SF to Panama... eventually

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by stickfigure, Jan 25, 2008.

  1. header

    header Chris

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    thanks for the reply, and im still jelous. but yeah i really like reading the thread and the pics are amazing. keep it up
  2. drifter dave

    drifter dave Been here awhile

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    Ditto - This report has been very entertaining and informative. Thanks!
  3. ChurnDog

    ChurnDog Adventurer

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    I take it things are going well in Costa Rica. I loved it down there when I was backpacking. Enjoy the country and the hospitality. Can't wait to hear how it is going:clap
  4. supaparty

    supaparty Been here awhile

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    Hey Jeff - we've decided that we're going to throw our camera in the trash...your pics of the waterfall coming up from Lake Atitlan on your way to Guata City makes ours look like crap...so thanks for allowing us to save the weight.

    By the way, we're in Antigua now, and we've extended our stay here from one night to three...it's touristy, but a ton of fun...and super beautiful...one of the 3 volcanoes that ring the town erupted this morning...pretty cool! But you're right, there is no train museum...so it looks like you made the right personal choice.

    On a logistical note, the bridge that is out on the coast of El Salvador, where is it? I'm wonding if we could save time by heading north from La Liberdad on CA4 to connect with CA1 if CA2 is closed? Or perhaps that is the detour already in effect? I don't want to ride through San Salvador, but we may not have the option.

    Keep on keepin' on...you're in the lead and we're just sweeping the course!
  5. VooDooPope

    VooDooPope Looking for 2 good wheels

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    great ride report. can't wait to read more.
  6. supaparty

    supaparty Been here awhile

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    Ok...I read about your Hondurian experience and set my expectations accordingly...but it sucked for us too! It only took about 90 minutes, but it cost us $112 to cross...it's Sunday and the bank was closed...there were semi-trucks a mile long on each side of the border...with the drivers sleeping in hammocks under their trailers...I took that as a bad sign.

    Immigraion was a breeze...6 bucks for my wife and I and we were in...but the helper I hired was both good and evil...the entire system is rigged...he had to pay off just about everyone at each stop to bypass the fact that the bank was closed today...11 bucks for the import form, another 26 bucks for gov't fees, another 15 bucks for cutting lines, and then 65 bucks that just got lost in the process...I tried to follow him to all of the official offices, but he wanted to go alone...I did accompany him for about 45 minutes, and of course, we made no progress. The officials who were getting paid off to sign us through did not want me present to witness the debauchery...and getting a second or third opinion in a system that is totally corrupt is absolutely usless. It was obvious that my helper knew everyone in town...when I tried to solicit another helper, it was obvious again that they were all in cahoots with one another.

    So long story short, I've lost much more money on one hand of black jack at the Hard Rock, and had a good time doing it, but this just soured the Hondurian experience from the get go. Now, as I type, we're in a nice hotel with a pool and wireless about an hour drive from the border in Choluteca, and after a few beers...the sting of getting ripped off is lessening....I hope we don't have to go through the same pain on the way up...my new attitude for such corrupt places...fuggit...time is money...pay it and be happy...circumventing the system here is a time consuming process, with little reward.

    By the way...at the police checkpoints after the border...they waived us down to stop, we waived and smiled at them, and kept on going! I looked in my mirrors and there were no M16's pointed at us...so I kept on going...it worked twice!

    And regarding the bridge that is out in El Salvador immediately after La Liberdad, we just rode around the bulldozer, over the constuction area, around the next bulldozer, through the cones, and out....I guess since it's Sunday the crew wasn't working...that ended up being the highlight of the day!

    Anhow...hope to hook up for a beer at some point...we're doing Gunajuato on the way back...so if you're holed up there writing code and hanging with your mujere, it might work out. Keep reporting from the front...we'll keep taking up the rear (close to a pun, and today I feel that it's appropriate!) :freaky
  7. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    Damn, you have some cajones!

    On the way back I'm planning to do one of the eastern Honduran border crossings, it should be much less hectic. That border crossing sucks.

    I finally have a replacement phone! I will PM you my phone number, SMS is cheap. There will be cold beer when you get here.

