We go up a steep hill and something seems wrong about the road. I hit the breaks, as I couldn’t see past the hill. And what a good thing that was. As the perfect asphalt suddenly turns (without any warning sign, no nothing) into a dirt road!!!!
Unbelievable! Same road (and one of the main ones) totally transformed. And no, there was no machine, or sign to indicate any repairing activity. Just like that, for the next kilometers you ride a dirt road. And for the picture to be more real, traffic coming from the other direction changed also. A pair of oxes were heading our way
We lower our speed and keep going. But we are seriously asking ourselves if this is the right road or we took a wrong turn somewhere.
Then when we get to an intersection with another dirt road we meet the police. Now that’s a surprise. They stop us and ask for all our papers. In return we ask them if this is the right way to go and how far is it to Esperanza (prophetic name for the next city). And… before we left, since we stopped anyway and the police seemed to be in good mood, we ask them to participate in the 1st of December casting. You’ve probably already seen what came out.
Refreshed by this stop and interaction with the police that seemed to be really nice people we head to the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa. We don’t stop here and from what we see we don’t regret it.
Maybe we were in the wrong place in the city. Maybe the road we took got us into more… delicate areas. But all we can see is ghettos, crowd and trash. We are very happy to find our way out.
A Santa Claus is waving us. He’s got Pepsi belt and for sure he will have to fight hard the Coca Cola Santa Claus, we don’t know where that one was now. Holidays are coming, holidays are coming!
We are now on the road to the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. Sun will be setting soon so we need to find a place to sleep. Until then, we notice a commercial that we wanted to photograph for so long. Machetes anyone? And not just any machetes but the ones that “fly in your hands”?. Notice how the machete comes out of the commercial frame. Splendid!
We also notice that there is yellow VStrom behind us. Traffic is pretty intense so we don’t feel like stopping. We lost him at one of the intersections and didn’t expect to see him again in the same day. Once the sun sets we stop in Danli, a small city pretty close to the border. We choose a hotel and in the parking lot we see the same yellow VStrom with Dutch licence plates. The world is big but for travellers like us there will always be chances to meet. We meet Phil, an Englishman travelling to Argentina by motorcycle. He ia alone on a 2012 VStrom, the new model. Gunnar will have good company tonight.
Good night! Tomorrow we cross the border in Nicaragua!
Crossing into Nicaragua is easy. Almost too easy. We are not asked for any extra copies while exiting Honduras.In 10 minutes we are on the Nicaraguan side and everything runs smoothly. Here we get a bonus that we didn’t receive in the other countries, our tires get “cleaned” with a special solution.
While we are waiting for all the formalities for importing the motorcycle to be completed we notice a big and…. pink billboard right at the entrance in the country.
The billboard is huge and we are curious to know who is the gentleman in the image. Oh well, is the president, Daniel Ortega. Dedicated socialist, member of the Sandinist party, already on his 2nd mandate and hoping for a 3rd one (but needs to make some “adjustments” in the Constitution for this). But thinks are never simple.
Lonely Planet says that Nicaragua was an area deeply affected by conflicts and oppressions and it’s history was influenced by a lot of external factors. And seems to be true if we think about the Spanish influence (indisputably present in the whole Latin America) and all the way to the American influence (baseball is the national sport in Nicaragua – same as Panama-, brought here by the American soldiers during the military presence in the country).
Leaving the history and politics aside we get to meet the Nicaragua of 2012 and the first impression is very good. From the road that is paved and in an excellent condition (although supposed to be a road to a secondary border crossing I couldn’t believe my eyes how good it was) to the villages that seem more organized and… cleaner. It’s a beautiful day, one of those days when everything is exactly how it’s supposed to be. Motorcycle is running smoothly, from behind the girl’s hands are holding you tight and you are so happy to be on the road. We are listening to music, some of the songs coming from you in “the Music Mailbox“
And we realize that Nicaragua is the place to go shopping if you are in need for a hammock! By the side of the road we see nicely colored hammocks, with all kind of adornments.
