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Leaving for Colombia

February 28, 2012
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Fletch and I rode out to Puerto Lindo to begin the boarding for our boat to Cartagena.  Fletch has been out here before so he led the way.  We stopped to get a pizza on the way and he pointed out a guy on a Harley riding by.  The guy’s name was Guido and he ran the hostel and one of the boats that goes to Cartagena.  Not ours.  Our captain’s name is Israel.
After lunch we head further on to the hostel and see Guido on the side of the road.  His face, knees and arms are covered in blood and he’s working on his bike.  He explains that a bus was riding in his lane and he had to ditch the bike on the side of the road or else he would run into the bus.  The bus driver claimed that Guido was riding in the wrong lane but you could see in the road where Guido had hit the brakes and skidded.  Guido would make it fine but the bike needed a few repairs.  He started it up and got it back to the hostel.
Buses and large trucks riding in the wrong lane is something that’s actually pretty common down here.  Anna and I were lucky that we didn’t run into that too much and I usually slow around curves anyways.  You never know what’s on the other side of a blind curve and though it’s fun to take the curves at high speeds, I prefer to be prepared for a bus, a cow, gravel, whatever.
The hostel that we were staying at in Puerto Lindo was really basic, much like the town of Puerto Lindo.  Google maps doesn’t show roads going out to this area and the store only sells bare necessities like candy and Romen noodles.  There is only one restaurant there that is run by a very nice Dutch man.  The place is a bit strange because no one ever asks if you would like something and no one could care less if you order or not.  If it weren’t for the tables and the sign, you would never know it’s a restaurant.
We were there a day early so we would start loading the boat the next day.  Silvia runs the hostel there and was helping us with the boat.  She told us to pack a bag with the most basic things that we would need for the trip and then everything else would be put in storage.  She said we wouldn’t need soap really because you’re in the water swimming all the time and just need to rinse off the salt once in awhile.   I packed just a few things.  A towel, my ipod, a camera, my computer, and the clothes that I was wearing.  Everything else went into storage on the boat where we would not be able to get to it.

Loading the bike was really stressful and I plan on never doing it again.  A lot of bikes come through here going to ships so you would think that they have a good process for this.  You would picture the boat being at the dock and you might ride the bike onto the ship, or maybe there would be a hoist on the dock which would lower the bike into a small boat and then the bike would be loaded onto the larger boat from there.  Nope.  Guido pays 4 guys to pickup the bike and lower it into the boat.  The scene is basically a bunch of guys lowering the bike into the boat while I’m yelling at them to not hold onto the bike by the muffler or some other piece that will break off.
After the bike is lowered into the small boat, I climb on top of it like I’m riding it and hold it upright while we go to the ship.  This looks really funny because I have to hold tight to the handlebars, concentrate on what’s in front of me, and it looks exactly like I’m riding normally.  It reminds me of one of those green screens they have in Vegas or other tourist places where you pretend that you’re driving a motorcycle and there’s some video of the road going on in the background.
Next the bike is hoisted onto the boat using the same system that is designed for an 80 pound dinghy.  Finding a spot to tie the rope around my bike is a pain.  It’s just not designed for this (not that other bikes are).  We find two bars on the frame under the seat and another place on the neck of the bike.  The first suggestions were around the handlebar and the luggage rack.  The luggage rack has a sticker on it suggesting no more than 10 LBs of pressure so there’s no way that’s happening.  Even though my bike is light for a cruiser, it’s heavier than the other bikes that come through here.  If the pulley is going to break, it’s probably going to be with my bike.  Additionally, there are just 2 of us holding the bike up with the help of the pulley.  If that pulley goes, both of us will be crushed by a beautiful bike.
The bike makes it onto the boat without falling into the bay.  This is another stressful part because I now have 3 guys jumping on my bike to mash down the shocks.  They’re doing this so that when it’s tied down it won’t bounce around on the boat.  The way that they’re doing this is each has a knee dug into my $600 seat and they’re repeatedly bouncing on it.  To keep the tank from getting scratched, they put pillows in between the bike and the railing.  It’s tied up a little bit more and then the captain says they’ll finish tying it later and they’ll wrap it up really well with a tarp.
The next day our captain had to drive around everywhere to get some permits and licenses taken care of.  Nothing to do with us or immigration.  He needed some paperwork to be legal for manning the boat from what I gathered.  It took a few hours longer than he thought so when he came back he told us that he would need a full day of rest the next.  Fletch and I look at each other but we’re both thinking “A day of rest, no big deal”.  He adds though that he needs a full day of rest, then another day to load food onto the boat, then we will wait a day and sleep on the boat that night.  Basically, we’re stuck for three more days.
Silvia gives us the rooms for free for the next few days, but it doesn’ help the situation much.  Our bikes are on the boat and all of my stuff is in storage.  I only have one set of clothes and no soap.  Worse, I have no shaver so in a few days I’m going to have one of those terrible Seattle style beards.  Since our bikes are on the boat, we don’t even have the option to go somewhere else unless we take the long bus ride into town.  These days would be some of the most unproductive of my life because I would just be reading, lying in a hammock, and living off of Ramen noodles.
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Getting through the Pan American

