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Old 10-10-2011, 03:18 PM   #136
EvanADV
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if you guys need a place to stay near Chinandega, we have a mission out in Chichigalpa. We'd love for you to stop in and see what we do. PM me for info if interested.
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NC to Maine for Lobster Dinner

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Old 10-10-2011, 03:23 PM   #137
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Ni.ca.moto adventure

Salcar is amazing. Absolutely amazing. That kindhearted inmate was generous enough to share his house with us while he was traveling for work. Part of what he does in Managua is run a motorcycle rental operation and tour service, NI.CA.MOTO ADVENTURE. If you or anyone you know is interested, I would highly recommend going through Salvador. See his website for more info: http://www.nicamotoadv.com/

The accomodations at salcar's place are top notch, and his directions steered us directly to his house, after a beautiful drive over from León.


(entryway to our space at Salvador's house)



The drive was made even more interesting by a parade happening just outside of Ciudad Sandino, shutting the Panamerican down at a small town. A short cut attempt ensued.


(what the PanAmerican highway looked like for us on the way into Managua)


(luckily we followed a couple of vehicles for most of it, and then asked a farmer how to get out of that back road. He didn't give hints out to everyone, because most people turned around. But he told us about this little path through his field to meet back up to the highway. We were also quite happy that he never unslung his rifle.)

It was nice to have a place that felt like home for our couple of days in Managua. Thanks again, Salvador!


(Mike and Sergio with the TA in Managua)
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Old 10-11-2011, 01:24 PM   #138
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Potters for Peace

If you have traveled or plan to travel through developing countries, and even if you haven't, you may be interested in this post. But just so you know, this has absolutely nothing to do with motorcycling. Take it or leave it...


One of our primary purposes for staying in Managua was to visit with Robert Pillers of Potters for Peace and to tour their filter factory located in San Marcos. Mike's master's thesis was related to ceramic pot filters. He studied the effects of water quality on the nano-silver coating applied to ceramic water filters. During his studies, Mike had the opportunity work with Robert Pillers while compiling a Best Practices document for manufacturing ceramic pot filters. It was an honor to meet Robert in person and tour the Filtron production facilities.

Clean Drinking Water & Ceramic Pot Filters
Nearly 1 BILLION people on earth are estimated to lack access to clean drinking water, and that number is often considered to be a low estimate (particularly because numbers reported by development agencies are often inflated to show that they are accomplishing what they set out to do, and to keep their channels of funding open). Water borne diseases are directly responsible for over 3 million deaths per year, with children under 5 years old accounting for the largest majority of those deaths. In fact, nearly 1 in 5 child deaths worldwide is due to diarrhea. An illness that is little more than an inconvenience for most of us reading this blog is life threatening for those lacking the knowledge and resources to combat it. While health effects are a strong justification for improving water (as well as sanitation and hygiene) conditions where needed, there are also substantial economic gains when those interventions are successful and sustained (that's the hard part). Further than that, there can be a huge improvement in the overall well-being of the individuals within that community. That change is worth a lot, but not easily measured.

There are effective and inexpensive technologies to improve access to clean drinking water, including interventions at the household level (see this report for more details). These technologies include boiling, chlorination (using readily available bleach), solar disinfection, biosand filtration, and porous ceramic filtration, among others.

One popular type of filter is the ceramic pot filter. There are currently over 30 factories in 18 countries producing ceramic water filters, all targeting a cost to the end user of US$ 10-20. Potters for Peace has been promoting the production of ceramic pot filters since 1998 after responding to a dire need in Nicaragua for effective and inexpensive water treatment products in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch.

The operation of the filter is simple: remove the lid, pour water into the ceramic filter element, then allow water to trickle through the filter element down into the receptacle (in this case the clean bucket) and out through the spigot.



(picture of actual ceramic pot filter resting on receptacle with spigot as well as schematic of recently filled filter, with water beginning to pass through the filter element shown in brown)


To produce these filters, dry clay is mixed with an organic material like sawdust at a controlled ratio...


(Robert and Jill in front of the raw materials storage)

...then mixed with water to make the clay workable, so that it may be pressed into shape...




(Mike pulling the jack under the molds to press the filter)


(kicking the jack out after pressing)




(Mike's first pressed filter)

...after being pressed, the wrinkles from the plastic bags are smoothed and the wet filter is inspected for obvious defects before it is allowed to dry.


(smoothing)


(inspecting)

Once dried, the filters are loaded into a kiln to be fired into the final ceramic product. The temperature during the firing process is carefully controlled up to its peak temperature of around 850 degrees C (1560 degrees F) to drive off the remaining water and to burn off the organic material (sawdust), leaving behind little tiny pores that will filter the water.


(6 kilns capable of firing 50 filters each)




(some of the insulation on the door was blasted off during the firing process, so some kiln design changes are underway)


(it takes about 1.5 carts this size of wood per firing)


(kiln during firing)

Final quality testing is performed on the filters before a colloidal solution of nanoparticle silver is applied to the entire surface of each filter.


(flow rate testing to make sure each filter qualifies)


(discard pile of rejected filters)

There is a lot of good information regarding ceramic water filters on the interwebs, including the Potters for Peace filter page (see links at right), RDI-C, IDE, Thirst-Aid, and other general appropriate technology websites. For more general water and sanitation facts, check out the water.org website.

We joined Robert for a marvelous dulce de leche milkshake at a biker friendly cafe to round out the afternoon.

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csustewy screwed with this post 10-11-2011 at 01:34 PM
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Old 10-17-2011, 09:22 PM   #139
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Sure am enjoying your report!

So glad that you chose to update your report. I also like your side diversions into explaining various projects that interest you. Very interested in how this all ends. Please keep going...

Dave
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Old 10-30-2011, 04:44 PM   #140
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Party Time in a Surf Town

(NOTE: If you want to keep the ride report sequence in order, please read the next post, That River Isn´t a Road, first. We screwed up and got them out of order.)

Pulling into San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua on a holiday weekend ruled out many of the hostels and hospedajes. We finally found one on the main street just 1/2 block from the water that seemed fine, and cost US$20 a night (no A/C, just fan, but private bathroom). Bike parking was going to be a hassle, though, with cars parked directly in front of the entrance. So we left the bike out front and went wandering for dinner and a few beers. The town was packed with partyers, but some of the smaller restaurants and bars were reasonable (at around US$1.50 per beer).

All the festivities got to us, which had at least 2 detrimental effects. First of all, the next day was a little slow going (but we were at the beach, so that was fitting). Secondly, we were in no condition to pull the bike into the hostel that night, and we did not remove the engine guard bags, so some revelers were kind enough to empty the contents of one of them for us. Thankfully, we only lost a spare tube, our patch kit, a couple sets of nylon webbing and straps, and a small pair of pliers. And we really could have prevented that, so we can only blame ourselves.

Even with that happening, San Juan del Sur still ranked high on our list of places. We would return in a heartbeat! The town relaxed a little bit after that first night, so wasn't an obnoxious party the whole time we were there. There is a lot of good food options at a range of prices. The beach at San Juan del Sur is incredibly perfect for swimming- it gets used but wasn't overly crowded, the sand is nice, water is warm, and no crazy currents.

