Well hi again.
The ride from Lacanja, south and west, to Comitan was a beautiful ride, in beautiful sunny and warm weather on relatively straight and deserted roads......except for the military!
Because this road runs for miles along the Guatemalan border, there is major drug and weapon smuggling in the area. As a result there are military blocades around every 20 kms., all staffed by around 20 Mexicans with machine guns. They are all very professional and friendly though, especially when they see the bike....then it's always the same questions;
Do you have any drugs?
Do you have any weapons?
How fast can your moto go?
How much does it cost?
How big is the engine?
Did you travel all the way from Canada?
Open this bag please?
Then I show them the GPS, and its another million questions as I show them the maps on the screen....then they forget about opening my bags, and we all shake hands and it's off to the next checkpoint 15 minutes later, and it starts all over again.
The only real problem though was there were no gas stations from Lacanja to Comitan...approx. 350 kms..... and my range is only 250 kms. Thank god for capitalism. In every little town the locals buy drums of gas and package the gas in 5, 10, and 25 liter containers, and charge double the price!
The best part of the ride though was NO TOPES !
I passed through the Lagos Montebello Park in pine forests which has a series of around 5 lakes all different colors of blues, greens, and turquoise. It was really nice.
After dodging a few thunder storms, I arrived in Comitan around 1600 hrs. It was really nice to be in civilization again. Comitan is a nice small town...extremely clean and pleasant, but with nothing really special.
After supper I studied up on Guatemala, and prepared all my papers for the border.
The next morning it was off early for the Frontera.
It was a beautiful early morning ride to the Guatemalan border less than 1 hour south from Comitan, Mexico.
The border crossing at La Mesilla via CA 1 was smooth, painless, and quite professional despite all the horror stories I heard....1 hour and I was done.
The drill was first to check out of Mexico where they make sure my bike and I actually leave. Then it's to the Guat side where I have to pay 20 quetzales ($4.00CAD) to have my bike fumigated and disinfected...REALLY...then itīs immigration, then it's customs, and finally it's the importation papers for the moto, with every step requiring to go back to the beginning to get photocopies made.
While cruising through the northern mountains of Guatemala, I saw some of the most amazing scenery yet on my trip. The road climbed up to almost 10,000 ft. where it became quite cold. After droping down to 3,000 feet in the town of Salola the road then plunged down to 1,500 feet in less than 8 kms. to the small lakeside town of Panajachel, commonly known as Pana. It sits in the shore of a huge fresh water lake called Lago de Atitlan.
This whole area from the La Mesilla border, known as the Highlands is Guatemala's most dramatic region. Here the traditional values and customs of the Guatemalan people are the strongest, with Mayan dialects being the first language, and Spanish the second.
And in this region, Lake Atitlan is one the most spectacular locals in all of Central America. The lake is a caldera (a collapsed volcanic cone filled with shimmering water to a depth of over 1,000 feet. The lake covers an area of 130 sq km and is surrounded by 3 powerful, now dormant, volcanoes all towering over 2,000 feet above the lake...it's really a site to see.
Pana is one of Guat's oldest tourist hangouts, and this week it was full of El Salvadorians there on their vacation.
Lakeside villa owners drive there for weekends from Guatemala City.
The town is full of artisans and mercados, and restos and bars...it's really fun.
Once I checked in to my hotel, it was off to visit Montrealers, Lyle and Andree who I met through my friend and dentist, Peter Stutman. Lyle is a doctor, who has spent much of his money and time to set up a medical clinic foundation to help the poor indigenous people in the villages around the lake. (LYLE, PLEASE POST A "COMMENT" WITH THE WEB SITE OF YOUR FOUNDATION).
Lyle and Andree were in the final throws of finishing their beautiful home high up on the hills overlooking the lake...what spectacular views from their livingroom, as we watched the sunset over a few beers and supper.
The next morning I took a sort of ferry boat...people only... acrosss the lake ...1 hour... to the small town of Santiago, known for it's markets and "Maximon", a rum drinking, cigar smoking deity revered throught the Guat highlands. Max is actually an effigy to which Guatamalans make offerings of rum and cigars and in return expect his blessing. In Santiago, he is a wooden figure draped in colorful scarves with a cigar in his mouth. While I was in "his" shrine like home, surrounded by hundreds of candles, there was a steady stream of locals on their knees praying in front of him. Once again, like in San Juan de Chamula we see this mixture of christianity and paganism.
