March 25, 2007 GMT
South America! Colombia!
My flight touched down at Bogota about 10:00PM – I was in South America! A childhood dream fulfilled at last. The Arrivals area was a bit chaotic with very aggressive taxi drivers vying for business. Warned in advance, I went to the taxi kiosk and received a printed slip with
I was a little worried as I could not confirm my request for a room at Platypus (a hostel – see Lonely Planet) in the renovated historic La Calandria district. I pressed the buzzer and was let through double locked doors under a security camera. Luckily, I was warmly welcomed by Hermann and a dorm room was available.
Early next morning a bright sun was shining and the streets were full of people – a totally changed city from the night before. Bogota (a least the part I experienced) had a distinct European feel to it. Maybe it was the old Spanish architecture and the cool mountian air but the cafes were crowded early morning and late afternoon with workers and students having coffee and arepa. They appeared to be in deep serious conversations about politics or philosophy but they could have been just talking about last night´s episode of Mulheres Desperados. The modern architecture (I love the brightly coloured buildings) against the mountian background gave the city a sense of drama. The bustle of the downtown business district gave you the feeling the economy was good here although the prices of food and lodging were the least expensive to-date.
I waited until 10:00AM to grab a bus back to the airport to rescue my motorcycle. I found Girag´s office without much difficulty. The bike was there but the paperwork was not – come back at noon. So I walked over to the passenger terminal and used the Telecom internet office before returning. It took about 3 hours as the office was busy and someone was being trained. The bike was on its sidestand looking just as I had left it in Panama. Since the battery was never disconnected and there was reserve fuel in the tank I just started it up and rode through the warehouse and down the front steps to the building and on to the road. Platypus had no parking for motorcycles but there were to secure parking locations within ˝ block.
I liked Bogota a lot. Riding was a bit difficult only because of the many narrow one-way streets (why have 3 streets in a row going the same direction?). I was in a bit of a traffic jam and lost when a sport-bike rider pulled alongside. I asked directions and he just said “follow me” and took me on a crazy ride in and out of the stalled cars to my destination. He left me with a stern warning not to ride in the city after dark. I followed his advise.
With temperatures dropping and a forecast of rain, I left Bogota a day earlier than I would have liked and headed toward Cucuta and the Venezuelan border. Not long after leaving the city I was riding through gorgeous scenery on twisty mountian roads. Traffic was light as I followed Hwy 71 (who knows what highway it was as my Garmin World map did not recognize the road , there were no roads signs and my AAA map called it 71) to Tunja. One friendly stop to ask the military police if I my planned route was safe (it was) was the only contact with police or military in Colombia. There were a lot of military positions around bridges and power stations but they were not stopping traffic when I passed.
Just before Tunja was the best riding to date – very tight mountain roads and not many trucks but it made for slow average speeds. Arrived in Tunja in sudden rainstorm and took the 1st hotel I spotted. It was just off the large town square in a centuries old building – the kind with the metre thick stone walls. It was intriguing with only 8 very clean and functional rooms all furnished with antique furniture and the kind of linens my mother saved for special occasions. It was run by an old lady who I surmised was keeping it going as retirement income. It cost about $8US – no receipt so I have forgotten the name – no restaurant just a small bar/reception counter.
The next day was more of the same. Perhaps requiring even more concentration on the spectacular mountain passes. Construction and trucks made for low kilometrage but I arrived at my destination, Bucaramanga in the late afternoon. A medium-sized city, it has a nicely restored historic area. The late afternoon rain started on cue just before I arrived at my hotel. I splurged a bit with the Hotel Ritoque but it was a nice luxury (hot water!) and I felt I earned it for the great ride today.
