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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by SturgisChick, Jun 24, 2014.
Thanks so much. Wishing you happy riding!
Thanks so much. We are making it up as we go along based on weather, timing, etc. But so far we are headed to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. I think we will drop into Chile from there and then cross back and forth into Argentina a few times. But are talking about how we fit Paraguay and Brazil into the mix....so far thinking those will be after Ushuaia.
Would love any suggestions you have for Chile - Perrito Moreno, Torres del Paine and others are certainly on the list...
Wishing you happy riding!
Sorry, your breaking up.......eeeerrrrrrrrr....bad connection. It's been great to follow along on your big adventure.
We cross on the west side of Nicaragua into Costa Rica and arrive right after a group of Harleys have shown up. Now I'm a Harley girl myself, so I'm all over seeing some fellow riders, but I didn't realize how long that would make the whole process....wow. It turned a 2-3 hour process into nearly 5 hours. Oh, well, just part of the journey.
First, check out of Nicaragua Migracion. And we had to pay a buck or two to even get access to the office to get our stamps.
Then off to the Aduana to complete forms and get the bikes processed out of the country. We waited in line behind a half dozen other riders most of the morning either here or on the Costa Rica side.
We had to find an Aduana officer to sign off on the forms and inspect the VIN numbers on the bikes before we could get them finalized. Then we had to "notify" the Nicaraguan police we were leaving the country. That meant getting the dude in the blue shirt hanging out on the corner of the building to say "ok" and initial something and then we were off...to the next line.
We ride a few hundred yards ahead to the Costa Rica side and pass the welcome sign on the way.
Then we ride ahead to the offices themselves, to the right of this sign.
First stop, Migracion....
Then the Aduana....
There we submitted copies of passport, drivers license, registration, title, etc. all the usual suspects...and then were told to take them to another office up the road and to the right. Little did I know it was hidden behind about 30 semis in a big parking lot and what looked like a loading dock. The dock is actually the inspection stop for the cargo being imported/exported and the offices are located in two places on this dock. First you have to purchase insurance at this window.
Then you go get processed through the office on the end of the building, door shown on the right here.
We returned all of our paperwork to the Aduana office then, after hours....and a few trips of walking a few hundred yards in my hot and heavy gear in the jungle heat for cold drinks, copies of our new Costa Rica passport entry stamps, and other things...grueling day all in all.
Then off through the gate and officially into Costa Rica.
I know I think and say this at each new country we ride into, but wow it seems so much greener here....
We spend the day riding a route Brian has chosen to avoid the construction and truck traffic of the PanAm. So ride east and toward some small villages between hills and a volcano...down gravel roads, on two lane jet black asphalt roads....and finally up and over a high ridgeline covered with windmills and dairy cows.
We stay in Nueva Arenal for a couple of days and stop in to see the German Baker, a friend of Juergen with Bike-Nicaragua.com, and enjoy some fresh baked pastries and coffee. Turns out he lets bikers stay at his place for free if the space is available. We've already checked into a small hotel or I would have appreciated that.
We ride south around Lago Arenal and toward La Fortuna, cute town but way too touristy for me. The grass and cane tower over the shoulders of the roads, and locals are working hard constantly to keep it cut and cleared so you can have some visibility on the roads.
Welcome to the land of miles and miles of rolling up and over hills and down into valleys. The hillsides are a patchwork quilt of different shades of green made up of trees, flowers, crops and pastures. It's so beautiful.
I love all the fruit and veggie stands on the sides of the road...and we've been seeing them since Nicaragua and will continue to see them into South America. That's one of the perks of being in the tropics, abundant fresh fruit and veggies.
We ride south through the country to San Jose and then have to stop for the night in a small town when a torrential jungle rain storm hits.
The next day we head west to the beach. Lots of surfers are here to enjoy the waves.
We pass some coconut and palm farms on our way to Golfito on the southwest coast.
We met a guy on Ometepe in Nicaragua who is part owner in a hostel on the coast, practically on the border with Panama, about an hour and a half down a dirt track from Golfito. We had planned to get there to stay, but since we are only planning on staying one night before pushing on to Panama, we decide to stay in Golfito. With all the rain we are getting here every afternoon I think that dirt road would have been a lot of fun, and a lot of work.
Only 5 days in Costa Rica, and we certainly didn't do it justice...but it was beautiful. Too many roads and miles, and too little time. I know how stupid that sounds when I've been on the road for over a year now, but it's still true. Thankfully there are always more roads in the world than we can ever get ridden.
