A good load of Bananas getting badly bruised on a patched road.
Low set homes much like an Australian suburb with the Lake Arenal in the back ground.
On the dirt road to Volcano Arenal road work had churned the surface into a slippery sludge.
Security here it seems is a real issue, every building is locked up tight (didn't notice the chap in front untill later)
New tyres on El Toro thanks to Dave and Linda.
A moment of sun gives us a glimps of the mountains but there was little relief from the rain so we missed seeing the spectacular highlands of Costa Rica.
Roadside fruit markets as we head for the coast.
Enjoying the Pacific coast line where the jungle meets the sea.
Frequent Police checks slow us down but we show them copies of our documentation we keep handy in the tank bag and we are waved through.
Another border crossing, and have we got all the necessary paper work?
Another 'border kid' on the Costa Rica side and we expected this to be easier. After all Costa Rica is considered more 'developed' than it's other Central American neighbours. Wrong. Although fairly straight forward, it took us about an hour and a half to get through and some things, for instance the photocopying of every page in my passport, are hard to understand.
Eventually got through and enjoyed the good road south toward San Jose. Not far from the border we encountered our first Police check. Since 1948 Costa Rica may have abolished an army, but the police here carry machine guns!! Over the next 50km we encountered 6 police checks. We were waved through all of them, they seemed more concerned with the trucks.
Sadly the good road came to an end and we were now on the notoriously 'bad roads of Costa Rica' . We had expected the roads in Nicaragua to be bad but really, only about 10% of those we traveled on could be considered bad. Ie. where the surface is continually patched, bumpy and full of 300mm deep potholes. Costa Rica delivered though and to make things worse we rode through a huge thunderstorm. Hard to pick the pot holes in the rain.
Found a hotel, but at $25.00 thought is was really expensive for the basic room we got. El Toro again probably got the best spot inside a locked enclosure just outside our room on tiled floors. We had hoped to get to San Jose tonight but alas, because of the slow border crossing and thunderstorm, we were still 200km away.
Costa Rica is renowned for it's many volcano's and Volcano Arenal (map–2) is one of the most impressive and is an active volcano which occasionally spews red hot lava. We checked with a hotel clerk about the road conditions and were assured they were good so with dark skies we headed off. Well the roads started off quite good but deteriorated somewhat as we started to encircled Lake Arenal (map–1) but shortly after that the 'sealed' road was just a mass of deep potholes and patches. We elected to continue always optimistic that things will get better. Sadly they didn't. It started to rain, the road turned to dirt and the water filled potholes that were difficult to spot. Some road work had churned the surface into a slippery sludge. Time to re-assess the situation. Was there any point in carrying on? We stopped and asked a tour bus how far we were from the volcano. 30km and about 2 hours on these roads they said. So with the low cloud probably concealing the volcano anyway we decided to backtrack to the main road and head for the capital San José.
This is the only road linking the north to the capital and it's clogged with trucks traveling in both directions. The hilly windy roads make passing difficult and slow the trucks and I need to keep a reasonable distance from the truck in front so I can dodge the endless deep potholes. As we neared San José the roads became more winding and the grades steeper and we were down to a walking pace riding through plumes of black diesel smoke and occasional heavy rain storms.
Eventually made it into San José and soon located the the hostel we had pre-booked. Every building in San José has burglar bars and many have bolted doors that will only be opened after you press a buzzer and confirm your identity. Dianne always checks out the rooms while I stay on the bike and I was concerned that the host ushered her inside quickly and warned me to be very careful. Security here it seems is a real issue and nobody takes chances out in the street.
The room was fine but they had no secure parking for El Toro, so we couldn't stay. Fortunately another hotel up the street could just fit the bike into their underground car park so we stayed there. They also had a buzzer system to open the front door.
We wanted to visit El Pueblo and the staff here were very helpful and explained how to get to this touristy place with nightclubs, restaurants and shops only about a Kilometre from the hotel. We were leaving at dusk and our guide said it was probably ok to walk there but insisted that we get a taxi back, claiming it was far too dangerous to walk back after dark.!!!
Dave Stacy, the Los Angeles HOG we contacted when we first arrived in the USA had been keeping in contact. We missed catching up with him in Houston and he wouldn't be able to get to Panama City to see us either, but he made us a huge offer. Dave and his wife Linda would air freight us a new set of tyres to replace our badly worn ones and they were in San José right now. I know it must have been expensive and Dave said if he'd known what the freight charge was, it would have been cheaper for him to fly to San José and bring the tyres as luggage!!! Thanks Dave and Linda we do appreciate your generosity.
Arranged with the Harley shop to fit the tyres and dropped El Toro off while we passed the time at a huge shopping centre close by. This centre would rival anything we've ever seen and the shops were really exclusive. Costa Rica is certainly very different to any of the other Central American countries as there is apparent wealth to be seen everywhere. Not everyone is wealthy though and there are also many very poor people and poor areas. At the shopping centre we decided to get some cash out at an ATM. Interestingly you have a choice of Costa Rican Colones or US dollars. Most shops are happy to accept either the local currency or US dollars.
