One continent down, one to go..
Trip Start Jul 17, 2012
18Trip End Nov 30, 2012
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Nicaragua immediately appeared poorer but with well surfaced quiet roads and the ultimate sign of civilisation - road signs ! Not just with road numbers but place names and distances too ! I really can't explain how much easier and less stressful this makes life. We had a nice ride through the morning towards Granada with an occasional short shower to cool things down a bit. My good opinion of the country was dashed though when a fat sweaty copper stopped us, took our licences and demanded $70 each for speeding. I feigned stupidity, lack of Spanish, empty wallet etc etc all to no avail. He did say we could pay at the local bank (when it opens on Monday and he would keep the licences until then) or pay him direct. We both eventually coughed up but it's an unpleasant feeling knowing you've been done. He kept mumbling 'you people' and asking how much my camera was worth as well as to be more discrete when counting out the money. I don't think he was passing comment on my speeding I just think he particularly enjoys ripping off foreign 'rich' people. Yes, we are rich relatively speaking but firstly I can't afford to keep forking out $70 and also we 'people' are bringing in tourist money to help drag his country out of the gutter. Rant over ! We were speeding by the way.. Just to add every other (must be dozens and dozens) police and army checkpoints have just given us a quick look and not stopped us
Still fuming we arrived in the main square in Granada next to Lake Nicaragua. Rooms in the nicest hotel on the square - (stuff the expense I've been roughing it for weeks!) and I started to feel good about the day again. A quick visit to an ATM to replenish our dollars was needed too - all split into smaller amounts and hidden amongst our bike gear and luggage. Granada's claim to fame is as the first city in the Americas. Parts of the atlantic coast including Granada were once invaded by the British including pirate groups and apparently parts of the indigenous population still have English as their first language. Whether that is Queens English or a strange 1600's Jack Sparrow pirate drawl I couldn't tell you. Spent an afternoon overlooking the main square from the verandah of one of the hotels then took cover from an evening storm. Steak and chips went down well in the square. Next day a short hop to San Juan del Sur was on the agenda. It's a pacific coast beach resort good for surfing and a hang out for yanks. Also a short hop from the Pan American Highway border into Costa Rica which unfortunately is really our only option for moving on towards Panama
Leaving Granada a KTM going the other waved then turned round and stopped us. Juan Carlos was from Costa Rica and couldn't speak a word of English but his enthusiasm for bikes was infectious - clearly knew loads of bikers and told us the BMW GS Trophy (big annual event run by..BMW) on a different continent each year was being held in Panama so loads of bikes around. Gave us mobile numbers for himself, his English speaking Costa Rican mate and the BMW Motorrad Panama manager should we get into trouble. Top man !
San Juan del Sur turned out to be just a beachy version of other Nicaraguan towns - just a handful of nice hotels and a big beach added on top. Think we collared the best hotel in town mind. Big verandah overlooking the bay and a pool. Turns out it was built by an Englishman about 100 years ago who came over and started a business in the area. Don't think it was piracy - something more prosaic like cabling I think ! Any how he shipped all the materials from England and then the locals put it all together. Nice cool off in the pool and then put a hand in the sea - first time I've encountered the Pacific Ocean. On a different note the seasons/ times must be changing
Whilst relaxing on the verandah a German Doctor (I won't name him on a public blog) approached us and told us he ships in people from all round the world for stem cell treatment for various ailments. Very controversial and illegal all over Europe and the USA. I don't know enough to pass judgement but if you have to go to Nicaragua to carry out your business I would suggest you have a problem. A quick google search reveals many other people who have had odd conversations with this chap including a claim that he can make you live to 120 with a $10,000 pill ! He left his thick glossy brochure with us claiming that he can cure everything from an ingrowing toenail to cancer. Conclusion - mad, a conman, a fugitive on the run or a world leading expert who can only progress his research in the forward thinking liberal democracy and cradle of medical progressive medical thought that is Nicaragua. I'll let you decide ! And why is it always a German Doctor!? Anyway, these are the strange encounters of the road.
