Costa Rica

Costa Rica & Panama

The winds are howling and we battle the gusts all the way to Playa Tama-gringo Tamarindo. At one point we pass an 18 wheeler that has been blown over on the road. And I thought we had it rough… By late afternoon we arrive to our beach front homestead. Charles’ second mother, Ginny, house swapped a few months for this beautiful place with her house in Aspen, Colorado. Massive amounts of snow or beautiful tropical beaches… I think she made the right decision. Ginny and Rodney made us feel right at home and even cooked up a delicious mahi-mahi dinner for us! Here’s the view from the backyard.

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Tamarindo was once a small fishing village but has blossomed into tourist hub. This horseshoe cove is still a beautiful piece of the world, and the restaurant, Nogui’s, has delicious pie. mmmmmm. The beach house came fully equipped with boogie boards and we put them to good use in the waves right in front of the house. Charles also went off the coast of Playa Flamingo for a 2 tank scuba dive. He encountered lots of eels and stingrays – how beautiful that must be. We said goodbye to our friends and hit the road. Thanks, Ginny!!!

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Starting off with about 15 miles of dirt road we cruised around the bay and back towards the main land. A downed power line smacked Charles’ windshield and nearly decapitated me. Good stuff. By late afternoon we passed through San Jose and decided to press on until sunset. We had hopes of catching a boat in Panama in 2 days so unfortunately we’re flying through Costa Rica. After San Jose the the elevation climbed until we round ourselves, again, riding at night. Soon after the sun set the rain started to fall. Because we’d gained altitude the temps dropped too. Cold and wet we were desperate for a hotel and finally found some little cottages down a dirt road somewhere in the middle of nowhere. We pulled the bikes right in and called it a night.

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Early the next morning we set off for the border. We continued to climb to about 11,000 feet, the highest elevation of the trip so far! Riding through the clouds with poor visibility and steady rain we pressed on. As we begin to descend, the rain stopped, the clouds disappeared and the beautiful Costa Rican countryside shined through.

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I’m sad to be leaving Costa Rica so early but we must press on. Besides, it’s so close to home and I’ll be sure to come back again :)

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Riding swiftly we arrived at the Panama border by midday. Leaving Costa Rica and entering Panama was refreshingly simple. We tried to convince the Panamanian officials that our US insurance cards were valid in Panama. They weren’t having it and required us to purchase the $14 insurance. Their currency is the US dollar so it made for easy math as compared to Costa Rica. The Costa Rican currency exchange rate is something like 568 Colones to 1 USD…

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Wooo Hoo! Panama!!! All afternoon I’m screaming Van Halen’s “Panama” through my helmet. The country side was beautiful as we rode up to the mountain town of Boquete. We enjoyed this valley surrounded by finca plantations. They were having a flower festival that week. This means there was one small garden and about 9823749838 speakers blasting music all night. With rumors of a boat leaving in the next two days we made a break for Panama City. Before leaving town we explored the the mountains and popped into a coffee farm. Here they are drying the beans in the front parking lot.

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By late afternoon we came into Panama City. Of course we got lost quickly but we found so many friendly and helpful people to help us find our way. Three military guys saw us looking lost and they ended up telling some car driver to show us the way into the city. It didn’t take long to get lost again and so we paid a taxi driver $2 to show us to the  hostel. Good thing we did because the sun had gone down and there was no way we would have figured it out on our own. The hostel only had one bed left. Charles took the bed and I convinced them to let me sleep on the balcony. I prefer to think of it as a secure private room with a gentle breeze and a city view.

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At the hostel we met Andy, an Australian who has been riding north from Ushuaia. In Colombia, he and his riding partner built a boat out of their KLRs and motored up the coast. Ya, it sounds crazy. It is crazy… but it’s damn cool and it makes me think about how lame I am looking for a sailboat to take me across the Darien Gap. Unfortunately, their bikes got trashed in the salt water. He’s been stuck at the hostel for a few weeks working on his bike and hopes to continue riding north to Alaska. Andy’s making a video of his journey. Be sure to check in on his website, Four Strokes Of Luck  in the future.

