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The plan was to unwind for a few days in Granada. We've been pushing hard for a while and our tummies have been having trouble recently so it seemed to make sense to set up base somewhere and relax and recover. The Rough Guide made Granada seem like a good spot to do that, and our initial impressions of the town agreed. The buildings are pretty and there are plenty of amenities for tourists here, as we seem to be the reason the town has been restored in the first place. It was a bit of a challenge to find a hotel with parking for the bikes, and we paid a bit more than we normally would for the room when we did find one, but we've deemed a bit of R&R worth the cost.
The initial room at Hotel De La Sol was lovely. It was on the second floor and had large windows (two of them) that opened to let in the breeze. It got great light, was quiet at night, and the bed was super comfy. Even better (and quite a luxury, we determined) the room had a table and chairs which we could use our laptops at, and even a kitchen with a refrigerator, a sink with dishes and a gas stove.
The only catch when we took the room? We wanted to stay for three nights to give us two full days here, and they had a lot of bookings for the next day (today) so they didn't have one room that had three nights together. We'd have to move today to a different room, which we couldn't see yesterday because someone was in it, but it was only slightly smaller than the huge, lovely room that we really liked. Based on the original room, we figured it wouldn't be a problem and booked our three nights.
Had a lovely sleep last night, although my tummy was still having trouble this morning so I was up before 6AM spending far too much time in the bathroom, and finally started taking antibiotics, too. But I figured it wouldn't be a big deal because we'd still have tomorrow to sleep in, and if I wanted to take a nap today, I could - so I enjoyed the luxury of knowing that today and tomorrow we wouldn't be moving on.
We had a nice leisurely morning. We went down to the courtyard (where there's a small kitchen with a cook, one waitress and three tables) to have some breakfast. I ordered an omelette, which came with toast and marmalade, and was delightful. Kay ordered pancakes, which were some of the most tasty pancakes either of us has had in years. We joked when we first started eating about ordering a second plate each since neither of us has been able to hang onto any food for the past few days and we were starving, but Kay decided he couldn't eat an entire omelette (which he would have ordered next) and I didn't want to be the token fat chick ordering a second breakfast alone, so we declined.
Headed back to the room and poked around on the net, generally goofing off. We were waiting for them to move us, and then we planned to do laundry (I was SO looking forward to clean clothes, because we've been getting so sweaty and nasty lately that the sink-washing hasn't been cutting it) and maybe go out and explore the city a bit. Shortly after 11AM, the hotel guy comes up and tells us it's time to move, and helps us carry our stuff to the "slightly smaller" room downstairs.
That was mildly inaccurate.
The room is more than slightly smaller. Still, by our standards, a very nice room - but there's only half a window instead of two full windows to open for ventilation, and it looks out on the pool instead of having the lovely view over the rooftops that the upstairs room had. No light and no fresh air from the half window. Which might not have been that bad, had the room not smelled strongly of cigarette smoke and cleaning supplies.
I did a circuit of the room and saw that to counteract the smoke smell, they'd stuck a toilet bowl cleaner into the back of the bar which separates the table and the bed, which you couldn't see coming into the room. Yes. They're using a toilet bowl cleaner as an air freshener. It doesn't sound that bad until you've ever smelled a toilet bowl cleaner in a small enclosed space - it's quite potent and rather unpleasant.
The combination of toilet bowl cleaner and smoke made it nearly impossible for me to breathe in this room (I have problems with smoke) and I knew right away this room was going to be a problem for me. After seeing how unhappy I was, Kay went to go find out if they had another room we could switch to, but they're fully booked for today so we're stuck with smokey, toilet-bowl cleaner room.
The room itself is totally decent (even nice) compared to a lot of the rooms we've been staying in. But it was a significant downgrade from the room we'd had upstairs (the one that convinced us to book this hotel in the first place) and I was angry - I felt they'd bait-and-switched us, and the room we have now simply ISN'T worth the same price as the room we'd had upstairs. Which is more than we'd normally pay for a room, anyway, but we thought we'd treat ourselves because we needed some R&R.
Combine that with the smoke/toilet bowl smell, and I didn't want to stay here anymore. I asked Kay to go find out if they'd refund our money if we left early, and tried to take a nap in the bed to calm down a bit. I quickly discovered that the smell was too potent for me to breathe properly and had to get dressed and get out of the hotel. I was so upset/angry/uncomfortable that I didn't even wait for Kay - just booked it out of the hotel with no wallet and no room key and no way for Kay to find me. I walked over to Lago Nicaragua, thinking I could get some fresh air there, and apparently Kay went looking for me but didn't know where to find me because I'd left in such a huff and hadn't told him where I was going.
Took some time to calm down and breathe the (relatively) fresh air of the lake, and then walked back to the hotel to apologize to Kay for storming out that way and being all dramatic, which isn't like me at all. The stress is really starting to take its toll on me - the corrupt cops, the border crossings - I feel like *everyone* is out to get our money. And we don't have that much of it to begin with, so I've been taking it more personally than I probably should. We're *not* rich touristas, although I know we seem that way to the people in the countries we're passing through - we're doing this by the skin of our teeth and we might not have enough money left at the end to get back home.
So I talked with Kay a bit about this - we agreed yesterday that while we're here in Granada we should take a look at our finances and see if we could really afford to cross the gap, do South America, fly home at the end, and still keep our apartment (since we've got house-sitters living there watching our dogs - we can't let the apartment lapse). We've apparently both been aware for a while that there might not be enough money to do SA, but we haven't really been talking about it and I think we were both waiting until we got to Panama to figure it out. But we're close enough now that it was time to do the math and evaluate our options.
We checked out our finances and decided to give SA a go. We'll be squeaking by to do it, but we should have enough, assuming something doesn't go horribly awry. The first part of our trip showed us that things can definitely go horribly awry, so if something really bad (financially) does happen, we'll just have to figure it out.
In the back of my head has always been the thought that I can always stop and work for a while along the road if we need more cash, because the beauty of my job is that I can work from anywhere. But I don't know how realistic or viable that really is because I'd need to have a reliable 'net connection for multiple days, and that seems to be a challenge to find. (For example, the perfectly good net connection we had in this hotel last night and today has now lapsed to completely non-functional - I assume because the hotel is now full and too many people are using the net.)
We were both happy and relieved to discover that we could do SA after all, but then we started looking at costs for getting around the Gap again and I started to stress all over again. (We'd done the math before and we knew what it would cost but I'm apparently super stress today.)
We've decided that we both really need a couple of days off, still, to unwind and relax a bit from all of the corrupt officials and border crossings that are starting to get to us, and this hotel in Granada isn't giving us that. I don't want to stay in this room longer paying what I feel is too high of a price - I would have gladly paid what they're asking for the other room, but I simply don't feel that this smaller, fewer-amenities, smoky room is worth staying in at this price. We could have two nights at another hotel for the same price, but not here in Granada because things are more expensive as this is a big tourist town.
So now the plan is to leave in the morning (there goes my chance to sleep in!) and move on to Costa Rica and try to find a place to hang out for a few days there. Except that researching that made me more stressy because it's a big tourist destination and one of the most expensive countries (or maybe the most expensive country?) in Central America, and now I'm being all money-conscious until we get around the Gap.
Net result for our single day off in Granada? Spent more than we would have otherwise on a hotel, didn't get any R&R (I spent most of the day stressing and was exhausted by 6PM - dunno how late I'll be able to stay up). My tires aren't mounted and aren't going to be before Costa Rica, and maybe not until Panama. (I do, however, insist on getting them mounted or mounting them myself before we try getting around the Gap somehow because I am sick and effing tired of carrying around the tires.) We didn't have time to do laundry today, or to get more copies of our documents, which we'd planned to do before another border crossing. So all in all, we've wasted a day in Granada without getting any real benefit from it.
My tummy was fine for most of the day after taking the antibiotics and generic-brand-Immodium this morning, but whilst writing this post I've had a flare-up of badness. With actual symptoms that require the antibiotics, so it's just as well I started taking them this morning. Just took another dose of antibiotics and Immodium and hopefully that'll help settle things. Kay has been fine most of the day although neither of us trust our intestines to stay put, and I'm not looking forward to moving on while we're still having these problems that may demand we find a restroom quickly. That was part of our reason for staying in Granada.
In all, an annoying, stressful day. Much of it was my own doing, I realize, and we did have some positive results (i.e. we finally did the math and decided we're definitely moving on to SA, which neither of us has been sure about) but there was also a lot of tiring emotional upheaval. I don't feel fit to deal with corrupt cops, demands for bribes and another border crossing tomorrow, but it needs to be done. It's either get moving or find another hotel here, and neither prospect seems very appealing at the moment.
The day started out with such promise, too.
Not every day of a trip like this is glorious, kiddies. Some days are tiring and emotionally fraught (especially with a woman along - as much as I hate playing into that stereotype, hormones *do* play a role in our emotional states) and it's just not fun. You want to sit on your couch watching your nice TV with your SO and dogs and just chill.
But there are good days, too, when you feel lucky to be alive and on the bike on a trip like this… so the trick is to hang on until those days come back.
We weren't sure when we got up if we would be taking off or not. The desire, was definitely to take off, but as breakfast finished, Dachary was feeling weak, and a bit woozy and that's no state to be in when trying to muscle around a heavy bike in hundred degree weather and standing around baking at borders. So we paid for another night.
Dachary had been improving, and was getting better by the hour, still not 100% but getting there, and by noon she was chomping at the bit to leave the room. Maybe a tour? Something, Anything! But all the tours around here require hiking or other non-trivial physical activity, except the tour of Granada, which we'd pretty much already given ourselves at this point on foot.
So, we wandered, slowly, and with occasional breaks in the shade. An unnotable lunch, and walk back to the hotel followed by a minor moment of rejoicing upon entering the air conditioned domain, quickly followed by a "hot" shower, which is to say… not.
Dr. Who, more Dr. Who, a little concern about running out of Dr. Who, and an excursion for food. It was to be pizza tonight. We thought, falsely, that we might actually get a full meal out of it.
You see, the problem with Granada is that, as far as we can tell, there is only one restaurant where you are actually served enough to fill you up. Sadly, this includes the pizza places, because while we've only had a couple, it is our impression that since leaving Mexico no-one offers pizzas in various sizes. There is only the one size, and it's not enough. At home Dachary and I order one large (US version of large) pizza each eat half and are usually pretty full from that. Tonight's pizza was pretty typical for a Granada meal. It was not nearly enough and it wasn't particularly tasty. So we wandered off, for second dinner. I shit you not. After days of not having enough to eat we gave in and had a second dinner. We went back to the place that actually gives you enough to eat. Dachary, surprisingly, ate all of hers. I, surprisingly, ate about 3/4 of mine. But, we were both full.
On a related note: our hotel does really good breakfast (wonderful pancakes, and pretty good omelets) and we've taken to ordering three breakfasts each morning. Two omelets and one pancake. The pancake breakfast comes with two which we split.
During first diner the fireworks started. I use that in the most technical sense as it was a repeated use of the kind that makes a loud bang, shoots something about fifty feet into the air which then makes a load bang. So BANG…BANG. Initially it was once every three minutes or so. During second dinner the pace increased, and with it, the sales of cigarettes and chicklets, ceramics, cigarettes and chicklets, painted wood, cigarettes and chicklets, hammocks, cigarettes and chicklets, ocarina type birds that only have two notes, and cigarettes and chicklets. And of course there was the requisite small child who walks right up to your table, reaches over and points at something he wants (a drink, a piece of food), points to his mouth and makes some annoying sound with a practiced pouty face. When one person says no, he then moves on to the next one at the table and repeats the process until there are no more people.
As dinner completed the explosions had increased their pace to once a minute, and now that we're back at the hotel they're about 4 per minute and while I understand that it's just part of life around here I am desperately wishing that someone would invest in some other kind of firework. Dachary suggested that these were probably the cheapest. I countered with the suggestion of bottle rockets and posited that they made a nice loud fweeeeeee! She countered that fweeeeeee! wasn't nearly manly enough. A concussive bang was required to demonstrate the sheer enormity of ones testicles.
You're probably wondering what happened to day 39. We are too. Obviously it wasn't much, but I'm pretty sure that it involved more Dr. Who and more unpleasant pooping which I'm happy to report has been absent today. Hooray for Antibiotics!