From Blog photos





The following day we rode the bike over to Playa Maderas, a low key surfing beach. Mike took an hour surfing lesson and managed alright (standing up and controlling the long board the majority of the time, but only when provided with a shove from the instructor...not once was he able to paddle and catch the wave on his own...he's lazy), but we didn't bring the camera so no evidence. That area was nice, though not very good for swimming (between the rocks and the surfers, it could be a painful experience). Playa Maderas felt rather safe. I still wouldn't bring any extra valuables, but neither would I worry about it that much. Everything we've heard about the beaches south of San Juan del Sur is that they have a bit of a problem with ratones ("rats" = thieves).

Mike also managed to explode his flip flops while walking in town. A surftown is not too bad of a place to have that happen. There were a couple of surfshops with "nice" flip flops (Reefs again, what just broke, at US$40-60 didn't sound that enticing), and plenty of options for under US$20. Some new squishy sandals are now Mike's go-to shoes.

After our 3rd night in San Juan del Sur, we were ready to head on to a Costa Rican beach for an international comparison.
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Old 10-30-2011, 04:52 PM   #141
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That River Isn´t a Road

On our way out of Managua towards Masaya, we passed the Harley Davidson shop. It was closed for Independence Day (Sept 15), so it made for a real fast stop.



We planned on grabbing lunch in Masaya, which turned out to be a pollo asado with some rather inebriated customers. One of them continued to offer us a ride in his taxi that was parked out front. This guy should not have attempted to stand up, let alone to drive a vehicle. Thankfully we had our own mode of transportation and headed on towards the beach.

We arrived in La Boquita, where there was a military checkpoint. They let us know that we were not going to be able to make it down the coastal road to San Juan del Sur, but were joking and laughing the whole time. Losing some in the translation (were they joking about the road conditions, or just out of delirium from standing in the hot sun in black uniforms?), we took off that direction. Although the towns of La Boquita and Casares are tiny, we still managed to not find the road out of those towns until we asked at least 3 people in each.



Finally, following an SUV towards Veracruz and Las Delicias, we were making progress! Until the SUV decided to turn around randomly. Once they cleared the way, we figured out why. The little road dropped down to the sand of the beach, and was supposed to continue along the coast (well, at least according to our map). All we could see was a river running pretty quick, with no tracks exiting the other side. Rainy season. We turned back too.


(we are standing on the road to take this picture. We have one looking straight across the water at the non-existent road on the other side, but it didn´t upload correctly. This image at least gives you some idea)

We returned to a sweet little camping spot just outside of Huehuete that cost 50 colones for the night. Luckily, our neighbors at the campground brought along the kitchen sink. They were a group of 15 people who had set up a little village complete with tents, awnings, hammocks, coolers, grills, some ant killing pesticide, beers, food. Generally, Jill and I would have been most happy with them offering us beer and/or food. Turns out we were ecstatic when they lent us their ant killing pesticide because those suckers were fierce!



The beach was beautiful, and super mellow (probably because it´s at the end of a road at this time of year)



We hoped to spend the afternoon crusing around the volcano island in the middle of Lago de Nicaragua, but opted out once we realized how expensive it was. The ferry would have cost us over US$20 to get us and the bike over and back, pretty expensive for just a couple of hours of wandering around. Hotels in the area were US$25 and up. I'm sure it's sweet and all, but for the amount of time we wanted to dedicate to it, it just wasn't worth it.


(Ometepe is the dual volcano island that can be accessed from Rivas/San Jose. This view, taken from the PanAmerican outside of Rivas, is about the only salient feature of riding along the highway)

About as we were ready to take off, we ran into a fella riding solo on his KLR from Kentucky. In classic KLR style, he had duffel bags and backpacks precariously lashed and bungeed all around him. Sadly, we missed the chance to meet up with him over on Ometepe. We dropped in the gas station to add some more battery acid, drink some caffeine (fittingly, an energy drink called Battery), and then smooth sailing down the main road to San Juan del Sur.
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Old 10-30-2011, 04:57 PM   #142
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How to turn a beach into Disneyland-for-adults

The Panamerican got us to the Peñas Blancas border crossing to Costa Rica very quickly, where we were very quickly assaulted by a swarm of border helpers vying for a few bucks. We kept riding slowly past them, hoping to see someone in uniform to ask where to find customs and migration offices. Just then, we ran into another couple of BMW´s going through the crossing at the same time, which helped us keep one person watching the bikes at all times. Due to lucky timing of the arrival of an RV pulling a dune buggy, the helpers left us alone pretty quick.

Checking out of Nicaragua was easy once we figured out the process. Important steps include:
  1. having an aduana official inspect the VIN and import paper, and then sign the import paper. All of the aduana officials wear the same polo shirt with logo. We had this done twice - once where all the helpers were entering the border zone and once in the parking lot for customs and migration - but unless you`re into overkill, or have started to appreciate the Latin American fact that more signatures and more stamps = better, then just one inspection will do.
  2. After that signature, you have to find a police(wo)man to stamp the import permit. We found them at the tables under the awning beside the migración building. There is also a bank there (unsure if ATM) and plenty of money changers.
  3. Finally you walk to the Aduana office to have them cancel the import permit. You have to hand over the canceled permit at the gate leaving Nicaragua, so we made a copy for our records (and in case it was necessary in CR).
  4. Drive through the gate. Done
Checking into Costa Rica could have been much faster had we stopped at the insurance shack between the fumigation and the aduana and migración buildings for Costa Rica.


(fumigation at the border)

For anyone crossing here, after going through fumigation, keep your eyes to the left hand side of the road. About half way between the fumigation and the CR official buildings (probably a couple hundred meters past fumigation), there is an obscure, single story white building, with no signage. That´s where you need to buy insurance. (I know a picture would really help for this one, but didn´t have the camera on me when I went back to it. If you´re looking for it, you´ll see it.) Do it on the way past. Insurance is relatively cheap at US$14 for 3 months and you will definitely need it before you can import the bike. You will also need copies. They will do that next door. But they won´t let you in. They will grab your papers, shut the door, lock it, then return to hand them to you later.

Once to the bigger buildings, head in to the AIR CONDITIONED migración office, glass doors next to the cafe. (You will want to stay in there longer for the A/C than it takes them to process your passport.) Then walk across the small parking lot to the aduana booth. With the insurance in hand, they will start your import permit relatively quickly.

While Mike was standing at the booth handling the paperwork, Jill and the guy traveling on the BMW were getting yelled at by a hoarde of angry bus passengers. Apparently that group of passengers was very used to setting their luggage on the bench that Jill was sitting on, and couldn´t have it any other way. After the crowd got so excited, the bus driver, and then even the security guard came over. They also yelled at Jill and the other guy, telling them that they must move. Who knew that Costa Ricans would be so particular?