Then it was off to the market, where I see this sign advertising a hike up the volcano or hike over the ridge to the rain forest. So I call Jim Madison who lives way around the lake and we make arrangements to meet early the next morning. I had really wanted to climb the volcano, but he said it was too dangerous because of many muggings and robbing of tourists by armed thieves. He also assured me that the hike up the ridge into the rain forest was much more interesting, and safer because much fewer tourists go there, but none the less, we would be accompagnied by 3 rotweillers and he would also be armed....sounded better every minute!
Next morning it was up at 0500h so I could get the 0545 boat to Santiago. Jim, who could easily pass for "Crocodile Dundee" was waiting there at the dock in his 4x4, and we were off to his "ranch" ...a remote 10 kms behind the village.
Well, talk about a spectacular house and location far from any other civilization. He has about 10 horses, 15 dogs, other assorted animals he keeps in a glassed in "zoo" built into his house, and the most beautiful 1 year old ocelot that runs around his home.
His home was built by Jim and His beautiful native american indian, Nancy. They moved there in the 70's and built up this place during wild west days of the Guatemalan Civil War that only ended 5 years ago. They also rent out 1 huge room to guests, complete with fireplace and anything else you might imagine .
After a nice breakfast, Jim collected his dogs, packed his gun, grabbed a few machettes, and we were off into the rain forest by 0830h. After a 5 hour strenuous hike without incident, it was back at Jim and Nancy's where we were joined by a Canadian, Marion Moore, who owns a guest house in Pana. All of us hung out in their huge kitchen where Jim and Nancy prepared a gourmet lunch of home made gaspacho soup, garlic parsley salad with shaved parmassan cheese, filet mignon grilled to perfection and home made sausages.....WOW.
After hanging around a few hours, Jim drove me back to the dock for the last 1630 boat back to Pana....but not before first inviting me back the next day as Jim and Nancy's guest for breakfast, and then we would be off to spend the afternoon with their good friends, David and Suzie who own the Posada Santiago, a beautiful hotel, consisting of individual stone cabins in the woods...all with fireplaces, as well as a swimming pool, hot tub, and wood fired sauna all down by the lake.
How could I refuse!
After a great breakfast with Jim, Nancy and Marion the next morning, we all headed to David and Suzies for a fantastic afternoon in the sun, in the pool, in the sauna, and in the hot tub, all the while feasting on shrimp and Cuba Libres. 1600h came too fast and I had to get the last boat back to Pana, but David and Suzie offered to put me up for the night in one of his deluxe cabins for "next to nothing" (THANK YOU SO MUCH AGAIN, DAVID AND SUZIE, AND JIM AND NANCY, FOR SUCH A WONDERFUL DAY).
After a nap to recover from the Cuba Libres, it was to the diningroom for supper with Rachel de Souza, a real nice Canadian (Calgary), travelling alone, who was also staying at Dave and Suzies. After dinner we laid on the grass counting the stars and talked for hours...and get this FRED DOLAN, we talked about "The Da Vinci Code", and guess who's name came up...?...your's, Fred, and Rachel's parents, Cedric and Greta, with whom you frequently have dinner when you are in Calgary...small world!
After breakfast the next day it was back to my last nite in Pana to plan my next morning's ride north east to the Carribean town of Rio Dulce, Livingston, and the ruins of Tikal.
After a great 6 hour ride on relatively straight and smooth roads, I arrived in Rio Dulce (RD), a small town on the Rio (River) Dulce about 10 km inland from the Caribean town of Livingston which is about 20 kms south of the Belizean border.
However, along the way I had to pass through Guatemala City, Guatemala's capital, where I promptly went around in circles for an hour before escaping to Rio Dulce.
Guatema City (pop. 2,000,000),contains the largest urban agglomeration in all of Central America. It's rickety buses chug along in huge clouds of black diesel smoke, compeating with each other while trolling the streets for passengers. At times 2 or 3 buses arrive at a stop at the same time, and then It's a race to see who gets to the next stop first.
When they all take off, their combined cloud of diesel smoke literally creats a fog so dense you cannot see past the buses.
When I finally found my way out, I was choaking on the fumes and polution and it was there I pulled into the first resto I could find...MacDonalds....for a much deserved breather.
In Rio Dulce are a number of marinas, one of which where I stayed is owned by a Montrealer, named Bruno. Most of these marinas were full of boats because this is one of the best safe places to park during the current hurricane season in the Carribean.
