Thanks again to Jon for writing this update...
Ahhh the blog duties strike again. Guatemala was certainly a highlight, and Pete did a cracking job of documenting that experience. I’ve been lumbered with the rest of Central America, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles I guess. I just had a rummage through my wash bag looking for Imodium, no joy on that front, but I did find the 32mm socket we bought for adjusting the headsets next to my toothbrush, WTF is that doing in there?! In the words of Michael McHugh, that’s biking.
Have you ever participated in a shared budget? Well, on this trip old Foulkesy and I are living almost identical lifestyles, so it made sense to setup some kind of joint funds. Pete's Nationwide account seemed to give us the most preferable rates when withdrawing from an ATM, so that has become the card of choice. This certainly has its benefits when paying for fuel, hostels and rounds of drinks on a night out, but certain luxuries have caused some controversy. Hair products are a good example. A basic block of soap seems to be adequate for Proud Peter, whereas I am shamefully partial to a dash of shampoo and conditioner. Food is another one. Besides the classic Burger and Chips, Pete is generally happy with a seriously minimal ham and cheese sandwich. I rarely dare suggesting to add some kind of chutney or salad. Then there is drinking. If one of us doesn't feel up to a night out, then the other will still have free rein of the budget. This might sound tough for the light-weight staying in, but I guess it’s all swings and roundabouts! Life is simple on the bikes, so button up your helmet, switch off the intercom and keep drifting.
After our busy schedule in Guatemala we decided to make up some ground and ride quickly through Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, before reaching Panama, our final destination in Central America. How quickly you ride obviously depends on your talent, as Pete would later find out…..
On Sunday 14th October, day 176, we had another early start with Team BMW, BigDog and Marj. From Tikal in Guatemala we headed south-east towards Honduras, aiming to cross the border at Corinto. Upon arriving at the border it was very quiet, and once again we had timed it perfectly as the office swiftly shut for lunch. The long morning ride soon took it’s toll as we lay on the pavement, removed our sweaty boots, and shut our eyes for an hour or so.
After waiting for the office to re-open we had the usual struggle of getting countless photocopies of all our documents. It always amazes me how these offices, which require so many photocopies, don’t actually have a photocopier. Infuriating. I usually leave Pete to do the hard work using his Spanish skills, until I get called to sign the paperwork, much like our business will run in the future I guess.
Once finally in Honduras we decided to treat ourselves to an early finish, and found a nice place to stay on the beach.
A large group of girls, all English teachers living abroad, were also staying in the same hostel. It seemed to be Petes lucky night, as they led us to the nearest Burger joint for a spot of dinner. Team BMW also seemed happy with the choice of restaurant, and as usual “If Big Dog is happy, then we’re all happy”.
The following day we practically cleared Honduras, and on Tuesday 16th October we crossed into Nicaragua at Las Manos. That afternoon we rode to a small city called Granada, where Pete and I decided to spend a couple of nights at the Bearded Monkey. To be honest this hostel wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs; it felt more like a care home, with various old eccentric men voicing their obscene opinion about local women. Nevertheless, having worn the same pair of boxers 3 days running, our desperate laundry situation needed addressing, and the network speed was adequate for a new blog upload. Good times.
Team BMW had some agricultural business to attend to in Nicaragua, which funnily enough wasn’t related to their bikes. So on Thursday 18th October, Tough Miles hit the road alone and crossed into Costa Rica. After getting mugged off buying insurance from a small makeshift shack, mainly to keep my mum happy, we landed at the very back of a bus load of gringos. Despite a lengthy queue, this border crossing was fairly straight forward, and by late afternoon we successfully made it to Hostel Costa Rica. From the outside it looked more like a prison, but inside it was nicely kitted out with hammocks, a small bar and a tidy swimming pool!
After a couple of nights relaxing in Hostel Costa Rica, we decided to crack on towards Panama city. I think it’s fair to say that recently we have been pushing our luck slightly, and after countless days of riding in all weather conditions our growing confidence led to an inevitable accident. Despite numerous slow speed off-road falls, and various clumsy drops, neither Pete nor I had ever had a road-crash.
It was a crazy morning as we rode towards the border of Panama. Not long after getting out of San Jose I had a big moment coming into a tight right-hander. The road surface was rougher than I expected, and I felt like I was carrying to much speed. After spotting a large run-off area on the outside of the bend, I made a late decision to bail out of the turn, pick the bike up, and cut across oncoming traffic. It was a near miss, and Pete was shocked as he watched from behind. I wasn’t really shaken, but grateful to have found enough space to recover.
Shortly after my first incident, I found my heart in my mouth again as I almost lost the front end on another tight right-hander. This time the road surface was smooth and damp, and a patch of oil almost caught me out. Pete was following, and during this ride we were not connected via the intercom. There was nothing I could do but watch in my mirrors to see if Pete would make it around the corner safely. Despite knowing he would inevitably encounter the same slippery patch, I was shocked as he came into view, sliding across the road with his bike on its side. Thankfully there was no oncoming traffic, and a large bush on the verge of the bend brought him gently to a halt.
Pete was bruised and shaken, but luckily he was straight back on his feet with no serious injuries. After dragging the bike out of the foliage we took a few minutes to check it over. Besides a slight tear in the RHS Wolfman, and a few more scratches on the Safari tank, the bike looked fine. The Barkbusters once again saving the levers from any damage wahtsoever. It doesn’t bare thinking about the ‘what-ifs’. This incident could have easily had catastrophic consequences had there been any oncoming traffic, or if the side of the road was lined with a metal armco barrier, or even worse a cliff drop. We both thanked our lucky stars and agreed to take it easy from there on.