Finally, you have to get that initial form processed at the aduana office which is in the far back corner of one of the warehouse buildings. You can get there by turning right into where all the semis are parked, and working left to the far back corner (it will feel like you shouldn´t be going that way). Alternatively, you can stay straight on the highway, but stop by the covered pedestrian bridge on the right. Walk across it directly into the office. They will print off the final import document, and give a slip of paper smaller than a business card that you are supposed to hand to the guard at the gate down the road. I managed to lose my slip of paper between the office and the gate. Thankfully we didn´t have to repeat any of the process... All in all it took about 2.5 hours.

Just before going to the final aduana office, the fellow with the RV and dune buggy had pulled up with his border helper. Mike tried to help them by translating a few details that they were struggling through between the South Carolinean, the border helper, and the customs official. The best part about the exchange was that the guy from S Carolina affectionately called his towed dune buggy "la Cucaracha", no matter who he was talking to. Everytime he said it, the officials and his helper cracked up and snickered. Without fail. It killed. The worst part about the exchange is that they were not letting him import 2 vehicles simultaneously into Costa Rica. He said that others had done it and written about it online. The only way the officials said it was possible was if you claimed one of the vehicles wasn´t running. Sadly, he had already told the official that la Cucuracha runs great. We even considered having Jill drive it across, but then the import papers would have to be in her name and that wouldn´t have helped anybody. Hopefully he eventually made it past the border with both his hotel and his local transportation.

We continued down the Interamericana (what many Central American countries call the Panamerican) to Liberia amid a torrential rain storm. Water was standing on the highway, visibility was fairly low, and oncoming traffic would splash water all over us. Mike decided that not putting on the waterproof liners was a good idea. It turns out Mike´s idea was not a good one. And he had learned this before. Those splashes of water do a wonderful job of filling our left boots up with water. Thankfully at the edge of Liberia there was a nice looking Mexican restaurant where we could eat on the patio. We stripped our boots and socks off and left some standing water on the patio (we apologized, and tried to keep it to the garden area, but didn´t quite succeed, so we apologized again). Lunch was fantastic, though, and the proprietor told us about Playa de Coco, the closest good beach, about 45 minutes away.

We headed towards the coast on the edge of the storm, even though it felt a bit like a monsoon at times. But all the lightning stayed in the hills beside us, and we broke free from the rains just off the coast. Pulling into Playa de Coco, we noticed a lot of nice cars, a big and nice supermarket, and then a strip of bars, restaurants and clubs that looked like Jimmy Buffet had just opened up his version of Disneyland. The beach didn´t even look that sweet right there.

So we backtracked a bit and headed towards Playa Hermosa. On the way in, we passed nothing but expensive land for sale, a couple of high rise luxury condo complexes and a supermarket that was more expensive than any we´ve come across yet.


(Playa Hermosa)

But we found a great little hostel for US$6 per person just off the beach. The owners were extremely nice and helpful. The 2 dorm rooms with 4 beds each were small but clean, the main area of the house included living area and kitchen were open air and very comfortable. The proximity to the beach was a plus, but the howler monkeys that travel through the property were our favorite.



(Howler monkey in the tree at Congo´s)

Within our first few hours of being in Costa Rica, we knew it was expensive. It´s more expensive than many places in the US. We tried to keep costs down by only cooking at the hostel. But one day we splurged and got a bite to eat on the beach. You can tell the vendor was happy about our decision.


(Pissed of lady that sold us a meat stick at the beach in Playa Hermosa)

After talking with the owners of Congo´s about our travel through Costa Rica, we decided to go turtle watching at Ostional. We would be there on a perfect week to see the leatherbacks coming to shore to lay their eggs. And the old coastal road they described to get down past Tamarindo sounded like fun. It was fun, it was an adventure, but we never saw any turtles...
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Old 10-30-2011, 05:53 PM   #143
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TA Troubles in Costa Rica

The dirt road towards Ostional took us through some very small towns along the Monkey Trail, and required a few unmarked turns (as well as associated U-turns). Mike was excited to take the ride, having never crossed any rivers on a bike before. He must´ve done something right, because each time the rubber side stayed down. (It also helped that the rivers were knee deep and weren´t flowing too fast.)



(Mike looking at the his first river crossing on the way to Ostional)


(driving through river #1)


(most of the drive was well packed surface through lots of trees, hills, turns)




(this stream was just a puddle, but I swear it looked deeper than that!)


(River #2 was deeper than that)

Stopping on a beach for a break outside of Tamarindo, an Argentine guy named Diego on a 1990 Yamaha Ténéré dropped by to say hi and complement the TA. Those beautiful old school dual sport machines were admired for a minute, but then the conversation about his travels and ours prevented us from getting a picture. Maybe next time we run into him...


Heading down the road, the TA started to cough a bit, especially when engine braking down hills. Eventually, she dropped to just one cylinder. Mike figured it was a faulty CDI but wanted to limp to a house, town, or place before digging into it. Instead, we coasted to a stop when both cylinders failed in front of a wonderful old couple´s house who lived right outside of Lagarto (S of Tamarindo, near Junquillal).


(view of the house we stopped in front of)

Lagarto is on our map, but maybe needn't be. It is a collection of about 60 people along the one dirt road, has one bar (that could strangely fit all 60 people into it at once), no food options, and the sight to see is one extremely large anchor that they pulled out of the ocean.

So no motorcycle help there. And Mike was out of options. Fuel was arriving, air filter was dry. After trying the spare CDI in both cylinders, neither showed a spark with a plug pulled. Thanks to that thieving in San Juan del Sur, we were without even a 12 V probe light, so electrical testing options were none.


(tent set up in the yard of the house we broke down in front of)

But the couple let us camp in their yard, and spent about 30 minutes that night calling everyone they could think of with a truck to get us back out to Santa Cruz, where they knew of a good mechanic. They found a guy who was really nice, came right when he said he would the next morning at 7am and got us there. It cost us US$50, which is not cheap, but not outrageous either.


(loading the bike onto the truck)


(our hosts at right, helping out yet again)

The mechanic in Santa Cruz found the fault - turns out it was that new aftermarket CDI ignition module that I swapped out for the still good original. It not only went bad, but managed to screw up the entire circuit it is connected to. The mechanic patched a hot wire to give power to the good CDI modules, and she fired right up!


(working on the bike at the shop in Santa Cruz)

So we made it to San Jose on the TA, which was much more fun than in a truck. Well, kind of....we got stopped by police for a US$30 shake down. They had a trap set up on the other side of this bridge:



Granted, I was passing along a solid yellow line, which is illegal, and could have cost us over US$800, so not too bad at $30. Fines in Costa Rica have recently been increased. Passing on solid yellow is over US$800. Speeding is over US$600. Not having documents is over US$200. And these aren´t gringo charges. Our host in San Jose had to pay a recent speeding ticket for US$600. And for you travelers, you aren´t supposed to be able to cancel your import permit to leave the country without paying the fine. ¡Cuidado!

We then joined the Panamerican which was 2 lanes under construction, full of slow moving trucks, and dumping cold rain through the mountains... it was a much longer day than we expected!