The next day I thought how can the riding get any better but it did. Hwy 50 led to a long climb through fog/cloud shrouded mountains brought me to a high treeless plain. It was made all the more striking by being unexpected. I really need to get better maps. Just before reaching the plain I passed the striking entrance to Parque Nacional de Chicamocha (see photo). The plain was barren except for a few small villages and no gas stations. Fuel was available roadside from plastic containers but was not required. The plain was such a pleasant change of scenery from mountain riding although the road was terrible in spots. My time in Colombia was coming to an end quickly as I passed Cucuta and reached the border at San Antonio de Tachira. I passed through Colombian customs and immigration quickly and efficiently – no helpers in sight! I will miss Colombia. There is so much more to see.
Posted by Ross Davidson at 06:27 PM
March 18, 2007 GMT
Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama
It was only an hour from Choluteca to the Nicaraguan border near San Marcos de Colon. It was a lot easier getting out of Honduras than in and to my surprise Nicaragua was relatively simple. Best of all it all happened in the shade! I met a fellow motorbike traveller, Jacob Sherman (HU member) at the border and we decided to ride together to Granada on Lake Nicaragua. The ride to Granada was uneventful with mainly uninteresting roads. Nicaragua seemed a bit more prosperous than Honduras. Granda was a nice surprise. The historic centre of town has been recently renovated and he waterfront cleaned up to make it more attractive to tourists. And there were lots of tourists mostly backpackers and ex-pats there for the low cost of living (and apparently to a few I spoke to avoiding Canada or he USA and ex-spouses chasing them for support). Jacob planned to stay for a few days so I was off on my own the next morning headed to Costa Rica.
Once I found my way out of Granada, the ride was much more interesting than the previous day. My Garmin World Map must be for some other world because it just doesn't track on the mapped road (always about 500 metres parallel to the road) which makes it useless when you are on city streets and looking for the highway.
I was at the Costa Rican border about 10:00AM where I had to pay only $7 immigration fee and mandatory insurance for about $30. It was a very scenic ride again through smoking volcanic mountian roads and lush green forests (jungles?). I took a little detour to visit the fishing port at Puntarenas. It also has some nice beaches and is a popular holiday spot for people from San Jose. The hotels were very pricey until I found a place off the beach - Lillian's Hotel. It was very comfortable and had secure parking for the bike. I had a great meal and beers for about $4 at a beachfront restaurant full of locals.
Next morning I was in San Jose for an early Saturday morning tour before the traffic picked up. It was very pleasant and prosperous looking and nice to see after many years. Of course I got lost again but with the patient help of locals was back on track - at least for a few kilometers. I got off-track at a high-speed junction and was trying to figure out how to turn around when I spotted a traffic cop. He started to explain but then said "follow me" which started, and I kid you not, a one-half hour ride through city streets and back roads to the highway! I was getting a little suspicious after about ten minutes when we went through some dodgy areas but had no choice but to follow. He never stopped at stops signs or lights so I felt like I was a VIP - it was great.
I pressed on to get to he Panama border before it got too late and was there by 3:30PM. The border crossing was straight forward - no fees! I was warned not to drive at night so I stopped in David about 23kms from the border. The place was jammed with visitors because of an agricultural fair on in town. I was getting worried when I finally found a room at the Panama Rey hotel in the centre of town. The room was terrible but as the manager said "We normally don't rent those rooms as they are scheduled for renovation but there are no more rooms in town" That for $30! I slept in my sleeping bag liner rather than on those sheets.
Next morning off to Panama City. I had my first look at the Panama Canal about 3:00PM (I was impressed) and took a quick tour around Panama City. It seemed an odd collection of high rises and urban blight. They have a grand plan for the waterfront and to widen and lengthen the canal for larger container ships. I headed out to Toucamen Airport to locate Girag, the company that would airlift my bike to Bogota, Columbia and find a hotel nearby. The Riandi Aeropueto fit the bill nicely although it was $66 but it is a luxury hotel and I was celebrating my completion of my ride through Central America.