February 13, 2012
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San Felix 12 hours before

Anna left on a plane from Costa Rica about a week ago.  We were stopped in David, Panama due to the protesters and she decided that she didn’t want to do the 5 day boat ride to Colombia.  The seas are supposed to be especially rough this time of year and the trip is considered to be transportation rather than a lovely trip through the islands.  That’s probably a good choice.  Additionally, she saved a bunch of money by not having to get a flight from Colombia to a place where she could use my US Airways voucher.  I had a spare US Airways voucher for $425 and that covered all but $10 of a ticket back to Dulles.

The violent protests broke out the day after she left.  Had she not left on the plane that day, I probably would have been asking her to leave a day later or we would still be sitting in David.  The areas surrounding David were getting to be dangerous for tourists and the Pan American highway was especially dangerous.  I didn’t mind riding on my own, but not with a passenger.

After a 6 hour drive, I cleared the majority of the protests in Panama.  The fires from the protest were still smoldering and the town of San Felix was filled with Police.  San Felix had been the focal point of the protests the day before, because the protesters had burned down the Police headquarters and had engaged in fighting with the Police.  The fighting there was supposed to be over, but driving through I could taste the tear gas in the air.

Other travelers had told me that between Santiago (south) and David (north) there were protesters throwing rocks at cars but that it wasn’t too bad.  In my head I pictured some random people on the side of the road throwing stones.  I arrived at the point where protesters were throwing stones at cars to find that instead of a few random people on the side of the road, there was about 40 people in a group about 15 meters above the road on a hill.  When a car would pass, they would throw their heavy stones and typically, at least break the windshield.
I stopped the bike out of range from the protesters throwing stones.  I sat with another car and tried to figure out what to do.  Many of the protesters pointed at me and motioned me to drive through.  Like they were saying “We’re just trying to mess up people’s days, not kill anyone.  I moved forward because it was logical that the protesters wouldn’t want to seriously injure anyone.  I now have a rule that I shouldn’t be using logic on when angry people have stones.
I watch the protesters carefully as I pull forward and down comes a small shower of rocks.  The nearest one lands about 2 feet in front of me.  A car, apparently wait for them to chuck the rocks in their hands, speeds past me while I move my bike back a few feet.  Now, the protesters are all waving me through, almost in unison.  Some are holding up their hands to show they don’t have any rocks.  “Fool me once” I’m thinking.
A minute or so later, a few of the protesters are running behind the hill they are on.  All but a few are scrambing around now and distracted by something in the road.  I speed through the rock covered road and see an armored police vehicle with men holding tear gas guns.  Rocks are still falling behind me, but I’m pretty sure that stopped once I heard the police shooting the tear gas guns.  Traffic on the other side of the protesters was backed up for about half of a mile.  In the river, there were protesters being held off by police.  This was a scene that was playing on the news the day before.  The bridge I was crossing was actually being held by protesters only about 12 hours ago.
I made it to Panama City after circumventing another protest in Santiago.  Here, the protesters had blocked the Pan American highway, but cars and motorcycles could get around by going through side streets.  Trucks and buses could not go through because they couldn’t go through the smaller streets.
I knew Panama City was pretty light on things to see or do.  There’s the Panama Canal, the old buildings in Casco Viejo, and the cafes of Via Argentina, but it’s pretty much like Miami in the way that it looks and the prices.  This didn’t matter to me much because I was here to fix up my bike.  The hostel I was staying at had a beautiful view of Panama city because it was across the bay.  Everyone that had traveled into the city commented on how it’s like a facade.  Tall beautiful buildings, with nothing below them.