Our destination in San José was our couchsuring host´s home, conveniently located about 2km from the moto shop I wanted to get to, la Moto AG. We pulled straight to the shop where Jorg (spelling? it was German, and sounded like "Jorg") greeted us with a smile. While the TA was in the shop, I wanted to get new rear rubber on, the oil changed, check the front end alignment from our Guatemalan dog strike (bars are slightly bent), and fix that CDI circuit issue correctly. Jorg told us that our problems were small compared to what some travelers bring in. That was actually relieving. He ended up taking care of a new rear tire and brake cleaning, but then refered me to another mechanic for the electrical troubleshooting and other work. I would go back to la Moto AG and work with Jorg and their shop anytime. I would not, however, work with the BMW mechanic Luis again. (Details in upcoming posts, resolution to follow in El Rincòn, Panamà.)

After dropping the bike off that evening, we cabbed it over to the apartment complex, where Ivàn, our host, came running outside to meet us. We had spoken with him on the phone a couple times, but his first question in person was, "Do you eat meat?". He was cooking us up a spaghetti dinner which we absolutely devoured after not eating anything since breakfast. He is super nice, has backpacked all around Europe and traveled some around CA. His next plan is to buy a sailboat in the states, sail it back to San José, then across the Pacific to Asia.

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Old 11-19-2011, 11:30 AM   #144
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A few things to do in San Jose when your bike is dead

Ivan's place in San José was an absolutely great place to chill.  We were able to get laundry done, hang out and watch movies, read, cook food in a comfortable kitchen, and just have a place that felt like home. Partially because Ivan even moved out of his main bedroom to make room for us, and wouldn't move back in no matter how much we insisted.  It was way too kind of him, but very much appreciated. After being on the road for 5 months, it's nice to have a place that feels like home, even if for only a few days at a time.

San José has a bustling, modern downtown area that doesn't fit with the rest of Central American cities.  There are long pedestrian streets, lots of vendors (some of them are the "hey, that's my camera!" kind), and some prime people watching. 


(downtown area)

We also had the chance to explore some interesting small cafes in the University neighborhood near Ivan's place and really enjoyed meeting some of his friends at a get together full of good food, great mojitos, and even better conversations.  His friend and colleague Cici was especially helpful with anything and everything we needed.


(there are, of course, neighborhoods that feel more Central American)

The next morning after arriving in San José, I went back over to LaMotoAG to check on the work that they did and to ride the bike over to the other mechanic's shop.  With the new Full Bore back tire in place, I followed Luis over to his shop.  Given all of the great reviews of LaMotoAG that I have read, and their direct recommendation to use Luis to troubleshoot the electrical issues on the TA, I felt like I was in good hands.  I should have been more leary...

I dropped the bike off and talked through the outstanding work to be done:  find the original electrical fault that caused the TA to stop running, eliminate the short-term jumper wire fix that was still in place, check the front end out, and change the oil and filter.  I  know that when starting this trip, my intention was to perform most maintenance myself, but I talked myself out of it this time for a few reasons including not having any electrical troubleshooting equipment, my thought that electrical troubleshooting is one of my least favorite activities in the world, not having a garage to use, and wanting to have a pro check out the front end.  Turns out I should have spent money to buy a multimeter instead of paying Luis to look into it...

When we dropped off the bike, Luis talked through what he was going to check in the electrical system.  At this point he seemed to really know what he was talking about, and I thought I was still in good hands.  Luis even suggested eliminating the wiring connectors closest to the voltage regulator-rectifier (VRR) by soldering the wires together for a better connection, which I was convinced by and told him to go ahead and do.  Also, he suggested wiring the VRR directly to the battery (with fuse) for better charging.  Seemed like an easy enough job to me and how he explained it made sense.  We then proceeded to talk about oil selection and what I wanted to run.  It turned into a what-type-of-oil-is-best discussion/lecture/sales pitch that I really didn't want to hear.  But once I got through that conversation I figured all topics were covered and the TA would be tip top by the morning.

That next morning I returned to find out that one electrical issue was a blown diode in the wiring harness.  It fell on my shoulders to find a replacement.  Thankfully a nice guy with a pickup truck had just dropped an airhead off with Luis and was willing to drive me to a couple of dealerships.  The Honda dealership didn't have a diode in stock.  The Yamaha dealership found a diode that looked identical and was only US$4 (instead of the Honda part at US$18).  That errand took almost an hour with the help of a pick up truck for transport.  Without that help this could have easily become one of those all day errands.  When testing the diode back at the shop, it had a lower rating than the original, but should work in the meantime.  With that diode in, more troubleshooting had to take place.

Soo, day 3 rolls around and the bike will still not be ready to go until that afternoon.  That's fine, but when I got down to the shop at 4, Luis still hadn't looked at the front end at all.  I also found out then that instead of troubleshooting the original wiring issue, he just soldered the jumper wire fix in place, bypassing the Stop/Run switch.  Not what we discussed.  He had yet to look at the front end or change the oil.

It took a couple of hours of hanging around and then he finally looked at the front end.  I assumed the bars were bent and wanted to find out what else may be bent.  Instead of looking into it, he just slammed the front tire against a pole to create a neutral hand position.  While this did feel better riding, since my hands were now even, I'm pretty sure that I may have a bigger problem than what I started with - instead of bent bars, the TA is probably now sitting on a bent triple clamp, maybe bent forks, and maybe damaged bearings.  Yikes!

Nevertheless, I was happy to get the TA back, as we were planning on hitting the road the next day.  Well, I was happy until I heard the price for all this "work"- US$160.  Yikes again!  That number is not unreasonable for a lot of good work accomplished, and seemed to be appropriate for the outrageous prices we have found elsewhere in Costa Rica.  Keep in mind, though, that really all that was done was soldering 10 wires together, finding a shot diode, slamming the front wheel around, and changing the oil.  Overcharged.  I felt taken advantage of, but given that everything was running well and that the electrical system should be in good shape now (according to the expert), Jill and I were both ready to hit the road.   My negative sentiments became stronger once I realized how much got screwed up during this 160 dollar hack job...  (Final details of correcting the "fix" in El Rincón, Panama.)
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Old 11-19-2011, 11:32 AM   #145
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Speaking chinese in Bocas del Toro

An easy ride from San José brought us to Puerto Viejo, on the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica, which is a backpacker haven - a little seedy, but full of restaurants, bakeries, bars. The small road through the national refuge to Manzanillo passes through a spa, luxury hotel, and elegant restaurant area. Manzanillo is the end of the road, a sleepy little beach town with a couple of small hotels, 3 small eateries, and 1 bustling bar full of locals (maybe just on Fridays, maybe full time...). The beach was in much better shape there than in Puerto Viejo itself, but we didn't take much advantage.  We were on our way to Panama.


(approaching Sixaola, Costa Rica)

As we got to the border, a huge man named Enrique offered to help us across.  As usual, we refused any help and went about the process ourselves.  Checking the bike out was a paper-only process and took about 2 minutes in the air conditioned aduana office.  Migration stamped our passports quickly as well, and across to Panama we went.





(playing chicken with pedestrians. They won. We got some balance practice.)