One of the silly little games we play as we travel through these countries is trying to come up with tag-lines for each place we visit. For Granada it's "Granada leaves you wanting…more food"
Day 41 - Granada Nicaragua to Playa Tamarindo Costa Rica
This morning Dachary woke up angry. I blame it on a combination of mosquito bites and her having her period. She was angry / grumpy and determined and nothing was going to get in her way. Especially her hair God Damn It! The Hair dies now!
It had gotten long enough that the front was starting to dangle into her eyes. She demanded the scissors from the first aid kit. She was going to do something about it. I pointed out that they were crappy scissors for hair, and we could just go to a hair place, but knew better than to push the issue. Scissors were procured.
I hoped she was going to just do the bangs, but my fears were realized when it took more than five minutes and I went in to find her standing next to a pile of hair with shoulders covered in it.
At breakfast I decided the best strategy was to simply avoid pissing her off. It worked and we made it to the border around lunch time, which I don't think is a good thing, but is typical for us.
Leaving Nicaragua seemed quite easy. Unfortunately that was because we unknowingly skipped immigration. We went to a window where the guy claimed to be immigration, looked at our passports, and gave use some official stamps on some paper for two dollars each… actually, two per bike for one dollar each. It wasn't a scam, I'm just not sure what exactly we were paying for. It didn't surprise me that he didn't stamp the passport though, because they didn't stamp it when we came in. They just gave us each a piece of paper that said "Tourist Card" which they stamped.
Customs was pretty easy once we found it, and then it was off to Costa Rica, where I stood in a long snaking line for and hour and three quarters (listening to Harry Potter Audio Books read by Stephen Fry), where, upon reaching the terminus, I was told I needed to go back to Nicaragua to get a stamp out in my passport. The officially stamped pieces of paper didn't seem to count for anything.
I went back to the bike and found the "Tourist Card" papers which I hadn't showed him, skipped the line as per instructions from the guy after convincing the man with the large gun that I really had already done the line and I was returning. He didn't get what I was trying to say, but he gave up and let me through. So, I count that as a win, but the "Tourist Card" didn't work either… Yup, I had to walk the 1K back to Nicaragua because our bikes were already checked out, but apparently we weren't.
I saw an immigration table along the way that we hadn't visited, but that turned out to be a pre-immigration immigration table for Costa Rica. You have to go to Nicaraguan Immigration….
I then wandered from building to building asking if the current building was immigration and where immigration was until I finally found it (details on where everything is at the end of the post) got in a short line. Was handed the standard form for your name and info that they all have, but don't need since they have RFID readers for the new US passports. Filled those out, was shunted to another line, paid 2 dollars per passport for a stamp, and was officially checked out of Nicaragua.
Back to the pre-immigration immigration table. Yup, you've got stamps… proceed. Back to the head of the line… no wait, there's a nun. The line is short. I'll get behind her. I'm not even Catholic….
Hooray the stamps work. Off to customs. "Go get insurance." Off to Insurance. ($14 US per bike). Make copies of insurance next to some stamp in the passport. Back to customs. Fill out forms. Have vin checked. "Now you need to go to customs." Take a right. Go to the end of the road. Get a permit for 30 days.
I do. I did. We're free… ish. Go to the stop sign. show your papers. Hand over a receipt saying the bike had really been inspected. and we're free! …no really. We're free.
Off to Costa Rica. No bribes. No scams, and a grand total of $4 to officials and $28 to insurance.
We were planning on staying in Liberia, but figured we might just make it to Playa Tamarindo before dark, so we pushed on. We didn't make it of course, but we found a hotel, next to a nice restaurant. I can't really comment on the town so far. But we came here for the turtles to see them come up on the beach and lay their eggs. We spoke with a local and he says there's a better than average chance to see it this year, but there's no guarantee. We'll take a tour tomorrow night I think.
The room's meh, and the guy at the office warned us there was no hot water. My first reaction was "oh that's not good. " But, my second reaction was "Oh wait, even when they claim they have hot water it isn't. " We gave it a try. The water was actual some of the warmest we've encountered. So that was good.
Initial thoughts on Costa Rica? Holy ****ing shit this place is beautiful. Good vibes. Can't wait to ride through more of it.
Penas Blancas Border details from Nicaragua to Costa Rica
When you arrive you'll see a small official looking blue building next to a gate with a single lane next to it that cars and trucks take turns going into and coming out of. That's Nicaraguan Customs stage one. To the right of that, next to a restaurant / tienda thing is a yellow building with a metal grill over the windows and a small hole to feed documents through. Feed your passports in there with $2 US each.
Get back on your bike and take it to the far side of the little blue Nicaraguan customs building at the gate. Hand them the papers Nicaragua gave you for the bikes when you came into the country. They'll glance at the bikes and sign the paperwork.
Drive forwards taking a left at the road just past the large official looking building. Drive until the road T's. In front of you is a budget rent-a-car. All the way to the right before the road turns is a piece of shit looking blue building. That's customs. But first go all the way left to the pale blue building next to the pale blue water tower. That's immigration. Fill out the standard who are you border forms, $2 per passport, get a receipt, make sure they stamp the passport and you're out. Head over to the piece of shit looking customs building. Hand them passports, and the paper the initial customs building signed. They'll stamp it, pass it one seat to the right to the police, who will stamp it and you're free of Nicaragua.
Get back on the bikes, continue on the road past the customs building you just left to the end, go left, and keep an eye out for a covered table on the left with police looking dudes at it. That's Costa Rican Immigration stage one. They just check to see if you've got the stamp out of Nicaragua as far as I can tell. Continue down the road until you get to the Costa Rican buildings. You can't miss them. The big building is immigration. There is parking to the right of it. Which is what you want because there's a small yellow building next to a sign about luggage inspection. That's the Aduana.
Get in line at customs. Bring a book. You'll be there a while. It goes in spurts. Whenever the room at the end empties they fill it with more people. Repeat. Eventually you get in. Hand them your passport. Get a stamp. No cost. Leave that room and take a right to a small unmarked room next to it with photocopiers. That's where you get your insurance. Hand over the passports and your bike's registration. Pay $14 per bike or 6,736,00 of whatever the currency is here. I can't count that high in Spanish so I paid the $14.
Get a copy of your new insurance next to your passport stamp. The guy at the machines will do it for you. You'll also need a copy of your passport main page, your drivers license, and your registration. Take all of these, plus the new insurance paper across the street to the yellow customs / Aduana building. Get a form from them where you fill in all the info about your bike. It's written in an "I ___ do swear to ____ for ____ …" type format. Fill it in. Hand it to them with the paperwork and passports. Man comes out and checks your Vin. They give you a small square of paper that they sign saying that it's been inspected (probably before they come out to inspect it) and they'll staple all the paperwork together. No cost.
Then get back on the bikes. Just past the aduana you'll see what appears to be a large parking area for trucks with a road between two lines of trucks. Go down the road between the trucks until you get to the end. There you'll find a small building on the right with a sign for copies. You don't want that building. Get off your bike and go up the human sized concrete ramp onto the loading dock. There you'll find windows. Hand them all the bike paperwork. They'll give you back the insurance and the proof of inspection. They'll also give you a certificate saying you can temporarily import the bikes. No cost.
Ride away into Costa Rica, going around any stopped vehicles (even if stopped in the road seemingly legitimately) until you hit a stop sign at a gate. Hand them the proof of inspection stamp. Drive away.
You're now in Costa Rica. Welcome to some sweet scenery.
Day 42 - Playa Tamarindo Costa Rica to La Fortuna Costa Rica
Day 42 Playa Tamarindo Costa Rica to La Fortuna Costa Rica
Last night we met a local in the next-door restaurant who told us that he'd been on one of the turtle tours where they take you to watch sea turtles coming to the beach to lay their eggs. Unfortunately when he did they sat around until 11 pm playing dominoes without a turtle in sight. That was a few years ago, and he said that this year they've been coming back in significantly greater numbers, which is good for the turtles, but at $40 per person plus the cost of a hotel close enough that we wouldn't have to ride the bikes to the pick-up and then deal with hiking the beach in gear… we debated the value of the attempt. Decided we'd rather just save the money and go directly to the Arenal Volcano.
And we did, after a return trip to the local restaurant where we discovered that the young woman who'd been serving us the other night wasn't just a surfer girl down from Seattle for a while. No, she was the owner, along with her equally young husband / cook.
They're in the process of changing the name of the restaurant, so I can't tell you what it's called, but it's just before the Hotel Tamarindo Inn (easy to spot sign) as you're coming into town from the east. She says they're famous for their cubans (sandwiches not cigars) and they have something called a No Name which is definitely worth a taste.
While we were waiting for breakfast I noticed that there was a good shot available of my bent kickstand foot for you to see what I'm talking about.
Almost every place we stop i gouge a small pit in the ground. Plus, I frequently have to tip the bike far to the right to get it out. The plan is to find a welder, remove this, and have him weld on a piece of steel to replace it, after first welding the big hole in Dachary's pannier.
We made our way forward until we found a great view of the western end of Lago Arenal which was beautiful, but somewhat covered in clouds.
(Also, along the way, we stopped at a Super Mercado for Dachary to use the bathroom, since the gas stations we passed were lacking… and she found tampons! They've been nearly impossible to find so she grabbed a couple of boxes, along with a pack of toilet paper to replace our stash that we'd depleted with the bad tummies in Grenada (including Dachary dropping half a roll in the toilet), and stuffed it all in her expandable Wolfman Rainier tank bag. These things are awesome.)
We had set out with blue skies and high temps. What we failed to grasp was that we'd ridden to the edge of a rain forest, and as we made our way closer to Arenal it turned from mist, to rain. Neither of us bothered with our rain liners because we were so warm, so we got rather drenched. It wasn't really a bother though. We were drenched with sweat from earlier in the day, so we we figured it would be somewhat cleansing for our gear if nothing else.
We never saw Arenal volcano. The GPS claimed it was just off to the right. A bicycle tour guide (and ex motorcyclist) we ended up speaking with said "it's right there" and pointed to a cloud. The driving though…. absolutely incredible. We loved the ride around the northern side of Lago Arenal. It was beautiful lush vegetation, with intermittent glimpses of incredible cloud covered lake, which we would have taken pictures of for you except it was raining, there was nowhere to pull over, and the few places that looked wide enough to get off the road on had deep wheel ruts in the mud.
This is definitely a must-ride motorcycle road, though, if you're ever in the area. There are areas of the roads that are just swamped with potholes, and some of them are quite deep, but as a motorcycle, you have no problem getting around them. Slalom, slalom, lean, lean - and you're through, while the cars and 4x4s are still swerving around crazily to avoid them. Don't do it at night, though, because there are many sections where the lake-side lane is simply missing, or has simply fallen away, and instead of repairing it, they tell you to cede the right of way and deal with it being a one-lane stretch.
We drove on to La Fortuna which was renamed after the initial explosion of Arenal because they were the fortunate ones on the side that didn't blow up whereas the two towns on the far side were wiped out. We stopped at one hotel, then pulled over near the central park and I started to wander around looking for alternatives (it's a *very* small town).
While we were parking near the town center, a guy came out of a tourist info center and asked if we spoke English. We started chatting, and it turns out he's a Canadian gent who is hanging out in Costa Rica right now, but he and his buddies are interested in doing a big motorcycle trip and have been debating bikes/gear. We gave him what was probably far too much info about bikes, gear, panniers, etc. - I feel bad because we sorta brain-dumped on him, but he seemed genuinely interested and kept asking questions. (If you make it here, we'd love for you to leave us a comment, and we'd love to hear about your own trip when you take it!)
I checked another hotel on our list and then saw Hotel El Volcan just down the street. It had Wi-Fi, AC, and let us stick our bikes just in front of the office door and was only $35 which is an awesome price in this tourist town. The room is cheap but clean… except for a single ginormous cockroach we discovered in a corner being hog-tied by a spider. I left the spider to its business. But, it has actual, honest to goodness hot water. We ignore all claims about "hot water" these days and were amazed to find it actually had water hot enough to require the addition of cold. It was luxurious.
After we showered off the disgusting layers of sweat we went into town, had a somewhat crappy dinner, and checked the prices at the many places offering tours of the volcano.