My first day in the city, I met a guy named Fletch that’s also doing a trip down to Argentina.  Except he’s putting his bike on a boat and heading for South Africa so that he can ride up through Europe. He’s from Colorado and he’s riding on a KLR 650 (adventure bike). We figured out we’re on the same boat to Cartagena and decided to ride out to the port together.
I spent the first couple days working on getting tires and an oil change for my bike.  It took a full day just to find a place that had the parts then another full day for me to recover from the shock of being told how much it would cost and to have the installation done.
Anna and I had been getting these insect bites that don’t really heal.  They swell up and look really gross but it takes forever for them to go away.  While in Panama City, one of the insect bites on my knee had gotten infected.  The first day I noticed that it was infected, I went to the pharmacy and got antibiotics.  Two days later it had gotten very bad and I was taken to the hospital.  The pain had gotten to the point where I couldn’t sleep and I had to limit walking to within the hostel.  The doctor gave me 2 strong antibiotics and pain medication via IV.  The 3am emergency room visit cost about $40 and another $60 for the medication.
A few days later my knee is better and I’ve been spending most of the time grossing out Fletch with my gross knee (sorry, no picture).  We’re loading the bikes onto the boat today so hopefully I get some good shots of that.

I think he said “Indians have set fire to the road”

February 5, 2012
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After our awesome trip to Drake Bay in Costa Rica we headed south to Panama.  I was hoping to make it through the border that day but we got a late start and had to stay in Ciudad Nelly for the night (about 10 miles from the border).

 
The next morning we crossed the border to Panama.  Anna and I are pros at this now.  I did tip someone for a little help getting around to the different offices but I definitely didn’t need to.  Now that we’ve done this really stressful process so many times, it seems easy and we don’t need any help.  This used to be the worst part of my day but now that I understand the flow, it’s logical and much less stressful.  Having Anna on the trip also makes it much easier.  Anna did the migration for Costa Rica and she takes care of watching the bike while I’m working with the Aduana office (kind of like DMV).
 
After our pleasant border crossing into Panama, we headed south with a plan to make it to Panama City as fast as possible.  Everything was going smooth.  The roads here in Panama are really nice and the speed limit is pretty high so I feel comfortable driving as fast as I like to.  It’s hot down here so a little extra speed provides a ton of relief from that.  
 
We slowed down as we a approached a bus and a couple of taxis that were stopped.  A few police were in the area and there was some smoke coming from up the road about 30 meters.  It looked to me like there had been a car wreck and we would need to stop to wait for it to be cleared.  An officer wave to us in a motion that said turn around.  This was the only road to Panama City so I got off the bike to speak with one of the officers.
 
When someone is speaking Spanish to me, unless it’s a phrase I know and have heard a few times, I can only pick out a few of the words per sentence and try to make something out of it.  The first sentence the officer said, I could only pick out “Indians” and “fire”.  He saw that I didn’t understand so he tried to relate it to a movie and said some names of big movies from the US that involved Indians.  Next, he went through slowly and I put together “The Indians from the mountains have set the road on fire.  It’s closed for 3 days”.  My first thought, “wow, my Spanish sucks”.  That couldn’t possibly be right.
 
I assumed the campesinos (transit workers) were on strike.  This happens sometimes in this part of the world and the roads are shut down for a day or two.  One of the officers had given Anna a phone and called someone who speaks English.  The woman on the phone had said the road would be closed at least for today but didn’t know more than that.  This was the only possible way to Panama city by land.  
 