On the other side we had to accomplish the usual 2 tasks of migración (for us) and aduana (for the bike), as well as change money and buy insurance (required in Panama).  Migración was easy, but the process to get the bike in took some time.  Mostly because we caught the one insurance sales lady on her lunch break.  So we waited.  And waited.  At least there were 2 benches in the shade.  But it was still hot.  Finally, after a longer than necessary paperwork process (and after a longer than necessary lunch break), the final documents were printed...with the wrong VIN number.  The insurance lady was going to print a corrected copy when the printer jammed.  Mike helped get the paper removed and closed the printer back up just before the border helper Enrique dropped in to see what was taking so long.  He was talking to Jill for awhile and realized this was taking waaay too long.  He suggested just using white out and a pen to correct the document, since the correction was complete in the computer system, we just couldn't print it.  Done in less than a minute.  Enrique also helped us get the best exhange rate at the market.  He was a good guy.  We gave him a couple bucks as a tip for the help that he did offer (even though we refused him originally).

Back to the aduana with all the documents in hand, and they were watching Thor on a computer screen in their air conditioned office.  It must have been near the end of the movie, because they did not want to focus on paperwork at all.  Once they started going through the paperwork, they managed to screw that up (I think they actually typed "Thor" for one of the blanks).  The police officer checking the paperwork over caught it.  Thankfully he took the paper back to them to have it corrected, because they seemed to respond faster to him than to me.  So with that, and with a small required local government fee, we were ready to go.

Or so we thought.  That very same police officer then insisted on fully searching our bags.  Opening each of them and digging all the way to the bottom.  This was one of those times that the side-opening saddlebags were a detriment, because everything in them ended up in the dirt.  Finally, he seemed satisfied and went back into his office.  Frustrated and repacking in the heat, we were ready to get out of there after hours at the dusty border.  In our haste to make progress we missed the hard left turn at the bottom of the bridge and ended up in the town of Guabito instead of heading on to El Empalme.  After correcting that mistake, we finally felt like we were in Panama!

Bocas del Toro is the state that we entered, known for its tourism, which is mostly focused on the Caribbean islands.  Even on the mainland, Bocas was absolutely beautiful with forested and jungle covered hills, twisty roads, and a few small towns.


(river view in Bocas del Toro)


(typical house in Bocas)




(rainy afternoon through Bocas)

Pulled into Chiriquí Grande as night fell, amid a pretty good rain, and found a hospedaje on the side of the road.  It seemed fine, but was the first one that we passed and asked in, so we figured we'd head into town to check other options.  Finding a chinese restaurant was a godsend.  Healthy portions of warm food sounded ideal.  That and a beer.  Mike tried to order a Balboa beer, one of Panama's most popular brands, before he knew what it was called. "Balbao" is how it came out, which in Spanish sounds like "bal-bow", but that's what he thought he saw on the label from a distance.  The lady didn't understand him (with good reason, because he was not making sense), so he continued to repeat "Balbao.  BalBAO!  Una cerveza...BALbao.  BALBAO!"  That poor Chinese lady probably thought he was making fun of her, but finally the order got through, and he got to try a Balboa. It was fine.

While we were eating, the hotelier from the hospedaje found us, saying that he wasn't going back to the hotel, that if we wanted it, we could pay and get the key then.  Having not seen any other decent options (Chiriquí Grande is a crappy little port city) we did it.  Talk about service!

The next morning, an oilman from Houston stationed in Panama stopped his car to talk to us about the Transalp.  He was jealous because he had sold his years ago.  He also had lived in Venezuela for some time, so it was interesting to hear his perceptions of that country.  In fact, he had moved a couple years back because he thought it was becoming too dangerous.  Not what we wanted to hear, but it sounded like a lot of the violence was targeted at people higher up in society than us.  At least that's what we were banking on.

Exploring Bocas del Toro would have been fantastic, but we wanted to get moving to start our paperwork process in Panama City.  Jill has a lot to do for medical and bureaucratic clearances for her position in Suriname.   Also, our next stop was to visit Dana, our friend from Denver who is currently living in El Rincón, near Chitré.
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Old 11-19-2011, 12:03 PM   #146
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Dana's little corner of Panama

After entry to Panama, we headed over to El Rincón, a small town in the province of Herrera. Jill´s friend from grad school, Dana, is in the Peace Corps there. She was originally supposed to be working with an NGO, but that fell through, so now she is mainly helping teach English in the school. We ended up spending about 3 weeks with Dana in El Rincón and really enjoyed ourselves. The people seemed genuinely happy, Dana was very well liked and respected, and the kids were way too cute (even the annoying ones).








(all bikes in Panama have to have a license plate.  Some still don't, of course.)

We didn´t do a whole lot while we were in the community. Mainly just hung out with Dana, ate lots of spaghetti, tuna, and eggs (there were two small "chinos" in town, the name Panamanians give to the small convenience stores since they are almost entirely run by Chinese immigrants), and watched movies and Arrested Development. And we sweat. A lot.  It was supposed to be rainy season, but the first week or two we were there, there was no rain and it was incredibly hot. The kind of heat that makes you incapable of doing anything other than sitting in a chair and sweating. Luckily for us, the weather changed and became a lot cooler during the second half of our stay.

We also tried to motivate to run every morning with Dana. But she wakes up way too early for us, so we usually just slept instead ("snooze....need more snooze...."). The path that she runs goes through several rice fields and you often pass the farmers working or riding on their horses. The path leads to the wetlands reserve. All in all, a pretty beautiful run, if we could just make ourselves wake up.







The World Cup of Baseball was going on in Panama and some of the games were played in Chitré, the nearest big town. We went to the Dominican Republic vs. Cuba game and took Dana´s landlord´s kids. The game was pretty boring, with Cuba winning 3-0, but we had a good time anyway.


(Mike, Jill, Dana and the two kids)



During our stay, another Peace Corps volunteer came and had a meeting with the womens agricultural group about fish ponds. The concept is to raise fish in ponds and use those fish for food or to sell. The women seemed to be very interested and thought it a great idea.  It will be interesting to see what comes of it.


(Klaus discussing the tanks)


(The group attending the meeting)


(The only man in the group also turned 70 the day of the meeting)

One of the definite highlights of our stay was Dana´s dog Tigressa. Dana has effectively become the dog whisperer of the community, leading a spay and neuter campaign in town that led to 140 animals being sterilized. Most dogs are treated fairly poorly, left to fend for themselves for food and are often abused. Dana makes sure the worst ones are fed, and also deworms and demanges the dogs. Unsurprisingly, Tigressa is neither mistreated nor underfed and is a very well behaved puppy.





About a week before we were supposed to go back to the city, we decided to ride into Chitré. When we tried to start the motorcycle, it had no juice whatsoever. So, we took the bus to Chitré to get some materials needed to fix the bike, including a multimeter, a 12V testlight (which we used to have on us, and should have replaced sooner), some extra wire and a cheap soldering iron just in case. Mike quickly discovered that the battery had no charge, as in zero volts.  And the battery was completely dry.  That ain't right.  Especially since it was topped up in San Jose. But we figured adding battery acid and giving it a charge may serve to get moving again.