When we picked the bike up I noticed an exhaust blow but thought the mechanic hadn't tightened up the exhaust clamp enough. It was a hassle to call him over and open all the security gates again so I thought I'd just tighten it up myself in the morning.
It's off to check out the scenery to the north before continuing south east so time to tighten that exhaust clamp but it was tight. Further investigation revealed a crack in the exhaust header pipe. The 'mechanic' must have been reefing like mad on the right side muffler to get it off to remove the wheel and caused the pipe to crack. On the phone to the dealer to be told that the only mechanic there was out of town servicing a customers bike. After some insisting he agreed to let me do the work on the bike in his workshop.
Quite a big job to remove the header pipe to get it welded and I eventually got back to the hotel about 4.00pm. having lost a day. It was also too late to mail a small package back home. We had burnt some DVDs of our photos as a backup and needed to get them posted. We'd now have to do that in the morning before we leave for Panama. It was going to be a big ride over the highest mountain pass in Costa Rica (3500m) and we know how slow going that can be. we wanted to get to David in Panama today which would give us an easy ride to Panama City the next day.
Some days are diamonds and some days are ***. Up early and with the bike packed we made our way to the post office. We thought this won't take long and I parked the bike and stayed with it while Dianne sorted things out. She had problems with communication and finding packing material as the post office didn't have anything. Friendly locals helped out but all told it took an hour and a half. With the bike fully loaded I stood next to it to deter any thieves. Unfortunately, 5 minutes before Dianne returned some low life just grabbed my helmet and ran off with it. I initially started to chase after him but then thought this could be a scam to get me away from the bike so an accomplice could take everything.
I was (still am) really pissed off that this could happen. Seems just standing next to your gear is not enough. It needs to be positively secured with locks and cables. We knew this was a bad city for thieving and in hindsight I suppose I was just plain stupid to expect my presence to be enough of a deterrent. Speaking with people since has taught us how extremely careful we need to be. Pick pocketing is rife and some lowlifes will even use a razor to cut your shirt pocket off or cut the strap or even slit the bag, not to mention bash, kniife or shoot you to take stuff from you. It seems we have been lucky up to now as unfortunately we appear as rich gringos to them. We have lots and they have nothing.
I now had to buy a cheap helmet before we could ride the bike. We stopped two police officers on bikes and they rode with us to a seedy part of the city where we picked up a helmet. Even the two police officers were anxious and kept telling us to hurry up, danger danger. Now it was off to report the incident to the police but the interpreter was not there and no one could speak English. Dianne's persistance and sweet talking pulled someone off the street to help out. Two hours later we were on our way and can now hopefully claim this on insurance. That helmet, an Arai XD was absolutely perfect for me on this trip.
Eventually got out of San José about 2.00pm. It started raining as it has done every day at this time but we needed to at least get to San Isidro for the night, the only place with suitable accommodation and if lucky we might just make it before dark.
We climbed and climbed over the mountain pass and the weather got wetter and colder. We'd been so hot for so long it was almost a relief to be cool again. Outside temperature got down to about 14 degrees C and the low cloud and rain made it impossible to enjoy the mountain scenery, so we just gritted our teeth and probably took a few too many chances passing trucks, but we eventually made it to San Isidro about a half hour after dark, found a comfortable hotel for $18.00 and got a cheap wholesome meal.
The worst day of our trip but we have to put it behind us. Things happen and you have to deal with them and that's all part of the adventure I guess. We've had some fantastic days and I know we'll have many more, but I'm still really pissed off about the helmet. To lighten our mood there was cable TV and we watched a film and slept soundly.
Because we got away late yesterday and didn't get as far as planned, today would be huge. We have to get to Panama City tonight so we can check things out tomorrow and arrange the air freight for the bike from Panama to Bogota, Colombia on the 2nd November when we fly out.
A windy road down to the coast and being Sunday there was little traffic. The clouds have cleared and the scenery is spectacular and that always lifts our spirits. Once we hit the coast we rode on what must be the best road in Costa Rica. A brand new perfect surface sans potholes and made good time riding alongside the coast. The good road didn't last though and we were soon dodging potholes again. Costa Rica has to have the worst roads we've ever encountered with some sections just a series of potholes joined by thin strips of tar. We hope and expect Panama to be better.
Got to the border about midday and a guide soon steered us through the organised Costa Rican formalities. The infrastructure in this country is organised with passport scanning machines and computers.
The Panama side was a different story with officials working out of ram shackle buildings using manual typewriters and carbon paper triplicate forms. The people friendly though, just a slow process and we eventually got away about 2.00pm for what is regarded as a 7 hour trip to Panama City.
Next page will take you on to Panama.
|©Haydn and Dianne Durnell 200|