Next morning I was at Girag's offices at 8:30PM and by 10:30 all the paperwork and payment of $551.13 was done and I left my baby sitting in their warehouse. They gave me a lift to the passenger terminal and I booked a flight to Bogota with COPA for $260 one-way (they happpily did not insist on a return ticket in case I was refused entry to Colombia). Flights were booked solid so I had to wait until 8:00PM to fly out. My bike would follow overnight and be ready for pickup in Bogota the next morning.
Posted by Ross Davidson at 01:19 AM
March 17, 2007 GMT
San Salvador, Honduras
I arrived at the San Salvador border town of Hachadura about 3:30PM which made me a little nervous because of the length of time it took at the last border. However, little San Salvador proved to be the easiest crossing of them all. The border offices were well-signed, the officials all wore uniforms and were polite and friendly. To top it off there were no charges for me or the bike! That done, I headed down the road looking for a place to stay the night. The road became very twisty as it climbed over some mountians, the air was cool and I thought nothing could be better until I rounded a curve and a long sandy beach on the Pacific Ocean suddenly came into view. This was my first glimpse of beach on the trip! I would have jumped in but it was about 500 metres below the road. The next hour was spent looking for an ocean-front motel and I stopped at the first one near La Libertad (no recipt and I can't remember the name). It was a bit of a hit on the budget ($35) but was very nice and I was in the water just as the sun was going down.
I was one of three guests and the only one at the bar that evening for dinner. consequently I had a captive audience with the bartender for my lousy Spanish.
The ride the next day was hot and windy as usual with things loooking very dry. I have noticed that poorer countries share some roadside features. first there are fewer private automobiles, especially newer models. a lot of people are living and walking alongside the road carrying wood, water or something to sell. You see more animal-drawn vehicles and the rivers always have people in and around them usually washing clothes. San Salvador from my perspective was very poor.
I arrived at the border about 11:30AM and exited San Salvador near Amatillo with again friendly officials.
I entered Honduras to find a situation similar to Guatemala. It was so hot and there was no shade anywhere. Why don't they put up a few small canopies over he waiting areas? This question was to remain unanswered as I discovered that I did not have enough US currency for the border transactions. I had to make a run back into Santa Rosa, San Salvador to find an ATM. Since I couldn't go back with the bike, a guy (for $5) drove me in an old pickup at breakneck speeds and the Scotiabank ATM gave me the cash. It was a rush because the Nicaraguan border shuts down at 2:00PM for an indefinite siesta period. The border charges for everything ran about $75. I made it in the nick of time (I think there was a special $10 fee for fast service) and hit the road right at 2:00PM. It was brutally hot and dry with scenery to match.
So I stopped a bit early for the night at Choluteca. I took the recommendation from a fellow at a gas station and stayed at the Pierre Hotel - seen better days but everything worked (including the ceiling fan - better than A/C and quieter) for about $7.00. The town was crowed with people, buses, trucks and vendors spilling onto the roads. There seemed to be students in bright white and blue uniforms everywhere looking and acting like students anywhere while hey waited for buses. Had a nice chat with the night manager and a few hangers-on and showed them pictures of the trip. They really liked the snow in Canada.
Posted by Ross Davidson at 12:18 AM
March 14, 2007 GMT
Guatemala - Bad then Good
The ride to the Guatemalan border near Cuidad Hidalgo (I decided not to go to Tapachula) was a nice combination of mountian and lowland plains with the silhouette of the volcanic mountians ever present. However it was hot, very hot. I arrived a little tired after a stop in Hidalago to do some banking. It was a mistake to go to this border crossing. I was advised by fellow HU membrs to use La Mesilla but I ws not interested in Guatemala City and wanted to take CA2 (southern route through Central America) as I had seen most of he sights many years ago and didn't want to see if they had changed for the worse.