Bruno is quite a character, and lives life to the fullest, notwithstanding the fact he has 3 motorcycles, and HIS marina is the one where everyone hangs out.
The town of RD itself consists of 2 cross streets, each about 100 meters long. The streets are lined with stalls selling everything from saddles, pizza, guns, fried chicken, live chickens, and every type of fruit and veggi you can imagine.
The first night Oliver, Brono's German mechanic, and I, took a small boat 5 kms down the river, and then down a small creek to a small "hotel and resto" built entirely on stilts over the water....as is almost everything there, since the river banks are mostly mangrove swamp.....for supper. As we approached the resto's docks which were lined with candles, it began to rain lightly. If there every was a scene from the movie, "Apocolypse Now", this was it.
The next day it was a 2 hour boat ride down the river to the Caribean town of Livingston just south of Belize. It was a small town, but it afforded me my first chance on this trip to swim in the Caribean.
It was back to Bruno's where I hung out for happy hour with a bunch of the "regulars" downing Cuba Libres, after which we all took a dingy to another resto for some of the best chinese food in a long time.
The following day Bruno lent me one of his dirt bikes to go out to a river around 60 kms away, on real back country dirt roads. The attraction there was a steaming hot waterfall about 100 meters high, falling into a cool river in the middle of the jungle. You can swim under the waterfall into a small cave where you look back out through the falling water. The cave creates a sort of sauna/steam bath.
However, around 45 kms out, in the middle of no where, the bike stops and won't start. I see what looks to be a banana plantation, and I push the bike off the road 100 meters to the gate where I was met by 2 rough looking characters, both packing hand guns and waiving their shot guns at me.....seemed a bit too much security for a few "bananas". But it also seemed as safe a place as ever to leave the bike while I hitched a ride to Bruno's Marina in the back of a pick-up. Bruno and I then went back in his 4x4 and jump started the bike. He then joined me in the river, where we hung out for a few hours. What a neat place!
Early the next morning I took off for a 4 hour ride due North to the fabulous Mayan ruins of Tikal, one of many national parks in Guatemala.
Here the pyramids rise like skyscrapers above the jungle canopy. The "in" thing to do here, is to hire a guide and hike in the dark and climb the highest pyramid and watch the 0550h sun rise over the jungle top. Despite the fact it was partly cloudy, it was still quite a site...and feeling...overlooking the jungle while sitting on top of a 1,600 year old pyramid, and watching the sun come up over the tree tops, all the while listening to the jungle wake up to the sounds of the "howler monkeys" (more like a gutteral lion's roar), and seeing parrots and toucans fly by.
Late that afternoon it was back to Bruno's and early to bed.
The next morning it was an early departure for the Honduras border, armed with Bruno's contacts in El Salvador, and Nicaragua.
After leaving Rio Dulce, Guatemala, it was a beautiful early morning ride under clearing skies on nice road into El Salvador.
Riding south for 50 kms from Rio Hondo, Guatemala, one comes to a fork in the road....5 kms east, and you are in Honduras, and 5 kms south and you are in El Salvador.
Other than the famous ruins of Copan, Honduras, and the fantastic scuba diving in the Honduras Caribean Islands of Roatan, there was not really much else for me to see, and since I now had enough of ruins, and I don't scuba dive, I headed South to El Salvador.
After the usual entry proceedure at the border...Latin Americaln border officials LOVE "stamps" - (like the ones that go in your passports and on documents) - there was the never ending series of documents, stamps, forms, stamps, copies, stamps, and fumigations, after which I finally hit the roads of El Salvador.
One other "proceedure" you see at every border, is the exchange of "dollars".
You are "assaulted" by at least 5 - 10 men waiving 4 inch thick wads of money, compeating with each other to get your "business" to change your current money to the next countries currency. They all shout different exchange rates, and when you pick the best one, it starts all over again. In the end, you can usually get to within 1% of the official bank rate, and since I only need enough money to get me to the nearest "cajeo automatica", this is not a problem. By the way, while these "transactions" are technically illegal, no one really seems to care.
I arrived in San Salvador, a huge city, (pop. 500,000) and called Rene Caceres, a friend of Bruno's (Rio Dulce).
Rene asked me where I was, and within 15 minutes he was there in an old Jeep Cheroke, and told me to follow him to his house, which was more like a mansion!