In the afternoon we fumbled our way through our last Central America border crossing. Unsurprisingly the printed paperwork for entering Panama was a shambles, with numerous errors for our motorcycle VIN numbers, reg plates and nationalities etc.
We went back to express our concerns, at which point the ‘border official’ just laughed and adjusted the mistakes by hand. Despite not being entirely happy with the hand-written corrections, we decided we had wasted enough time and effort on the endless paperwork, and thus continued our journey into Panama. That evening we stayed at the Purple House Hostel in a small city called David. Before we could even get our boots off the lady running the hostel was banging on about all the house rules. To say she was intense is an understatement, and all we could think about was getting that first beer in to celebrate Pete and his bike still being alive after his first proper crash.
On Sunday 21st October we left the Purple House Hostel in David and rode to Panama city. Having a 6-pack of beers left from the previous evening, I decided to strap them on top of my luggage.
Little did I know there would be a strong police presence during this ride, and that we would be pulled over twice for speeding! Amazingly on both occasions the police officer wrote out the ticket, had a look around the bikes and then proceeded to say “I have to give you this ticket as this is my job, but if you are leaving Panama then don’t bother paying it”. At least this is how Pete translated what he was trying to say, and who was I to argue. The first copper even spotted the 6-pack of beers strapped to the bike. He looked at me and shook his head, but I quickly explained that they were only in case of an emergency. He laughed and waved us on our way.
In Panama city we stayed at a belter of a hostel called Lunas Castle. This is a huge colonial mansion, hosting an inside table tennis table, conveniently placed next to a fridge full of beer, and an on-sight bar which is popular with the young Panamanians. It also has a huge basement movie house and a cracking group of staff.
The outside courtyard is surrounded by flats, which seem to have a great community spirit and a bad-ass ghetto sound system. All of this meant we found little reason to venture much further than the local Pizza house on the corner of the street, but we sure had an excellent time relaxing off the bikes. Also, during our stay in Panama the government threatened to sell land in the duty-free zone of Colon, which subsequently led to heavy handed violent protests, which was a good excuse for staying inside the hostel!
Oh, actually we did manage one tourist attraction….a visit to the Panama Canal. This happens to be in the middle of nowhere, so one has to be careful not to get mugged off by the ruthless taxi drivers. Upon arrival our driver tried to double the price. We said no chance, to which he surprisingly replied in English “get the f*ck out of my car”. Nice, what a jerk. The canal itself was interesting to see; it’s a huge engineering feat and a massive money maker, with some of the huge cargo ships paying up to something like $375,000 to pass through. I was amazed at how many tourists go to visit the canal. Hundreds of people using their phones to record a ship travelling through the locks, must make a fantastic video to show friends and family, errr yeah. Personally I think a photo is more appropriate.
At this stage I’m sure everyone reading this is wondering “How did they get from Panama to Colombia?”. Well that’s a good question. The Darien Gap, although measuring approximately only 30miles wide, is a large swarth of undeveloped swampland and forest, with no apparent roads or tracks to connect Central America with South America. To make matters worse, the area is populated with groups of guerillas involved with drug trafficking, who are known to have committed countless assassinations, kidnappings and human rights violations. Needless to say on this trip we did not attempt to ride across the gap. Our options were to either get a boat or fly. After hearing many horror stories regarding stupidly drunk captains and long delays out at sea, we decided to go for the more expensive, but quick and reliable option of flying ourselves and the bikes from Panama to Bogota. This process cost $900 per bike, plus our own tickets. It could potentially buy us weeks in South America, so we deemed it acceptable value. After all, as Pete says “You can’t put a price on finding a Colombian Princess”.
Struggling to communicate with ‘Girag’ over the phone, on Wednesday 24th October we decided to ride to the airport and find their office. Much to our surprise, upon arrival they explained there was a flight leaving tomorrow. At this point we raced back to the hostel, loaded the bikes with our luggage and shot back to the airport, making it to the customs office just in time to get an exit stamp. Despite being in a frantic rush, the customs lady insisted on telling us how beautiful SHE was. “Look at my beautiful dark skin, very very nice, and my beautiful dark eyes, very very nice”. I think she wanted to join us for the rest of the trip, and I began to worry that Pete was weighing up the possibility. As soon as we could we bolted to the Girag office, emptied the fuel and disconnected the batteries, the bikes were ready to go!
It’s always a strange discomforting feeling leaving your bike in the hands of some strangers. At least it’s not an expensive shiny BMW. The DRz can take a drop or two, so we can only hope to see them in one piece on the other side.
The following day we found out that due to the demonstrations in Panama the flight had not left. We started worrying how long this delay might be. Thankfully on Friday 26th October we received good news, the bikes had landed in Bogota. With this now sorted we decided to stay in Lunas Castle for one last ‘Halloween’ blow-out, before heading to the airport to catch a flight to Colombia.
On Saturday 27th October we caught a taxi to the airport, hoping to bag a bargain last minute flight. Not sure we got ‘deal of the century’, but we managed to get 2 seats on the next available flight, leaving us with a mere 3 hour wait at the airport. Just enough time to sink a bucket of fried chicken. Dreams.