Hostel Mamallena helps travelers hook up with captains to sail around the Darien Gap. Unfortunately, the boat we had hoped to jump on was full… We began to think about our options

  1. Wait around for a week  until another boat departs. A loss on time but at least we’d be able to explore more of Panama.
  2. Ride up to the sketchy city of Colon and hang out on the docks and ask every boat we see for a ride to Colombia. Even if we did find a boat how sanitary/safe /enjoyable would it be?
  3. Fly the bikes (and ourselves). COPA does this but we called and they aren’t shipping Cargo for another few months. Girag does this service but it’s about $900 for the bike and another $300 for the person. YIKES!

The night went on and the hostel manager tells us that the captain has kicked two people off of the boat (for reasons unknown) and he now has space for us and our bikes. SOLD! We’re going to sail through the San Blas islands and into Colombia!

Categories: Costa Rica, Panama | 4 Comments

Border Crossing: Nicaragua – Costa Rica

The concept of crossing a border is rather simple. The process consists of 4 steps:

  1. Check yourself out of the country
  2. Check your bike out of the country
  3. Check yourself into the new country
  4. Check your bike into the new country

In practice, it’s never quite this simple. Most of our border crossing have been relatively straight forward though. However, it takes us 4.5 hours to get out of Nicaragua and into Costa Rica…

Step 1: Check yourself out of Nicaragua

Before we can even begin this process we’re told me have to each pay $1 USD for some random fee. Everyone is paying it so we do the same. We get a ticket with stamp (they love stamps down here). Now to find the immigration office. There’s a building 200 meters away that has lines that seem just as long. We get in line and pay some lady walking around with a pad of forms 5 Cordoba ($0.25 USD) for an exit form. We wait in line for an hour before we arrive at the window. After answering a few questions – where are you from, where are you going – we get an exit stamp in our passport along with an exit ticket.

Step 2: Check your bike out of Nicaragua

We’re told we need to get a stamp from a customs official. We do this and ride towards the gate. They won’t let us through because we need more stamps or something. We ride back to the entrance gate and we’re told we have all we need and we can leave the country. We go back to the exit gate and tell them the guard said we’re good to go. They don’t agree and now we’re getting frustrated. We’re told we need to go find a police officer to sign our exit ticket. The guard tells us to talk with a helper. No way! So we walk around for 10 minutes trying to find the police man. Finally we located him and he signs our ticket. Back to the exit gate. They want more stamps. UUUGGGGGHHHH!!! Some friendly kid about 10 years old takes pity on us and tells us which unmarked building to go to. He’s nice and doesn’t even ask for money (I had no small currency, otherwise I would have given him a few cents). We wait in the line at the building for 15 minutes and hand the papers to the girl at the desk. She completes it and then puts it into a pile for the police officer to sign when he returns (if he ever does…). I tell her that I already have his signature but my pleas fall on deaf ears. Another 15 minutes later the policeman comes back, signs and stamps the papers, and we head back to the exit gate. FINALLY we’re out of Nicaragua after 2 hours! Here’s both sides of the ticket with countless illegible signatures and stamps.

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Step 3: Check yourself into Costa Rica

Drive into Costa Rica (no signs stating that we’re in Costa Rica). Some guys wave us over and tell us we need to be “fumigated” for $3USD. They spray our tires for 3 seconds with a splash of water – a lot of good that did… We don’t really want to pay so we drive forward and the policemen wave us on. No looking back now. A little bit down the road and we see the line for entry into Costa Rica. It too is about 200 meters long. Charles goes to by some lunch and I hold our spot in line. An hour later we make it to the window. The organization in the office doesn’t make any sense (but I won’t go into that…). We get our stamps and we leave the sauna office.

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Step 4: Check your bike into Costa Rica

Across the dirt path we find the Aduana (customs) office/shack. We hand our paperwork over and he tells us we need insurance. We show our USA cards and tell him it’s valid. He doesn’t care and won’t process our paperwork until we purchase the $14 USD insurance. Back across into another building we purchase the insurance. Again, back across to the Aduana building and he completes the paperwork but tells us we need to drive further down for more paperwork. Huh? We move on and Charles spots some random unmarked building. We drive up and look confused but some guys tells us to park and go to the window. After 10 minutes waiting in line the lady takes our papers and basically types everything into the computer. The first guy didn’t have a computer so he wrote it all out on paper. Now this lady types it into the computer? Efficient… I see that I’m not the first to think this and there’s scribble on the wall at the window.

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So, after 4.5 hours we’re out of Nicaragua and into Costa Rica!

Categories: Costa Rica, Nicaragua | 3 Comments

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