After learning that there was no battery charger in El Rincón, we caught a ride with the battery to the nearest town with a charger, Santa María. Once there we learned that the battery was not taking a charge, so we needed to buy a new battery.  Back on the bus to the next biggest town that had batteries, Aguadulce. Once in Aguadulce, we found a nice little bike shop, Motores Extremos.  The owners were extremely nice and did everything they could to help us through the process.  Sadly, though, they did not have the right battery, but could order it for us and it should be there that afternoon. So we waited for the battery and walked around town, which was setting up for a streetfair. When we went back in the afternoon, we found out that the battery would not be there until the next day.

On our return to El Rincón, there was a parade going on.



Since we were all feeling so festive, we went with Dana to the bar and we all had probably too good of a time. Mike ended up going back to Aguadulce the next morning for the battery, but the wrong battery came in.  It was an honest mistake.  The size was perfect, the specs all matched, but the poles and vent tube were reversed (this brand's "A" designation was Yuasa's "B" designation...). We then had to wait until Tuesday to get what we hoped was the correct battery. Fortunately, when we went back to Aguadulce on Tuesday, the battery was waiting for us and was in fact the right one.

Back in El Rincón, Mike fixed the TA electrical issues.  It involved undoing most of the work that Luis "the expert" performed in San José.  Mike cut the "temporary" jumper wire giving power to the ignition modules, pulled the direct charging circuit from the regulator to the battery (the TA is basically wired like that anyways so this modification was about useless), and set about troubleshooting the original problem.  All it turned out to be was a fouled connection in a wire connection in the ignition circuit.  About 15 minutes with the multimeter, some WD-40, a good cleaning, and a slight flex to the metal was all it took.  EDIT: (Even though Mike swore 2 days ago that he would stop dwelling on this (see below) he can't.) In fact, one of the major problems with the electrical system was that Luis "the expert" also decided to mess with the accessory relay that Mike had installed to improve the headlight output. Luis took the wire that controls the relay itself from the switched, low amp taillight wire and installed it on an unswitched wire attached directly to the battery positive terminal. Aaaaarrrrrrgggghhhhh!!! At some point, the power draw blew the 30 amp relay before it blew any of the fuses past the relay, and the relay was easy to replace, but still, why the hell did that "fix" happen?!?!?!? END OF EDIT Mike is still furious about the rip off in San José, but has now told enough of the story and will stop dwelling on it.  He swears.

While this was going on, the kids were all fascinated with the bike and enjoyed watching him work on it.



And once it was working again, we had to give rides.


(all rides performed at passengers own risk.  And at very low speed around the block.)



Dana got an idea from the internet to make purses out of potato chip bags. She set up a meeting with the women´s organization to demonstrate how to make the purses on Saturday. We spent the whole week trying to figure the damn things out. In the end, we never were able to make a purse, but not from lack of trying.


(the crown looking thing in the middle of the table gives an idea of what the finished product would be)

On another day, Dana and Jill played basketball at the park. Both Dana and Jill thought they could beat each other, based on their glory days in high school, but in the end they just played street ball with a bunch of 12 year olds.


(picking teams)

All in all, we had a great time at Dana´s, living the Peace Corps life, playing with kids, and getting lots of reading done.  We are grateful to Dana for putting up with us for 3 whole weeks.
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csustewy screwed with this post 11-21-2011 at 01:57 PM Reason: Add in details about the bullshit "fix"
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Old 11-19-2011, 12:21 PM   #147
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Cosmo Central America

While in Panama, we sandwiched in a couple of visits to Panama City. Our first trip was after a couple of days in El Rincón and was all business. We rode the bike into the city (about a 3 hour drive, and before we found out that the charging system was wonky) on the Panamerican and luckily did not learn the hard way that there were cops with speed traps everywhere. Panama City is notorious for being difficult to navigate and we ended up driving around for a good hour once we were in the neighborhood of the hostel. Dana made reservations for us in a hostel right downtown where a lot of other Peace Corps volunteers stay. It was supposedly one of the cheaper places in the city, but was still $30 for the both of us to stay in dorm rooms. Jill tried to arrange the rooms, but the hostel had somehow lost our reservation, so after a confusing 20 minutes, Jill called in Mike to take care of it. Apparently, 2 other gringos had showed up earlier in the day and decided not to stay, so the hostel had arbitrarily decided that the couple was us and crossed us off the list. The hostel had filled since then. Eventually Jill was able to get a dorm room and Mike was able to get a bed in the laundry room for the first night.

The main purpose of the trip was for Jill to get all of her paperwork done for her Peace Corps Response position. Our first stop was the US Embassy, as the Embassy had to send in the documents needed for her to get a second passport that they will put her Suriname visa into. The US Embassy is located in the Canal Zone, which was run by the United States until Panama took posession of the Canal in 1999. The embassy is massive and looks like a military compound. The taxi was not allowed to drive us all the way to the building because of security issues. We passed through a metal detector and took a number. Everyone waits in the same large room for their number to be called. There were about 15-20 windows, most of them servicing Panamanians wanting a US visa. When I was finally called, the person at the window claimed she could not help me at all and that I needed to go to the Peace Corps office, in direct contradiction to the instructions I had. After another long wait, I got to deal with another employee, who knew what was going on and took care of the paperwork right away. I also needed to be fingerprinted and was referred to Erik, a security worker who we have coincidentally been in contact with by email. He rode his motorcycle to his position in Panama from Virginia in two weeks and is a friend of a friend of Dana´s. Erik made sure that I was able to be fingerprinted and we were on our way, after about 3 hours.

Our next mission was to mail the paperwork to Washington DC. We needed to mail the documents through DHL as they were time sensitive. About the time we started trying to find the office, it started downpouring. We jumped in a taxi, who was driving through sometimes door height water in the street (drainage in Panama City is definitely lacking) and he had to ask several times where an office was. Finally we found it. But, we needed a copy of my passport. Whoops, that was back at the hostel. Fortunately, there was a copy shop next door and I had a copy of my passport online. Problem diverted. Back to the DHL office. The total cost to send an envelope to the US - $56. Whoops, we don´t have enough cash and both of our credit cards were at the hostel. The office was closing in 30 minutes and the woman working could not even commit to being there that long. So, we made a mad dash in the rain back to the hostel, grabbed my card and ran back to the office. We made it just in time and were able to send the package before the weekend, as we wanted to go back to El Rincón the next day.

Before leaving the next morning, we went to the Brazillian embassy, as we will pass through a small section of Brazil on our way to Suriname and are required to have a Brazillian visa. The Brazillian Embassy, in harsh contrast to the US Embassy fortress, was on the 2nd floor of an office building, we just needed to sign in and sit in comfortable chairs to wait to be called. There was only one person in line in front of us and the one security guard was about 70 years old. Everything went very smoothly as we had all the paperwork required. We had to go to a nearby bank to pay for the visa, which took about an hour because there was a large line with only one window operating for normal customers, one for VIPs and one for retirees. Finally we paid and back at the embassy, everything was good to go except we had to leave our passport with them to be processed and they needed the passport for at least 2 days. We planned on being in El Rincón for the next week, so the embassy gave us a stamped copy of the passport. This made us a little nervous, but it ended up fine as we never needed to use our passports during the next week.