    I'm in Costa Rica now, hopefully crossing into Panama on Tuesday. Lots of crazy adventure in the last couple weeks, but it'll be a small eternity before I get all the photos uploaded on this slow net connection.

    A brief teaser: My bike had to be rescued by OX CART.

    Cheers,
    Jeff
  8. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    Is "eventually" finally here?!

    Regarding ox-carts... :lurk

    Once you cross into Panama, you'll have a few police checkpoints. Do stop- Panama isn't Honduras. There are some corrupt Panama cops, so be careful. Some of the checkpoints are random, and some are in regular locations, with permanent guard houses.

    They will demand to see your passport and drivers license. All you need is your regular drivers license. If they try to say that you don't have permission to ride in Panama, politely tell them to fuck off. If they have any "problems" with your bike, show them your temporary import permit. Insist (correctly) that your temporary visa, your temporary import permit, and your US license is all you need to ride legally in Panama, and that your bike was inspected prior to being allowed in Panama. Also remind them that the customs/immigration police are superior to "transit" cops.

    There are two types of cops in Panama- transit and non-transit. The transit ones wear tan, and they often demand $20 bribes. If you were actually doing something wrong (like speeding?), then just pay the damn bribe. I consider it a "tip," like a gratuity or something. The other cops wear green, military-style uniforms. They're better trained and less likely to be corrupt. They often carry machine guns. They are your friends. They won't demand bribes- but if they do, DO NOT PAY THEM.

    It's still rainy season, but if you can still ride to Yavisa. The road is paved (sometimes badly) almost all the way. There is gas in Torti, Meteti, and Yavisa.
  9. supaparty

    supaparty Been here awhile

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    Hmmm...how appropriate...I just got a speeding ticket in Panama today! I played hardball...pretending I spoke no Spanish and asking the cop for his name and badge number before I handed over my license...he got pretty pissed off and demanded my license...I gave him my AAA Int'l cheapie license, and then he showed me his name tag. As he wrote up my speeding ticket, I walked over to his bike and wrote down the license plate number and sribbled some other stuff down, as if I were writing him a ticket!...my wife was sitting on the back of my bike and thought that I was being an idiot (she's usually right). Anyhow, he gave me back my license, gave me the ticket and told me to get outa there...I asked where do I pay the ticket, and he just told me to leave and started pointing his radar gun at other cars....so I guess I have nice free souvenir now:clap
  10. radgpz

    radgpz n00b

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    THIS. "for their God is a jealous God" is a MIStranslation, that HAS BEEN AROUND FOREVER and retold over and over. The word in the old english is ZEALOUS,
    and some uneducated saw the Z as a J ...zealous means he will fight for his kids like a tiger! he has nothing to be jealous about (he owns it all!)


    ps.The other one I find comical is... God helps those that help themselves..(thats NOT in the bible anywhere) he helps those that cannot....
    Dude, this was a ...DREAM RIDE............LUCKEEEY ;)
  11. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    <a href="http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=granada,+nicaragua&ie=UTF8&ll=11.980218,-85.995483&spn=2.50387,3.828735&z=8"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3029/2742446242_bedb47058a.jpg"/></a>

    The Nicaragua border crossing was easy. Actually, pretty much everything about Nicaragua was easy - except that I didn't find an obvious gas station on the other side. This was a small problem since I didn't bother filling up on the brief stretch through Honduras. I thought I might find something along the way to the next town, and did - two little stores on the side of the road with big gasoline jugs, all empty. I had never run the tank dry so I didn't know how far I could go... and the answer was "not far enough".

    I left the bike parked under a tree, hitched a 20 minute ride to town, bought a gallon of gas, and hitched a ride back. The total experience took less than an hour. Easy!

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    A random shot I took from the back of the pickup truck that gave me a ride:

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    I spent three nights in Nicaragua, one in León and two in Granada. León is a nice town with a couple nice hostels but Granada is amazing. Beautiful colonial architecture, friendly people, great food, and prices comparable to Guatemala. Nicaragua is one of the best tourist destinations in Central America and it seems like nobody knows it.

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    It rained a lot:

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    Granada has a huge public market that extends out of the buildings into the street:

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    Granada is perched on the shore of Lake Nicaragua:

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    Some food porn, starting with gazpacho:

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    Coconut shrimp:

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    Rack of lamb - RARE!

