Leaving Kansas for Panama, first time south of the border. Advice?

Discussion in 'Latin America' started by paul.miner, Sep 13, 2014.

  1. paul.miner

    paul.miner Adventurer

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    On Sep 19th (6 days from now) I'm leaving Wichita, KS and riding my VFR800 to Yaviza, Panama. I've got three weeks set aside for this trip. I've been north to Canada a few times, but this will be my first trip south of the border.

    There are a few things I'm curious about (and others I *should* be curious about if only I knew). The ones that come to mind are:

    1. Am I going to be able to get by with a phrasebook? I don't know any Spanish.

    2. Best maps for a Garmin GPS? I'm leaning towards gpstravelmaps.com simply because they seem to have all the Central American countries covered, and I'm going to pass through all of them.

    3. How difficult are the roads? I plan on bringing a pair of offroad tires with me (TKC80 and Karoo 3) to put on my VFR at some point. Related, is it relatively easy to find places that will do this for me?

    4. Who would you advise I go through for travel insurance?

    5. How easy/difficult is it to find places to camp? Previously I've relied on a mix of roadside camping and actual campsites, but I don't know how things are down there.

    Any other things I need to take care of?

    Here's a rough outline of the route I was planning on taking. Of course, there will be variations from this: http://i.imgur.com/1ddjBIt.jpg

    EDIT: Mods, could this be moved to the Trip Planning: Americas forum if more appropriate there?
    #1
  2. markharf

    markharf Been here awhile

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    Start memorizing some phrases now. You'll get by regardless, but the more you've got committed to memory in advance, the better your trip will feel.

    I know nothing about GPS maps except you should carry paper maps for backup.

    You don't need "off road tires" (which the TKC and Karoo are not) for your VFR. Where do you think you're going to be riding that thing? Your route consists of paved highways. Finding people to change or repair tires is ridiculously easy....except in the precise moment when you really need one.

    I use DAN insurance which comes with membership. Google it: it's for scuba divers but covers all members in any activity. Consider that you might mean something different by "travel insurance" from what I mean.

    Camping is often awkward. You're not alone out there, and you're more vulnerable than you think. Think about this carefully.

    There is so much you need to think about that I'm not bothering to even tell you where to look....although Chris Scott's Adventure Motorcycling Handbook wouldn't be misplaced. Try searching this site and Horizonsunlimited.com. That'll keep you busy until the moment you depart home.

    Hope that's helpful.

    Mark
    #2
  3. TeeVee

    TeeVee His mudda was a mudda!

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    that's an awful long ride for 3 weeks, but to each their own.

    beware the potholes and topes (speed humps) they wreak havoc on proper "adventure" bikes with long travel suspensions and much better ground clearance and will be pretty hard on your street bike. you can practically forget about finding spare wheels for that ride in CA, so go easy and watch the road. parts of the road in honduras are so bad you can lose a small car in the potholes.

    DO NOT TRAVEL AT NIGHT. plan your days leaving plenty of time before sundown to arrive at your intended destination.

    gpstravelmaps are good but like mark said, paper backup.

    i've used allianz travle insurance for 8 years and am very happy with them. when i got hit in nicargaua they covered 101% of medical costs and would've paid for my flight home except i flew private. note that most medical plans DO NOT cover medevac. try medjet assist for that.
    #3
  4. WilderRider

    WilderRider Long timer

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    I went to Panama and back from Denver two years ago. I will try and answer, but I will agree that 3 weeks is not a lot of time. You are not going to be able to stop anywhere and enjoy it. Remember that the number of miles you can go in a day really shrinks below the border (but usually that is a good thing). I made the return trip in about 4 weeks and that was with only taking a day or two off here and there (I took 2 months to get down there and only went as far as David).

    1. You can get by with a phrase book. Inevitably you will find other English speakers or be able to communicate the bare essentials. But the more Spanish you know the better the trip will be.

    2. I used the Bicimaps for by 60csx. There were a few hiccups, but they were pretty good for the price and routable. I like routable.

    3. The roads are fine if you decide to take the main routes. The only time I had any serious offroad travel was in Honduras and that was because I took some detours. It was fun, but if you are moving like you say, then you will not have time for that. You can get by fine with street tires. I put on Shinko 700 rear and a 244 front and they lasted me the entire trip and back. Just put on a fresh set and you should be good to go to get to Panama.