Five minutes out of the city center, high on a hill in a gated community, we pulled into Rene's beautiful 5 story, multi veranded home built in the colonial style of white walls, teracotta roofs, and dark wood trim...it was beautiful.
Rene insisted that as a friend of Bruno's, I stay with him.
He showed me to my room with privare bath and balconied terrace, and said the maid would have supper waiting after I showered.
Rene, somewhere in his 60's, is now sort of retired, leaving his daughter Peggy and other sons run his meat processing business. He also owns the only Deli, "KREEF", in San Salvador, run also by Peggy and Rene's wife.
Rene and I chatted over a simple supper where I met Peggy, a beautiful girl who lives with Rene and her son, while her husband, Carlos, lives in Managua, Nicaragua where he works in the "shmata" business. They get to gether approx. 1 week each month, but soon plan to open a deli in Managua and then Peggy and Carlos will live together there.
The next morning after breakfast, Rene proudly showed me his mobile home which he uses to travel with his family, and then took off to the gym, while I spent most of the day at a surfing beach 30 minutes south of SS, La Libertad.
That evening, I met Peggy and her friend, Tita, who was about to marry a Canadian the next week, at the deli where I had a great pastrami and cheese with a German beer.
The deli, Kreef, is located in the Zona Rosa, which is the general name given to the upscale resto, shopping, and nightclub/disco area most cities in Mexico and Central America. This section resembled any modern, first world city.
Guns are another thing in El Salvador, as in most cities in Mexico and central America.
I see more guns in a day than I see in a decade in Montreal.
Posted in front of banks, hotels, restos, discos, parking lots, homes, ice cream parlors, MacDonalds and BurgerKings....just about anywhere you go....you see bored looking security guards packing, M16s, or 9mm pistols, or shot guns, or all of the above.
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central america, and the ONLY one with no access to the Carribean, and despite it's long history it has few historic buildings.
This is because the city was destroyed several times by 2 earthquakes in the mid 1800's, and one in 1986, the erruption of the Volcan San Salvador in 1917, floods in 1934, and the most recent earthquake in 2001.
The next morning it was off to Honduras, and Managua, Nicaragua.
***GO BACK TO THE "RIO DULCE" ENTRY AND READ THE NEWLY ADDED (BOLD/ITALIC) PARAGRAPHS ON GUATEMALA CITY.***
The plan here was to ride the 3 hours straight through Honduras, and try for San Salvador, El Salvador.
The border at Honduras was something else... TOTAL disorganization....different ramshackle buildings with no markings...that houses the customs, imigration, insurance, security, and the ever present fumigation people.
I was instantly besieged by at least a dozen kids, shouting in Spanish and waiving hand made, plastic laminated ID's in my face, essentially saying that they will facilitate my passage through the "system".
One kid looked pretty sharp, and spoke some english, so I "hired" him.
For the next 2 hours he literaly took me by the hand, saying, "Norman, sign here, go there, come here, $10USD please, now Norman go there and get a stamp put here, now Norman, give me your passport and drivers liscence and registration and $25USD, and wait here.......". At this point I said; "NO WAY", to which he responded, "OK, Norman, my brother will watch your bike and you come with me."
He seemed to know even more than the "officials" about what forms to fill out, and how, and where to place the never ending series of stamps.
Finally $75USD, and 2 hours later I was out travelling down the beautiful roads of Honduras, on my way to EL Salvador.
My entry "Honduras" dated 2004-08-14 had a few errors...
#1 - I only entered Honduras only AFTER El Salvador.
#2 - I was attempting to enter San SALVADOR, the capital of El Salvador....NOT San Jose, which is the capital of Costa Rica.
Sooooo....see the 2 previous entries.....
Checking out of Honduras was much easier than checking in, thank god, and checking in to Nicaragua was suprisingly the quickest and easiest so far.
But despite this, I lost so much time checking IN to Honduras that it was now a race against time to get into Managua, the capital, before dark.
One place you you DON'T want to be is on the roads of Mexico and Central America after dark. First of all there are animals....in many places the roads are an extension of peoples farms. Then there are the drivers who either don't use - or don't have - headlights, drunk drivers, roving robbers and gangs, and the rare pothole big enough to swallow your bike.
So there I was in Esteli, Nica, the last hotels before Managua, with 90 minutes left to sunset at 1800h....and I figured at least 2 hours to darkness and Managua.
Here the sun sets around 1800, but rises at 0500.
