Sunday, July 31, 2011


Volcan, Panama is right next to the biggest Volcano in Panama. It was foggy the whole time we were there, so we never saw it, but I've heard it's great. What isn't great is riding in the rain, and we set off toward Panama City in a downpour. In classic Central American style the downpour let up after an hour or so, and we baked along in our rain gear until we couldn't stand it any longer and peeled it off.

There was a volcano in there somewhere...
 We had finally caught up with the crew we left when we flew home from Guatemala, and now it was just a matter of finding a meeting point. They were in Bocas del Toros, on the Caribbean coast, and would be somewhere near us sometime around 11am. Tom's bike broke down, their group split in two, and we didn't see anyone until Santa Clara, the next day.

Lodging was looking pretty bad in Santa Clara until we found the XS, a campground/lodge/bird sanctuary owned and operated by American ex-pats for the last 16 years. Sheila showed us around the place, and the restaurant could have been taken straight out of Chicago, her former home. We enjoyed some authentic, American style pulled pork which Sheila cooked up in her crock pot, and it was a nice taste of home.
English menus and barbeque pork: a traveler's guilty pleasures...
 There weren't very many other guests when we arrived, but there were some very beautiful residents:
This Scarlet Macaw looks pretty good for being 60 (human) years old!

This Toucan, like most of the birds there, was rescued from owners who didn't understand the responsibility of caring for tropical birds.
We got back in touch with the rest of the group, and decided this would be a good meeting place. The next morning we awoke to a knock on the door from Charlie and Andy, the Australian contingent of the crew. They were followed closely by Patrick, but by 1pm there was no sign of Tom and Alex...

Patrick had a line on a place to stay in Panama City, which was only an hour away, so we left a note with Sheila for Tom and Alex and moved on. We wandered around Panama City for an hour or so, and finally happened upon the "Panama Passage" hostel, which was set up specifically for overland travelers headed to and from South America. We met up with Shawn(sp?) the owner of the hostel, and found out that there were not enough rooms for all of us. Tom, Alex and Anna then rode up, and we decided to crowd in for one night, and try to find somewhere bigger the next day.

Parking at the Panama Passage
 The next day we found a budget hotel with enough rooms for everyone, and set out on our real mission in Panama City: finding replacement parts for our motorcycles. As you might recall, I had been riding with one foot for the last 400 miles, so I was pretty keen to find a footpeg mount. Everyone needed something, so we headed out to the dealers to see what we could get. Unbelievably, the Suzuki dealership had the bracket I needed in stock, which we figured was about a one in a million chance. I was back on two feet, but Tom and Alex struck out on replacing their chains and tires, so they would have to hang on until Columbia. Charlie finally found a quality shop with a helmet which suited his standards, as 99% of the "helmets" available in Central America are little more than plastic shells with straps. We were overjoyed, Charlie and I because of our purchases, and everyone else (to be quite honest) to be getting out of Central America the next day. Central America has it's charms, but after all of the borders and potholes, a few days on a boat followed by a new continent sounded pretty good.

A celebration was in order, and it looked something like this!
Charlie toasts the end of Central America, Andy looks on

Jill and Kim enjoying mojitos

Tom: "I'll have ten of those!"

Anna: "I just had ten of those!"

Alex the sly, Patrick the wise

Charlie: "Is this one of those pools you're just supposed to look at?"

(After pushing me in) I guess not!

Shirts, jeans, boots and all.

Ummm....I think we should go!

Safe, sound and soaked back in the hotel, with cash to spare....Cheers Central America!

 On the road to the dock at Carti, then on the boat for Columbia! 


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.