Our first destination is Leon. A traditional city seen as pertaining to the liberals is one of the “heritage” cities of Nicaragua. The other one is Granada and it is located around 100 kilometers to the East, on the shores of lake Nicaragua, historically one of the cities belonging to the conservative party. The interesting part is that for many years these two cities “battled for supremacy”on the political scene (and not only). Eventually, it was decided that the capital should be Managua, a city located in between the two so that both parties should be satisfied. Leon is now one of the main attractions in Nicaragua.
We didn’t like the city that much. Maybe because the main square was being renovated and therefore closed. Maybe because the hotels were too expensive and it is not that clean. We stayed there only two nights. And we enjoyed it because we got to meet other travelers like us. Some coming from Argentina and going to Canada and some that were planning to pass also through South America.
Travelers that got together in a restaurant to talk about places like Patagonia or Canada.
We didn’t actually stay in the city the day we were in Leon. We decided to join a group that was heading to the nearby volcano for ashboarding. If we decide to do a touristy thing let’s do something that involves adrenaline. It is an extraordinary experience. Here are just a few pictures from the trip to the volcano and from the volcano. I also have some videos and I am hoping to get some time soon to edit them. Cerro Nero volcano dominates the green valley with it’s darkness.
It is still active and there is still the possibility of an eruption.
When we get at the bottom of the volcano we take our boards and protection suits and start climbing. It takes us around one hour to reach the crater.
Smells like sulfur on top. And there is steam coming out of the crater. And we can see other smoking volcanoes in the distance.
We put on our protection suits- there are just some orange overalls that look like prisoners’ uniforms in the American movies- and get ready for “boarding” on the dark ash.
I took my motorcycle helmet with me since it was the only place I could put my Action Cam. All the others have goggles.
We only have one picture from the actual boarding and we have it from the organizers. You didn’t have time to take pictures otherwise as you had to keep your balance and yourself on the board.
You can reach pretty high speed when you get down. The record is something over 90 km/h. I will show you more interesting captures from the boarding when I manage to edit the videos. By then, let’s take some time to relax in the sunset, we experienced some intense sensations. Cheers!
From Leon we went to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. We were invited there by Salvador’s family, a passionate motorcycle traveler just like us and they were very hospitable and kind. Salvador is now traveling through Asia but his mother was an excellent host and we enjoyed two quiet and relaxed days. Actually, we relaxed doing stuff as one of the two days we went to a nearby farm where we could admire exquisite horses.
And not only did we have the chance to admire and caress them but we were invited to ride a beautiful horse of noble breed. Andreea told me that I looked like a small kid and had a smile as big as my face. Wouldn’t you be the same way?
Reyna took really good care of us and we are very grateful for that but it’s time to get back on the road. Next destination is Granada, considered the oldest Spanish settlement in Nicaragua.
We find a pretty cheap hotel (good thing we’re off-season) and since there is no other parking spot, we are allowed to bring Gunnar inside with us.
I put him in a corner of the reception area where, poor guy, will have to watch telenovelas with the receptionist the whole night.
The city is sitting on the shores of the interesting lake Nicaragua: it is the widest lake in Central America and even since the XIX century it was considered a suitable place to create a crossing between Atlantic and Pacific. A place of strategic importance wanted by many countries. In 1914, US signed an agreement with the Nicaraguan government of that time that granted them sole rights for building a canal between Atlantic and Pacific. The agreement was advertised in the country as a huge success and seen as a huge source of income once the canal would have been completed. Until today absolutely nothing has been done for this construction…. Hmmm, I wonder if that had anything to do with the detail of who built and owned the Panama Canal...
Maybe not having this canal is a bad thing for the economy of Nicaragua but the good part is that their waters remained peaceful and unpolluted by the big cargo ships. And Granada was saved from industrialization and went on being a beautiful colonial city, good place for receiving tourists.