Our border crossing for Monday was the notorious one on the Pan American Highway into Costa Rica used by all the freight traffic
Lush green countryside, well tended pretty little houses and signs that the inhabitants care for their country. The national greeting is Pura Vida - and it seems to ring true. Roads were good with the odd massive pot hole and we even got some camino sinuosa (impressed ? That's 4 spanish words I know now). The area is the one of the most biodiverse in the world and we had warning signs for monkeys by the side of the road. Jaguars, Toucans and Tapirs live in the jungle and Costa Rica is also home to the fastest running lizard which can outrun a human ! Temperatures also cooled as we gained some height - I was beginning to like Costa Rica ! The weather has been kind to us generally over the last week. The tropical set up of hot clear days with rain rolling in late afternoon has been the norm with some really heavy stuff overnight including thunder and lightning. First nights stop a Swiss chalet type hotel complete with old Swiss school bus, railway and a previous retreat of US President Jummy Carter ! As I write this can hear the noises of the jungle - exotic birds and insects with an overlay of swiss yodeling from the restaurant sound system ! Following day was the Caribbean / Atlantic coast so we have ridden from the Pacific to Atlantic in two days. Total mileage went through 10,000 miles so we've covered almost 3500 since Tucson
The Pan American Highway has been a constant companion all the way from Deadhorse, Alaska and soon we will reach it's northern end in Panama City. There is no road link to South America - thick impenetrable jungle in the Darien Gap sees to that. It's a wild area inhabited by indigenous tribes and has only been driven or ridden through a handful of times. Well I say driven / ridden - more like physically pushed, winched and carried down river on make shift barges. The only option for us is to crate the bikes up and fly them. Anyway we moved on through Costa Rica in the pouring rain dropping down out of the rain forest towards the Caribbean coast. The road then ran right along the sea for 20 or so miles until we reached a beach resort area full of small hotels. We got an apartment next to the pool and about 15 paces from the sea. They'd clearly had a bit of the rough weather too as everyone was out working furiously to tidy the place up. The friendly lady who ran the place also took time to point out that they had a family of sloths move in recently and she could spot them in the higher branches pretty much instantly - it took me about 5 minutes before I could pick out one of them. Great to see especially as we had passed a sloth sanctuary on our way in and it crossed my mind to stop and have a look.
The border crossing in to Panama was supposed to be easy - it turned out to be the worst one yet
On arrival however things have taken a turn for the worst. Contacting Girag cargo took an hour of constant phone ringing to get hold of someone and another half hour to get hold of someone who spoke english. Upshot was the cargo manager was not available and the next flight we can use is Saturday week and they want us to drop them off on Wednesday. This was all via the translator so we still need to confirm with the cargo manager which could prove a challenge. Also means we are twiddling our thumbs in Panama City for at least 6 days ! We got hopelessy lost on arrival, couldn't find the airport so pulled into the first decent looking hotel with secure parking which now seems to be in the Panama version of Croydon
Update Friday: Cristina kindly phoned Girag for us and used her fluent Spanish to find out that if we got to the Tocumen Airport Cargo terminal by 4pm we could get our bikes flown to Ecuador next wednesday. That would have to do. Head off to the airport but a sign directing to cargo leads apparently nowhere so we ask a cabbie at the passenger terminal to lead the way. He insists on $30 then speeds off back in to town ! Exasperated and with time ticking by we stop and the cabbie pulls on to the hard shoulder 100yds away. Before we know it we've got two bikers, a reversing taxi driver, Cristina on the phone and then two cops turn up - great ! Cristina saves the day and all the Spanish speaking people realise it is Tocumen after all - like we've been pleading with them for the last 10 mins. Cops are friendly and we eventually get lead to the cargo area to an unsigned building which turns out to be Girag. After much confusion they finally confirm we can get our bikes flown to Bogota over the weekend - they have 2 flights - and we can collect Monday
The following day, my birthday, proved interesting. We first went on a trip to Miraflores locks on the Panama canal where they have a visitors centre. Great views of the big ships coming through the canal along with museum, theatre, that kind of thing. Interesting ride there in the cab as well which went via Clayton, an upmarket area housing the American Embassy, Kings College British school and lots of big comfortable houses with people playing tennis and sprinklers watering the lawns. A different side to Panama. The city is also full of newly built luxury hotels and flats overlooking the ocean including a new Trump tower. Apparently Panama is big (or they hope it will be) with retirees due to the tax breaks.
In the afternoon after some web browsing we got a panic on - our passports have a Panamanian stamp saying not allowed to leave without our vehicles. Clearly we no longer have them so worried that we will turn up for our flight to Bogota and be barred from leaving. Quickly grabbed a cab for the 30min drive back to the Girag cargo area where we thought there was a customs post - hopefully producing our air waybill would do the trick and this appears to be what other people have done - although Girag had told us none of this
Sunday morning we set off early and got checked in at the Avianca desk. Next up - passport control ! My passport clearly has 2 Panamanian stamps - one the normal entry one at the Guabito border the other a stamp saying 'not allowed to leave without vehicle'. The passport bloke looked me up and down, checked my photograph then started flicking through the passport looking for the entry stamp. 'Guabito?' He asked - 'Si'. One last look and then he waved me through. Same for JB. At least now we are back on track and hoping that the bikes have also made it to South America !