The thing about the volcano is, when you read about Arenal, there are mentions of "on a clear day" and "when the clouds break" but what you don't realize is just how thick and pervasive the cloud cover is. We'd ridden right past the volcano and not seen it, so we made sure to find a tour that spent time going through the nearby forest and talking about the wildlife as we were unlikely to actually see the volcano even on a tour. We ended up going with the most expensive ($45 US each) one because they seemed to offer the best combination of things. We had to choose this night because we'd heard tale that the best time to go was first thing in the morning, both because of the likelihood of seeing fauna, and of seeing the volcano.
Off to find second dinner (pizza) then back to the room to devour it (until we found out it wasn't good pizza) Dr. Who, and bed…
Dachary's Note: This day of riding in Costa Rica was awesome. It started out a bit boring coming from Tamarindo, but it got prettier and prettier as we went along and it was one of those really glorious days to be on a bike on a trip like this. Costa Rica may be friggin' expensive and a big tourist trap, but it's also a really beautiful place and so far a great pleasure to ride.
The tour of Arenal Volcano was scheduled to pick us up at our hotel at 7:50 and would involve three hours of hiking so we took off in search of breakfast a bit late (as per usual) headed for the Burger King because it was barely 7 and Central America doesn't really do well with the getting up early thing. Unfortunately, the Burger King was at the far end of town (a tiny town but still) and was closed (****ers), but the restaurant next door was open and we powered our way through breakfast and hurried back to the hotel, where, three blocks away, we saw a tour van pulling down our street. "oh shit. Want me to run?" … I did. It was our van, and i caught them before they left without us. They were ten minutes early, we ran into the room, grabbed cameras, forgot deodorant and hat (me) and Off (Dachary) and hopped in the van.
Four pick-ups later (one very long as people took time checking out of their hotel) and we were on the way to the volcano. We'd resigned ourselves to not actually seeing the volcano and during this time the tour guide made a couple comments that illuminated the reality of the situation. He mentioned he hadn't seen it in two months, and that he was so excited last night when the sky was clear because he hoped we'd have a chance to see it, but of course it was cloudy again when he woke up this morning.
Just as we entered the national park though, the clouds broke, and the volcano was revealed in all of its glory before us. It was such a significant event that he had the driver pull over the van so that we could climb out and take pictures right then because it might just go right back into the clouds. I'm happy to report, that it did not.
Normally the clouds are down as low as the tree in the middle of that photo. No exaggeration. We really had no clue what we had driven past the day before, and over the next couple hours she began to re-sheath herself in clouds.
Our tour guide was great. He picked out lots of birds we'd never have noticed, a viper that was nearly invisible, and really knew what he was talking about. Plus, we didn't have to hike around for hours in our gear, and we got to meet a cool couple who used to live just down the road from us in Cambridge, MA. Sadly, we neglected to give them a card so we'll probably never encounter them again, but along the way we had great discussions upon how best to prepare the local wildlife. The tarantula preparation discussion was quite involved and eventually we decided that they should be deep fried with a thin batter, pepper, and lemon (served rather ala calimari). We figured that a tarantula hair plucking machine (akin to a automatic chicken plucker) would be a great idea that would make you a millionaire if only you could convince people to partake of the deep fried delicacy. In the meantime, they should be served with hairs intact under the batter.
If you want to do Volcan Arenal yourself it's definitely possible. It's $10 US entrance fee for the national park (easy to find), and there are bathrooms and a place to park your bikes just before the trail heads. I think they hand out photocopied maps of the trails too if you don't have a guide. But, for us, the guide and the ability to hike in pants and normal shoes was worth it.
Also, we found out that the lava you see in all the pictures really isn't lava. It's glowing rocks expelled during eruptions which fall down and break apart into a stream of tiny glowing rocks, that from a distance look like lava. If you want to see it it's recommended that you don't bother with a tour. Just wait for a clear night when it happens to be erupting, hop on your bikes and ride to the observation bridge / deck thing, and watch for free, because that's all the "lava" tours do. It turns out that many of them simply park you next to the bridge we crossed coming around Lake Arenal - we'd already seen the observation point. We pondered heading out there tonight to see if we could spot any glowing rocks, but alas, she has clouded over again and it's impossible to tell there's a volcano there anymore.
We were back in our hotel by 12:30 and had the rest of the day to chill (literally… in the AC) find food, write up posts, do a little work, find more food and ponder sleep.
Woke up today with the intention of going to San Jose to the BMW dealer there to try to get a new headlight for Kay's bike. We spent some time this morning researching hotels in San Jose, because most of the ones we saw were either friggin' expensive or far from the BMW dealer, and ended up spending far more time than we'd planned poking the internet. We also wanted to look up a rough translation for the parts we wanted in case no-one spoke English, and that took time, too, as we kept changing our minds.
In the end, it was after 8:30 before we left the hotel looking for breakfast, and it was nearly 10:30 by the time we got the bikes loaded and hit the road. I was annoyed about this because I wanted to get to San Jose early and figure out whether the BMW dealer would be able to help us, and sort out the logistics (i.e. hotel, etc.) Ended up snarking at Kay over I don't even remember what, and it was tense when we set out, but as always - a few minutes on the bike set everything right and as we were riding away down the beautiful twisty roads near Arenal, all was forgiven and forgotten.
Google Maps said it was a little over 120km from La Fortuna to the BMW dealer in San Jose, and it was another day of beautiful riding. The area around La Fortuna is really pretty, with lots of little hills and lovely twisties and was just really pleasant to ride through.
After a little over an hour of riding, we were at the foot of a tallish mountain type thing and it looked like we'd be ascending. Kept getting stuck behind slow trucks, but one good thing about the 650s - they've got power and more to spare, so we kept zipping around them and back to zooming up the mountain until we'd get stuck behind another painfully slow truck.
At around 900 meters in elevation, we literally started riding into clouds. One minute, it was sunny with blue skies and a few puffy clouds - and a few minutes later, visibility was just a few car-lengths ahead of us. It looked and felt like fog, but every once in a while you'd get to a spot where you could see the sheer drop off to your side and see the sunshine peaking out in the valley below - under the clouds! You could occasionally see the clouds roiling below. It was really spectacular riding, although visibility got so limited at one point that Kay (who was in front) literally watched a bus two cars ahead of us vanish into the cloud.
It just dissolved into nothingness like a brilliant illusion. Visibility was that low.
Kept riding and eventually we came out above the cloud, at around 1700 meters in elevation. It was really surreal, because you could look off to the right and see the clouds adjacent to us - or even below us! We were literally above the clouds. We've been higher at several points in Mexico, but we didn't encounter such low clouds there. It was truly spectacular riding.
Got into San Jose around 2PM, I think, and made our way toward the BMW dealer with really very little trouble given our normal track record for cities. There was one stretch that didn't match what Kay had seen on the Google Map this AM, but luckily a guy on a BMW F800GS rode up beside me and I was able to ask him if he knew where the BMW dealer was. He told us it was on the road we were on, only in the other direction - so we popped a U at the next intersection and headed the right way, and found it with very little trouble after that thanks to a rather uniquely shaped intersection Kay remembered from the map.
As in Mexico City, today was another day where we walked into the BMW dealer and were VERY glad we ride BMWs. Asked the receptionist for service, and she led us to Adolfo, whose card indicates that he is the "Asesor de Servicio" - which Google translates to "Service Advisor." He indicated that he spoke a little English, so instead of trying to use our probably very bad Spanish translation of what we needed, we just gave him the run-down in English. He had no problems getting it all and said he'd go check with his service team to see how long it would take, etc. He returned a few minutes later and said they could have the bikes done tomorrow afternoon, and went out with us to get some info off our bikes and have us pull them around to the service area.
While we were with the bikes getting data, the director of the BMW dealership here, Norval Garnier, came out and started chatting with us in very good English. After we pulled the bikes around to the service area, Norval took us in hand, offering us water, coffee, bathrooms, air conditioned waiting areas, and went to get us a map of San Jose and inquire about potential hotels for us.
Within a few minutes, we were sitting on a shaded patio table with a nice breeze, and Norval was going over the map with us and pointing out places in Costa Rica we might still see, and advising us of potential route options for heading toward Panama. All the while, Adolfo was prepping the work order for us, and Norval was asking the other employees about hotel options as the one they normally used had upped their rates unexpectedly. He went back to highlighting the map for us in great detail, and telling us about other travelers who have been through here, and the relative size of other BMW dealers here in Central America, and all the while, people were coming up to him with things to sign - he'd sign and never miss a beat and then go back to telling us about the country, or the map, or hotel options.
He spent quite a while with us chatting over the map, trips, routes, etc. I was really impressed and flattered that he was clearly taking time away from running his rather successful and demanding business to chat with us - just a couple of motorcycle travelers who dropped in completely unexpectedly. In the end, he found a hotel for us, grabbed one of his employees to drive us and our panniers there (with instructions to wait and take us to a second hotel if the first one didn't meet with our approval) and sat with us until we reviewed and signed off on the work orders to make sure everything was ok, etc. I have no doubt that if we had any more questions or needed anything else, he would have gone out of his way to make sure we had what we needed.
Once again, the BMW rondel really comes through for us. I think we've landed very fortunately here at the BMW dealer in San Jose. The thought was in the back of our minds that we could always go through and try the BMW dealer in Panama City, but we don't like cities and figured that navigating Panama City would be by far the bigger evil - San Jose seemed smaller and more manageable to us. And now I think we're very fortunate to have come here instead, as Norval advises us that the Panama City dealer is much smaller and isn't likely to have the parts we need. He was super helpful and genuinely interested, too, and that goes a very long way with us.
We're staying in a B&B a few kilometers from the hotel (and just down from the U.S. Embassy, apparently, should we want to go there for some reason). The bedroom is goodly sized, with a double bed and a twin bed, but the bathroom is ENORMOUS. I mean really. Really. Enormous. Like you could probably fit the whole bedroom in the bathroom. And the bathroom has a mini-fridge. There are also microwaves available for us to use, and computers in the lobby if we should want them - and the guy at the front desk is apparently studying English, and speaks it very well. Once again, we've landed very well and we owe a lot to a great BMW dealer.
Just this morning, Kay and I were envying the tiny motos their maneuverability. We were walking back from breakfast in La Fortuna watching the tiny motos flit here and there with their lightweight bikes and no heavy crap weighing them down, and thinking "man, those guys have the right idea. Riding like that is awesome!"
But now, this afternoon, reminded us of why we love BMW. We really do love our bikes. They're big for this trip, but they've been reliable and comfortable and the level of service we've encountered at the dealers along the way has been phenomenal. I can't speak highly enough of Motohaus BMW in Mexico City, and now Motocicletas Bavarian, S.A. here in San Jose. A BMW may be a big heavy bike for a trip like this, but what comes with the rondel has a lot of value we hadn't anticipated when we left home.
Slept late this morning (but neither of us slept particularly well - the B&B room was nice enough but the bed was really uncomfortable) and went out to the dining room for breakfast, which was a luxury. Fresh-made rice and beans, eggs, and toast. Poked around the internet for a bit to find out about potential destinations and decided to visit Volcan Poás tomorrow morning. The plan was to go hang out at the BMW dealer until our bikes were ready, and then ride up to a hotel very close to the park and spend the night, ready to go check it out early in the AM and then ride on.
Waiting at the BMW dealer was plush. We hung out on a nice, comfy couch on a shaded porch and watched Dr. Who and Top Gear on Kay's iPad chilling while we waited. I had brought along a soda to sip and we enjoyed the breeze and nice day, and watching them wheel bikes around. Clearly a very busy BMW dealer.
The bikes were ready around 1PM, and we loaded up to leave San Jose and head to Volcan Poás. They'd washed the bikes while they had them, and cleaned the chain, and done all of the lovely things a BMW dealer does for a bike while it's in for service. We had them change the oil, mount my tires, check the brake pads (I thought for sure they'd change mine because they're still the stock brake pads - they've got 11k on them!) and fix Kay's floppy turn signal. They said my break pads looked almost new. It ended up costing more than we'd expected, and now I'm annoyed that we didn't just mount the tires ourselves - it was almost double the cost of our service in Mexico City where they changed Kay's fork seals and changed our oil, etc.
