Posted on January 2, 2014
Before going on this trip, Nathaniel went to Costa Rica with a group of friends in July. This, unbeknownst to him, was the perfect time to go, it was low season.
Costa Rica is on most lists for Best Places to Retire Abroad, but these lists need to be updated as the time of cheap living has passed. Alex and I knew that it would be high-season, but were not prepared for how expensive everything would be.
We got a taste for it in San Jose, when every meal came with a 10% gratuity for staff and 13% tax, so every meal tag was instantly increased by 26%. Hamburgers at a local chain (much like a Mel’s) cost twenty dollars, which for our budgets was breaking the bank.
Getting into the tourist towns didn’t help at all. There are deals to be had at hostels, and we were able to find deals most places we went, but the food killed us at every turn. There is no real street food scene, so no relief there, and every meal ended up being as much, if not more, then it would cost in the US.After having been traveling in Central America for almost three months, it was a rude awakening to be jarred with this exorbitant price change. For anyone thinking of going to Costa Rica during the high season, DON’T!!! There are other countries that are just as safe, where the dollar will go so much farther. Costa Rica has gone beyond the means of the regular traveler as even a small bottle of Gatorade was $2.00 at local markets.
I may not seem that steep to others, but for people who are on a budget for six months, these differences in prices are not affordable. Be adventurous and pick a better spot, or go in the low-season to avoided being overcharged at every turn.
Once we crossed the border to Panama, the prices have eased, though we are looking forward to Columbia. After the boarder crossing (not the worst yet) we high-tailed it to Santiago. The middle between Panama Border and Panama City. Santiago is the Las Vegas of Panama, with several big Casinos and a lot of Love Hotels, the best being the “Beverly Hills Gardens”…Classic.
The next day it was back on the bikes, and off to Panama City. Had enough time to explore the Panama Canal and old town. For me, the Panama Canal is one of the places I remember learning about in history class in high school, and never thinking I would ever visit it. It is still impressive, even after 100 years.
We are staying in a hostel with all of the bikers getting on the boat tomorrow and enjoying our time recounting stories on the road. Tomorrow we head for the Caribbean coast and our ship for Columbia. A new year and a new continent is ours to explore, here is to more adventures to come!
Posted on December 25, 2013
As David would say four hours later “I wanted some adventure, but this may be too much.”
Posted on December 16, 2013
With only a few days left in Nicaragua, Alex and I were reviewing the timeline before we battled our way through another border and on into Costa Rica. We decided that we wanted to spend a half day in Granada before moving on to the border.
Granada is a lake town that sits on the edge of Lago Nicaragua, with views of Concepción Volcan in the distance. We would have pictures of all of this, but there was another unfortunate motorcycle hiccup. As we pulled the motorcycles into our hotel in Granada (Hotel Casa Barcelona, a hotel that promotes jobs for local women to become independent bread winners) Alex felt/heard a snapping sensation in her clutch cable, lo and behold we could see that of the nine or ten strands of cable, all but three had snapped.Plans for our restful day by the lake quickly dissolved into web-searches, youtube videos, and greasy fingers. After watching a video on how to remove the clutch cable, Alex stated to me “I think we can do this, without any tools”. Well one of those two statements turned out to be true.
Before I could protest, Alex was out of the hotel lobby and into the courtyard, borrowing a pair of pliers from the hotel handyman (Giovanni, he will be in the story later) and beginning to rip into the clutch lever. The only conversation we had on the subject, was whether we thought the bike could make it in its current state to the shop we are going to in Costa Rica. Upon further review we both decided it would be foolish to continue without some sort of repair.
In about thirty minutes we had dissembled the clutch lever and removed the clutch cable. Alex held it out to the two handymen that were working on staining a table in the courtyard where our bikes were. Giovanni came over to inspect the cable, and Alex asked where we might be able to obtain another one.
By now it was 4:00, and the main concern was that if we didn’t find a replacement, most of the shops would not be open on Sunday and it might mean a delay of several days to get it repaired. Giovanni said he knew of a shop and suddenly we were in his car racing through Granada.
It was at this time that the sky’s let loose the rain they has been threatening all day and monsoon style downpour drenched the tiny town as Alex and Giovanni sprinted into the shop. The full cable assemblies they had in stock were too short by only a couple of inches, so we ended up getting a long replacement cable to feed into the tubing of the original.