We walked for a while on the narrow streets and ended up in a coffee shop maintained by people with disabilities. It is called “Café de las Sonrisas” and all the time we spent there we only saw people smiling. There is also a hammocks factory there where these people are offered a chance to work and integrate in the community. We should never ever forget how grateful and happy we should be for everything we have and for being healthy.
Here we discover the largest hammocks we’ve seen so far. Lovely, brightly colored and the most comfortable, according to Andreea.
We leave Granada behind and head to the border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Theoretically, you only have one option if you travel by motorcycle and want to cross from Nicaragua to Costa Rica: the border crossing on the PanAmerican highway. It’s the only official option. But… while in Leon, we learn from Chloe and Chris that there might be another crossing, a smaller one, East of Lake Nicaragua, on a less traveled road. Hmm, this is interesting. We decide to see how this border crossing works. It turned out to be an interesting choice from many points of view!
Our trip in Nicaragua proved to be too short for the things we wanted to see and do. It is a beautiful country that deserves more time.
Route map for this story:
View Larger Map Next time we find out how adventurous the border crossing was and how we managed to cross into Costa Rica! Stay tuned!
Oh yes… we made it. We crossed the Darien Gap and made it (by the time you read this) in Columbia. We are still in Central America with the story. Who knows, maybe I will have some time, before taking the motorcycle out of customs here in Columbia, and get a little bit closer to present day with the blog…. So… let’s see how it was in Costa Rica:
Costa Rica: November 24 – December 02
Here we are, heading again to a border we didn’t know too much about. We knew that there is a very small border post and you need a boat to cross a river between San Carlos, Nicaragua and Los Chiles, Costa Rica. Nothing special so far, the only problem was what kind of boats are available for the crossing and, once we get to Costa Rica, where we could buy a compulsory insurance for the motorcycle. These were the thoughts that kept us busy all the way to San Carlos… a place so isolated that seemed to be at the end of the world. We get there and try to find the port and the customs, not before saying “hello” once more to…. mister president!
We ask about the boats and insurance we need to buy for the motorcycle in Costa Rica and we are told that it is possible. Once we get there we should just ask where is the place where they issue insurance. Goood, as for the boat, there will be one just now, at 13:00, big enough to carry your motorcycle. So we are invited to proceed with our papers. The border officials are nice, everything seems to go perfect. We ask again about the papers we have to make on the other side and we are assured it will be ok. Hmmmm, ok then, let’s leave Nicaragua.
We park the motorcycle on the peer…. and I see for the first time the boat “big enough” to carry a motorcycle. A tiny passenger boat that had a fairly flat area in front. That was it. Compared to what we were seeing now, the boat that we used to cross the river in Guatemala seemed now a real ferry!
We have the papers ready so the dancing began. We anyway didn’t want to go back as we had to make a detour of a few hundred kilometers. Let’s put the motorcycle on the boat then.
We have to descend some stairs first. What, you’re telling me that a motorcycle cannot go down the stairs? Normally no… especially when it is not an enduro one, but in special cases and with a little help the VStrom can go down the stairs!
Now we have to put it on the boat. Gunnar is pretty low and not doing very well. But the shield is doing the job and we manage to get on the boat. Now we have to tie it well. Esthetics is not important.
And that is it… we are on the little boat and the motorcycle is on it also. We just have to tie it up very well, we would want our motorcycle to start dancing on the “huge” surface it had just for itself…
And we go. We say “goodbye” to Nicaragua. We enjoyed it and would have liked to stay longer, with or without pink campaign posters. Goodbye, Nicaragua, hope everything works out for you!
The boat ride is more than one hour long. I keep one eye on the motorcycle to make sure it doesn’t move…
…an the other on the landscape. I feel like home, in the Danube Delta!
We are getting closer to the Costa Rica border and… getting off the boat doesn’t seem to be easier.
Unfortunately we only have two pictures from getting off the boat. One with both wheels in the boat and another with both wheels on land. Andreea confessed that in between she was unable to do anything, not even breathing. She told me that there were a few “delicate” moments when I was trying to get the motorcycle off the boat and the latter was going away from the shore while my wheels were one outside the boat, on the shore and the other in the boat. Hmmmm, maybe it is better I didn’t realize that.
