View from Volcán Poás
Slowly edging closer to South America we entered Costa Rica. The border crossing was reasonably easy though somewhat confusing and time consuming taking approximately 2 hours to complete.
We arrived in Peñas Blancas at what appeared to be a large bus terminal.
* Pay $US1.00 to enter the Customs/Immigration area.
* Proceded towards the Immigration building where you pay approximately $US2.00 to exit Nicaragua.
* Clear the bike. Find the Customs Officer (brown uniform) standing outside "somewhere". He will check your papers and the bike (if he has the inclination) and give you a tiny insignificant form to hand to the Police Officer.
* The Police Officer, generally sits on a table on the other side of the bus terminal will check the papers and the bike, craning his neck around and almost falling off his perch. (Yes there is a bike there)
* Return to the main building to have the bike cleared from your passport.
ENTER COSTA RICA
* Clear quarrantine. Costs US$3.00 for a man to spray the bike liberally with what appears to be some slime whilst he eats his lunch.
* Ponder the composition of the slime while bike dries.
* Ride for a kilometer down a lovely country lane to a building that has a large Aduana sign painted on the side. THIS IS NOT THE BUILDING!
* Go a further 50 meters or so to the correct area.
* Enter Immigration and get passports stamped.
* Go to Aduana and get paperwork for bike and fill in.
* Pay $US12.00 for insurance.
* Have bike checked by Customs.
* Drive 200m (the longest 200m you will ever see) to an obscure office on the right hand side and set back from the road.
* Go to office marked Vehicles THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT OFFICE. (What were we thinking??)
* Go to UNMARKED office and wait for turn while the office staff watch the football.
* Hand over all papers regarding the bike and recieve offical papers in return
* Drive to final check point where the security officer checks all documents and consoles you on Australia's loss in the World Cup.
With the intense heat and humidity of the coast slowly wearing us down we plotted a course into the cool fresh mountains towards the capital of San Jose, staying off the main highway we headed towards Vulcán Arenal skirting the man made lake Lago Arenal. This lake supplies the water to power the hydro-electric system of Costa Rica.
Road to Arenal
Travellers we had met had warned us of the poor state of Costa Rican roads and the road around Lago Arenal was no exception. Large areas of the tarmac surface were non-existent with parts of the road much like a stoney river bed.
Through the Guinea Grass - The north road around Lago Arenal
We arrived within 10 kilometers of Fortuna township and took luxurious lodging (for us) at Cabinas Don Carlos whos cabins provide a spectacular view of the rising flanks of the perfect Stromboli cone Volcán Arenal rising above us.
On our first day we had the delightful experience of witnessing the clearing of the volcano (which is frequently cloud covered).
Volcán Arenal - Lava rolling down the hill
From the lip of the crater, 1,600 meters above us, a bulging protrusion of darkend rubble like material oozed forth from the centre with large boulders forming immediatley in the cold air and tumbling without hinderance down the steep flanks.
In the daylight the lava would appear as boulders tumbling out into the air and then falling back onto the flanks tossing large clouds of powdery white ash in their wake often causing the whole side of the volcano to be engulfed in clouds of fine dust being whisked away on the prevailing winds.
Eruption - Volcán Arenal
On our first evening, Grant was awoken at 2 am by a loud thunderous explosion. From our window, the crater lip glowed brilliant orange and crimson with a firey ball of molten rock being expelled from the crater. As this lava collapsed on the steep flanks it would shatter into hundreds, perhaps thousands, of sparks that splayed out over a large area falling and bouncing on their speedy decent.
We both sat, transfixed, for several hours watching, from our comfortable cabin, this remarkable and spectacular natural event.
Steaming hot river
We stayed for several days more, however our first day and night provided us with the best glimpses of the mountain, though we were not disapointed and spent our time hiking to the thermal waters and enjoying soaking in the fast flowing and surprisingly hot river with air cooled by continual light rain. (There are several options to bathe in the Aguas Thermales, most very expensive especially Tabacón. Under the bridge near Tabacón's entrance is the locals bath and it is "FREE", just climb down the river bank!)
Grant soaking in the Aguas Thermales
Reluctantly we left the Arenal area (we are suckers for volcanoes!).
Continuing on to the Meseta Central region we stopped at Florencia for a pic-nic on the side of the road and noted the heavy dark clouds around the mountains.... where we were heading. Some how this did not register to us as ominous, we did not even put on our wet weather gear as we began our ascent. Within 15 minutes on the winding road the heavens opened up and it was not long until we found shelter in a small humpy that doubled as a comedor.