I called Carlos, Peggy's husband who assured me I could make it to our prearranged meeting point in Managua before darkness fell, and he would then guide me to his house. He also suggested that even if it DID get dark, that our meeting point would be easy to find, and that Managua was safe after dark.
So it was now a race against time to make it to Managua, a large spralling city of over 1,000,000 people and one of the few major cities of Central America only 50m above sea level, making it always hot - low to mid 30's throughout the year.
Managua, like San Salvador, had a rough history of natural disasters...fires and earthquakes(last one in 1972), after which geologists discovered the old downtown area to be riddled with faults, causing it to be abondoned. Only a handful of pre 30's buildings remain most of which are occupied with squatters.
The new Managua, built on the outskirts, with it's sprawling streets devoid of reference points, has little tourist value.
Well, back to the race which I was losing. It was now dark, with rush hour on, and I just arrived at the outskirts.
Imagine arriving in Montreal, after dark during rush hour, with unlit streets with no names.
But with determination and luck I found Carlos who insisted I stay with him in his apartment situated near the new Metro Centro, a modern mall, in the Zona Rosa.
Carlos is a beautiful generous guy with a great sense of humor, and after my shower, we were out on the town checking out the discos, restos, and hookers of every size, age, shape, and sex, who lined the strreets.
The next morning Carlos took me on a daylight tour of Managua, bringing me to it's many markets where he combined pleasure with business.
Carlos seemed to be known by, and friends with everyone in the huge markets, as well as most of the restos.
Early in the afternoon it was goodby to Carlos and off to the town of Granada, around 1 hour south, but not before giving Carlos who used to ride bikes, a chance to ride my motorcycle while I stayed home ("watch it", Peggy).
It was an easy ride south to Granada (pop. 90,000), Nica's oldest city. Although it did see some recent fighting between the Sandinistas and Somoza's forces, it was spared the shelling seen by other cities.
Today Granada is the major tourist center, retaining it's colonial character - streets lined with Spanish styled houses with stuccoed adobe walls and large doors opening into cool interior patios.
While it is situated on the shores of Lago de Nicaragua, Central America's 3rd largest lake (fresh water) measuring 180kms long and 60 kms wide, there is no swiming because of polution. It is separated from the Pacific by only 20 kms, and contains fresh water swordfish and s h a r k s .
Rising out of the center of the lake to almost 5,000 feet are 2 twin volcanos, the larger of which is still active.
Here I contacted another of Bruno's friends, Maria Mercedes (thankyou Bruno), a beautiful spirited 17 year old girl living with her grandparents. She offered to show me the nightscene of Granada but not before I asked "permissione" from her grandfather. He agreed, but only on the condition that we be chaperonned by her 2 cousins. After hitting the first bar, Maria asked for a ride on the bike to show me the night sights. It was a great idea since there was only room for Maria, causing us to lose her cousins....tsk, tsk.
For the next few days I roamed Granada and explored it's beautiful restos, bars, and markets.
I began every morning for the next 3 days with the best massage I ever had. Carlo charged only $10USD for one hour in his huge parlor with high ceilings and his table in the center of the room. With the wide open windows allowing a breeze to blow across the table, I relaxed, totally nude under at least a liter of olive oil and Carlo's strong hands...heaven on earth!
The last day there I took a side trip to the town of Masaya (pop, 111,000). Despite the fact the town suffered an earthquake 4 years ago leaving 1,000s homeless and killing 30, the artists markets were open and life goes on amid the reconstruction.
Next to Masaya is the still active volcano, "Volcan Masaya". You can drive to the top of the crater and see the billowing toxic smoking and steaming gases rising from the crater. There is a huge cross, frequently obliterated by the escaping gases, overlooking the crater, which was placed there by the Spanish in the 16th century. They belived this volcano was the gateway to hell and hoped the cross would exorcise the demons who dwelled there. It's an awsome sight to be right there at the crater of an active volcano looking down.
Despite the fact it's a tourist destination, here is a quote verbatum from the visitor's guide;
"The active crater could present some phenomena without advisement sush as: emition of smokes, expulsions of rocks, sand, and others. We advise you that gases irritate the eyes, the respiratory tract, affect people with asthma, and diminish visibility of the area. We recommend to keep away from the area.
Park your car facing away fron the crater.
In case of expulsions of rocks you can protect yourself under the car. (What about a motorcycle !?!?!)."