After some zig-zaging on the ramp I get to the street level and I feel we deserve to celebrate this victory while the locals were looking at us like we just landed from an UFO. Probably it’s because of the jacket….
Unfortunately we don’t get to enjoy our victory too much. The guy from the Costa Rica aduana gives us bad news: “you cannot buy motorcycle insurance in Los Chiles.” “OK, then where can we buy insurance?” “Ah, in Quesada, a city nearby, only 90 kilometers away.” “Hmmm, fine, I will go there then. “Since the motorcycle cannot be used (cannot leave the customs without papers), where can I take the bus?” “The bus station is in the central market but it’s no use to go now, the INS office is open until 15:00 (it was 14:00). Well, tomorrow then? No, not tomorrow, agency is closed during the weekend (it was Friday). And just like that we were getting one defeat after the other. I was really wondering at ne point what would happen if I come up with another solution. And there we have it, the longest border crossing and that was not because of bureaucracy or too many people trying to cross the border but because you cannot buy a stupid insurance.
That’s ok, all we can do now is relax in Los Chile. We even find a hotel with acceptable rates and manage to convince the border official to let us take the motorcycle out of customs, promising we won’t take it out of the city. Days go by peacefully in this city that looks more like an American suburb.
It’s Monday, 5 AM and I am up, my bus leaves at 6:00, I am in Quesada at 7:45 AM and at 8:00 I am one of the first customers of the insurance agency. 9:00 I am back in the bus and 3 hours later I am back in Los Chiles. I decide to go straight to the customs and do the papers. The border official already saw the motorcycle anyway. I go there, he recognizes me, tells me everything is ok, I just need to go make some copies (of course) around the corner. I go. I am at the second copy of the 4 when I see the border official. He tells me he is sorry but he has to leave for one hour. I am staring at him not knowing what to say. I cannot believe it. I was waiting for 3 days in that place, now I have all my papers and he wouldn’t want to postpone his lunch for 3 minutes until I make my copies and leave the place. I was so close to tell him what I feel from the bottom of my heart. I also knew that me making a scene will only delay the process. So I wish him to enjoy his meal and I go have lunch. One hour later we are in front of the customs with the motorcycle and our luggage all ready to go.
We are finally on the road in Costa Rica. And we discover a beautiful country, tidy and, from what we can see, also clean. And we also discover… the rain! It’s time to try out my new rain suit that I bought in a supermarket in US.
Our first stop is only 110 kilometers away, La Fortuna (70 of the 110 kilometers I already did twice that day by bus). We get to La Fortuna and rain follows us, we meet Paul there. We spend one day there admiring the Arenal volcano. It is still (very) active so you are not alowed to climb it. WHile we were there we didn’t see any eruption.
We enjoyed the sun and the nature’s green (no wonder after so much rain).
I don’t usually post pictures with flowers but let’s take a break from green, here is one for those of you who fancy these kind of captures.
The next day we ride with Paul to the Caribbean coast. The route is very nice but we cannot see much because of the rain. It rains a lot but luckily our rain gear do their job.
We pass many bananas plantations. Chiquita, Dole and other familiar “brands”. I will now think of Costa Rica whenever I will see them in the markets…
Ah, no more bananas you say? It’s ok, we also have…. pineapple.
Caribbean sea is an exotic destination and a place we haven’t seen before. The weather is bad but I can only think about fine sand beaches, guarded by palm trees and blue waters. You know, like the movies. But all we get is dark sky and heavy rain. After Port de Limon we randomly choose a village (used to be fishing village not it’s a touristic one) where we were supposed to stay for a few days hoping for better weather. Instead of porch with a sea view we get something more… “domestic” and very very… wet.
After only one night Paul decides to leave and search for the sun somewhere else, across the border, in Panama. We decide to give this place (and the weather) one more chance and visit Cahuita National Park. And that was a good decision indeed. We barely see the sun but we are happy it doesn’t rain either so we can enjoy the luxuriant setting.
