Sunday, July 31, 2011

A new friend for the most beautiful ride of the trip...

Jill and I with Dr. Sancho in San Vito, Costa Rica
 After our stay with Andres and Alexis, we realized that we needed to be in Panama City to catch the boat in five days. We hit the road and covered the 300 remaining kilometers of Costa Rica in an afternoon, and along the way were passed by a blazing fast, brand new BMW GS1200. It was gone as fast as it came up, and we didn't think much more about it, until it passed us again at the turn-off for the border of Panama. That was where we met Dr. Sancho, a retired microbiologist who lived near San Vito, a few miles from the Panama border. We had decided earlier to cross the border at Rio Sereno, a very small border station in the country, because of the rave reviews other motorcyclists had written. After the hassles and rip-offs we had faced at every previous crossing, we were willing to try anything. Dr. Sancho was headed out to check on the construction of his new house, so he invited us to ride with him to San Vito, and the 40 mile ride offered the most beautiful views of the trip so far.
The 40 mile trip was along the top of a ridge the whole way, and there were green hills all the way to the horizon in both directions. At exactly the same time Jill and I both said, "It looks like a Dr. Suess book!"
It was hard to get many photos, though, as the Doctor was no slouch on his BMW, and I frequently found myself falling behind while looking off into the distance. We stopped for coffee and stories in San Vito, and then headed out to check on the construction of his new home. It is a beautiful, open floor plan, and the only walls that aren't glass are around the master bedroom. Anywhere in the house you can see this:

Because of all of the windows, the structure of the house was mostly steel, which, as you can imagine, suited me just fine.
A welder's dream project!
Dr. Sancho watching his dream come together
 It was getting late in the day, so we had to start making our way toward Panama. We have met kind strangers at many points along the trip, but Costa Ricans proved to be the most open and welcoming people of any so far. Not only did Dr. Sancho extend an open invitation for us to visit his new home when it is completed, he also called ahead to the border, where he knew an official who could make our crossing even easier.

A few miles up a dirt road we came to the border, where Dr. Sancho's friend was waiting, exit stamp in hand. In less than a minute we were checked out of Costa Rica. It was so easy that I decided to drop the bike, just to liven things up a bit. Here's what I accomplished!

That's the left footpeg, cracked at the mount and hanging on by a shred of aluminum. Very bad.
 Of course this was an awful development, because it meant that I would be riding while holding one foot in the air for all 400 of the miles to Panama City. It also continued my embarrassing habit of dropping the bike while stationary. Obviously no one was injured (Jill wasn't even on the bike), so we made our way into the Panama immigration building.

The official there was polite and patient, and we were though immigration in five minutes. The real test of any border is customs, and the customs officials there were unlike any I've met so far. Young, jovial and courteous, they entertained my horrific Spanish with a little good-natured ribbing, a few inside jokes and some clumsy small-talk. When they started laughing around and calling each other crazy I didn't really know how to respond; and probably looked very uncomfortable. In the previous seven border crossings I had witnessed a total of one person who seemed to like their job or coworkers, so initially it felt like some sort of sick joke or trap. What can I say, Central American border crossings make you very cynical. After a five dollar rip off from the insurance office lady next door (who obviously felt left out) we were feeling pretty good about Panama, and made our way to Volcan, our stop for the night.

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