Early the next morning after my last visit with Carlo, it was off to the Pacific seaside town of San Juan del Sur.
After a pleasant 2 hour ride, interrupted by a 30 min. downpour, I arrived in the fishing town of San Juan Del Sur (pop. 6,000).
SJDS is set on a nice horseshoe shaped cove with dramatic cliffs forming at it's far edges. Although the beach is nice, I found it a bit dirty.
While cruising up the main street looking for a vacancy I was waved to by a beautiful couple sitting on the veranda of Posada Nina. It turns out they were real estate agents from Montreal, but became fed up with the city life, sold everything, bought a camper Volkswagon and are in their 2nd year of touring Mexico and Central America.
Elizabeth and Alain are now hoping to settle down in SJDS and buy a small posada (B & B).
Their "business card" reads;
"Elizabeth et Alain en voyage...Ne savent quand reviendront....."
E and A were spending the next few days at their friend's, Nina, untill their rented home is ready. Nina offered me a great deal on a room which I booked and was promptly invited to join them all for supper in Nina's kitchen where we were joined by E&A's visiting son, Maxime, and Nina's son Roberto and little daughter. It was great to have a home cooked meal in a family enviornment.
The following morning, I left my moto locked up near Nina's and hitched a ride with a gang of Italian surfers and headed up the coast 12 kms by 4x4 to the remote surfing beach of Playa Maderas.
From there it was a 10 min. walk on the beach to an even more remote beach, Playa Majagual and the beautiful "Bahia Majagual Eco-Lodge", where I spent the next 3 nights on a hammock under a palapa 20 meters from the high tide line.
Days were spent walking the many beaches that scalloped the coast and just laying on the hard clean sand that sloped ever so slightly to the surf. Every 5 minutes or so a wave would slowly creep up to me, bathing me in 1 or 2 cms. of water and then slowly recede.....as they say in Costa Rica, "Pura Vida" (the good life).
3 days later I returned to Nina's and found E&A packing up to their new rented house a few blocks away.
It was also Alain's birthday and I was invited there to their beautiful new home for dinner with Nina and her family. Nina cooked a fabulous lasagna, and with the rum and wine flowing, we all had a great time.
It was hard to leave the company of Nina and E&A. In the space of only a few days they felt like family.
However time was getting short, and early the next morning we all kissed good-bye and it was off to Costa Rica.
While the Caribean of Nica and most other countries of Central America are also very beautiful, such a the "Corn" islands of Nica, and "Rotan" islands of Honduras, there just isn't a developed road network serving the Carribean side, notwithstanding the rain there at this time of the year.
It's for these reasons, that except for Guatemala, and Costa Rica, I have not visited these areas.
With Costa Rica's (CR) reputation for being the most "North American" like country of all Latin America, I was off from Nicaragua with high hopes!
Not only is CR safe but it's also very friendly.
It's been a democracy since the 19 century and is now one of the most peaceful nations in the world. In fact the armed forces were abolished after the 1948 civil war, and CR has since avoided the despotic dictatorships, military coups, terrorism, and internal strife that has affected the other countries of Central America.
CR is also famous for it's enlightened approach to conservation and the enviornment, with over 25% of the country protected in one form or another.
That however changed as soon as I hit the border.
First of all the clerk said I had to wait because his computer was down...10 minutes, he said.....well 2 hours later after begging and pleading, he simply stuck a form in his typewriter, typed a few lines, stamped it ...and said good bye. I could have killed him. My plan was to hit the capital, San Jose, before dark, and losing 2 hours was going to make this run difficult.
At least the roads were great, as they were with Mexico and the rest of Central America....in fact in all the 18,000 kms I had put on my bike so far, I encountered a 10 km stretch of road in Nicaragua, and another soon to be found in CR, that was even close to the dismal roads we have in Quebec....sad, but true!!
After an hour or so as I gained a few thousand feet of altitude, it began to rain lightly as it typically did under these conditions since leaving Guatemala. I pulled into a small "soda", as little road side restos are called in CR, for some nice dark CR coffee. The owner said that CR is comprised of about 20 micro climates, and that while it was raining there, it could easily be sunny and hot 10 kms down the road. So after my coffee, I left and sure enough.......!