Everything around is like in a pirates movie. Fortunately we don’t meet them but all kind of animals, from the small but hard-working ants
… to the slow sloths that barely move hanging from the thick branches.
There are monkeys everywhere. Very active and very curious.
We even meet a racoon that seemed to be very interested in the dumpsters at the park entrance. We saw us coming and went away fast.
The beaches are really wild. There are no umbrellas or chaise longues around here. Palm trees, coconuts, fine sand and the sea… a little bit turbid because of all the rain.
If you watch the sand carefully you can find some more creatures.
We are enjoying Cahuita. That’s also because there are not so many tourists. We enjoy this luxuriant setting and we barely meet other people. We also appreciate that there is no entrance fee for this National Park, apparently the locals objected to charging visitors. And their protests helped, for us this is the first tax free National Park we visit.
It’s December 2nd and time for us to set sail to Panama, the last country we will visit in Central America. The weather is getting better and we cross the border at Sixaola without difficulties. We have to wait longer because we arrived after a bus full with tourists. But the delay is not too big and it doesn’t take long for us to hear “Welcome to Panama!”.
Route map for this story:
View Larger Map Next time we will introduce you to Panama- the last country we visit in Central America- and find out how we will cross the Darien Gap. Stay tuned!
Panama: 3-7 December
We are in Panama and still don’t have a clear plan, except the fact that on December 7 we have to take our motorcycle to the pier and prepare it for boarding. We are slowly heading to Panama City. We see a lot of bananas plantations and we are craving for some.
You can basically stop anywhere by the side of the road and get 2 or 3, just like picking some plums in Romania. It wouldn’t have been polite though. So we keep riding, enjoying the warm weather and interesting landscape.
We stop for lunch by the side of the road. We’re not the only ones who need a break. I am looking at this man and it feels rather unusual to see him using a cell phone. A machete or a cigar would be more appropriate. I know… it’s just a stereotype.
The road goes up slowly and soon enough we are so high that we can see the Pacific in the distance.
The road is excellent. We stop every kilometer to take pictures. These are the moments when you realize why you went on this journey. “THIS is why you do it!”
Clouds are dancing on the sky and their choreography is amazing, from another world. We almost feel sorry that the road has to descend. We would have wanted to stay longer there, in the mountains.
We ride towards the plain where we meet PanAmerican highway and discover that apart from the wonderful landscape Panama has also speed cams. In only 3 hours we see more than we ever saw in the whole Central America. The moto-policemen park their motorcycle in the shadows, prepare their radar and wait for the “customers”.
We stop for the night in Santiago at a doubtful hotel (price was by the hour) where we sleep with our clothes on and don’t dear to use the shower.
But it happened to us many times to meet nice people in the most unexpected places. So it happens once more, we meet at “Hong” two more very friendly motorcyclists. They are Dutch and they will be on the same boat with us, trying to cross in Columbia.
Panama City is a surprise. Tall buildings, suspended highways and a totally different image of what we got used to in Central America.
Right as we enter the city we encounter 2 novelties: traffic jam and… rain. We are stuck in traffic but we see a gas station just 200 meters away where we can find shelter and put on our rain gear. Unfortunately we cannot go forward and by the time we can do it it’s already too late. After only 5 minutes of rain… our gear looks like this…
But the 14:00 o’clock (we were to discover that it rains around the same hour everyday) rain doesn’t last too long and we can ride relaxed in the city on the way to our hosts, David and Vincente. After so much time without CouchSurfing – since US – we meet a Panamanian and a French who invite us into their homes offering us a great time with them.
We go for a walk in the evening to discover another side of the city. The modern and cosmopolitan one. There are people running, walking their dogs, you can hear more than Spanish on the streets, we hear German, English and other languages, we feel somewhere… special.
And the tall buildings look even better during the night. We buy a pizza and imagine it’s the best dinner in the world enjoying it by the waterfront. At least the view is nice.