Hey Michelle & Brian.....
We had a couple guests stop in & stay with us for a couple days, they wanted to say HI to you guys
Billy & Trish
We showed them some Good ol South Dakota Hospitality
And, all too soon their visit is over & they're back on the road, this morning, heading to Duluth
Enjoying your RR. Keep having fun & ride Safe.....
That's awesome ! Looks like they were in heaven with all that booze. Hope you all had a good time. Love those folks.
Thanks so much for the pics and for sharing your wonderful SD hospitality with some great people. Bet they had a blast with you! Hope you're having a great summer!
.....And Tirar is used in a completely different sense in Colombia, venezuela and Peru...
look us up when you get to the middle of the planet. We'd love to show you some great routes and things to see here!
Thanks for the tip...I'd hate to use it if it means something entirely different....will have to ask around, unless you can fill me in, lol. Thanks!
That would be great!
Much the same way in that cojer is used in a completely different sense in Latin America than it is in Spain.
I'm reminding myself of those word association games they used to play in grade school...
Tirar is to cojer as cojer is to follar
We cross over from Costa Rica on a sunny day. It's about an hour or hour and a half from where we stayed last night to the border. We stop and put on Pacsafes, as usual, and then ride ahead toward the offices. Brian passes a few buildings on our left as we get to Paso Canoa and as we near some buildings up ahead a couple of guys come running out into the street and wave us off. They are speaking to him in Spanish but Brian doesn't understand. We have ridden right past the Costa Rican offices and are heading toward the Panama offices without even knowing it. If we ride through, we will be riding illegally, so they are looking out for us. In this first picture, where Brian is ahead, you just make out the rusty metal roof of the Costa Rican offices on our left. No signs at all, and when I took the pic I was sure the buildings ahead were the Costa Rican offices....just a sign of how the day was going to go, lol.
So we turn around and go back and wrap up Costa Rica first. Migracion stamps us out for a fee AFTER we pay our nominal fee at the bank window just a few feet away.
Then to the Aduana office in the breezeway around the corner to get the bikes processed out of Costa Rica.
Then we ride ahead to the Panama side and park just along the edge of the 3 lanes under the open air roof and get ready to tackle this side.
We go stand in line in the Migracion side first and are told by someone trying to be helpful that we need to stand in the line for transito, but that turns out to be for truckers. Thankfully the agent at the window helped us anyway and we were ready to move on to the Aduana. We are told to purchase "seguro" or insurance for the bikes BEFORE they will give us a stamp allowing us to begin the process of entering Panama, so we walk across the street to buy some for $15.25 USD and come back to get our stamps.
We stand in line for 15 minutes or so at the Aduana window and finally when it's my turn the witchy woman at the counter ignores me and helps a few other truck drivers before finally taking my paperwork. I hand over the needed copies of passport, license, title, registration, etc. and she staples it and sets to work for about 10 seconds and then again makes me wait while she helps someone else. I explain we have two bikes for the two people and she seems pissed off and rolls her eyes and starts chewing me out mildly in Spanish. Brian is too intimidated to hand over his paperwork so puts his in the same order mine is in and walks over to a travel agent to use their stapler and staples it like mine is - that's all she had done with my stuff so far.
The bundle of joy chick blasts some instructions to me but I'm unsure of what she said and really don't want to ask again. I hate being the dumb gringa, and hate even worse being treated like one. So I try to go over to the general area she waved her hand in and see if I can figure out what I'm supposed to do. You can usually follow others or find someone nice who will help clear up the mysteries of borders. I finally have to go back though as I'm not finding a place to get a stamp like she told me to get. "Arriba!" she shouts at me, meaning go upstairs. And so we do...only to find that office is gone to lunch.
There are 3 other people waiting in line ahead of me and one asks if we need a stamp and I say yes. He reaches through the small window you are supposed to talk through and down to the desk top of the empty office on the other side of the glass and grabs a stamp and stamps both our sets of paperwork. At first I'm panicked, wait, I won't get in trouble will I? Did you just ruin my papers and I'm gonna have to start over with the witch? But I'm going to try it. He reaches in and puts it back and winks at me and Brian and I are off, headed back downstairs. I show the Aduana woman the stamp and she barks something else. I need to have the bike VIN # inspected I'm guessing, as that's the normal procedure at all borders, so I wander off to find someone to help with that. A super kind woman tracks down the right person to help me with this task.
And now back to Cruella Deville....