Back to the hotel we went, the rain went just as quickly as it came, and though the bikes were wet, it didn’t slow the installation. Giovanni provided a helping hand in getting the new cable threaded and hooking the clutch lever back up. Next we needed to attach it to the motor. Here we ran into some problems because the washer and bolt that came with the replacement cable were too big to fit into the housing on the motor.Giovanni pulled out a grinder and started shaping the nut to fit. A little bending to widen the housing, and we were able to get the nut into the system. A little adjustment at the lever, and it was good as new or at least jimmy-rigged enough to get us to Costa Rica. It wasn’t pretty, but it meant we could stay on schedule and get across the border. It took all the time we had in Granada to do it, however Alex’s faith in us being able to fix it was unwavering, she amazes me!
Also, as in Honduras, when we needed help, the right people seemed to show up. We are grateful that Giovanni was so willing to help two strangers and are still amazed at the kindness of strangers here in Central America.
The following day came early and it was time to see if the cable would hold and what the border had in store for us. The border crossing wasn’t the worst in terms of harassment, but was the most extensive in paperwork and general futility. All told it took five hours.
Nicaragua had the most amount of work to exit a country yet. Most countries are glad to let you go with a stamp and some well wishes as you become the next country’s problem. However, Nicaragua required we have an official (who is wandering around the immigration area) inspect the bikes, then we had to get a stamp from a second of official in a booth, before tracking down a police officer (who also is just wandering around) to sign our forms. It took two hours just to get all the paperwork filled out and signed just to exit Nicaragua. For comparison, exiting Honduras took all of twenty minutes.
Next it was on to Costa Rica. Instead of describing the whole procedure, we have drawn this diagram:
After five hours of border crossing hi jinks, which included the insurance agency typing Alex’s VIN wrong three times, we made it into the countryside and all the way to Liberia Canton for a victory dinner. Country number seven is ours for the taking, and we are off to San Jose for our appointment to have some much needed maintenance done to the bikes.
Posted on November 29, 2013
As mentioned before, we were rained on all the way to Cobán, which was a shame because the roads from Flores to Coban were amazing. We were still wet from the previous day as we suited up again and prepared for a rainy day all the way from Cobán to Antigua.
The day started foggy and cold. There was a running race going on in Cobán as we rode out of town we waved at runners of all ages struggling up the hills. Off into the mist and then sprinkling, I pulled up my soaked coat and gripped my handle bars readying myself for a long rainy day.
What had been dense green jungle the day before slowly gave way to pine crested mountains that reminded me of Alex and my earlier rides in the bay area, I almost expected to see Alice’s Restaurant around the next corner. We climbed and climbed the mountains, and as we crested the top the sun poked through the clouds.We didn’t get rained on at all that day, and our suits were almost dry by the time we got to Antigua. The only hitch in the day of riding was taking the long way and getting somewhat lost in Guatemala City. The short story on that is that a bus helper (in Latin America most buses have a driver and a helper who shouts out where the bus goes and collects the money as people get on) overheard us asking for directions and had us follow him till we got to the correct road and then we were off to Antigua.
In a valley surrounded by volcanoes lies a sleepy cobble stone strewed town full of colorful buildings and friendly people. Antigua has that hipster vibe one gets in San Francisco or Portland and backs it up with its artisanal coffee roasters, bike co-ops, and immersion language schools. Though there is a plethora of tourists that flock to this city, their presence doesn’t feel as oppressive as in Oaxaca, and wandering the streets one can still get a feeling for its inhabitants.
Antigua is surrounded by agriculture land that produces everything from coffee and cocoa to macadamia nuts. On a tour of the R. Dalton coffee farm we learned that to be able to get arabica plants to grow in the volcanic soil of Guatemala they have to graft the roots of the robusta plant onto them when they are two to three months old. Only this root system can withstand the soil and the bugs that live in it.
The coffee is picked, processed, and even roasted (when it isn’t being shipped raw) on site. The head of the wet mill, who decides when coffee is ready to move from water tanks to the drying floors (a costly mistake if he is wrong) has been working there for 45 years. Watching him work the beans on the drying floor, checking the water density of the husks, you saw an expert working in his element.