    4. I purchased medjet assist for the trip, but never ended up using it. The getting the bike back part is only good in Mexico, so beware after you enter Guatemala if you use them.

    5. I think finding places to camp is tough, especially secure sites. The hotels/hostels were usually $15-20, and I LOVED taking a lighter bike without the camping gear, so I did not bother. I like camping, but I did not miss it on the trip. It was more fun to be in the city at night and stroll around.

    There is plenty more to think about, but that depends on what you are doing. Are you leaving the bike in Panama to come back sometime? For how long? You might want to look at the documents needed for insurance, etc. for the bike and what you need, but you probably already investigated that. Feel free to PM if you have more questions.

    I think Pascal did that trip in about 10 days. maybe he will pop in an add. I read his report and he did crazy lengths during the day (I do not think he even spent the night in Nicaragua). I know everyone uses the time they have, but just doing distance does not do it for me. If I only had three weeks right now, I would spend it all in MX.
    #4
  5. paul.miner

    paul.miner Adventurer

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    I've already bought paper maps, but having maps on my GPS would be nice.

    I was originally going to be going with a GS rider (no longer the case) so we were going to be off-road a bit, but I'll probably cut back on it. I'm considering not bringing the tires simply because it'd be a pain in the ass to lug them around. I've been down plenty of dirt/mud roads on a VFR (my trip down the Dalton was wet 'n slippery), and I'd like the extra grip they'd provide, but... I don't know. I have a few days to decide.

    I'll start working on my Spanish; I picked up a phrasebook yesterday.

    I've heard the advice about not traveling at night before, so I'll stick to day-riding.

    Those topes look mean and slick; I'll try to look out for them and take them easy. My headers pass under the bike so in the event I bottom out, hopefully it'll help protect the oilpan.

    It is a long ride for three weeks, but the loop through the western portion of the US can be cut out. The ride down was more easterly, with the ride back being more along the west coast, at which point I'd have the option to make a beeline back home, or loop through western states. I'll actually have 23 days, so I'm hoping it'll be enough, even with the low speeds down south.

    My past trips have always involved camping, so I hadn't even considered just staying in hostels and such. Is it difficult to find empty areas in the middle of nowhere? In the US and Canada, I often pulled off the road outside of cities and set up out of sight (although I also did the opposite, camping in a high-visibility spot near a road). Freeing up the space taken by the tent and sleeping bag does sound appealing though...

    I'm not planning on leaving the bike there. I was intending on making it down to Panama in a bit over a week, and taking a longer route back home. I know it's a fast pace that doesn't leave much time for exploration. But if it goes well, I'll visit again, and I'll at least have a survey of all the countries.

    As I understand it, I'll need to get a TVIP, but that can be done at the border. Any advice on border crossings?
    #5
  6. Chiriqui Charlie

    Chiriqui Charlie Been here awhile

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    Any other things I need to take care of?

    NUMBER ONE! ALWAYS CARRY THE POCKET PACKS OF KLEENEX, BATHROOMS DO NOT HAVE TOILET PAPER!
    #6
  7. paul.miner

    paul.miner Adventurer

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    I'll be taking toilet paper and baby wipes :)

    Is it easy to get prepaid cellphones that will work all through CA? One thing my employer was worried about was that they be able to reach me some how, even if delayed, in case of server problems.
    #7
  8. markharf

    markharf Been here awhile

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    You don't get to explore backroads and play in the dirt if planning to make Yaviza in a week. That's beyond the realm of "silly" and well into "pathetic."

    However, tastes differ--sometimes greatly. Truly dedicated riders with little interest in taking fun local roads, seeing the sights or hanging with locals do such things all the time. If you pull it off, let us know how it went, and I'll be the first to willingly eat crow.

    Border crossings are made out to be horrific, but for the most part they're not--merely time-consuming and frequent. Allow an hour or two each and you'll be ecstatic on those occasions when you get through more quickly. Do the math and you'll note that you've just accounted for a full day of travel in each direction.