As I hand over our two sets of completed papers she takes them and goes to sit at a computer and start typing and one minute later the lights go off in her office. The building has lost power and all the computers are down. Seriously?!
We wait about 10 minutes and thankfully the power comes back up and she finishes our permits. I'm so relieved....
We ride just across the three lanes and up about 15 feet to the fumigation booth. We pay $1 each to get our bikes hand sprayed.
Whew! Welcome to Panama.
We can use US Dollars here as the Balboa, their local currency, was replaced by US Dollars some time ago. But that also means most things are costing US prices which is more than I'm used to now. We ride along the 4-lane highway trying to make it to Panama City in the next day or two before my birthday. And maybe 60-70 miles in it changes to a two-lane highway. We hit some rain and stop to get gear on.
The road is being widened and for miles and miles we see red earth exposed from the enormous construction project.
We stop for the night less than 100 miles into Panama since we blew most of the day at the border, and enjoy a local beer to celebrate another new country. And the next day we carry on toward the big city, reaching it in the early afternoon. We ride over the Bridge of the Americas as we enter Panama City and the waters below have been emptied out of the Panama Canal. Wow.
We rode out to the Miraflores locks one day and tour the museum and watch a container ship and later a couple of small boats go through the locks. It's incredible.
One day we ride around the city to check out some of the incredible architecture and then ride out on the causeway to see this beautiful, modern city from a distance.
And while in the city we get to meet up with a few other travelers. Allison and Carlos live in Panama City and host us for an incredible meal. And they have a visitor, Martin from Germany, who is fresh from riding South America. Always so good to hang out with fellow riders.
After a few days in Panama City we ride east toward the small village of Carti as we have a date with the Stahlratte to hitch a ride to Colombia. We hit a couple of toll booths on the way out of the city.
The day we leave Panama City we run into a protest and road block on the main highway. They say we aren't allowed to cross, and when a few other bikes bound for the Stahlratte show up I stop worrying. With this many of us here, the boat won't leave without us.
We sit and wait for two hours while police and press and protestors try and reach a resolution. I don't think they did in the end but at least everyone agrees to end things peacefully. I get to check out a lot of the local buses while we wait. They are completely pimped out with train horns, chrome and detailed paint jobs. Most have been named and have religious symbols painted on them in hopes (I think) of protecting the bus, its driver and occupants, while on the roads.
And since we have filtered to the front...as soon as the blockade is moved we are off. Stahlratte here we come!
One of the ways around the Darien Gap is to sail on the Stahlratte, which sounds much better to me than crating up the bikes and flying them or putting them in a container. We've had several friends tell us they've enjoyed the crossing on this large schooner, so we booked two spots back in May for the mid-June crossing.
We ride out the day before our sailing from Panama City to the small village of Carti and ride up to the dock to prepare for loading the bikes.
We know roughly half the riders who will be crossing on this voyage and are excited to meet the others. There wind up being 11 bikes I think and 19 passengers, and the crew, and one big black dog on our sailing.
Captain Ludwig waits for all the bikes to arrive before pulling the Stahlratte up to the dock to load bikes. He secures lifting ropes on the bike frames personally and then returns to the deck of the boat to run the winch.
We have stripped all the panniers and gear off the bikes and then they are loaded, one at a time using lines from a boom secured to the foremast.
The bikes are lashed to the sides of the deck and covered with plastic to protect them from the saltwater.
The crew carried our gear down below for us and we go get settled into our bunks. We will be with the boat for 4 nights, but tonight we are motoring out to stay on an island that is part of the Kuna tribal land.
We are put up in homes of the families who live here and are treated to dancing and a great dinner.
The people here live very basic lives and I appreciate getting the chance to experience it.
That morning we are tendered back to the Stahlratte for breakfast up on the top deck. The crew puts on an amazing feed at every meal.
And then we start for the San Blas Islands. That night we anchor between three small islands and dive into turquoise waters. Later the crew puts on a huge beach barbeque. We watch neon blue jellyfish pulse through the water and could count millions of stars overhead.
We stay two nights there and the full day between we hunt for shells on the small island and enjoy the sun. The third morning we have been with the boat we get an early start and make a 36-hour push with sails and the motor for Cartagena.
And almost to the hour, we arrive in Cartagena, on a Friday afternoon. We hurry to unload bikes in hopes we get get ourselves and our bikes cleared through Immigration and the Aduana before the end of the day. Monday is a holiday and we aren't sure offices will even be open. The captain has arranged for a barge to come alongside the boat and he uses the boom to lift the bikes over the rails and set them down on the raft.