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  12. mhkpilot

    mhkpilot Adventurer

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    Dude, you're livin' the dream. I wish I was with ya. Maybe someday...

    Safe travels.
  13. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    I'll admit this up front: I do not love Costa Rica.

    It's very pretty, yes, and compared to another day in the office I'll pick Costa Rica every time. But Nicaragua and Guatemala are just as beautiful and aren't overrun with herds of tourists on package holidays. Most shocking of all, prices in Costa Rica are on par with Hawaii! You can't find a hamburger for less than $6. The national dish seems to be rice with some chicken thrown in it, and even the (fortunately omnipresent) international food is terribly bland. This is not my kind of adventure!

    Unfortunately, when Guille and I were picking a place in Central America to meet up for three weeks, Costa Rica seemed the logical choice.

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    The border crossing into Costa Rica was surprisingly bad. Apparently I arrived just after several tourbuses because I found myself in a 2-hour line that never got any longer behind me. This was just to stamp my passport.

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    Importing the bike was slightly more complicated than most borders but still nothing to complain about by Honduras standards. No helper needed.

    Costa Rica's roads aren't especially good. They also tend to have a *lot* of traffic, with big trucks backing up long lines of cars driving through windy mountain roads. Unfortunately my hydraulic clutch slave cylinder, which has been slowly degenerating since Mexico, finally gave out completely. From about the border on, shifting was a complicated process of manually syncing the engine RPM or pumping the clutch lever a dozen times to build up a tiny bit of pressure. This was not fun, especially turning off the engine in traffic just to stop.

    I spent my first night in Puntarenas, west of San José, because I didn't want to deal with the horrible late-afternoon traffic going into the city. The next morning I passed a half-dozen police officers aiming radar guns at everyone going by! This was the first place I've seen traffic laws enforced south of the US border, and though I was unmolested, I was not pleased.

    I finally made it to San José, got a room at one of the many hostels, dropped off the bike at the KTM dealer (Motos Breymann), and took a taxi to the airport to wait for Guille to arrive. She didn't. Due to bad weather she ended up spending a night in Panama City, but the airline people couldn't tell me anything useful and I had no means of communication. There is not even an internet kiosk in the airport! After a long wait, I returned to San José empty-handed. Guille arrived at my room the next day.

    San José is not a pretty town, but my friends Jon and Lynne were flying in the next day so Guille and I decided to explore a little and have dinner with them.

    The post office:

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    Inside the post office is a tiny postal museum, and this silly thing:

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    There were many decorated cows placed throughout the city as part of some sort of art contest; this was the most clever:

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    Random shot downtown:

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    The University of Costa Rica has a beautiful campus:

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    We went to the university in search of an insect museum, which was quite impressive (Costa Rica has a lot of bugs):

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    On-campus sillyness:

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    There was once a railroad museum and a train that ran through town. Apparently two years ago both shut down:

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    The national museum is great, but I don't have any pictures of it.
  14. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    <a href="http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=manuel+antonio,+costa+rica&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=34.176059,61.259766&ie=UTF8&ll=9.698228,-84.402466&spn=2.658345,3.828735&z=8"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3052/2742883290_9333016181.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3008/2735956175_64e2922296.jpg"/></a>

    Our stay in Costa Rica nicely coincided with the arrival of a dozen of my friends from San Francisco and Los Angeles. They rented out a big beautiful house in Manuel Antonio. Paar-tay!

    The house:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3049/2737273850_49466964df.jpg"/></a>

    The bar:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3169/2736694741_8d440445fa.jpg"/></a>

    The pool:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3018/2732287879_70cf0f12e7.jpg"/></a>

    Dinner! The house came with a chef who made the best food I ate in Costa Rica. That's <a href="http://www.advrider.com/forums/member.php?u=4290">sp4ce</a> in the Heart of Darkness tshirt.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3095/2736609848_3eebbccba8.jpg"/></a>

    Monkeys would occasionally invade the house:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3182/2736753231_2f3130f11e.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3149/2733323058_2f747e4614.jpg"/></a>

    I think I know what they were after:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3191/2735756367_6da6bf807d.jpg"/></a>

    Waiter, there's a frog in my pool!