Headed out of the city stuck in crap traffic for almost 40 minutes because there was construction on the Pan Americana. My temperature gauge on my bike was reading 111 degrees F, and Kay's was around 42 degrees C - both agree that it was friggin HOT on the bikes stuck in traffic. But eventually we were moving again, and headed to the volcano with fairly little trouble - lots of signage.
Stopped briefly at a Taco Bell because we wanted a fast, cheap lunch - and they serve french fries at Taco Bell here (although they call them Fiesta Fries). We agree that this is wrong. But we ran into a local who rides a DR650 who came over to chat with us about our trip, so that was cool.
Heading up into the mountains toward the volcano, Kay's temperature light came on the dash. We heaved a collective "uh oh" because we'd just gotten the bike back from service and an oil change and the first thought was that the dealer had somehow screwed something up. We pulled off to the side of the road (there wasn't an actual place to pull off, so we looked for a relatively straight stretch where people could at least see the bikes sitting there) and waited for the bikes to cool a bit.
10 minutes later, Kay checked the bike and the temp light was off, so we started back up the mountain. The hotel was maybe ten kilometers away at this point. Just a few kilometers down the road, the light came back on. This time we found a drive to pull into in front of a wood carver's shop and waited again. Pulled out later, and in a few more kilometers, the light came back on. This time we were in a really twisty stretch with no businesses and there literally wasn't a place for us to pull over. Kay said "sorry engine!" and right after that, we saw a steep dirt drive on the left side of the road that was relatively flat at the top, so we pulled off there.
Kay went to put the bike on the side stand, and as I was watching, I saw liquid spewing out the left side of the bike. He looked down and it was the coolant boiling out of the top of the coolant release nipple thing. He quickly put it back on the center stand, and we realized we had to take the fairing off to check the fluid levels and see if we could figure out what was going on. Coolant boiling over is a Very Bad Thing, ™, so we weren't willing to push it even until we got to the hotel.
Dismantled the fairing fairly quickly (Kay muttering all the while about what a crap design it is that you have to unscrew 6 screws, take the seat off, and take the turn signal off just to check the coolant level) and immediately saw that the BMW dealer had drastically overfilled the coolant. It was well over an inch past the "max" line on the coolant reservoir.
We decided that was a problem and literally tipped the bike over to dump the coolant. We didn't have a siphon, and wouldn't have had a container to siphon the coolant into anyway, so we laid the bike on the pannier, tipped it over until the coolant started running out, and then had to jiggle the whole bike to get enough of the coolant out. It's still slightly over the max line, but we figured the coolant had expanded because of the heat so it would probably be ok.
The oil was reading between half and three-quarters full in the sight glass, but the oil reservoir was still quite hot when we put the fairing back on and I was afraid that hadn't fixed the problem. Still, at this point, we'd been stopped for like 45 minutes to check and empty the coolant, and we thought that should have at least cooled the oil enough to get to the hotel.
Put the bike back together and headed up the volcano to the hotel. Found the hotel right near the top (and there was a ton of cloud cover up at the top, and some drizzling rain) only to discover that there were no vacancies. Back down the mountain to the hotel we'd passed 7KM and three stops ago.
Heading back down the mountain - you guessed it, the temperature light came on again. We pulled over in a shop parking lot to let it sit, and wondered how far it was to the hotel. Amusingly, we discovered when we got going again that the sign we could see from the shop parking lot where we'd been sitting was actually the hotel - we just didn't realize it. So we pulled in and Kay checked it out, and we decided to stop here for the night. There's internet in the restaurant so we could research the overheating problem, and the room itself is actually a cabin - kind of cute, kind of rustic, and relatively cheap. (But no internet in the cabin, so we have to come to the restaurant to check the Web.)
Grabbed dinner in the restaurant and poked the internet to see what we could find on the F650 FAQ about overheating, etc. We're hoping that they simply didn't put in enough oil at the BMW dealer and that's why it got too hot, but we're afraid it might be a problem with the fan, too. Kay doesn't remember if the fan came on when it was overheating.
We did discover that we were completely wrong about draining the extra coolant. The internet seems to agree that, in general, too much coolant simply isn't a problem. Maybe when the bike's cooled we'll find that it just expands and contracts dramatically.
Personally, I'd like to say that the BMW dealer overlooked something, because that's going to be the easiest thing to correct. But I fear it's something that went wrong later, and just happened to fail on a day when we'd had service. I don't see how the bike could have sat in the stupid traffic for 40 minutes in temperatures approaching 100 degrees without overheating then. So to me, I fear that maybe the fan died after that at some point.
Kay has worked out an explanation whereby it might simply be that the BMW dealer didn't put in enough oil and as we exerted the bikes more climbing the mountain, it started to overheat. I'll keep my fingers crossed for that but I fear we may have to head back to San Jose tomorrow to revisit the dealer. We're waiting for the bike to cool now to check the oil levels, and then I think we'll fire it up and see if the fan comes on. Wish us luck!
So, yes. The bike was overheating. After dinner and Googling (the only net access was in the restaurant) we went back out to the bike checked the oil level and then ran the bike until the overheating light came on to see if the fan would kick in. It didn't.
So, we went back to the cabin (tiny one all to ourself. Rustic and cute) and I pulled out the iPad to check my downloaded copy of the F650.com FAQ (damn I love this device) while Dachary checked the Haynes manual. The Haynes manual had better pictures and, seemingly clearer instructions.
My back was sore at this point. I suspect I used too much back and too little leg when we were lifting the bike after draining some of the coolant. I tend to do that without thinking. Dachary had a splitting headache. So, hoping against hope, that I'd be able to do something that would be able to make the fan come on even if I had to manually wire it up to the battery. The goal being to be able to see the volcano in the morning that we were barely 10k down the hill from before returning to BMW in San Jose.
I followed the instructions and removed the fairing, then looked for the circular doohickey with a tube and the fan switch that was pictured in the manual and in the F650.com FAQ. There wasn't one. I checked under the left fairing. It wasn't there either. I went back in to recheck the manual. Yup. Circular doohickey. I brought the manual out.
I sat down beside the bike with my headlamp and reread it. Staring back and forth between pictures and bike. Eventually I realized that the text was ambiguous and the FAQ had mislead me. It was the OTHER picture i was supposed to be looking at.
"Oh THAT thing… how do I get it off?"
There was a nut. I grabbed a wrench. I undid the nut. I got antifreeze on my hands…. electrical switches, in my experience, don't tend to live in fluid. I examined what I'd just removed. A copper rod that lived in antifreeze. Hmm. That must be the business end of the temperature gauge. I thought it sensed the oil temp, but whatever. I examined the wired up lipstick tube it was attached to. Hmm… little clips. Would have been nice if the manual mentioned those. I screwed it back into the engine. I pried at the clips and out popped a thingy with four sockets (two just empty plastic and two with metal connectors for two of the four pins that shoved into it). Some instructions said to try shorting it and seeing if the fan came on. I grabbed the handy piece of wire in the tool kit and did so. No good. Next it suggested taking a 12 volt battery (got one of those in the bike) and running leads with the "appropriate connectors" i think the phrase was, directly to the fan. It should be noted that the only people on the planet who might have something with the "appropriate connectors" happen to be standing in a BMW mechanic's workshop.
At this point I noticed a large half pit-bull mutt standing in front of my bike wagging so hard it almost made its rear end hop every time. It desperately wanted petting. I obliged it with my right hand whilst attempting to roll up the tool kit and move the *stomp* The Haynes Manual's page on troubleshooting the fan now has a large dirty brown footprint in it. More petting was administered until he was satiated enough to let me get back to work.
I went the brute force route to wire up the fan and disconnected the 12 gauge leads from my battery to my Fuzeblock (you should totally get one by the way) bent some of the extra wiring out of the way until each was small enough to fit in the socket and shoved them in. Nothing…. "are these things even live???" I touched them together… no spark. Shouldn't there be a spark?
I've gone through all the suggestions at this point. Simon says it's a dead fan. I don't have a spare one of those. But I'm not 100% confident in my tests, so it could also be a dead switch. I don't have a spare one of those. Or a ****ed temperature sensor. I don't have a spare one of those either.
I put the fairing back on (six screws and the blinker), thoroughly annoyed that the manual was wrong and there was zero need to remove the thing. Put the seat back on. Put the stupid door behind the seat back on. Rolled up the tools and went back in. At this point the back pain is not an issue when in the correct position, but when not (upright, walking, moving) It's a problem. I've started walking like I have scoliosis, but it's not too bad. I just can't stand up straight.
I also can't lean over to reach my tank bag to put my Leatherman away without involuntary yelps…. not good. I go to bed. That should help.
We set the alarm for 7:30. I wake up around 6:30 I think, and read for half an hour before Dachary wakes up and officially starts the day. The plan is to make it as far as we can towards San Jose. We'll call for a tow if we need one, but we suspect we can make it there… eventually….with lots of stops.
Time to load the bikes…. shit. I can't lift my pannier. "Um… Dachary?"
I decide I can at least take my Camelback and my tank bag. I grab them, and make for the door. I get to the first stair (of maybe 8) and drop the Camelbak. "Shit." I put the tank bag in my right hand and hold tight to the railing with my left. I go, very, very, slow, and almost fall to a squat a couple times from the pain. I barely hold myself up and make it down. Slowly. I go slowly, to the bike. I fall to my knees half way there. I breathe… I get up. I keep going. I make it to the bike. Dachary has moved it out for me.
I stay at the bike. I can't do anything else. I *should* be able to ride, because sitting is ok. I just hope it doesn't start to lean to far one way or the other when stopped because i'm dubious of my ability to keep it from going over.
Dachary brings out the panniers and puts on the first pannier. It's pointing on a slight downhill and the kickstand starts to slide back. I barely hold it, but only because it's barely trying to roll down the hill. She comes around, takes the bike from me, hands me the helmet, and walks it down to some flatter ground twenty feet away. I follow.
Or, rather… I attempt to follow. After about six feet I fall down. The pain in the lower back was simply too much to remain upright. I try and sit up straight. That hurts more… laying down… laying down is good.
Dachary sets the bike up and walks over to me, questioning, dubiously, my ability to actually ride five hundred pounds or so of bike. I question this too. "Help me up?" she tries. It doesn't work. "Pull hard." That hurts… hmm. "I think I'll crawl up." I roll onto my hands and knees and get up from there.
"Why don't you go to the restaurant. I'll take care of the rest. Can you make it?" I think I can, and I do. I wait. She finishes loading the bikes up and comes in. I'm fully expecting her to declare that we're staying here another day, but she doesn't. Neither of us want to stay. We order breakfast, and while I was starving when I woke, I can barely finish mine. She barely starts hers, and uncharacteristically, declares she can't eat it. We order her something else, and i force myself to eat. She does the same with the ginormous cheese pupusaish thing that her first plate is replaced with. Neither of us finishes, but the waiter was totally attentive and helpful, so we tip him well.
The ibuprofen I took at the start of breakfast seems to have done some good, or maybe it was just the sitting. Either way, I can walk to the bike, and miracle of miracles, I can get it up off the kick stand.
I go down the volcano in neutral 90% of the way trying to keep as much air flowing over the radiator as possible, and a few revs on the engine. I'm convinced we'll have to pull over in less than three kilometers before the light comes on, but we make it almost all the way, until Just before the bottom a truck is inching out into traffic and I stop for him. Dachary expected me to just go around, speeds up to follow me, notices I'm not going around, slams on the brakes, the ABS kicks in, she's leaning a little to the left, and has now stopped so quickly that she doesn't have time to get upright before she's lost her momentum and down she goes.
She's fine, but I'm in the middle of the road and there's a truck blocking me from getting to the side. It moves. I move. I hop off, and by the time I've made it to her bike (ten feet behind me) three motorcyclists have appeared, are at her bike, and by the time i start to touch it are already lifting it.
Before either of us get a chance to really say "Thank you." they've disappeared in a puff of smoke. Ok, the smoke's an exaggeration. A white guy on a bike appears out of nowhere and starts chatting. Mentions how he got screwed by a local honda dealer when he did a shite repair job on his bigger bike that ended up screwing it over worse than when it went in. I'm thankful for my BMW Roundel.