After another 2 hours of great riding on 2 lane CA1 (Pan American Highway) the traffic flow came to an abrupt stop. After waiting 10 minutes, I decided to pull into the oncoming lane and get by all this traffic, which after about 10 kms seemed to be all "semis" (18 wheelers) and other big trucks. I continued another 15 minutes, passing all this stopped wall of traffic until....I was face to face with an oncoming police car. His lights and siren immediatly came on and he stopped me. But all he did was inform me that this was a major "demonstration" by all the truckers of CR because of the governments policy on safety inspections. Their tactic was to totally shut down the CA1 about 20 kms farther down the road at San Ramon. He then took off saying I should not be using that lane and I should wait until the demonstration would be over...which could be hours !!
Once he disappeared behind me, I continued riding the oncoming lane of traffic...I wanted to be in San Jose before dark.
Finally arriving at San Ramon I spotted a huge demonstration of truckers - around a 1,000 of them in the highway shouting and waiving banners, with the road completely blocked by burning tires, and a barrier of cut down trees.
So there I was in the middle of the riot amongst the truckers, facing off with the police on the other side.
Even though there is a basic rule that foreigners should NOT under any circumstances get involved in any political demonstrations, I decided to use my sales skills to "sell" these guys on the idea that their cause would be better served if they could show the public that they had no fight with tourists, and especially since it was now raining again, they could show they had a heart, and let me past the barrier.
I wound my way through the crowd until I reached one of the leaders at the front who spoke some english. I pleaded my case and he bought the idea. He then yelled through his megaphone, and within minutes the crowd began to cheer me on, and dismantle the barrier to let me through.
Well this worked better than I thought, until at the other side, I was promptly arrested by the police for taking part in a demonstration as a foreigner. While in handcuffs I explained I had NO sympathies with either side, and that all I wanted to do was to get to San Jose before dark. Also the truckers who now saw their "new friend" beign arrested, began to become quite agitated and with the police being quite outnumbered, they decided to make their own "PR" show, and let me go.
Now it was a race against the sun which I lost. I rode into the outskirts of SJ in the dark. And like when I entered Managua, it was pretty scarry since I had no idea where to go in this city of almost 1,000,000 people.
Call it a sixth sense or what, but with a turn here and another there I found my self at a neat hostel in the middle of town. It was a converted mansion and even had a garage where they let me park my bike.
While touring San Jose the next day, I saw a poster showing a trip to the Carribeen side of the country to the Park National Tortuguero where in this highly protected area you can go to the beach at night with certified guides and see the leatherback turtles emerge from the ocean at night and lay their eggs.
Having seen this phenomen many times on TV, I jumped at the chance to see this first hand and promptly set up this 2 day adventure with a local outfitter.
I was told to be ready to be picked up from the hostel at 0530 in the morning. It was a long ride to Tortuguero by mini buss, then 4x4, and the final 90 minutes by speed boat.
After making arrangements with the hostel to leave my bike in the garage, I was off to T, a small town of 600 people and 10 hotels. The town is set up on a series of natural canals that parallel the ocean, ond here we see both howler and spyder monkeys, toucans, parrots, iguanas, alligators and many other jungle animals.
After checking in to the hotel and an early supper, I napped untill "Jungle Tom", the outfitter, woke me at 2130 to say it was time to head to the beach.
Well, what an experience it was!
To to watch 400 lb., 60 - 200 year old leatherback turtles measuring 4 feet by 3 feet come out of the ocean at midnight, dig a hole 6 feet deep and lay approx 125 baseball sized eggs, then cover them up and dissapear into the ocean for another 3 years...was amazing...WOW!
The next morning while touring the many canals we came across this encampment with a huge Canadian flag. It was a non profit organization out of Toronto doing research on the turtles. After a tour of the facility, it was a long ride back to the Hostel.
The next morning it was off to the coffee plantation, Finca Rivera, 100 kms south of San Jose, high up in the mountains. This plantation is owned by the family of the sister in law, Ginnette, of my good friends from Boston, Laurie and Glen.
I stayed in Ginnette's home and met her parents, sister and four brothers who run the plantation. The next day it was off to the fields with one of the brothers, and after a 1 hour hike up the hill side it was 5 hours of back breaking work with macheties, clearing the undergrowth from around the coffee plants.
After a day of rest I decided that this would be the most southern point of my adventure. Being already weeks longer than I had planned, there was simply no time for Panama....which combined with South America, will be part of my next adventure.
After saying goodby to Ginette's family it was off to Playa Tamarindo, on the Nicoya Peninsula on the north Pacific coast of CR.
......to be continued.....
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