Then a water taxi floats alongside the raft to guide the bikes to the ramp to ride onto dry land again.
All but four bikes get cleared today and the others get processed on Saturday morning. We use the inflatable to taxi our panniers and gear from the Stahlratte to the closest dock and put ourselves back together again.
The Stahlratte was a great time, and the crew took great care of us...what an experience!
Wow thats crazy!
The Stahlratte anchoes in the Cartagena port on a Friday afternoon. All the riders hurry to the inflatable boats to get to land and catch taxis to the Migracion offices and get ourselves into Colombia. Of course, when we arrive it's their lunch break. But after an hour or so of hanging around it's all done. We had handed our passports over to the Captain when we got on board and he and his helpers have made things go very quickly.
Then we rush back to the boat, unload bikes by boom to the floating dock and then ride the raft over to the ramp and ride the bikes of onto dry land on a new continent. We ride just a few blocks to the Aduana or Customs office to import the bikes.
Everyone is somewhere in between beach mode and riding mode and our choice of apparel shows it. All but 4 bikes get processed before the end of the day. But the last 4 have to come back on Saturday morning to finish some paperwork.
It could be worse, the Aduana agent could be taking her long weekend (Monday is a holiday) like everyone else and o 4 riders could be waiting even longer. But as it turns out most of the riders hang out in Cartagena for several days anyway.
The ships crew recommended a hostel and because it's fairly late when we get finished we nearly all head there for the night. The bikes have to be ridden up a plank to the lobby and across the tiled floor and to an open courtyard.
We've done that several times in our travels through Mexico and Central America already but this time there's a group so space is at a premium.
Most of get together for drinks ow and then, or a bite, or sightseeing, and we nearly all get together a couple days after we arrive for Ryan's birthday and to watch USA play in the World Cup.
Cartagena is spectacular. The center of the old city is surrounded by several miles of fortress and the narrow streets inside are beautiful.
Our hostel is outside the old city walls, and there's a lot more character here. Crazy people, street hawkers, graffito, and reportedly some crime, so we are careful at night.
We ride around the base of the El Castillo on the way to buy insurance (which is mandatory) for our bikes. And on the way to buy it, Brian and I get stopped at a police checkpoint where they ask us for our insurance. Thankfully, I had a blanket policy that had "not valid in Colombia" written somewhere in a back page and they didn't see that part. And my officer started chatting with me and had his partner check Brian's paperwork, and he forgot to ask for insurance...whew!
Finally, after a week of being tourists, we leave the big city and ride east along the coast, past Baranquilla to the small town of Taganga for a few days. I get to play in the water with Pam, another rider from the boat. She's a diver too and we both decided to take advantage of the cheapest prices in the world for diving.
Then we ride up through Santa Marta toa small town called Minca and camp with a few of the other riders from the boat and enjoy the lovely sunsets for a few thousand feet above Santa Marta.
We ride east along the edge of Tayrona National Park toward Riohacha where we stay a night.
I like to try new foods and buy some strange new fruit for breakfast in a local market.
Then we ride on east, across the desert toward Maicao push on toward Venezuela.
I spent most of one night trying to track down any current information on Venezuela that I could find. All we keep hearing is that it's dangerous and no one is going there. We've heard storied of people getting held at gunpoint and robberies, fuel and food shortages....so I'm getting a little nervous. But we are going to give it a try....fingers crossed.
I just reviewed your entire thread with my wife who also rides and she loved it and wanted you to know she is rooting for you and be safe!
I really appreciate you both taking the time to read my ride report...and most of all for your words of support. Wishing you both well!
Each time I think about riding into a new country I do online research and reach out to riders and forums to get the latest on how the border crossing works, where is safe to ride, what's the local scoop, etc. But when it came to Venezuela there wasn't much information out there. No one is blogging about how all the above is working because not many people are going. I asked people in Colombia, thinking that since they were neighbors Colombians might have the most information, and all I heard was Venezuela is dangerous and don't go.
I reached out to some people on a Facebook forum for PanAm travelers and only found two people who had been in the last year. And both were doing by vehicle, not bike, which is very different as far as safety goes. So Brian and I gathered what intel we could and decided to go test the waters on our own. And we agreed if we weren't comfortable we would leave.