We drove back to the city of David and found a hostel to hold up in.  David is a nice city but is really just a city people stay in for the night.  Our hostel is filled with people that have been here since the protest started.  We’re now 5 days into the closure and it doesn’t look any better than the first day.  The protesters are not negotiating with the Panama government so the government setup an air bridge (lot’s of planes) to move people and supplies.  Tourist get free flights to Panama City from here in David.  That of course doesn’t help me get the bike down there.
 
I have already paid the deposit for the boat to Colombia and we’re supposed to be there on the 8th of February.  If the roadblock is still up by then, I lose the deposit and this South American journey turns into a Central American journey.  Right now, there is no news on if the road will open up.  We hear rumors of tomorrow, the next day, but most local people say that it could go on for awhile.  Though I enjoy the break, I’m not keen on sticking around in David for long.  If the road doesn’t open up by the time my deposit is lost, I’ll be looking at heading back up and just traveling Central America for awhile.

Horseback Riding in Drake, Costa Rica

February 3, 2012
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I had a great time in Costa Rica! This is mainly due to horseback riding through the rainforest and on the beach! Matt had been talking about horseback riding for basically the whole trip and we finally had an opportunity to do so. I was nervous before the tour because I had never rode a horse before. They had scared me.
To my surprise, it wasn’t scary at all. The tour started off with a slow walk on the road; I quickly got use to it and started to trot as we went through the rainforest! Matt was excited to go faster and wanted to go much faster than a trot (even through the water).

The rainforest was loud with sounds of insects and filled with dark and deep greens. We saw all sorts of interesting animals, like bright red and yellow birds, a toucan, an enormous black snake slithering extremely fast (you could say I had a little freak out), a huge scary looking spider, plus the usual animals (dogs, other horses, and cows- most walking on their own, with no owner in sight).

The beach was fantastic! Matt, the tour guide, and I walked the horses out onto the sand, right down to where the waves were crashing. I could tell the horses liked the sand under their feet better because it was easier to get them to go fast. Really fast. Luckily, I had the fastest horse (sorry about your bad luck, Matt) and I was galloping down the coast line – I loved it – the rainforest to my left, the Pacific Ocean to my right, the powerful horse beneath me, the air all around, the speed, the fun and excitement, the ease of it all, and the all-embracing feeling of freedom.

The tour guide had us stop at one point on the beach and he knocked down and cut open some coconuts with his machete.


We drank them and ate the inside.


Yay for snack time 🙂

Matt and I galloped down the rest of the beach in no time. The three to four hour tour took us two hours. I guess most people have the horses walk.

Getting to and leaving Drake was a fun little adventure in itself: we took an hour boat ride there and back.

And the place we stayed in was comfy (I really liked the hammock).

As for technical stuff, the border crossing was the easiest yet and the roads are decent, except for if there is a pothole it is horrible- if the motorcycle were to hit one, we’d go flying. We’ve been told the roads are smooth in Panama, so here’s hoping.

Also, we got pulled over in Costa Rica for passing a truck on a double yellow line. No one on bikes has been following any traffic laws in Latin America, so we’ve been doing this often- except this time we got caught. But the police man took a ten dollar bribe. Costa Rica has been the cleanest and most expensive international country we’ve been to, but the police are still corrupt.

Headed to Panama mañana.

Volcano Boarding in León, Nicaragua

January 31, 2012
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Matt and I stayed in Big Foot Hostel right in the heart of town of León, Nicaragua . I have never seen so many backpacks for sale. And there were a lot of Abercrombie and Fitch close, plus more Hollister attire than I’ve seen since high school. The cathedrals in León were awesome- literally inspired aw. The architecture of the cathedrals has been one of my favorite things to see while on the trip. Here I especially took note of the sad lion guarding a saint, the big paintings of The Stations of The Cross, and how on the outside there were four men appearing to hold up parts of the building on there shoulders.