After a relaxing week in El Rincón, we caught the bus with Dana back into Panama city. This time Jill needed to get all her medical work done. We had been recommened to a doctor at a very nice medical complex. He was able to do the required physical. He referred me to another doctor to get my flu shot and TB test and another doctor to do all my blood work. It was great because I was able to get everything done in one place. The bad part was that Peace Corps only reimbursed $165 to get all that done and it ended up costing me about $280 more than that out of pocket (quite a bit given our travel budget). I would hate to think how much it would cost in the States to do the same. After having to come back in the next day for another blood test they forgot to do the day before, my medical was done and my paperwork was completed.

The next day we went back to the Brazillian embassy to pick up our visa and see how long they had given us in Brazil. Theoretically, US citizens are able to get a visa to Brazil for as long as 5 years for up to 90 days total. We were hoping for at least a year because we will need to enter Brazil again after we leave Suriname and did not want to have to pay $140 each for another visa. Unfortunately, there is some sproadically enforced rule we did not know about that says US citizens getting a visa from outside the US are not able to get a visa for more than 90 days from the date the visa is issued, meaning we only have 3 months from October (date of issue) until the visa expires. Disappointing because we will have to pay again and go through the hassle of going to the embassy again on our way out of Suriname.  Not much we can do about it now, though.

With all of our paperwork and embassy running out of the way, we were able to explore Panama City better. The city really is quite cosmopolitan with a large skyline and big banking district.


(coming in along the Cinta Costera)

The city is right on the water and there are beautiful views of the harbor.





Dana took us to the pier where they have very tasty ceviche (raw fish cooked in various types of acidic sauces) for $1-3.



We also went to Casco Viejo, "Old Helmet" directly translated, where we went to the very informative Panama Canal museum (even more so than the one located at the Miraflores locks).






(In old town specifically, there is a vast contrast in the condition of building from house to house. Many buildings are beautifully restored and some haven´t been touched since they were built. Many residents are now fighting the government, who wants to build a highway through the historic area.The sign says: Priorities Education, Health, not Highway Cinta C3.  "Cinta C3" refers to the extension of the Cinta Costera road that would come through the historic area.)

And of course, no trip to Panama City is complete without a trip to the Panama Canal.







In Panama City, there is access to just about anything (expect motorcycle parts, it seems), including food from all over the world. It is a huge contract to El Rincón and most of the rest of Panama, much of which is still struggling for basic provisions including clean water and sanitation.

After a week of hemorrhaging money in Panama City, we spent the rest of our time in El Rincón, until we made our third trip to the city just before boarding our sailboat to Colombia. Our friend Erik (the security guy from the Embassy) was gracious enough to invite us to his house for the long weekend. He and his wife Beth live in a very nice house in the Canal Zone. Beth is an animal lover and they have two dogs and a cat inside and as many cats as she can feed outside. We were able to relax in an air conditioned house for several days and very much enjoyed Erik and Beth´s stories about embassy life, living in Panama, and how they ended up there. We also enjoyed being able to watch football on cable. Erik took us out to an Italian dinner and we got to meet other Embassy employees and see a Jimmy Buffett knockoff band, equipped with a white guy speaking in a Jamacian Rasta voice wearing a Hawaiian shirt (ahhh...memories of Costa Rica already...).


(Erik, Beth, Rocky, Jill & Mike)


(Erik and Beth´s house. Seriously, how do we luck into meeting such nice people?)

On our last day in the city, Beth drove us to the Peace Corps friend of a friend´s site so we could meet them and see where they live. Sarah and Shaun are friends with both Dana, and Erik and Beth, and involved in similar work that interests us, so meeting them seemed fitting.  Even though it was only an 1.5 hour drive, they have no running water and apparantly just got a street light in the past week or two. Unfortunately, they were not at home, so we were not able to meet them, but there was a dog that Beth has been keeping an eye on because it is so skinny. When we went to check on the dog, he was looking even skinnier and Beth knew she had to take him with us to help him, so we loaded the dog into the truck and got him to the vet that night. The drive was beautiful and we agree that the dog would have died soon if he would not have received help, so the trip was more than worth it.


(Kids were playing baseball in front of the school)


(House where Sarah and Shaun, the Peace Corps volunteers, live)


(Loading ¨Slim¨ into the truck)
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Old 12-01-2011, 10:51 AM   #148
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Boarding the Steel Rat

The morning of our departure, we were to meet 13 other motorcycles at the airport just outside of Panama City. That's a crowd!



There were a few couples, a few individuals, a few groups of friends from all over the world. It was fun to briefly meet them, but then on to the dock in Carti, San Blas. We were all supposed to follow Giorgio, an Italian ex-pat living in Panama since he knew the way, but he took off without much warning, leaving Jill and me, Sara and Malcolm, and Terry to fend for ourselves. A few questions for directions and we caught the group dealing with a police checkpoint. The benefit of getting ditched originally is that we got to ride right through the checkpoint. The road to the north at El Llano was much more interesting and scenic than the PanAmerican.



A Kuna tax was paid to enter their land (US$6 per ppn and US$3 per bike, IIRC). While the map shows all of their territories (including the San Blas islands) as part of Panama, the Kuna tribes are self governing. They managed to pick up a few other taxes from us, but mostly nominal fees. Tourism is a primary source of income for them, and knowing that a group of motorcyclists will not be buying many souvenirs, we didn't feel so bad to chip in a few bucks.



We soon caught site of the ocean.





And our first glimpse of the Stahlratte herself:



After changing clothes, stripping the luggage off the bike, hosing the TA down with WD-40, the nerve-wracking process of loading the motorcycles began. The dock made things easy as the bikes were rolled up next to the boat, lifted by a crane (a line normally used for the main sail), and set on board.








(...and a sigh of relief)

The first afternoon was spent loading the bikes and getting to know some of our traveling friends. We slept right there at the dock to wait for some backpackers the next morning, then on to the San Blas Islands.


(the smallest spoon we could find)
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Old 12-01-2011, 11:40 AM   #149
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San Blas, Panama

The San Blas islands are absolutely stunning. There are around 365 small islands just off the Caribbean coast of Panama, with only 40 or so inhabited. The difference in those that are inhabited vs uninhabited is striking.




(densely packed wooden houses and shops)


(the inhabited islands are so densely packed that fences are built into the ocean where trash is then filled in. Once enough trash is in place, soil is added, then sand. Then a house is built. They are expanding constantly.)


(a traditionally dressed Kuna woman setting up shop for us tourists)


(traditional crafts)


(drop toilets are the norm. Let's just say that we saw a few Snickers bars floating by when we were swimming just off shore...)


(still room for parades)


(this kid's better dressed than those other young-un's)


(the islands even have piped water from the mainland!)


(on our way to dinner that evening, Malcolm joined a baseball game)


(after dinner dance with lots of running and jumping and still somehow enough controlled breath to play a pan flute type instrument)

In contrast, the unhinhabited islands looked more like this:


(these are a couple that we anchored close to for 2 nights)

We really enjoyed our time anchored at the islands, including bonfires, snorkeling, swimming, lounging, reading, conversing, and relaxing.


