Panamania

Panamania

June 10, 2014


Narrated Audio Blog

Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.

By the time we reached Costa Rica we had put around 6,000 miles (10,000km) on our bikes since leaving Texas. That means it was time for a service. Luckily, back in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, we met Ricardo by chance. Janell was standing on the balcony of our hostel in San Miguel checking out the view with Skyla when a gentlemen yelled from bellow "Are you going to Manaus?" Followed by "come downstairs", so we did and introduced ourselves to Ricardo. Ricardo had been told about us by someone following our journey and made it his business to come and find us. He invited us to take a walk around San Miguel during which time we exchanged stories and he sold us on spending a few days in San Jose, Costa Rica, where he knew a good mechanic if we needed any work done.

We arrived in San Jose late on the 14th of May 2014. In fact it had been dark for some time and lightly raining. We had only a street name to find our accommodation and after riding around for some time with no luck, decided to go to McDonald's to get WiFi and contact the owner for more specific directions. A somewhat ironic situation unfolded as Janell got lost, missing a turn that Stu had taken. Without any navigation and a spaghetti of one-way streets she gave up trying to backtrack and went in search of the McDonald's. No luck there either, she stumbled upon a Pizza Hut. No-one spoke any English but they seemed to understand "lost" and "McDonald's" so one of the delivery guys very kindly hopped on his motorbike, beckoning Janell to follow, and escorted her all the way to the nearest McDonald's. He even blocked 2 lanes of traffic so she could get in to the very challenging car park. It was not the McDonald's Stu and Skyla were at but both ends had WiFi and were able to use google+ locations to see each other on a map and work from there.

At 10pm, wet and weary, we finally pulled in to our accommodation that we had arranged through AirBnB. We stayed in a family home in Heredia with a lovely lady who works at the university teaching cooking. Over breakfast the next morning we discovered that she usually rents rooms out for two to three week periods to adults who want to come to Costa Rica, take Spanish lessons and do some sight seeing. Opportunities like this are out there if you're brave enough to try something different. Some Spanish lessons definitely wouldn't go astray if you're travelling through Central and South America, but we were time pressed and weren't in a position to take advantage.

While our stay in Heredia was lovely it was a little out of our usual budget and not central so for the next three nights we stayed at the top of a mountain at Hotel Paradise Costa Rica, $35 a night total including breakfast. We enjoyed great views over the city while relaxing in the evenings.

Costa Rica has a very interesting modern history which has resulted in a prosperous country that is quite different to its neighbours. In 1948/49 there was a civil war in Costa Rica that resulted in the abolishment of its military and today, there is still no military. San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica and remnants of the war are visible if you go looking. We were told that San Jose also had the first McDonald's outside of America. We counted 9 McDonald's during our transiting around the city with a population around 300,000.

First on our Costa Rica to-do list was getting the bikes serviced. Work before pleasure is really important on a trip like this. Ricardo met us at Hector Bujan's motorbike workshop at 8am and it took all day non-stop for Hector to get all the work done for us. Ricardo had given Hector a heads-up about us prior to arriving in Costa Rica so he put all his work aside for the day to get our bikes done asap. To speed things along even more and keep the cost down, Ricardo drove us around to different shops to get various parts for the bikes.

So Janell's bike had:

  • oil change,
  • new chain and sprocket,
  • replaced factory air filter with a K&M filter guaranteed to last 1,000,000 miles (that should make it around the world),
  • new right blinker, not a BMW part but does the job, and
  • new steering head bearings.

Stu's bike had:

  • oil change,
  • air filter clean (Stu's bike had a K&M air filter already so it just needed a clean) and
  • new right blinker, also not a BMW part.

With the 'work' out the way, the next day Ricardo took the three of us to see a volcano, Parque Nacional Volcan Irazu, at an altitude of 3,432m. Skyla really enjoyed the car ride and it was cold on top of the mountain so she was happy to stay in the car while we took a walk around. It was a perfect day thanks to Ricardo. Had a coffee at the top of the volcano and bought some local coffee liqueur, stopped at a unique restaurant with business cards everywhere for lunch on the way down, bought some local produce to munch on and took lots of photo's.

On a clear day, from the top of the volcano you can see the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. We didn't have a clear day, in fact we had lots and lots of clouds but it was just as spectacular standing on the mouth of the volcano above the clouds. Before returning us to our hotel Ricardo took us for a drive around San Jose to see some of the highlights including a Church that his great grandmother funded.

Our three days in Costa Rica were so productive and enjoyable thanks to Ricardo. We accomplished a lot and could not have done it without his help. It was time to move on to Panama for our next adventure.

Everything had been going so well when we left San Jose, Costa Rica. We took the stunning mountain pass rather than the fast ocean road to the border of Panama. This road is the reason you ride a bike. The distance is about 100km shorter than the ocean highway but because of the terrain it takes about the same amount of time, roughly four hours.

It was around 5:30pm when we arrived at the border crossing. The plan was to get through the border and then ride to David to spend our first night in Panama, only an hour past the border so not to worry. Wrong! Complications hit us straight away. The only machine to swipe passports for the exit of Costa Rica was broken. With no way around the process we had to sit and wait...and wait...and wait until it worked again. At around 8pm it started working and we proceeded to exit Costa Rica.

Now to our second problem. As it was late we decided to stay at a hotel between the borders; no mans land. This seemed like the sensible thing to do and kind of cool so we found a good place for $24 a night with secure parking for the bikes. We were all really tired so straight to bed. After a good nights sleep we leisurely made our way over to the Panama border only to be told that we couldn't enter Panama. We were told that the date on our exit stamp for Costa Rica had to be the same as the entrance date to Panama. We tried to argue our case but they wouldn't budge, so back to lining up in Costa Rica to exit for the second time. The lines were long and the weather hot. After what seemed like forever we had all the paperwork and stamps for us and the bikes to exit Costa Rica and enter Panama. Now we just had to sort out Skyla.

Our third obstacle. We followed the very lengthy process to import Skyla into Panama to the T, moving among four different buildings getting forms filled and signed. finally, around 4pm when we thought it was nearly over, we were told we had to pay $130 (an unusually costly import for a pet) at the bank which closed at 3pm. OMG!!! Back to no mans land to our $24 a night hotel to wait until the bank opened the next morning. Next morning we were at the bank early, paid our $130 and now 2 days behind schedule, hit the road for Panama City.

Riding into Panama City was a real eye opener. It was huge, modern and had some beautiful architecture. We were really excited about staying a couple of nights and seeing the Panama Canal but firstly we had to figure how to get to South America. Over the previous few weeks Stu had been studiously researching and emailing different companies that could fly or sail us all. For those not familiar with this part of the world, there is no road connecting the two continents so you either have to travel by sea or air.

Time and cost were our priorities for getting to South America. We had tickets for games at the Brazil World Cup and were running out of time. We arrived in Panama City checked in to a hotel, known to assist motorbike travellers with organising transport to South America. We made some enquiries and the staff were very helpful, they had a sail boat leaving within a week. Unfortunately this would be too late for us. Later that night however we received confirmation from Sanblas Ferry that they could get us on a ferry departing the next day, but we had to transfer a deposit to secure our position. This was a big decision in a short period of time. We would miss Panama city completely and Janell really wanted to see the canal but we had the commitment of the World Cup so we accepted the position and made our payment.



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