We continue through town to a McDonalds just up the road from the Pan American. They have net. Maybe we can figure out what the deal is with making phone calls in Costa Rica. We attempted this morning, but kept getting some spanish error message we couldn't understand. They have net. It doesn't help. We can't call Costa Rican or even US numbers from Dachary's phone.
After an hour of letting the bike chill and giving ADVRider.com a quick update, we set out again. We figure the volume of air over the radiator that we'd get from highway speeds should keep it cool. We're wrong, and just as we hit the permanent traffic jam caused by the bridge construction, the light comes on. "Shit." This road has no shoulder. But there's a bus stop on the right. We pull in. We let it cool, and while we do I notice a tiny turn-off just after the stop. I absolutely do not want to continue on a highway with no shoulder and a right lane that is exclusively for buses, so we take the turn off.
I don't care if it's slower. I don't care if the motorcycle overheats more times between here and the dealership (about 10 k away) so long as there's somewhere safe to pull over when it does.
We go. It overheats.
We pull over.
We go. It overheats.
We pull over.
We get off and give it a longer rest.
"Wait… do you smell cookies?"
Dachary wanders off to find a bathroom at the Office Depot we see across the intersection, and eventually returns a liter lighter and in possession of more lithium AAA batteries! Not that we needed them, but now we have two extra sets. (They also had AA lithium batteries, so if you need some for your SPOT tracker, try the Office Depot in San Jose. They had a ton. Dachary didn't have enough money on her to buy them all so there are still plenty left.)
We set off. We make it to maybe one K away from the BMW dealer when the light comes on. We pull in a gas station and practice our sweating techniques for ten minutes.
We take off and YES! the Dealer!
We pull in to the bike area and before we've got our helmets off Adolfo has appeared. "You're back. How are you?" We say we're good, and I explain that "mi moto es enferma. el ventilator es muerte y le "antifreeze" est pfft pffft pfft out the side" "It's overheating?" he says. "Yes. Let me show you what I've tried." I do, and he says "so the fan is dead." I shrug. "I think so."
Dachary asks him if that's a part that he has in stock. "Let me check." We pull the panniers and bag off the bike expecting to be told it'll be a day or two. He comes out, grabs the bike, and wheels it into the belly of the shop, then returns and says "we'll examine it now. You can sit here or over there." he says pointing to the couches by their accessories shop on which we watched Dr. Who just yesterday…
I'm somewhat awestruck. I was NOT expecting to have them tackle it immediately. We go over to the couch after a moment of cooling in the breeze so they don't feel we're hovering. We watch more Dr. Who until someone rides up on a F800GS, kitted out for adventure. We're intrigued. Someone tells him to move his bike over by where we're sitting, and as soon as he gets his helmet off we pounce with the questions. "Who? Where? How long?"
It's Cory (Oso Blanco on ADVRider.com) who, we quickly discovered, is way more badass than us, and we had a great time chatting him up. We felt a little bad because at one point Norval (the Director) came over and totally wanted to chat too but we were completely monopolizing Corey. Norval's a good guy, and like most real motorcyclists, loves encountering an adventure rider.
Somewhere in there Norval brought out the dead fan / motor, and had me feel the resistance it was putting up when you tried to turn it. There was barely any, but i surmise that there's supposed to be none. Regardless, it was dead and there was a new one being put in, and eventually, it was done and ready to be set free with a swipe of the magic card. I go in. They hand me the bill…. "so many digits!"… she converts it to dollars. "Such BIG digits!" I hand over the card, because what else can I do. The bike doesn't work without a fan… a fan that cost 189,158.63 cordobas or approximately $378 US! I shit you not.
I am totally regretting not having taken a picture of the dead fan because it is a simple sealed electric motor with a cord coming out one end and a rod with a fan blade coming out the other. The motor fits in the palm of your hand, and nowhere in our wildest expectations, did we think it would be more than $100 US. I just checked BikeBandit and it's $237.83 there… but, add in Costa Rican customs costs, and some dealer markup and they didn't screw us. It's just another case of BMW screwing people for some random part.
Now, some of you would argue for ordering it online and having it shipped in, but when you add in the days of expensive San Jose hotels, plus customs fees, plus taxis / hassle getting to FedEx, or wherever, to pay the customs… It's actually cheaper. Plus, they didn't charge us jack shit for the labor. Eight hours of it (two guys for four hours I assume) and it was such a negligible part of the bill it may as well have been free.
So, once again the guys at a BMW dealership have done the best they can for us, and as we set off (after many pictures with us and Cory) they were walking Cory off to see a list of local hostels they'd pulled up for him since the sun was about to set.
We made our way back to the hotel we stayed at last time, grabbed dinner, diagnosed why nothing coming out of my Fuzeblock was working (because I'd blown the fuse when I'd crossed the wires last night - a new fuse put it right), and settled in for some relaxation, oh, and some laundry. Poor Dachary's back is now killing her from leaning over the sink and scrubbing so long.
Doing laundry in a sink takes FAR longer (and takes far more work) than you expect.
I love the incredible service and support we've received from that BMW Roundel, but sometimes it comes with a price…literally. I consider it a case of getting what you pay for.
Unrelated: ask Cory about the mods to his bike. This is my favorite one, but he's got a bunch of nifty little tweaks that he's made.
Norval, at the BMW dealership, suggested San Vito as a possible destination to us. Take route 2 (the Pan American) south and hang a left on 237 to San Vito. "Should take you about 5 hours with a break for lunch, and it's really beautiful." he suggested. Plus, it's only an hour from the border and has some decent hotels.
So, we take our time getting going because it's only going to be a five hour day and leave at 10. It takes us an hour to get out of San Jose because we're not locals and don't know the fast way. Also, we have to stop for gas, which always seems to take more time than you expect.
After a little bit we see a hill, maybe a thousand feet high before us. "Oh nice. We get to go over a little hill." And we do, and then there's another hill behind it, and behind that, and, and, and, and eventually we're at 3,317 meters. Just over two miles above sea level. The ride has been gorgeous. Lush, green, and involving a few minutes riding through the middle of clouds.
We finally find a good place to pull over that looks like it may have a view, but no luck. All we can see is clouds and …. oh my…
Dachary's got the SW-Motech pannier frames. They've got this nifty quick-release mechanism that lets you take the whole thing off the bike when you want to ride around without a metal pannier rack poking out the side of your bike. Only problem is the bolt that holds the removable part on has a tendency to destroy itself and then jump ship without telling you.
It wasn't intentional, but the carabiner that's keeping her dry sack from jumping ship ended up keeping the pannier from doing the same. So, yay for backup / dual-purpose restraints.
We had a bag of bolts from a BMW dealer in Louisiana - they didn't know what size the sub-frame bolts were so they just chucked an assortment in a bag for us. Actually, they'd never heard of the sub-frame bolts shearing which tells you a lot about their knowledge and clientele… Anyway, we dug in the bag and found a bolt we could use to shove in there and keep the thing attached, but we had no nuts, so we grabbed a piece of wire from the tool kit (a must have piece of kit) that we wrapped around the threads on the underside to form an impromptu nut, then wrapped duct-tape around the whole thing to keep it from pulling out if the "nut" fails.
As we did this an Austrian man stopped by to try and take some pics, but he finds, as we did, that all you can see is clouds. He tells us that he was here a couple days ago and could see the Pacific, and when the clouds are gone on the other side you can see the Atlantic too.
I raised my arms and shouted "Adventure!" when all was said and done. We'd accidentally stopped at the highest point of the road, the highest point of the Panamerican in Costa Rica, and on part of the continental divide, and accidentally discovered a serious problem, and fixed it.
We drove on… just a few yards from where we'd pulled over was a dirt road going up into a national preserve, but we'd been stopped long enough and didn't feel like wandering through a random bunch of trees on top of a hill.
Instead we drove into a cloud. Not any cloud. A rain cloud. A huge, thick, dense, rain cloud. Almost instantly, visibility went to practically nil. You could see maybe 30 feet in front of us - at times, you'd lose the taillights of the car in front of you.
Our visors misted up. Dachary made the mistake of opening hers and from that point on was unable to close it without it fogging up, so had to ride with it open. It misted. The mist condensed on my visor and Dachary's face. Then it started to rain. I know it's obvious when you think about it, but it had never occurred to me that it rains in the middle of a rain cloud. Clouds are just collections of vapor and rain comes out the bottom… NOT.
We rode on. I wiped. Dachary blinked. We were glad we'd already closed our vents due to the chill air at altitude, but it wasn't long before the shells of our jackets reached the saturation point. Shortly thereafter Dachary called for us to pull over because she'd been blinking out so much water that her contact lens was starting to blink out too. I took the opportunity to grab the rain liner out of my butt pocket. And rejoiced in the knowledge that my arms wouldn't be drenched.
It was… awesome. Literally. It was beautiful. It was a little scary, and it was totally out of our realm of previous experiences. Insane people passed us around blind curves with visibility of maybe thirty feet. The fact that busses would appear out of nowhere and zoom up the hill in the other lane didn't seem to be a deterrent.
I was, once again, very thankful for my Denali headlights. They didn't help me see anything, because it was nearly noon at this point and even the sun couldn't make it through, but they gave me a huge amount of confidence that people would see me. Sure, I could see oncoming headlights, but I've only got one, and the Denali's are about four times brighter.
We continued on, blinking, wiping, and enjoying the whole thing…. well, except the getting wet part.
Eventually, we had dropped about a mile and passed out of the bottom of the cloud, and not long after that we found a road-side restaurant with a little collection of plastic Harley-Davidsons on the wall. The owner clearly wanted to talk to us about the bikes, but he was disheartened by our bad Spanish, and didn't do much more than mime some things after we did such a poor job of ordering lunch. We don't have the vocabulary to start up a conversation, but when someone attempts to talk to us we can usually get a fair amount communicated. Like the other day when a BMW guy stopped by our table and started chatting us up, and saying that they were great bikes for our trip and that we'd have no problems, which I countered by explaining that the fan was dead and that we had to head back to the dealer.
At least lunch turned out to be very tasty, and Dachary and I are both developing an affinity for the Avocado when you mix it with things. I think of it as a more refreshing form of butter. After lunch, though, we both put our jackets back on and cringed at the wet shells. It's just no fun putting on a cold, wet jacket after it's rained! But it was, once again, too warm to keep the liner in and Dachary had never put hers in to begin with.
We rode on, through tons of Del Monte pineapple fields, which took us a while, and some signage to figure out. Neither of us realized they grew underground! And eventually past a small street-sign sized sign that said "Volcan 3Km" and pointed down a long red dirt road. I was so tempted, but Dachary pointed out that the hill it led up to went up into a cloud so A) we'd get wet again B) we wouldn't see jack shit and C) it was probably ****ing muddy since the part in the sun near us didn't look particularly dry either.
We rode on. I wish it hadn't been cloudy though, because it's a sight that I suspect hardly any Americans ever visit. If you're interested it's on the Panamerican just a few minutes west of Buenos Aires Costa Rica.
We arrived in San Vito just after 5 PM; seven hours after heading out. We pulled over in a gas station to find Dachary a bathroom and a guy on a Honda with panniers pulled up almost immediately. He didn't speak any English, but it didn't matter. He was an adventure rider too. He'd been up to Guatemala, and he and his friends had shipped their bikes to Peru and ridden back home to Costa Rica. We asked him where the ATM was since we were so low on Colones we couldn't even buy gas, and he pointed us the way, and informed us that he worked at that one, and that there was another one just around the corner beyond it. And, the hotel El Ceibo was very nice and good for the bikes. We thanked him for the info, gave him a card (that won't do him much good as our site's in English) and let out a sigh of relief.
We had rather low expectations of what kind of hotel we'd find in San VIto and it was good to hear there was somewhere good, and that we'd be able to get an ATM to afford gas, and food tomorrow. All the hotels in Costa Rica will happily take US Dollars, but food and gas need Colones. So, we went up the hill, stopped at the bank, and pulled into the hotel, which turned out to be very nice although lacking any rooms with anything other than twin beds. And was, in typical Costa Rican fashion, way more than we wanted to pay.
Our tag line for Costa Rica? "I love Costa Rica. I just can't *afford* Costa Rica."