    Also note the predictable confusion about your "travel insurance" question. People are answering based on their own differing assumptions, indicating that no one really knows what you mean.

    best,

    Mark
    #8
  9. pax maac

    pax maac Been here awhile

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    Like buy a phone in Mexico and have it work all through every country you're going through? Not that I'm aware of. My wife uses Telcel, but she has a plan, not prepaid, and it kind of worked in Honduras and Guatemala. My phone is on Iusacell and it didnt work at all in Central America. I'd think you'll probably have to buy a different phone in each country to use the local service provider if you want to be connected all the time.

    Best bet is to just bring your US smartphone and connect to WIFI everywhere (hotels, restaurants, anyplace with a hotspot) you can and use skype or whatsapp.

    Also, Kansas to Panama in 1 week? Wow, good luck and stay safe. You're welcome to stop by and take a shower and stay the night if you like if your route takes you near/through Toluca (40kms west of Mexico City) Send me a PM if interested.
    #9
  10. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    You can not ride from Kansas to Panama in a week.

    Read the Just Butt Time thread.

    You should have come to Throttlemeister's this weekend for the Latin America Rider Rallye. You would have had a brain trust to yourself.

    Read some ride reports. All the answers are there.
    #10
  11. paul.miner

    paul.miner Adventurer

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    I'm hoping it won't take much more than a week. I know it doesn't leave much time for looking around, but it's all the time I have. Typically I spend around 12 hours from breaking down camp to setting up again. The avoid-driving-at-night part will probably cut into this.
    #11
  12. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    It's about 4500 miles to Yavisa.

    A solid day to Matamoros. Then you have six days to go 3500 miles. Six hundred miles per day. Plus:

    US Mex border. 1 hour minimum.

    Mex Guat border. 2 hours.

    Guat El Salvador border. 2 hours.

    El Dalvador Honduras border. Read the thread on this border. Figure 2-4 hours.

    Honduras Nicaragua border. 2-4 hours.

    Nicaragua Costa Rica border. 2-4 hours.

    Costa Rica Panama border. 2-4 hours.

    At least 20 hours sitting on your ass at borders.

    I'll be amazed if you can get from Matamoros to Guatemala in less than three days. Guatemala will take at least a day, IF you cross the border at 6 AM. El Salvador will take a day. Honduras will take a day. Nicaragua will take a day. Costa Rica will take two days. Costa Rica to Panama City will take a day. Then one note to tag Yavisa.

    Minimum 12 days to Yavisa but I bet 15.
    #12
  13. paul.miner

    paul.miner Adventurer

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    Damn. It is really sounding like I'm not going to have enough time to make it there. Guess I'll just have to see how far south I can make it in 10 or 11 days.
    #13
  14. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    Forget about camping. You'll end up dead.
    #14
  15. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    How many Latin America ride reports have you read?
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  16. paul.miner

    paul.miner Adventurer

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    I read a few when I first had the idea for this trip in 2011, but none since then. And I hadn't even thought about going again until maybe six or seven weeks ago. So things have been a bit rushed.
    #16
  17. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    If you can average 35 mph, you're doing great. In Mexico on the cuotas you can do 100, but not for very far. A Mexico 600 mile day is like a US 1000.

    Camping: forget about it. But bring a sleeping bag.

    Have you had your shots? Malaria pills?

    Your tires will be Done by the time you get to Panama.

    Have you read the Butt Time thread? Border Helpers? The thrives ambush in Guatemala? The guy to avoid leaving El Salvador?

    Don't be naive about needing to speak Spanish.

    If you have a fire under your ass, try this: go to Guatemala and enroll in a 1 week Spanish Emersion class. Then ride home. Afterwards, youlkbe better prepared for next time.
    #17
  18. Marine By Choice

    Marine By Choice Sergeant 0311

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    Whatever you end up doing HAVE FUN AND BE SAFE. You have the rest of your life to tour. Don't rush it!
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  19. jimmex

    jimmex Guero con moto Supporter

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    Just go to Mexico. Its every bit as beautiful and interesting as CA. Then you can enjoy the ride. The only way you'll be able to make it all the way down to Panama in ten or eleven days is by riding cuota (tollways) at 85mph all day long, day after day, which isn't fun. Mexico is awesome, rest assured.
    #19
  20. WilderRider

    WilderRider Long timer

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    +1

    I am not as pessimistic as Bananaman, but you really need to read some ride reports about the trip. And spending three weeks heading to Guanajuato and back would be a LOT more fun.
    #20