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3270/2732261043_fc23d0650f.jpg"/></a>

    The "town" of Manuel Antonio is perched along the mountains. Mostly it's expensive hotels and restaurants. This restaurant ("El Avion") is was pretty cool:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3222/2732703823_14468dc609.jpg"/></a>

    We drank a lot of these:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3248/2736826052_455fd7fe85.jpg"/></a>

    For Antoinette's birthday, she got... Mariachi:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2390/2736813119_529dcefa20.jpg"/></a>
  15. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    Walking down to a small secluded beach:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3211/2733627139_43fe3a531f.jpg"/></a>

    Our beach:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3120/2734448214_3143cc78e9.jpg"/></a>

    One day several of us took surfing lessons. This sign was posted on the beach:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3244/2735948697_096888c156.jpg"/></a>

    Lots of these critters running around:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3004/2733537299_757e81ee8c.jpg"/></a>

    We chartered a catamaran for an afternoon:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3070/2736879074_d978f24b58.jpg"/></a>

    Glamor shot:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3022/2736929472_2c56b299a5.jpg"/></a>

    We hired a guide to take us through Manuel Antonio. It was ludicrously expensive (like everything else in Costa Rica) but the guy knew exactly which leaves to turn over and where to point the monocular.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3201/2736963822_178cd378fa.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3087/2736319999_534c74492c.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3015/2737164822_84180d4930.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3296/2737145442_03269f754f.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3082/2736348171_7b9c5a6cf8.jpg"/></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3276/2737103854_fc5510e4ff.jpg"/></a>

    Costa Rica is full of epiphytic plants like these orchids:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoriman/tags/manuelantonio/"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3177/2737253624_b1e5712ce8.jpg"/></a>
  16. Loud Al

    Loud Al .

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    It may be expensive but it looks like it is worth it. I really enjoy your updates.
    :clap :clap :clap :clap
  17. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    After the party crowd left, Guille and I decided to spend a night in Puntarenas, pick up the motorcycle in San José, and head for Tortuguero park on the Caribbean side.

    Puntarenas is a strange town at the end of a long sandbar. A lightly-used vehicle ferry departs there and a long-abandoned rail line runs the length. Scattered trash litters the beaches and a feeling of decay pervades... all in all, it feels like the Santa Cruz boardwalk.

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    An abandoned olympic-size swimming pool at the very end of the peninsula:

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    Fried fish stuffed with seafood, I love you!

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  18. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

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    I finally found my limit. I now know what it feels like to experience "too much" adventure.

    My bike finally fixed, Guille and I left San José two-up around noon, headed for Tortuguero park on the Caribbean coast. Both the Lonely Planet map and my GPS showed a road that runs north out of Pacayas through the mountains to Guápiles and Cariari, where we could park the bike and take a boat to Tortuguero. I assumed anything marked on the low-detail Lonely Planet maps would be only mildly exciting. Holy shit was I wrong.

    First I need to mention that the passenger pegs on a KTM 640 Adventure really should be labeled "for emergency use only". Riding two-up is cramped, plus the additional weight of a backpack-wearing passenger on top of an already skyscraper-tall motorcycle makes slow-speed handling very difficult. Furthermore there is no easy preload adjustment on the rear shock, so high-speed handling is none too pleasant either.

    It started raining almost immediately. A light rain followed us for several hours through Cartago and north through Cot. The pavement was slowly deteriorating but by this time we were a long ways from any fallback route - plus the GPS kept lying that we would be through the mountains in about an hour. We pressed on.

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    Then the pavement ended and the road became dirt. Then the light rain turned into heavy rain. Cold heavy rain. And then I fucked up.

    I stalled the engine slowly going around a sharp corner. Keeping all that weight upright was impossible; the bike slowly went over on its side. This by itself was no big deal, but it landed in exactly perfect position to dump both me and Guille down a 7' embankment with a river of muddy water falling on us.

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    It was difficult to climb up the embankment - the top was way over my head.

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    Our descents were back-first but the gear did its job; I felt quite a thud on landing but suffered no injury. Guille (in jeans) received a couple bruises on her hips just below the shorty jacket. It was a cold, wet, muddy, miserable accident but we were able to get back on the bike with surprisingly good humor.