The rain bucketed down while we sat sipping hot tea and dodging the frequent drips from the leaky roof.
Sheltering from the storm
Over the next hour our little haven filled with other drivers finding refuge from the ever increasing rain and poor visibility. What seemed a reprieve in the heavy weather allowed us to don our rain gear and continue only to find, a short distance down the road, the storm intensifying with even more fury.
Slowly we progressed through the steep winding mountains through lightening and cracking thunder, muddy water raced across the road and small landslides stopped small cars, however we continued on and as several hours passed it became a desperate effort to find accommodation as hotels were conspicous by thier absence.
Eventually we found accommodation in Sarchi, the Artisian Center for the country, however we could not have cared less in our present state.
In sunshine and clear skies we rode the short distance to Heredia the following morning, however with poor signage and a confusing road system we frequently became lost and frustrated, the short 50 kilometre journey seemed to turn into an all day affair.
We stayed in Heredia, 10kms from San Jose down town and away from the hustle and bustle of the city using the opportunity to change the oil and spark plugs.
While we were in Honduras we had breifly met Alejandra and Vekoh on their BMW 650 GS's from Costa Rica and were keen to catch up with them. They invited us to the local Motorcycle Club meeting (ACCAMORE) which was more like a friendly get together, very informal and enjoyable.
After the meeting we took a late dinner and a very late evening with Ale and Vekoh drinking wine, talking motorcycles and travel. During the course of the evening a plan was formed to purchase a new rear tyre, as Vekoh pronouced he would rather be riding than working (we tend to agree!) he would be our guide for the day. Which was just as well because we are generally terrible navigators in cities, and usually end up having a huge fight.
Vekoh took us to his local motorcycle repuestos filled with shiney new KTM's and Aprilla's where we had a Michellin Anakee fitted quickly and efficiently. We then visited Emilio, a club member and 650 V-Strom owner, at the major Suzuki dealers to purchase a few bits and pieces.
Ready for a ride
The following weekend we were joined by Ale, Vekoh, German (BMW 1100GS) and his daughter MariPaz (600 Katana) for a ride to Volcán Irazú.
Ale lead the group expertly up the 3432 metre volcano.
Craters Edge - Volcán Irazú
Climbing higher we passed through the cloud band, from time to time glimpsing the view of the fertile valley below, still higher we rode until we reached the crater lagoon and park.
Volcán Irazú - German, Jules, Grant, Ale, Vekoh
The clear sky and cold wind afforded us an amazing sight. With the stunning green acid lake reminding us that only 12 years ago this volcano was very active erupting and destroying the north wall of the crater sending debris as far as Rio Sucio and within sight of the San Jose - Limón Highway.
A delicious lunch followed, where we tasted the traditional Tortilla de Queso, a thick pancake of cheese and corn mosh before undertaking a loop to the Orosi Valley, Catargo and home.
Bridge Crossing - Orosi Valley
It was a fantastic day, excellent company, fabulous weather, great riding and amazing scenery.
Leaving Heredia we chose a route to the Caribean that passed Volcán Poas, the La Paz Waterfall and a multitude of coffee plantations. Out of the mountains we rode on to the hot tropical lowlands where we almost instantly decided on a change of plans.
La Paz Waterfall
Heading back into the mountains and to Turialba we stayed at Hotel Central, the accommodation was not great however we were allowed to park the bike in the living room!
Parking Piggy - Costa Rica
The Pan-American follows the continental divide over the Cerro de la Muerte (Peak of Death) to a height of 3335 metres. For 16kms we followed the road along the crest of the Talamanca ridge, apparently with excelent views of the Pacific Coast, 50kms away and the Atlantic Coast 80kms, though we had a visibility range of about 5 meters as we were engulfed in rain and fog.
Cerro de la Muerte
After a long ride through the cold wet mountains we arrived in Palmar Norte, a hot, humid little town. We found very comfortable, friendly digs at Hospedaje Romary (telephone 505 786 6459). Mari, owner, graciously allowed the use of her washing machine.
Staying several days we toured the rather mystical and mysterious stone spheres found in the area. These spheres which are as large as 1.5 metres diametre and accurate to within 5mm are of pre-Colombian manufacture and so far their purpose is unknown. Perhaps lost golf balls from an ancient tournament of the Gods?