In any case the bordr was almost invisible. Only the immigration guy wore a uniform. The rest of them wore jeans and sneakrs and seemed to have their office in a photocopy shop a few blocks into town- very confusing! To help matters there was no Mexican offfice at the borber so I had to ride 40 minutes each way back to Hidalgo to get the bike cleared and my bond back. Next was to find that I had to clear the bike at another crossing (used by trucks) about 10 km up the road. I would never have found it without help. The "helper" scam here is that for a flat fee ($130US) they will get get you and your bike through the border with a special permit that is honoured by all C.A. countries except Costa Rica and Panama. By insisting that I carry the papers and speak to the officials (who were not about to stop someone from making a buck off a gringo) I manged to escape for about $70 which included an escort to the "hidden" Mexican aduana near Hidalgo. I still don't know what the official fees are. By the time I was finished it was getting dark. As I sped away from the awful border town my head was full of the dire warnings about riding at night especially in Guatemala. So it made perfect sense to stop at the first motel - just happened to be another of those "love motels" that are so popular in Latin America. It was inexpensive, very clean, had hot shower, TV and the private garage were I could do some servicing on the bike. The owner said that is was not safe for me to go out to eat and arranged for food to be brought in.
I was feeling better about Guatemala now. But the ride the next day was amazing and made me feel real good about the country and the people - border officials excepted. Compared to Mexico the vegetation was green and lush. Often the tree formed an arch over the road for kilometers at a time which not only very cool to ride through but also very cool! CA2 was a goood choice for me.
Posted by Ross Davidson at 11:21 PM
March 12, 2007 GMT
Oaxaca to Hot!
Today was an awesome ride south on 190 libre. The road was in excellent condition and it crawled through mountian passes for about 400kms to Tehuantepec. The twistys were non-stop. It reminded me of parts of the south island of New Zealand. Some really tight turns and the countless topes (speed bumps) kept my average speed to only 65kph so I didn´t get as far today as I had hoped.
I left Oaxaca at 9:00AM Sunday ( I have to get better organized in the morning because I need to get early starts with no night riding) and arrived here in Arrigara at about 6:00pm with only 450kms covered. I saw, on two occasions, fellow riders - easy to spot with all our gear. The waves were pretty enthusiastic! The local riders don´t wave.
The tempreature has risen dramatically since Oaxaca and now is hot and humid. Since I´m wearing my riding jacket, I tried the trick of soaking my high tech T-shirt with water then doing up the jacket to let the water evaporate slowly. Works great now but maybe when it gets more humid? Also, I managed to sunburn the narrow strip on my wrists between my gloves and jacket sleeves. So today I wore cuffs made of the elastic tops of a pair of socks to protect my wrists.
My GPS seems to be off by a constant distance. Don´t know why because it was spot on until Mexico City. Either that or World Map - will check the Garmin site for ideas.
Found a great hotel hear in Arrigara, the Casa Blanca just off the zocolo (this is a small town). Posted rates are $160 pesos for a modern clean room, TV hot bath and secure parking. Air conditioning $20 pesos extra. They have a restaurant but it is closed Sundays.
The zocolo park is full of people this hot Sunday evening and, of course there is music. Tomorrow to Tapachula and the Guatemala border fun.
Posted by Ross Davidson at 02:47 AM
March 09, 2007 GMT
Time to leave
Well, I have finished my 3 week Spanish course at the Cuernavaca Language School (you can google it for more info) I highly recommend it not because it is a great school with a great staff and they make you feel so much at home but also because of the location. Cuernavaca has beautiful weather all year long, is a safe interesting Mexican City and living with a Mexican family was a fantastic experience - at least for me. Don´t ask what did I learn in just 3 weeks - I´m OK with it.
I fixed the front fork seal leak by doing a trick I learned from a Performance Improvements (Waterloo) tech session. Lift the dust seal and take a slim feeler guage and run it carefully around under the seal trying to lift any dirt particles up and out. After 2 weeks no sign of a leak and I did not need to change the seal.
After going through my gear, I sent my laptop and a few winter clothes back home by FedEx. Cost about Cdn$60.00 and was there the next day.
Tomorrow, I say my farewells and I´m off to Oaxaca. Finally I can get moving again.
Posted by Ross Davidson at 03:39 AM