One of the other experiences worth mentioning was today, even though we weren’t in a home kitchen making Thanksgiving dinner, we did make it to a kitchen, to make chocolate. There is a museum of chocolate here, and we took a class to learn the history of chocolate and how it is made. The class was informative, and we made traditional Mayan drinking chocolate (spicy and slightly sweet), European Hot Chocolate (with milk and cardamom), and our own chocolate candies. Good option if you have kids or just a couple free hours in the city.
Posted on November 14, 2013
After waiting a day in Chetumal for the Banjercito to open, Monday morning came and the rain clouds cleared to reveal the humid boiling sun. We packed the gear, counted our remaining pesos, and fueled up at the last Pemex of the trip.
Chetumal ended up being closer to Belize than we thought, and it took us less than ten minutes to get to the border crossing (we might have been able to cross on Friday, but after all the paperwork I think we may have gotten stuck in limbo). With all the issues we had in La Paz we knew we had all the needed paperwork, but were still ready for some bureaucracy.
First stop was to turn in our FMM cards and get stamps out of Mexico (check). Next off to the Banjercito to get our deposits back and release the bikes from Mexico, we went to the wrong Banjercito first but found our way eventually (check). Next we had to get the bikes fumigated (what?!) and get insurance for Belize.
The office where you get your fumigation certificate is also where you can purchase insurance. However, by the time we got there we were running low on money and Alex had to make a run to an ATM while I hung out with the attendant. It was during this time that a heavy rain moved in, and I discovered that the first language of Belize is English. Once Alex got back, we got the insurance slips and were informed we didn’t need to be fumigated because of the rain (sweet!).
After this it was off to immigration at the Belize border to get the bikes and us into the country. It took some time (the officers were in no hurry to fill the paperwork out to get us processed), but there were no hiccups in getting it done. Once all the stamps had been pushed, I walked over to join Alex in Belize, only to have a middle-aged man approach us.
As we left the immigration office we were all smiles walking back to the bikes. As we packed our documents back into the bikes, I saw another bike pass by and head towards the border, but he was soon directed (as we had been) to the immigration parking lot. This is when we met, Thiago Berto who is driving from Alaska to Brazil (or maybe all the way to Argentina, he hasn’t decided). He flew from LA to Fairbanks, Alaska and found this motorcycle (which was driven years ago from Brazil to Alaska and then left by another Brazilian, which it why it has Brazilian plates) that he is now riding down the continent.
We exchanged stories, he questioned us about the process of getting across the border, we asked him where he was going. There is a respect that fellow travelers have for each other, and that camaraderie is only magnified when they are also motorcyclists. Bikers like Thiago make us feel less bad-ass as he was riding in just a light jacket, regular pants, boots and his stuff heaped on the back of the bike, but to each his own (I seem to fall a lot so my choice of gear seems fitting).
We wished him luck, readied our papers and made our way for the border crossing. The guard asked me if I was hot in my gear and I replied it was hot, but protective. He responded that that is true, but that falls don’t happened that often. My response? More often than you would think. And with that I was waved on.
We ran into Hector one more time after we crossed, he gave us some final directions (though there is only one real road in Belize) shook our hands and we were off.
About an hour down the road we hit the worst rain of the trip. It wasn’t just raining, it was pouring enough to work its was into our helmets and for me felt like pinpricks as the droplets hit my jacket. Knowing now that Belize is only 174 miles long, would have helped in that situation of knowing how far Belize City was, but we drove on, not worried about the gear getting wet because we knew we would have time to let it dry.
For a while, each time we broke through the black clouds and towards the blue sky the road would veer off back into the heart of the darkness. However, we finally blew past the storm and made our way to Belize City. It took a little while to find a place (Alex gets all the credit for finding the Palm Inn), but when we did and it was amazing. It had parking in the back behind high walls and under an overhang so we were out of the rain.
I will skip the details of Belize city (we were only really there a day and a half), but needless to say it isn’t the best city. It is mainly used as a stopping point for cruise ships and people heading to the Cayes (think of keys, but no bridges) and it shows. There aren’t many restaurants, and there is a hustle to the city that clearly denotes that a main portion of its income is derived from tourists.
Alex and I were happy to plan our escape to Caye Caulker the next day. We spent some time at the Belize Museum and walking around the city, but really we were just biding our time and the moment was coming to escape!