In the sunset light we can see the ships aligned to cross the Canal that connects the two oceans.
Not too many people know that Panama used to be for a long time a province of Nueva Granada (Columbia) when Colombians gained their independence. There were a few separation attempts afterwards but nothing really happened as they didn’t get any outside help. Later on, in 1903, USA tried to negotiate with the Colombian authorities the rights for exploring an inter-oceanic canal… on Colombian land… in Panama province.
As Colombia refused the terms offered by the Americans, Panama all of a sudden got US’ support to claim their independence and only one year later, in 1904, an agreement was signed between US and the newly created Central American state for the Panama Canal project to start (actually the works started by the French were resumed). Selfless support for national assertion or just economic interests? Hmmm…
Ironically maybe, much much later, in 1989, American president W. Bush authorized a military intervention for protecting the canal. 10 years later, this wander of engineering was “returned” to Panama and US troops had to leave the country.
It is interesting to know that before the canal went to Panamanian administration an entire area around the canal was practically US territory. You even needed a passport to be able to get to the canal locks and visit them.
Luckily now you can visit them without problems.
The canal locks are really impressive, especially when a big ship crosses. They are now building a third row of locks, much bigger ones for the bigger ships.
There is not much after Panama City for us. There is an area named Darien Gap between Central and South America that cannot be crossed.There is jungle, marsh and there are certain people that make this crossing impossible. So all traffic between North and South is done by air or by sea. We choose to cross Darien Gap by sea, on board of a fishing boat built in 1903. Now owned by some enthusiastic Germans and used for “cruises”. The day of our departure we wake up with the sun
and get ready for the last hundred and something kilometers to Cali, the boarding point. One by one we meet other motorcyclists that were to be on the same boat like us.
We met some of them repeatedly in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica. Others we new from the travel blogs or emails. Very different people, traveling by very different motorcycles to different directions.
But today we all have the same destination: Stahlratte (Steel rat), te boat that was supposed to take us far away across a sea and a… country in Columbia.
After a nice windy and steep (from time to time) road and 15$ tax entrance in the National Park we are in Carti and find ourselves a spot on the pier full of motorcycles.
What a great view. We are not the only crazy people doing this. And besides taking this trip now we have to be crazy enough to trust that a steel rat can sail.
I take my key out of the ignition and I realize that this is it, the last leg of our trip through North and Central America. Next time Gunnar will roll its wheels will be in South America. Until then… this is the end of the road! WE MADE IT!
There is no complete route map for this story as the road to Carti is not on Google Maps:
Sorry for the delay. In a lot of parts of the world, there is snow on the ground right now so I will try to compensate with some "sunny" pictures.
Here it goes:
The Central America vagabonding had a nice and sunny end as I was writing you here.
But, in order to continue with the next part of the trip, we had to get in South America. And in order to get to South America we and the bike had to get on Stahlratte. Hmm with the people is easy. The girls just took a lancia and off they went towards the big boat.
But with the motorcycles it will not be that simple. In order to get them on board, Stahlratte got close to the shore
And we started the loading, lifting the motos by crane, one by one.
No matter how much you trust those sailor knots, you cannot help to feel a “little” bit uneasy when you see your motorcycle hanging in the air above the sea. I do not know how my face looked like, but I imagine I was not far away from my colleagues…
At the end, Joop’s cruiser was lifted. It was by far the heaviest motorcycle in the group. And that’s saying something if you consider we had a bunch of GS 1200′s in the pack
But it all went OK and we were ready to counquer the seas!
OK, now what? Well… now we relax. You see, this is supposed to be a water crossing between 2 continents, but this is so much more than that. Normally the crossing would last around 30 hours, but the trip will be 4 days long. The rest of the time means just relaxing around the San Blas islands.