It turns out there's a Hotel Rino(?) just down the street that looks much cheaper… which could be a mixed blessing. El Ceibo is quite nice, except for the "giant bugs" Dachary keeps seeing. Two huge ants which neither of us are particularly bothered by but don't want crawling on us, and a huge freaking jumping spider that Dachary was totally freaked about and I couldn't decide how to handle. I went with tupperware, as I hate killing spiders and the idea of leaving a ginormous bug splat on the wall was also rather rude. The spider and the ants have all been chucked out the door, hopefully without injury.
If you visit San Vito be sure to eat at the Pizzaria just up the hill from El Ceibo. It's the best pizza we've had since the US. Also, check out the little supermarket just down the hill from El Ceibo. It has everything: bungies, sewing supplies, cooking, cleaning, hardware, household food… Sounds like a giant Wal-Mart back in the states, but no, this is maybe a quarter of the size of a standard US supermarket. We got a pair of bungies, five safety pins, and some liquid refreshment.
Speaking of liquid refreshment. Neither of us has had a drop of alcohol since the start of the trip. I don't mention this as an accomplishment for us, but as it seems to be so atypical for a trip like this. That and we're not really trying to avoid it, we just haven't been particularly interested.
Did some digging around regarding border crossings last night and found Rio Sereno, which was just a handful of kilometers away from San Vito where we stayed last night. Everyone who's used it says that Rio Sereno is teeny but very fast and has none of the hassle of the Pan American crossing at Paso Canoas - in part, because the road leading to it isn't paved. And also, there's no customs on the Costa Rica side, although the Panama side has both immigration and customs. This means that you can cross out of Costa Rica but you can't check your moto out, and you can't cross into Costa Rica with a moto at this crossing.
After reading more about Paso Canoas and our prior experiences with the Pan Americana border crossings, we decided to say "eff it" to checking out the bikes from Costa Rica and just head into Panama at Rio Sereno. Hopefully that doesn't bite us in the butt later somehow, but we decided to risk it.
Slight misadventure to start the day, though - I was reaching up from the bed to grab the cord to turn off the fan, and I reached up with my right arm while leaning back on my left arm and turning my head *just* so - and managed to pull something. I immediately had to lie back down and take a bunch of Ibuprofin to attempt to reduce some of the muscle pain, and had to take it very easy this morning. Was a bit apprehensive about doing dirt with a bad shoulder/neck. In the end, it hurt to move my arm a certain way, and it hurt to turn my head too far to the right, so riding presented some challenges. But neither of us wanted to stay in Costa Rica anymore because it's just so expensive - it was time to move forward.
So we set out looking for Rio Sereno, which isn't marked, but we found some decent instructions on Horizons Unlimited. Except they weren't as good as we thought. We got as far as Sabalito, Costa Rica, where we were supposed to pick up the dirt, except the instructions were a bit ambiguous and we missed the turn we were supposed to take.
Kay stopped and asked a guy if we were going the right way to the Panama Fronteira, and he indicated that we go forward and then take a left. Followed those directions but still didn't find the dirt we were supposed to be riding, so Kay asked again and got an affirmative that we were on the right road. Went a bit longer and still no dirt, so I suggested that instead of asking for the frontiera, Kay ask specifically for Rio Sereno - and the woman he asked first indicated the road we were on, but when Kay said "Rio Sereno," the woman told us to turn around and take a right at the cafe. So we had missed the turn.
Went back to the road I thought might have been the right one originally, when we drove by it, and we stopped at the top of the road looking for someone to ask. A guy on an ATV pulled up next to us and confirmed that this was the dirt road we were looking for that led to the frontiera. Yay! Turned down it and had a nice little ride on the dirt.
The road itself was in good shape, although there were a lot of rocks in the road that made it quite bumpy. The dirt was hard-packed, and there were a few muddy tire tracks but you could pretty easily avoid them by riding between the tracks and it was dry and had good traction. The Horizons Unlimited directions were fairly good once we hit the dirt, and 5km of decent dirt later, we'd arrived at the frontier!
The directions did say that Costa Rica immigrations was on the left before you get to the Panama compound, but we missed the building anyway - it was a bit further back than we were expecting.
Kay did the border stuff, even though it was my turn, because my shoulder was bothering me - all of the bouncing around on the rocky dirt road really didn't help it. Costa Rica immigrations took 5 minutes - they stamped us out in the passport and after confirming that we weren't planning to return, kept our moto permit. Panama immigrations took another 5 minutes. Then off to customs for the bikes.
Kay went off to do the bike paperwork while I stood with the bikes. Based on how quickly they processed immigration for us, and how few people were using the crossing, I was thinking maybe we could get across in 30-45 minutes. So I stood next to the bikes, waiting for Kay.
A large truck moved its position and I had to move the bikes so people could get by - gave me a few moments of concern because of my shoulder and the slant of the rocky dirt road, but I got them moved without dropping either one. (I'd dropped my bike when we first parked here because the road was slanted too far to the right and the kickstand was too long - it wouldn't lean far enough to the left because of the slant of the road and gravity took it to the right instead.)
But when I thought the bikes should be moved, I went looking for Kay to ask for help in case I dropped them, and couldn't find him. He wasn't in the customs building and I couldn't see where he might have gone. So I went and did the bikes, and waited.
After Kay had been gone for about 45 minutes, I started to get worried. This is a teeny border crossing and there aren't many places he could have been so I didn't know what was delaying him. I thought maybe he had to go somewhere to get copies made and things were just taking a while, but by the time an hour had passed, my mind started making up more and more horrific scenarios. Maybe he had to walk 10 kilometers into the next town to get copies because the copy place was closed on Sunday. Or maybe he took a cab or tuk-tuk somewhere and couldn't get back, and had to walk back. Or maybe someone saw him wandering around and decided to rob and beat up the gringo, and he was laying somewhere in pain.
I shouldn't be left alone without explanation, clearly.
I kept walking back and forth between the bikes and where I could see down the road, looking for him. Eventually I sat down on a concrete wall where I could easily look for him, and started trying to read a book on my iPhone just to distract myself from my imaginings. (Normally I wouldn't bring out any electronics at a border crossing but this was dire.) After like an hour and a half, I hear a "Hi Dachary!" and look up and Kay is waving to me. WTF?!
I walk over to find out where he's been and it turns out that this entire time, he's been sitting in the office with the insurance kid around the corner waiting for him to fill out our insurance forms. Twice, people from Costa Rica walked in to get insurance and he stopped filling out our forms to process them. That's why it took so long, apparently. When Kay finally got the insurance forms and brought them back to customs, it took a grand total of roughly 20 minutes to make out the paperwork, inspect the bikes, fumigate them and send us on our way.
So the border crossing itself took 2 hours, but 1.5 hours of that was waiting for the insurance guy to fill out our two forms.
Still, this was by far the best, easiest border crossing we've encountered in all of Central America. No hassle, no helpers, no money changers - just a teeny border and friendly, helpful people. If you're crossing from Costa Rica to Panama, I highly recommend this crossing. The only costs were $1 per bike for fumigation and $15 per bike for insurance.
Even better? The road after the crossing. The road on the Panama side of the crossing is fabulous. It's winding, twisty, up-and-down on perfectly paved roads for well over an hour. Some of the reports we read about this border crossing described this road as reminding the riders of Switzerland, and while we've never imagined palm trees in Switzerland, it did have a sort of "Sound of Music" feel in parts. But either way, it was simply beautiful, and a joy to ride.
Kay and I agreed that yesterday in Costa Rica and this stretch of the road in Panama today have been some of the best riding of the trip. Would gladly do again. And we agree that 42 from Rio Sereno to Volcan is a must-ride road for anyone who's riding across Central America. After Volcan, it turns into 41 and it's not as nice… but the stretch from Volcan to Rio Sereno is simply spectacular.
After we met up with the Pan Americana, things got slightly less interesting. A guy in the hotel we stayed in at Granada recommended a hotel for us in David, but we didn't see it from the Pan Americana and neither of us was impressed enough with David to want to get off the main road and go hunting for it. The whole area around there was kinda… meh. It made us feel like the ride across Panama would be just a grind.
A bit further along the Pan American, though, things got prettier again and we didn't regret our decision to continue further, even though we were both tired and my shoulder was bothering me. There are mountains off to the left for much of the stretch from David to Santiago, and it's really pretty in places. Not at all like we'd expected the Pan Americana would be.
Rode into Santiago just at sunset and tried a couple of hotels until we found a *relatively* cheap place. Honestly, things have been *very* expensive since we arrived in Costa Rica. I miss the hotels in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. (i.e. we've been paying as much or more for hotels here in Costa Rica/Panama as we did in the States.)
Our dinner choices without saddling back up on the bikes, which neither of us felt inclined to do, consisted of KFC or McDonalds. So sad. We chose KFC as the lesser of two evils, and I've gotta say - after all of the delicious chicken we've had here in Central America, KFC was just wrong. I don't know what they do to the chicken to make it taste like that but give us back the food from Mexico. We agree that the Mexican food was the best, and we miss it. And Mexica tortillas - OMG. Seriously so good.
We made very good time today, so it looks like we'll be hitting Panama City tomorrow. Then it's time to figure out the logistics of getting the bikes to Girag and flying over the Darien to start our SA adventure! We won't fly out of Panama City ourselves until we're sure the bikes have gone, because we don't want to get to Columbia only to find that they're stuck here, so we're not sure how long we'll have to be in the city (i.e. when our bikes will go out.) But we're *this* close to South America now, and this is where the adventure enters a whole new phase!
Hopefully the time in Panama City will be enough for my shoulder to heal, Kay's back to fully heal (it's still stiff and sore) and the new sunburn I've acquired today to fade a bit. Maybe we'll even get to wash our stinky, nasty motorcycle gear! And there's some work I should get done for a client before we wander off into "maybe not have internet for long time" land.
We're here in Panama, and we've made it through Central America! Now South America awaits!
The day started out innocently enough. We got up. Researched places to stay in Panama City. Ate breakfast at the McDonalds next to our hotel and loaded up the bikes. We set off a bit later than we'd planned - didn't get on the road until 10:20AM. But we weren't that far from Panama City, so we knew we could make the city today and we thought we might be able to get to Girag to confirm what we needed to do to ship the bikes and find out what day they'd go out.
The ride to Panama City wasn't bad. It was friggin hot, though. It was in the 80s when we left Santiago at 10 am and my temperature gauge read over 100 at speed riding into Panama City. When we stopped in traffic, my gauge maxed out. Speeds on the road were decent - a lot of 60/80KPH, and even a few 100KPH stretches, which is around 60MPH. Funny thing about the riding we've been doing - the speeds have been so slow through Central America that we've gotten used to going slow. So when we get a 60MPH speed limit, it feels like we're going FAST and it actually takes work to maintain that speed.
Stopped for a bathroom at McDonalds again around lunch time, and decided that while we were there we should eat food, since it was lunch time. While we were pondering what to order, a couple approached us and started asking about where we were from and about the bikes and our trip. It turns out they're from Oregon but own a place on the beach near David. We had a nice little chat with them over lunch, and told them about some of the places we plan to see in South America, and I got excited about it all over again because we're THIS CLOSE to South America! We're in Panama!
Back on the road and into Panama City shortly after 2pm. Alas, we have no routable GPS maps of Panama City, and we only had a vague idea of where the airport was (northeast of the city) so it took a few false starts, but eventually we found a road leading toward a suburb that was in the direction of the airport. Once we were on that road, we started seeing signs for the airport. Yay!
It took us over 2 hours just to find the road to the airport, and by the time we did, the gas lights had come on in the bikes. We were trying to run the bikes quite low on gasoline so we wouldn't have to drain them when we got to the airport, and I was all in favor of going on with the gas lights on, but Kay wanted to put a little bit of gas in so we wouldn't run out en route. He got his way and we put slightly less than half a gallon in each bike ($3 total).
Once we started seeing signs for the airport, it was fairly easy to navigate there. Except the cargo stuff isn't in the main terminal, but is someplace away from the main space. Kay had researched this last night and had a map of where we needed to go for Girag, so we followed the signs and slowly made our way around the airport - only to run into a detour. The road around the airport was blocked, so we had to detour into a residential neighborhood along with about a bazillion cars and buses and taxis, everyone going a different way to try to get around the blockage. It was insane.