    Unfortunately this was not the worst thing to happen that day.

    The road progressively deteriorated. I can not believe this road is on the Lonely Planet map, or any map whatsoever. The GPS kept merrily singing "almost done!"

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    This was by far the most difficult riding I have ever done in my life. Steep, muddy, rocky. Barely dualtrack in places. Deep water crossings. Raining so hard I had to take my glasses off and ride with my visor open. All with a passenger! I dropped the bike once or twice more; a couple times Guille had to get off and help push through deep mud.

    In retrospect, this whole ordeal was stupid. The rational thing to do would have been to go back, but we were well past the halfway point (it seemed) and 4+ hours of riding back to San José in defeat did not sound appealing. We pressed on.

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    Any fan of cheap horror movies can guess what happened next:

    SUDDENLY, WITHOUT WARNING, THE BIKE STOPPED WORKING.

    I tried to diagnose it for 30 cold wet minutes. I could kick-start to idle (all the slow-speed riding with my heated grips drained the battery), but any attempt to apply throttle past 3k rpm instantly killed the engine. It had gas, I could hear sloshing from the tank (and later checked that fuel flowed freely from the filter). Letting it idle for a couple minutes didn't help. Whatever the problem, it wasn't something I could fix then and there.

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    (this picture was actually taken the next day)

    At around 5pm, with daylight fading, we left the bike and started hiking back to a hotel we had seen a couple miles back. It took about an hour. In the rain. It was dark when we finally arrived - cold, hungry, and soaked to the bone.

    At the lodge I learned:

    * There is a relatively easy road from the lodge to a highway that goes back to San José.

    * The fork in the road we took turns into a horse trail a couple kilometers past where we left the bike.

    * The maps I have are pure cracksmokery.

    Here are some more pics of the road, taken on one of the trips I made back to the bike during the next couple days:

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    My best guess was that the main circuit of the carburetor is blocked or otherwise malfunctioning. Just getting at the carb requires taking the tank off, and disassembling a carburetor is not something I'd like to attempt without a shop. This was not going to be fixed in the field, and bringing the bike back to "civilization" was not going to be easy.
  19. stickfigure

    stickfigure Fiendish Fluoridator

    Joined:
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    It took me three days to arrange a way to bring the bike back to the lodge. The final solution was to bring the bike back by OX CART :eek1 Unfortunately the oxen and their handlers were busy during the day so the trip had to be made in the evening - in the dark and in the rain. Sigh.

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    The round-trip took about three hours. It was near pitch-black on the return trip, and my little LED headlamp was the only flashlight. I loaned it to the guy leading the oxen, so the other guy and I held on to the back of the bike/cart and trudged forward without having any idea where we were putting our feet. It was raining and muddy and dark. The cart bounced all over the uneven road and sloshed through deep water crossings.

    You can not imagine the deep sigh of relief I breathed when the cart pulled up in front of the lodge, and its dear payload stood up on the centerstand for the first time in three days.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Even after this heroic feat, it still took an extra day to get a truck that would bring the bike back to the shop in San José. Apparently Aug 1st is a religious festival and many highways are closed while people trek to some shrine somewhere. Guille's return flight to Mexico was on this date so she took a taxi from the lodge leaving at 4:30am to avoid the closures.

    We never made it to Tortuguero :(:

    Now that a several days have elapsed, I think the worst part of the experience was that there was never enough light to get a decent picture.

    Random lesson: If you don't mind the walking pace, an ox cart may be the world's most powerful transport device.
  20. Rockin Rollin

    Rockin Rollin Rockin Adventurer

    Joined:
    May 11, 2006
    Oddometer:
    689
    Location:
    Earth
    Great RR Jeff.:clap Just discovered it a few days ago,and got caught up now.
    Serious adventure. You'll especially remember this last bit. :eek1 Hope you get it sorted out pretty quick.
    Your writing style is excellant and the impressions and extra info is appreciated. I hope to do some riding in Mexico & C.A. in the next few years.
    Thanks for lettng us enjoy your adventure with you:freaky
    Happy trails.