So this is the “cruise” part of the trip. I usually do not like cruises and the hole concept of “you pay x dollars and you can spend 7 days on a luxury ship, all inclusive somwhere”. But this is different. We did payed x (a lot) dollars but this is no luxury ship and for sure it is not big. No private cabins here with amenities. We get bunk beds. I like it! First of all, everybody is trying to organize a bit the “orderly disorder” from below the decks.
Then we go to a small island, inhabited by the Kuna people. (it seems that in 2011 the naming changed to Guna as “K” was not the proper equivalent in the native language. The island is packed with houses and the pathways are very narrow.
And the people from here try to keep their traditions.
But, as in so many other places, the modern life creeps in. In the native huts, you can get electricity, phone coverage and even internet (we did not use any of those while on the island). Of course, I am not pleading for an archaic life. After all, I am writing all this on a computer and you are reading it with the help of the Mighty Internet. But, that being said, care should be taken in such places (in all places to he honest) in order to have some kind of sustainable approach to integrate “the new”. What happens with all the plastic and garbage from the “modern” age things that come to the island? Well, nothing. it just takes it’s rightful place in the scenery.
And yet again we see that kids will do their job -their job, as kids, is to play – anywhere and with determination and resilience. It takes so little for a kid to be happy. We, the so called “grown ups” might learn (or better said, remember) this more often.
To be hontes, I liked the island. It seemd very much “in your face”. It didn’t hide anything about their lifestyle. You could walk and see the day by day life of Kunas (or Gunas now?). With good and less good things.
Next day we return to Stahlratte where we find the motorcycles packed up. Salty water is not the best friend of metal parts and so they were covered with plastic sheets.
We on the other hand, made sure to be as little as possible covered and started to do… nothing. Just anjoying the day.
And to discover the sub-aquatic life. Unfortunately the pictures made with a GoPro are not doing justice to the wonderful life found below
Corals, colorful fish, an old wreck to explore and a lot of other super interesting things. For me it was the first time doing snorkeling so maybe that’s why I was so excited.
The day goes by slow and lazy. The sunset finds out without any worry. I am trying to remember when was the last time when I didn’t had to do any plan for the next day, when I was not worried about the route or a place to stay or something else. It’s all good. No complaints here!
Next day we set sail and we have some companions for a while.
The funny thing is that the dolphins left us rather fast because they got bored with our slow speed. They wanted to play, but we were quite slow for their taste. Stahlratte is a ship build in 1903. So it has more than 100 years. Initially a fishing boat, now it is owned and maintained by a group of enthusiastic Germans voluntars. It is a solid ship, built as they used to make things, to last. But the age shows here and there… and the speed is not one of the main highlights. And as we do not have wind from the direction we need, we cruise slowly and nice through San Blas islands.
Did I say “nice and slow”? Hmm that might have been true when we were protected by the reefs. Once we hit the open sea things start to change. And Romanians are not known for their seamenship qualities. The only positive thing is that we manage not to “feed the fishes” which, given the amount of rocking that the boat was doing, was a nice thing! Unfortunately I seem to misplaced the few photos I took from the deck but I do have the raw movies. Now I just hope I’ll get to edit them.
We go to sleep rocked by the waves in the sound of the engine. At least tomorrow we will be in Cartagena. I wake up at some point. I do not know what’s the time but it is still dark outside. And there is a problem: I do not hear the sound of the engine anymore. And we cannot be in Colombia already, it would be too soon. And plus, the boat is rocking in all directions so hard, that these cannot be the protected waters of a port.
Finally, I get up and check what’s happening. The motor is broken. We are in open seas some 60 miles from the Colombian coast. And the wind is not blowing as we would need. So we are stuck in the water with no propulsion means. We look at the bright side: it is good that we are not in a plane with same problems. Far less time to get a fix. But as we are, we have food and water on the boat for a lot of days. So we should be fine. At some point.
But right now we are stuck, in open, agitated sea with the boat rocking on all sides. Since I cannot do anything to help anyway, I try to go back to bed. But somehow, the sleep doesn’t want to come easy…
Next time we find out how did we manage to get out of the tight spot and see how will Cartagena greet us. Stay tuned!
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