On our way to the border a strange noise began eminating from the rear of Miss Piggy. Upon inspection we discovered that the chain guard (damaged in an accident in Xalapa and then repaired in Mexico DF) had decided to try and fall off. Hasty, temporary road side repairs were made with the border of Costa Rica/Panama looming.
Beach - Panama
Panama - The Bridge to South America. A country literally cut in half by a man made Canal. Home to the infamous and wild Darién Gap. We were looking forward to our last country of Central America.
Exit Costa Rica - Pañoas Cañas
Very, very simple
* Take passports to Migration window for stamp (they wish to see each individual with their passport at this crossing)
* Take all bike paperwork to Aduana for cancellation
Again, very, very simple
* Take passports to Migration for cursory check and issue of a small paper to purchase tourist cards ($US5.00 each + $US1.00 each for municipal tax)
* Purchase tourist cards (if arriving at lunch time you will have to wait, as we did, for the officer to return)
* Return to Migration for stamps in passport
* Visit Aduana with copies of bike rego and ownership
* Once permit is issued, a check by Customs officer, who will ask you to open bags, boxes and such and look inside, ask a few questions and send you on your way.
* Ride to quarrantine where they may or may not spray the bike. We did not have the bike sprayed.
The Republic of Panama is a narrow long isthmus (80 kilometers at its narrowest point and 193 kilometers at its widest) with a beautiful tropical climate that remains consistent through out the year. It has a dramatic landscape, lush green forrests covering high mountains and farmed rolling hills stretching to the sea with classic Spanish fortifications and beautiful palm fringed beaches.
Fort - Portobello
By the time we reached David, the second largest city, 50kms from the border the chain guard was once again clattering wildly about the rear end. The first repair in Mexico City had been easily completed with the guard still attached to the swing arm, which was probably as well with the front mounting bolt being in such a rediculously cramped position (only design by computer could be so impractical!) that it had proved imposible to remove. However, with the present state of the guard we had no option but to remove it and throw it away or weld a new section to the original repair.
Grant lowered the bash plate and removed the (rarely used) tools which sit hidden and happily forgotten for most of the time. Amoungst a small collection of spare bolts, nuts and washers a philips head driver was found, which with the help of a shifting spanner, tyre lever and large quantities of WD40 managed to move the offending bolt.
Fort - Portobello
With the guard now removed he walked the short distance to a muffler repair shop and proceded to completely confuse the owner and himself trying to explain in Spanglish the necessary repair.
Fortunately the gentleman was patient, a common and endearing trait of Central Americans, and with due course he grabbed the rather grubby and mangled plastic/metal chain guard and raced off into the rear of the building.
Perhaps a half an hour ensued with much clanging about, drilling and welding noises eminating, he re-appeared. Proudly he passed the repaired guard to Grant who, amazed at the new strength of the repair, asked the cost.
The man, now busy attending to some other task, looked up, furrowing his forehead and pursing his lips in thought. "Two dollars" he replied!
Piggy in Paradise
A day ride to Boquette in the Mountains was a refreshingly cool treat before returning to the InterAmericano (or Pan-Am). It is long, relatively straight and often a 4 lane highway. The sparsely populated road skirts along the coast past the occasional waterfall tumbling from a cliff top, through farm lands and beautiful scenery. It is easy to chew up the miles and miss the sights and sounds of Panamanian life.
Waterfall - Pan-American Highway
We thought it may be nice to stay in Penonomé and visit the local archeological sight. The accommodation options were limited to expensive to the Pension Estrella Rojo.
Jules went to the Reception desk, well a mirrored window with a small hole cut in the glass for communicaiton. She asked the price of a room. "$8.00 and hour" came the reply. She tried again this time asking how much it would be for the whole night. "$8.00 and hour" was the reply again. Trying another attack she stated that she would like the room for the whole night. "Are you here with a Caballero (Gentleman)?" "Yes" she replied. "$8.00 and hour!". Leaving smiling, she relayed the story to Grant, who looking her up and down, observed that in her tight jeans, black t-shirt and sporting her body belt was maybe more suggestive than intended!
We never did find suitable accommodation or the sign to the archeological site! Which is rather an irony as Panama is spread very thin with pre-colombian archeological sites.
Church - Anton
Anton, 120 kilometers from Panama City, is a pretty town with two hotels, one on each side of the Pan-American. We chose the cheapest and they happily allowed us to park Piggy in the foyer. The sleepy town is located slightly off the highway and within an easy walk to church and the lovely colonial building located around the central plaza.
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