We crossed in from Maicao, Colombia. The last 80 or so miles of Colombia we started to see a lot of illegal gasoline sales going on along the side of the road. Venezuela has very cheap (aka basically free, but we'll get to that later) gas in the country. So all the locals on both sides of the border fill their gas tanks in Venezuela and drive just across the border and drain their gas tanks and put it in barrels and drums and resell it at a huge markup. I don't know what the penalty is if you get caught, but from the looks of it almost everyone is willing to risk it.
We bought this kind of gas one time, and it cost about $2.50 USD per gallon which is a bit over half the price of the normal gas in Colombia and the bikes ran fine. The guy at this booth used a fuel "sock" to help filter it as he poured it into the bikes.
We rode up to the Colombia side and have to go through the usual drill of checking ourselves and the bikes out of this country through the Migracion and Aduana (DIAN) offices. First we go to the Aduana. We have to hand over our permit for the bikes and the guy stamped it to cancel it and gave us photocopies to keep for our files if we wanted them.
Notice the guy standing by our bikes as we are going in. He is one of the many money changers or "helpers" that work the border here. They can be found at all borders and will exchange money for you at slightly inflated rates. Usually the rates aren't too bad. I'd been reading that Venezuela has a black market problem going on right now with the US Dollar. If you withdraw money from an ATM or use your credit card while in Venezuela you get roughly 6 Bolivares to the US Dollar, but if you trade US Dollars at the border in cash, you can get ten times that. And from what we later found out, it was the only way we could have afforded to even go in the country. We ate at a Subway the day after we rode into the country and would have paid nearly $45 USD if I'd paid with a credit card, but paid just under $5 for a footlong sub and two drinks which is more like normal prices.
I read that you should try and get 60-65 Bolivares per dollar but I didn't get that...and I didn't want to be greedy so I was fine with what we agreed upon. We waited to get the money until we were sure if we could even get into Venezuela. Americans aren't exactly popular here and I wasn't sure I would be allowed in. So we went over to Colombia Migracion to check out there.
The officer told us he wouldn't stamp us out until we were sure we could get into Venezuela, so that way we wouldn't have to start all over. He advised us to walk up the road to the other side and see if Venezuela would let us in. So we did.
An officer met us and essentially hit us up for a bribe. He agreed to "expedite" our paperwork and let an American and an Englishman into his country as long as we gave him a "tip" and went and made a hotel reservation and provided him a printed copy. I had heard we may need to have either an invitation from a business or citizen or an existing hotel reservation in order to get into Venezuela. Long story a bit longer, we walked over to an internet cafe so I could book a room I would later cancel and print a confirmation for the guy. Then we went to Colombia Migracion and checked out and then rode the bikes over to the Venezuelan office and met with the guy again and coughed up $20 for his troubles which took 5 minutes.
He took our papers to his supervisor while we waited in a small waiting room inside this office.
Chavez love is still everywhere....
We got our stamps for ourselves but nothing so far on the bikes. But the officer said we would have no problems when we rode up ahead a few miles to the Aduana (Seniat) which is at the first town inside Venezuela. Fingers crossed...
We arrive during the lunch hour and I use some of my new black market money to go get us a cool drink (it was a hot day in the desert here) and we sat by the Aduana door and waited. Thankfully, we had lost a half hour and our wait was a little shorter than I thought it would be.
We had no problems processing our bikes in, except that we had to wait. I watched a man get his paperwork extra fast and then stuff a handful of money into some papers and slide it across the counter to the officer helping him...it's a whole different world here. And I'm not passing judgment, just saying it's the reality.
After about an hour or hour and a half we are finally all legal and officially in Venezuela. Just one more guard post to pass.
Just past the Aduana I see a PDV gas station and the line at the pumps is so long. All this gas will get smuggled over to Colombia and sold at an incredible markup over the pump price but still half the price of Colombia gas...crazy.
We decide to head to the beach town of San Rafael and look for a place for the night.
But when we got there, there were no hotels, posadas or hostels at all....so we had to ride on to Maracaibo.
As Brian says we were told 3 things about traveling to Venezuela:
Don't go into Venezuela.
Don't ride at night.
And DON'T go into any of the big cities as they are super dangerous.
And on our first day here we wound up doing all three. Because there weren't any hotels (the country just isn't set up for tourism because nobody has any money to travel and most people from other countries don't come here) for tourists. We got to a hotel in the city at dark and I was so happy to get inside our gated parked compound. We were told it wasn't safe to walk around so we stayed in the hotel for two days before moving further into the country and away from the city.