Costa Rica and Panama
I had a good feeling about Costa Rica. I had heard good things from several people. However I guess first impressions count for a lot - the fact that I was holed up in the customs office at the entry point waiting for the afternoon thunderstorm to abate didnt bode well. Eventually, after about an hour, it was a case of getting the waterproofs on and getting after it. Rain would prevail in Costa Rica - it is the rainy season and I guess you dont get tropical rain forest without some rain. And there is a lot of rain forest in Costa Rica.
It would have been easy to take a straight path through Rica, but I decide to take in a couple of loops. The first, around the back of Lake Arenal was obviously a tourist trail. Rica has a very good tourist infrastructure, far more than Iīd seen in Central America up until now. This route was very good - very neat and tidy with loads of restuarants and fancy hotels. The views of Volcano Arenal were spectacular - its a real working volcano with a top which glows red in the dark (apparently). I also take in Volcano Poas - it is also active, but they allow people to go to the top and have a look in!! This route takes me to San Jose - the capital. As a city its slightly dissapointing, having no outstanding features. However my hotel was a big hit, having been converted from an old house with a nice colonial feel. The Argentinian couple who ran it were very friendly.
My second loop was along the coast. The biggest feature of this route was the 30miles of gravel road. Not the smooth gravel of previous, but the roughest mother of all full of potholes. There was also a couple of rickety old bridges thrown in for good measure. Progress was slow and I have to say the tarmac looked good afterwards. That night I stayed in a rather nice upmarket (for me) rainforest lodge. At $50 with breakfast, good value.
My third loop was a mistake - I may as well have stayed in bed that day. I knew that going into the mountains risked some rain and it pretty much rained all day. I got myself into a town but couldnīt find a decent road out - it was all muddy trails. After some back tracking I took another route. I then found myself in a small town with loads of roads out but no signposts. My first attempt took me 20miles to a deadend. My second was back the way Iīd come initially - it took me about 8 miles to realise. Eventually I got to where I was going, but in the rain, all a bit frustrating and slightly pointless.
My plan was to head for Panama the next morning. However while digging on the net, I realised that Panama had introduced a yellow fever vaccination requirement - two days earlier. Rather than risk the border crossing without it, I tracked down a farmacia (pharmacy) with the necessary jab and know how to stick it in me. Problem solved.
On the whole I would suggest Rica is a nice country, although I have to say noticably more expensive than the rest of CA. Costs are almost on a par with the US. However I would also suggest that ElSalvador is ever bit as nice.
And then on to Panama. My entry into Panama was the best yet. My fixer, who looked about 12years old did a great job - very calm and business like and took the $5 payment graciously. My yellow fever certificate which the farmacia had laboriously typed was not requested. The only flaw was the speeding wrap that I picked up 20 minutes later. Apparently I was in a residential area. It wasnīt obvious - only some shacks up on the hillside. That was inmaterial really - I hadnt a clue what the speed limits were anyway. He was a proper cop with a real speedgun. After the usual talking to, a crisp $20 note seemed to suffice and I was on my way again.
The drive through Panama is pretty unspectacular - effectively there only is one road (the CA1) and its dual carrigeway for most of the way (with loads of police speed traps - even on a Sunday morning). After 2 days I arrive at Panama City. Sometimes you have pre-conceived ideas about a place - I has in mind that Panama City would be really nice. Lots of nice architecture and historic buildings. Unfortunately thats not really the case. Its got its good parts - lots of high rise developments, but most of it has a shabby and rundown feel. The approach from the west across the Panama Canal starts well, but then you traverse a rough neighbourhood to get to the town centre. The only historic part probably fares worst, being slightly rundown with a well used kind of feel. After three days in the city while waiting for my flight to Colombia I start to feel comfortable. Maybe my thoughts were tainted by arriving Sunday afternoon when everything was closed and the city was quiet - first impressions and all that. My hotel is nice - the Hotel California. Always wanted to stay at the "Hotel California". Good location, friendly service and a good price at $38 per night.
And onto Colombia. Before each new challenge I like to get everything sorted. The local chinese laundry got a weeks worth of washing to do. The hotel gave me a bucket to wash the bike - couldnīt find a car wash type place anywhere. The bike has been checked - yet one more notch goes by on the chain adjusters. Several dollars has been spent in the internet cafes (there are loads here) and my Colombia research completed. Because of the Darien Gap (ie - no road for 200miles) the bike is booked on a flight with Copa Airlines. At $629 reasonably priced. Straight forward to organise at the Copa office - hopefully it will arrive OK. For future travellers, some tips that might help:
i.There is a customs office right at the enterance to the cargo terminal. It was a five minute job to close out bike permit and get relevant stamp in passport.
ii. Allow at least two hours at Copa to get the bike checked in and complete the paperwork - I only allowed an hour and created anxiety for myself (my flight to Bogota was imminent).
iii.They asked about petrol but didnt actually check. No need to disconnect the battery. You can leave all of your luggage on the bike. I took my mirrors off, but probably no need.
iv. You should take some photo prints of the bike with you. They do a detailed visual inspection and use the photos to make notes. I guess they then use these to check at other end also and cover themselves against any complaints.
v. Although I didnt see my bike loaded, there were three other bikes ready to go to Medellin. They were loaded on an aluminium airline pallet (more like a tray) and strapped down. Looked good. No crate required.
vi. They have a proper cashier - credit cards accepted.
vii. Copa can organise a taxi to get back to the airport - about 20minutes to the departure terminal (there are no taxis within the cargo terminal area).
My flight to Bogota is with Copa also, but not the same one as the bike obviously - the bike goes in a freighter. $320 for me, booked three days in advance. Because the bike can only fly on a Friday, it was a toss up as to whether to wait in Panama or Bogota. Bogota won. Hopefully this was the right decision.
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Posted by Graham Shee at October 07, 2008 09:45 PM GMT