The homeless.
I have seen countless on this motorcycle trip. They have been disfigured and dirty, starving, and begging for everything and anything you can spare. The disfigurement has been the feature that will stick with me. The missing and strange body parts and burns are like out of a scary, Rob Zombie, horror movie. A little boy the other night walked up to me while I was having street food for dinner with a group of people from the hostel, he tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned, there he was, burns and scared all over, his face disfigured, smooshed and smashed out of place. I’m surprised I didn’t jump, instead I reacted with sadness and told him I had just used all my cordoba on dinner (I don’t leave the hostel or hotel with more than I plan on spending). He didn’t leave my side for a few minutes and taped me again, only this time when I turned all he did was point to my plate and shrug- I immediately handed him what was left and he scarfed it down in seconds. He seemed grateful and walked off.
There have been many other homeless and disfigured begging for money or food while one the bike or walking in the cities, but there is nothing to be done then, except for to be grateful for the life I have.

Speaking of being grateful, I am absolutely appreciative of being able to have the opportunity to take part in this amazing activity, known as VOLCANO BOARDING!  Climbing up Cerro Negro in León, Nicaragua was not an easy task. With carrying a bag stuffed with a suit and goggles, along with carrying the board to slide down on, I was struggling a little. Being at the top, feeling the heat from the black earth, seeing the smoke come from the ground, trying to stay grounded as the strong gusts of wind blow, (thinking of Mordor, because I’m a nerd), and sliding down having that adreniline rush made the climb up completely worth it. I can’t really say for the others on the tour though because a lot of people fell or went really slow down, breaking too much with their heals. Matt got rewarded with the best crash! He went rolling down the volcano after sliding down just a few feet. He doesn’t know how, but he lost control of the board and ended up getting all scratched up and hurting his leg. No serious injuries, so no worries. Here’s a picture of us in our orange suits after boarding down.

Loved it!

Waterfall Jumping in Tacuba, El Salvador

January 27, 2012
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We were in El Salvador for a short three days, but it was packed with excitement!

Despite the fact that I got food poisoning from the local food in Antigua, Gautemala, I still had the best time so far on the waterfall tour in Tacuba, El Salvador.  I loved hiking through the tress and hoping from rock to rock.

And especially jumping from the waterfalls – It was a huge adrenaline rush!

I hope Matt and I go on more tours like this soon.

The hostel we stayed at was Mama y Papa; the two of them were caring as ever, as well as the other people in the hostel. With me being sick and all, I was taken care of like I was part of the family. I thanked one guy that was staying there for helping me and he responded “No problem. That’s what were here for; to help each other”. I would’ve liked to stay there longer.

The border crossing into El Salvador was a piece of cake. As for crossing into Honduras earlier today, well, that was a little harder and way more time consuming. Since we still don’t have a license plate it makes crossing into different countries difficult. The only way we got into Honduras today was by paying a $20 bribe.  I doubt that will work when trying to get into Costa Rica. Guess we’ll just have to wait and find out.

Antique Guatemala

January 23, 2012
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Matt and I were in Antigua for three days.
Here are the things that I will remember:
The hostel- The Black Cat- it was a ton of fun, enjoyed the company of the people in our dorm (two Ausie girls and an American guy from North Dakota), loud American music at night, a nice bar, free breakfast, and only $8 USD a night.
Café No Sé- A unique place. The walls are covered with bizarre art and photographs, serving all kinds of tequila and mezcal (Guiness Book of World Records vouches for this), plus Gallo and Moza beer on tap, in three bars inside a long, shotgun-style building. The mezcal was intense.

Parque Central- The heart of the city. There were a few old buildings, a music festival, watched several live performances, a mime, two boys spinning fire http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpvP5p0kOKY , and I purchased super cheap and delicious typical Guatemalan food on the street.  I had a Tostada which is fried corn tortilla with guacamole and tomato sauce along with Atol de elote, being a sweet corn soup like consistency drink.

The roads- they were absolutely horrible at first, then slightly better as we got closer to Antigua.
The border- not having a license plate was a problem. I sat with five Guatemalan little boys who were trying to clean my shoes for a couple hours while Matt made a license plate out of paper and laminated it. Nice, isn’t it?
I hope crossing the border isn’t an issue tomorrow!