We took a lot of turns and one U-turn and eventually found our way back out of the neighborhood and onto the road around the airport. And rode. And rode. The airport in Panama City is surprisingly big, and you have to drive around three quarters of it to get to the cargo area. But eventually we found that, too (sorta stumbled into it, in fact) and checked in with the police and then made our way to Girag. At this point it was around 4:45PM and we were both thinking they'd be closed, and neither of us felt like dealing with going back into the city to find one of the hostels we'd looked up this morning, so we were prepared to suck it up and pay the outrageous fees for a room near the airport just so we could try again early in the morning.
But surprise! Girag was open, and Madeline told us the bikes would go out tonight. TONIGHT! What? We were totally unprepared for that. We were expecting to spend several days hanging out in Panama City, waiting for the bikes to ship. We planned to do laundry, and maybe wash our motorcycle gear, and I needed to get some work done, and we were going to wander around a bit and meet up with some ADV folks who are in Panama City.
But if the bikes were going out tonight, could we go out tonight? Madeline nodded, and Kay borrowed the computer while the guy was filling out our airbills and confirmed that there were flights out of Panama City to Bogota tonight!
So we hastily threw some things from the panniers into Kay's Wolfman Dry Duffle (laptops, my sleeping bag, toiletries, cords for charging stuff, clothes for tomorrow) and removed the mirrors from our bikes, per Madeline's request. She also asked us to take off the windscreens, and Kay told her it was a PITA so she said don't worry about it. Now I'm just hoping I don't wind up with a broken windscreen.
We paid Madeline ($901.28 for each bike) and she made us out receipts, and then told us they'd do the airbills in the other office and left us. So we went out and waited by the bikes, thinking of things we should do or secure or grab before shipping them.
Whilst we were loitering and waiting for the airbills, a guy came over and asked us about the gasoline in the motos. We confirmed "solo un pequito" - just very little gasoline - in the motos. He looked skeptical. Kay confirmed and told him that the gas light was on. He wanted to see. Kay turned the key but explained that our motos have no gas gauge so we couldn't show him. He mimed that the bikes could explode if there's too much gas in them. In the end, he walked off, shaking his head, as though he didn't believe us.
The airbills were taking forever and we still had to check the bikes out with customs, so Kay went to check on the airbills and I waited with the bikes. And waited. And waited some more. Eventually Kay came out with the airbills and saddled up on my bike to take the paperwork to customs, and two of the Girag guys came over and told us we also needed to disconnect the batteries on the bikes. Bummer.
The design on the F650 is a PITA to disconnect the batteries - you have to remove the seats, remove 6 screws, and remove a piece of the fairing just to access the battery (and you have to remove more screws and all the fairing to do anything complicated with the battery). So Kay took the paperwork to customs while I disconnected the battery on his bike. He returned just as I was buttoning his bike back up, so I let him finish while I disconnected the battery on mine.
Batteries disconnected, the guy from Girag came over and asked us to sign paperwork saying that they'd received the bikes, and put stickers on the bikes - I assume denoting the location, etc. He confirmed that this was all and we were done, and Kay asked him to call us a cab. It was then 6:45PM, and we thought we might be able to make the 8:20PM flight to Bogota, so we had the taxi take us to the airport.
Arrived at the passenger terminal at about 7:10PM and found the line for "All Flights". It was surprisingly difficult to convey to the guy at the counter that we needed to *buy* tickets. "Do you have your reservation?" he asked. And when we said no reservation, he got a supervisor to try to look us up, and the supervisor apparently couldn't find us in the system. "No, that's because we need to buy tickets" we tried to explain. The supervisor got it and showed the guy how to sell us tickets. Apparently they don't get a lot of people wandering up to the airport these days to buy tickets. He didn't seem to know how to process the transaction.
50 minutes later, we had tickets, boarding passes, we had checked Kay's dry duffle and my dry sack, and they'd boxed and shrink-wrapped our helmets ($9 US) to have us check those, too.
It was 8:06PM, and we discovered we had tickets for the 9:10PM flight to Bogota, and it was boarding at 8:20. And apparently we got Business Class tickets. We hadn't asked for them, and they hadn't specified - we didn't find it out until he gave us the tickets and at that point we didn't want to deal with trying to get coach, so we just sucked it up.
Made our way quickly to the security check after only a perfunctory check at immigrations (and no stamp out from Panama!) and ran into some troubles at security. They kept telling us to take everything out of our pockets, etc. but we were wearing our motorcycle gear and we have knee armor (and I have foam at my hips, too) and they wanted us to take that out. Kay explained that we'd have to take the pants off to take the armor out, and the guy indicated we'd have to go off to the side, apparently, and show the security people. Which might entail taking our pants off.
We waited while a woman went through Kay's tank bag. Twice. She took everything out, one by one, looked at it, and put it all back in. And then did it all again. No-one even so much as unzipped my tank bag, but they examined Kay's in thorough detail. And his Camelbak. A security guy seemed particularly interested in our caribiners - he took them out and examined them one by one. But only Kay's - they didn't touch the three that were in my bag.
Then we both had to go off to the side and show people our knee armor. Kay had to stand in the open and bend his pants sorta inside out, and a woman took me behind a screen and had me pull the legs of my pants up until she could see and examine the knee armor. Which she did, in detail. She felt it quite thoroughly, but was apparently satisfied that it was slightly flexy and appeared to be what we said it was.
They told us we could go, and then the security guy started asking questions. How long were we in Panama? Did we like it? Panama was very beautiful - did we agree? We weren't there long so we couldn't tell him much, but we mentioned that we thought the area near Rio Sereno and Vulcan was very beautiful, and he agreed. Had a little chat (in Spanish) about our trip, and then he waved us on our way. I'm guessing they don't get people in motorcycle gear through security very often.
Made it to the gate just as they were starting to board. We both had to go to the bathroom but couldn't see any nearby, so we figured we'd just use the bathroom on the plane. Luckily, since we were in business class, we got to board first and we both used the bathroom well before we started to taxi. Kay has flown business once before, but it was my first time flying business, and can I just say "DAYUM!!!" There's SO MUCH MORE ROOM in business class. Our plane was two seats on each side of the aisle in business, and three on each side of the aisle in coach. We had more leg room and space for our stuff in the overhead compartment. And while we were waiting for boarding, the stewardess brought us orange juice! Just for sitting on the runway!
As the flight began, she started taking orders for snacks. Snacks? We got snacks on an hour-long flight? This would never happen in the States. Or maybe it's just because I've never flown business class before. We hadn't had a chance for dinner and neither of us ate particularly much at our McDonalds lunch so we were psyched for food. We both got turkey wraps, which came with salad and little pieces of chocolate cake, and were surprisingly tasty. Score for business class! We also discovered, after we boarded, why we had business class - the flight was FULL. There probably weren't any coach seats left. While neither of us would have chosen to spend the extra money on business for this flight, it was a nice luxury.
Disembarked in Bogota and had a surprisingly quick trip through immigration, although they seemed perplexed how we could be arriving in Columbia at 11PM with no hotel and no contact information for friends. The immigration guy had to ask the girl next to him what to put, and I think she just put something generic. But he stamped our passports, and we were officially in South America!
Headed out through security again, and had to declare our nothing at customs (who was also perplexed how we could have no address in Columbia) and then I waited in line at the money changer. They'd take our US dollars and our Costa Rican Colones, but not our leftover Honduran Lempiras or Nicaraguan Quetzales. So we still have Lempiras and Quetzales, but we got enough money for tonight, at least.
While I was waiting in line at the money changer, I saw a guy standing on the outside of the terminal with a sign for a hotel. Kay and I had no plans for a hotel - we hadn't planned to be in Bogota at all yet and had left the South America book in Kay's panniers, so we had no real info. So we asked the guy about the hotel, and he told us $60 US for the hotel. He made some calls and then told Kay that the hotel was full due to a convention, but he'd found us another hotel that had a vacancy. And he had a guy who could drive us there.
So we waited around for the guy, which was a taxi but didn't have a meter, and the guy drove us to an unmarked building in a residential neighborhood "cinco minutos" from the airport. (We'd told them that we were looking for a place nearby because we'd be returning tomorrow.) He then asked us for $10 for driving to the hotel, and then told us to stay in the cab while he went inside. He came out a few minutes later and asked for $60 us. We paid him in pesos (apparently Columbia uses pesos, too) and he then told us to wait again and went back inside. He came out a minute later, and I saw him giving the hotel guy one of the three bills we'd given him - so he clearly trippled the charge and kept the rest for himself, and the hotel guy got a fraction of what we paid.
Still, we arrived in Bogota at 11:30PM with no hotel and no idea where to go, so it could have been a lot worse.
After the money changed hands, the guy had us come inside and showed us the room. It really looks like a guy's house that has a few rooms with bathrooms, and he's calling it a "hotel." There are no keys for the doors, although they have locks inside (push-button locks) but our room has a bed and a bathroom with a shower and a toilet. And a slightly… unusual… decor.
The cab driver asked if we needed anything else, and we asked if they had bottled water - the guy brought us a pitcher of water from the sink and a couple of glasses, which we're afraid to drink because we don't know if it's filtered and our filter is in one of the panniers. The cabbie asked if we needed towels, etc. and after we'd gotten everything we needed, he asked for a tip. The nerve! He charged us for the cab ride (more than we should have been charged, I suspect) and got half the price he charged us for the room, and then he asked for a tip on top of that!
But still. We arrived in Bogota at 11:30PM with no place to stay and no clue where to go, and got a clean room with a shower and a toilet where we can lay our heads and do some research before returning to the hotel tomorrow. It could have been a lot worse. It's comparable or less than we would have paid at an airport hotel in Panama City, and now we're here and the bikes should be here and we can go pick them up in the morning.
In the end, after the cab driver had left us alone in the room and closed the door behind him, Kay and I just had to look at each other and laugh. Here we are, in South America, in some crazy pimp room, in some guy's house, waiting for morning so we can pick up our bikes. When the door closed, our eyes met and we started laughing. We couldn't help it. This is the stuff of adventure. And we seem to have a habit of landing on our feet, for which I'm quite grateful.
Dunno how far we'll make it tomorrow, but neither of us is inclined to hang around in the city. Kay is currently researching destinations as I need someplace I can spend a couple of days and get some work done, but we're here! We've made it! We're in South America, in Columbia, and the second part of our trip is about to begin!
Great Stuff Guys!
How much were the passenger tickets to Colombia?
We flew Copa. We walked up to the desk, and got tickets for the plane about an hour and a half later and it cost $355 pre-fee per ticket (Business class). After fees it was about $404 per ticket. Normally people tend to fly Avianca, which quotes about the same price normally, but when you try to get a ticket the same day on Avianca the price doubles.... or maybe it's just when trying to buy within hours of the flight...
We would have taken coach but as far as we can figure there weren't any coach seats left.
Yesterday had a mind of its own and the results were dizzying. Today was similar, and radically different.
We packed our things and left the pimp room in a cab, sans breakfast. It was a residential area and there simply wasn't anywhere to go for desayun. Someone asked if it was a per-hour hotel. We're not really sure. The cabbie did the negotiating and took 2/3 of the total for himself. From one perspective you could be pissed because we got charged 3 times as much as the room cost. On the other hand, we asked for a $60 a night room (you try finding something cheaper near any international airport and see how far you get) and we were given a $60 room.
So, off to Girag Bogota. It wasn't hard to find. Just get the cabbie to take you to the Carga terminal and look for the long brick building. Girag's sign is near the middle. As soon as we have our stuff out of the cab there's a woman waving at us from a little window with a slot. She hands us their end of the airbill for each bike and sends us off to customs insisting that we must both go, but that we can throw our stuff just inside the door by the security guard.
We wander off to customs, which is not "across the street" as all the other reports claim. It's a smaller blue glass standing in front of the large blue building you can see from Girag. Walk up to, and past, the big blue building and when you you do you'll see the smaller building in front of it. Go in. Go to the third floor. Walk up to the first desk where the person isn't busy and tell them you have two motocycletas for import. They'll forward you on to the appropriate person.
Now. If you're smart, and prepared, you'll ask Girag to make you a photocopy of the papers they told you to take to customs as well as a copy of the page with the Colombian immigration stamp in your passport. We didn't know this. We just knew we'd need "some copies". So we hand the guy photocopies of our registrations, and Passport (which also had the license on it). And, because we had most everything, he took pity on us, and took us downstairs to make copies. Turns out they moved the copier and he had to go make them himself but hey, we didn't have to walk back to Girag.