(there was a mixup in how the bonfire was going to happen, and the Kuna that Ludwig, our captain, worked with were chased off by the boat on the left. They had already dropped off the firewood, though, and the bonfire happened as planned. Shishkabobs, beer and rum and a beautiful empty island. It was sweet!)


(lounging on the bow)


(Jill testing the crane)


(Mike on his way)


(Mike learned how to dive in after this first attempt. This attempt was not a dive. Giorgio told Mike that he went in like a frog. And the next time Giorgio asked for a chicken. While Mike enjoys imitating animals (especially birds), the next time was a successful dive. He swears)

We also had a chance to snorkel to a couple of reefs around the area. Mike went out to a nearby reef the first afternoon, ending up in a very shallow section with lots of sea urchins. Staying flat and kicking fast got him over a sandy section where he startled an octopus that looked just like a rock. It blubbered off, walking in its weird, tentacly, octopus sort of way. But that monster was really cool to see - it was about the size of a basketball when huddled in. The next day a small group snorkeled farther away at a reef surrounding an island. Daan and Mirjam uncovered another octopus near the island, and also snapped this photo of us.



The Stahlratte is a fine sailing vessel that turned out to be a wonderful vacation within our trip. For anyone looking to get themselves and/or a bike across the Darien, we would highly recommend going with Ludwig and the Stahlratte. You'll be in good hands!








(we lucked out and got the honeymoon suite, maybe because Jill was in charge of making the reservation so it got done early, rather than having Mike's procrastination habits factor in)


(most other bunks were in this shared space below deck)



Our last sunset in the San Blas islands meant that it was time to hit the Pacific and get on towards Colombia.



Although sails were up, the wind was pretty low for our voyage. That makes sailing a little less romantic (seeing as it meant diesel power in our case), but it also makes the seas calm. Even so, it took a bit to get used to the constant motion.




(AWACS plane checking for drugs)





The voyage took right around 24 hours, leaving San Blas in the dark of the morning. Swimming in the open sea was a definite highlight, kind of eerie knowing that the water is over 1 km deep, but still somehow has this amazingly clear blue water. And a refreshing way to break up the day. Not that we were doing much. Mike slept for somewhere around 8 hours during the day, and then again for almost 10 hours that night. It seemed like a better idea than getting seasick. Jill seemed to be doing better than him, bringing her nap time totals to a far more respectable number, like 3 hours or so. But when we woke up the next day, we were in Colombia!

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Old 12-01-2011, 01:08 PM   #150
csustewy OP
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On shore in South America

Arrving in Cartagena, Colombia was exhilarating! After 6 months on the road we made it to South America! (Also, after 24 hours at sea, we made it to land!) That, and we have heard such amazing things about Colombia that we were looking forward to checking it out for ourselves.


(Cartagena skyline)

Ludwig works with an agent to take care of immigration and customs both on the departure from San Blas and on the arrival into Colombia. Our passports were cleared that morning, the next step was to get the bikes over to customs for their inspections and temporary import documents. We weren't supposed to show up at customs until after 1, so we had some downtime in the morning. Mike went with Stephan and Giorgio to see about hotel rooms and to get some Colombian pesos. Giorgio took over the conversation with the hotel lady, so not much haggling took place, but the rooms were nice and reasonably priced (just under US$14 per person for a fan and private bath). Once they were back at the boat, Jill went to the hotel to hang out with a few other people and our luggage. It seemed more comfortable than waiting in a customs office for the afternoon. Mike was not smart enough to get the keys out of the luggage, though, so he took an extra trip to shore before the TA could go anywhere. But Mike returned to the dock just in time to help unload the Ural, the first bike off to allow time to attach the sidecar again.

Unloading the bikes was a bit trickier than loading because there was no dock alongside the Stahlratte, we were just anchored in the bay. So the crane was again used, but this time to hoist the bikes into the dinghy. This was definitely more nerve-racking than the loading process, but it went off without a hitch. The front of the dinghy is a perfect wheel chock, and with Floyd and Ludwig holding each bike at both ends, along with a rider on board, it was a piece of cake.


(Floyd and Daan letting the TA down)


(Mike gettin' a little frisky with Floyd)


(ready to go. I'm pretty sure that the Arai helmet will double as a flotation device)

Riding a motorcycle on a dinghy across water is actually a lot of fun! Some riders went rigid, white-kunckle style. Mike had a bit of water-moto-rodeo going on.


(thanks Daan for taking and sharing the footage!)

Once to shore, the bikes were simply lifted out of the dinghy by 4 guys and rolled off the dock directly to the street. Some basic directions were given to the customs office, which we were supposed to get to quickly given that we didn't have passports on us, nor moto paperwork (since it was waiting at the customs office). Mike arrived in the middle of the pack, but nobody had heard much. The agent was not very forthcoming with information, which made for a very frustrating wait as the hours ticked by.

For the first hour, no one knew anything. It was just after 3pm when the agent handed out draft import documents with the moto information typed up and mentioned an insurance office where Colombian insurance could be bought by the month (rather than the more common 3 month intervals, or even 1 year minimums at some offices, since the law is that Colombians must buy a minimum of 1 year at a time). His directions to El Porvenir were easy and should have made for an easy errand (Latin American style).

Anders and I jumped in a cab to try to buy insurance before they closed for the afternoon. It was Friday nearing 4 o'clock and we didn't want to be forced to stay until Monday morning if we could help it, so the race was on. We went right to Calle Larga in a cab, drove the whole stretch of it (around 6 blocks) and never saw a sign for El Porvenir. After some discussions with the frustrated cabbie, we jumped out to search on foot and ask questions in the neighborhood. In usual style, many people were willing to point us to a specific corner but in a very unspecific way. One lady tried calling her friend who would've known for sure, but couldn't get through. She even offered to take our number and call back, but we were sans cell phone. Super nice of her, though. It turns out that El Porvenir does not exist on Calle Larga. It was a wild goose chase that took us until almost 4, when we figured it was time to get back to customs to see what was happening there. We were staying through the weekend.

When we returned, a few people had already had their bikes inspected by the officials. Mistakes were all over the place in our draft documents, but we were told to not worry about it, and trust that the officials will catch the mistakes on the official documents. The agents attitude was more and more infuriarating, especially after the insurance info that didn't pan out. We were all very patient as we sat through the afternoon. Anytime someone did ask the agent what was happening, a smart retort to just sit back and wait was all that was received. After all of us had traveled across a number of borders to get to this one, it was more than frustrating to not have any control over information. Waiting is to be expected. But to not know if you are in line, or need an inspection, or need to correct/provide/copy a document is a challenge. Ignorance was not bliss.

The afternoon dragged on until around 6:45pm when a stack of documents came out for us to sign. All of the bikes had been cleared! And most of the mistakes were caught. So having not seen or talked to Jill since around 11am, it was time for Mike to get to the hotel. We had the weekend to explore Cartagena, and run the important errand of finding an insurance shop to get us legal.

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