Back upstairs he flips through photocopies of old imports to see examples of how to do ours, prods our passports and notices that immigrations gave us a Transit permit for 3 days, and the day you enter counts even though there was only about an hour of it left. Today was day two and it was approaching noon. There was no way in hell that we could make it to the Equador border in the remaining day. And, we didn't want to, either.
He sends us off to the airport (just down the road) to attempt to rectify it but he's leaving in two hours so we may have to deal with someone else. We decide we'd rather not so instead of walking we just hop a taxi and pay about $3 to get back to the airport ASAP. Go in, find immigration, see that it's behind security, talk to an army looking dude and explain that we don't need to fly we just need immigrations. He points us to an office to the side of security, we go in, explain the situation, and a very helpful man who speaks english (we could have done it in Spanish but it was much easier to just go straight for English in this instance) gets us 60 days because we told him we wanted to enjoy Colombia.
But, we know why we got the transit, and we know how to keep you from getting it. Know the name of a hotel in advance. That's it. If you don't know where you're staying they haven't a clue how to deal with you so they give you transit. It doesn't matter what the name of the hotel is, or if you actually stay there, just make sure there's some hotel, or person you can give them a name and city of. Last night we looked up where we're staying in Cali (Hostel Casa Blanca) and used that.
(Dachary's note: Personally, I suspect it was simply a communication error. We told them that we were coming back tomorrow to pick up our motorcycles, but I think they only got the "coming back tomorrow" part and that's why they gave is transit instead of tourist. I think they thought we were just flying out again the next day.)
When you get your stamp they will write "Touristo 60" on it, or something like that. For us they wrote "Trasit 3" which we didn't think to check because we told them we wanted at least 30 days and that we were tourists and they didn't tell us they were going to screw us, or that they'd given us only three days.
Anyway, run to the food court because we're starving, grab sandwiches, grab a cab back to customs (he had no clue where it was but we showed him) and back to a semi-surprised customs dude. He clearly wasn't expecting us back so quickly. Who does some typety typety and then, even though he's sitting in a totally modernized office, surrounded by computers and laser printers, pulls out two special pads and some carbon paper. He takes one sheet from the first pad and manually fills out a long form describing the bike. He takes three sheets from the other pad, shoves carbon paper between them, and fills out a different form containing mostly the same information and has me sign each. Then repeat the whole thing for Dachary's bike. He then starts collating all the copies and forms and everything and realizes he has a copy of the passport with the transit note and not the updated tourist note, and, once again, takes pity on us, and himself, and runs downstairs and makes new copies of that page of our passports.
As we're finishing up I ask him, out of curiosity, how much easier it would be if we were using a Carnet. His reply is something of a shock. Not only would it be more complicated he says, it would cost $400 US instead of the $0 US it costs doing it without a Carnet. Now, maybe he was mistaken. He obviously hadn't gone through this process very often but…
Including about forty-five minutes spent running to the airport and dealing with immigrations again, it took about two and half hours, but we still weren't done.
Back to Girag, eat our sandwiches, go inside and wait for someone to handle us, who takes us upstairs to a secretary who calls another Girag office, and hands the phone to us, where the woman on the other end asks us to send her an e-mail… "I can't send you an E-mail. I'm in the Girag office and don't have a computer." … "Oh, we'll it's going to cost… " "No, we've already shipped the bikes" "Oh, well go to gate…" "No, we're IN the Girag office IN Bogota RIGHT NOW." "Oh, well talk to (some name I've forgotten)." ….
Seriously?! I mean, the secretary AT Girag called her and got her on the line to talk to us before I even said "hello".
Anyways, they say the person will be back in fifteen minutes so I run to the bathroom, but then the person appears before Dachary can since the room is locked. Downstairs and back to waiting by security, where we wait, and Dachary makes the mistake of asking if she can go use the bathroom instead of just walking back upstairs. Security woman can't leave her post but asks one of the workers. No. not allowed. Go use the ones in the parking lot. "No, those aren't open." (we checked before we came in)…. Eventually the woman who gave us the papers in the morning comes out, the security guard says something to her and she hands us papers to sign. We do, and then, in a quiet voice the lady looks at us and says "Baño?" I nod to Dachary, and they quietly go back upstairs.
We grab our stuff, the lady grabs our helmets for us, and we make our way to the warehouse where our bikes are waiting for us. Reconnect the batteries (****ing BMW and their six screws and removal of the oil cap and seat to get to the battery), reattach the little Wunderlich Wind Deflector they removed from Dachary's. We should have though of that. Instead we had just folded it down. Now it's missing a little plastic spacer where it clamps on to the plastic, but it appears to be holding ok. We lost a screw somewhere during the ride to Colombia though.
Anyway, considering that the windshields could have been cracked or broken in half as a result of our being too lazy to remove them we didn't really think this such a bad outcome. While we're doing this they wheel in a 1200GS With "Mustang Joe" on the right side of the tank. They tell us it's a Canadian biker's and he's doing the americas south to north. I grab a card, write him a note wishing him the best of luck, and stick it to the plastic wrapping his bike with a couple Corporate Runaways stickers. We're not sure if he put the plastic wrap around the bike or Girag did, so maybe they'll remove it before he sees it, but I didn't want to stick it to his actual bike, because I wouldn't want people sticking things to MY bike without permission…
Speaking of sticking things to the bike… Do you see the little white sticker on our front fenders? It's just a handwritten note with the airbill number, or something like that, but the adhesive is vicious. and when you try to peel it off the paper just rips; something Dachary discovered right away, but I left the sticker on mine.
We get the batteries reconnected, load the bikes up again, check the tire pressure and then get ready to go. We're not sure where to go. The front of the building is just loading bays about 3-4 feet off the ground, but the back of the building seems to lead onto the airfield. Dachary suggests they might have a ramp, but I've seen nothing to indicate a ramp so I head toward the airfield. A guy sees me going that way and motions us toward the front where the loading bays are located, and starts pulling out a ramp. Ok. This ramp is wood laid across steel reinforcement, and looks pretty solid, so we're happy. But when they prop it up, the top of the ramp is about 6" above the floor of the loading bay. So they set a pallet in front of it, and a 2"X4" board on top of the pallet to create "steps" leading up to the ramp.
I just say "**** it," cross my fingers, and then go for it, and make it down ok. Dachary pulls up and then puts the bike on the sidestand, and calls for me to come drive it down. Apparently she saw me wobble a bit when I went over the pallet and 2"x4" and decided it was better for me to drop the bike than to try it herself. She told me later that she felt she lost all cred with the Girag crew (she'd reconnected the battery on her own bike and looked generally competent before) but didn't have the machismo to care because she's a girl - men expect her to not be able to ride a big bike like this so she said she doesn't feel as bad looking like a girl in front of them. She said it was more important to her to get the bike down safely. But she also said that she was annoyed at herself because if I hadn't been there, she would have done it on her own - so I told her next time to do it on her own. She's gotten better but still lacks confidence in some situations on the bike.
Eventually we're off, and on our way to find the obligatory SOAT insurance. The thing is, that while you can buy it at just about every gas station, it's really hard to find somewhere that can sell it to you for less than a year. I'd looked it up on Google Maps the night before, and the address looked really straight-forward to get to from the airport. So we set out, and immediately after leaving Girag my gas light goes on. Ok, I've got about 30 miles. Should be plenty. No worries… we continue looking, find we can't actually get onto the roads we want, get somewhere in the neighborhood, we think, and discover a gas station. Ooh!
It's now about 4:30 and while we're there a cab pulls up at the other side of the pump, and backs one rear wheel up a little ramp they have next to each pump, which tilts the gas cap way up and … i dunno… lets them fit more gas in? Anaway, I take the opportunity to ask the people how to get to the intersection I need. They say something I can't quite figure and point in the direction I thought it was. Then they ask the cabbie, who does some complicated motions with his hands…. Ah yes… mmm… How 'bout I just pay you to go there and we'll follow you? That works.
We go, and we go, and we go, around, down, back, over, around, behind, through… Is he just ****ing with us? … loop, one way, one way, back, over stop on some industrial back road where a shitty semi driver has wedged his semi across the road so thoroughly even the tiny motos can't get past. Wait… Wait…. Go and voilla. We're there… except… it's just some random intersection with nothing useful on it.
Did I mention this is like a crazy video game ride? Following a cabbie in a major city during rush hour is crazy. Two people following the cabbie is even more crazy. Especially when they're motorcycles, and everyone else is used to pushing motos around and expecting that they'll get out of the way. At one point we lose the cabbie and Dachary has to do some crazy Frogger moves to get in and between the traffic, and I follow - I was so proud of her! She's leveling up!
But re: the insurance - ****. It's almost 5:00 pm now, everything's about to close, and dark will be here soon. We need a hotel. "Know of any economical hotels with parking for the bikes?" He starts suggesting hotels like the Marriot (too pricey) and others which I've never heard of and I'm like "Whatever you recommend." And he heads off. We stop and he motions us to stay while he runs in, talks to the bellhop, and comes out. Nope too pricey. We drive down the road, and repeats the process. Nope. Too pricey. Once more and we're at the Hotel San Rafael* which is 80,000 pesos ($40 US), has internet, a Steak house a couple doors down, and a garage that'll fit about two compact cars with locked steel doors you can't see through, and includes breakfast. Oh yeah…
The Cabbie chats with us for a bit, and gives us a card for the company that sells insurance to the taxis suggesting that we go to the url on the card and find a local office. He doesn't speak a lick of english, but we don't care. He's awesome. I ask him the total and he says 27,000 pesos ($13.50 US). I give him 40,000 ($20 US) because he has gone way above and beyond. And no, he wasn't cutting deals with the hotels, he was just being damn helpful.
There ended up being some confusion at the desk, they thought we wanted two rooms even though I repeatedly specified just one. We paid too much because we were so not going to look for another place at this point, but then resolved it and they gave us money back.
We head for the ATM down and around the corner as we're almost totally without cash at this point, and then chill on the upstairs patio of the Red Angus Steak House where, for the first time in two days, we feel we can stop and breathe…
Back in the room we chill with some Dr. Who, then diligently stop to do our research to find where the hell we can actually buy this freaking insurance. But, we find that the Wi-Fi password is incorrect. I go out to the lobby. He assures me it isn't. I bring out my laptop, click "show password" and type it in, and assure him it is, in fact, "invalid". Ahh… Yeah, no. He can't do jack shit about it but "manyana" the other guy will be here and we can resolve it…
I go back to the room, break the news to Dachary, and decide to go use the hotel computer in the lobby. Sure that's fine he tells me. I sit down. Oh by the way. It's 2,000 pesos an hour. What? No. Screw that. I don't want to pay you for the fact that you've ****ed up the password to your own Wi-Fi. I go back to the room. Dachary agrees that it sucks but rightly points out that it's a lot better than the alternatives. I go back, and confirm that I still have to pay even though the Wi-Fi is "roto". "Yup." he says with a smile, but I can pay for just half an hour if I want. I grumble and hand over the 1000 pesos and start some hardcore googling.
The computer doesn't have shit for ram, and eventually Internet Exploder explodes. I've got ten minutes left and I notice an icon for Chrome on the desktop. Wish i'd know that was there before. More googling. More cross checking. I walk away with four addresses, and about two minutes left.
Back to the room, where we attempt to sleep after debating if getting our sleeping pads and putting them on the hard tile would be softer than the bed or not. We decide it would be about the same, and proceed to toss and turn until about half an hour before the alarm goes off.
Overall, not a great day. But it did give us a wonderful example of the generosity, and helpfulness you keep hearing about the Colombian people, as well as a very tasty, and relaxing dinner. And, Dachary totally leveled during our follow-the-cab escapade.
Side Note: In our experience it's the day staff who actually has a clue about the net connection. The first thing you do when you get into your room should be to check that the password they gave you actually works, because if you check after the shift change you may be screwed. It's one of our new rules.
* Hotel San Rafael is at Avda. La Esperanza la miasma Calle 24 N. 43a-49, Barrio Quintaparedes, Bogotá, D.C. There are a bunch of other hotels on that street too. Just keep driving and pulling over in the driveways until you find one that's to your liking.
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