Xplore2Gether - California to Ushuaia

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by JimsBeemer, Mar 6, 2019.

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  1. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    Thanks for your help Greg - was great to meet you, and Jorge. And nice taste in ridding gear if I may say!
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  2. ThirtyOne

    ThirtyOne I got my wings back. Supporter

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    Certainly does! Again, I'm glad that you guys spent some time in Honduras instead of blowing straight through the southern corner as most people do. After seeing Guate, you'll find that Honduras doesn't have the same attractions, but if you spend some time here, you get to see a very rich culture and beautiful people. Unfortunately, the reputation (although sadly is mostly true) really makes this place a scary place to visit for tourists.
  3. ThirtyOne

    ThirtyOne I got my wings back. Supporter

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    PS. You finally dropped it! Nice! It's properly christened!
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  4. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    Wow - two countries since last post :-) On our last day on Ometepe, we did the zipline tour, and Carol loved it. She continues to surprise me. The name of the outfit was "Canopy Mirador Del Diablo" They were really great guys - young by our measure, and they got a kick out of this "old couple" who have been married 41 years doing the zip line. They called us (with affection not sarcasm) "momma" and "pappa".

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  5. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    After doing the zipline in the morning, we went to the nearby park called Charco Verde, which has a butterfly aviary. We took a walk and saw some more howler monkeys - more video on the YouTube channel if you haven't had enough of that yet :-) We had lunch at the park, and then hustled to just make the 4:00PM ferry back to the mainland. We stayed at "Hotel California" which is right in San Jorge. We were the only people in the hotel (was a good place to stay - very secure, enclosed facility). We walked into San Jorge, down by the marina, to find a place to eat - most were closed, but one that looked closed had someone in it, and they gladly said "abierto!" when I asked. We were the only customers. It is the end of the tourist season - but shouldn't be this empty from what we kept hearing. Nicaragua is definitely hurting in terms of the tourist trade.
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    A Urraca - or "White-throated Magpie-Jay" (according to Wikipedia) at the park. They are everywhere - very pretty. As annoying as the Blue Jays I'm used to but more interesting to look at.

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    One of the more interesting butterflies in the aviary. We saw some of these "in the wild" in Nicaragua I think. It looks pretty drab here - but look at the next (blury) poto - when they open their wings, they flash a brilliant blue! Very noticeable as they flap through the jungle. What you remember seeing is the blue - I didn't realize what it was until it took off flying.

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    Blurry because it is low-light and his wings are moving - but you can see the blue. Really catches your attention when they are flying.

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    Our view during lunch. We managed to dodge the downpour, but it drizzled the rest of the day, all the way back to San Jorge. From this point and forward it can be said: The rains have come! We have had rain every day since, lot or a little Locals are happy - we are managing.
  6. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    Ok - one monkey picture. From Charco Verde park on Ometepe. Video of these guys on Youtube.
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  7. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    From San Jorge we headed toward the Costa Rica border. Used a fixer on the Nica side - was totally ripped off, but made it through w/ no hassle. He did seem to skip us ahead to the front of the line somehow. With the help of my "Central America Border Crossings" book by Round The World Paul (rtwpaul) I managed to do the somewhat complicated Costa Rica side on my own. Still took about 3 hours. Seems to be the best you can hope for.

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    This guy is a thief. Asked for money for things I realized afterwards weren't real. But oh-well.

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    Nicaragua side was just chaos - with several tour buses. One thing the thief of a fixer did do was to get us to the front of the line. We were able to have one of the two of us with the bikes for all but maybe a minute.
  8. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    From the border we headed to "Playas del Coco" in Costa Rica. We met three expats living in Costa Rica when we were at the jungle lodge in Guatemala - they were in transit from the USA with two dogs belonging to one of them, bringing them to Costa Rica to live. Pete is American and owns a restaurant/bar/brewery in Coco called "Coconutz". He had two Canadian ex-pats with him helping with the ride, Lee and Regis. Lee told us he would be back in Canada when we came through and could stay at his condo - so we took him up on the offer! We planned to stay two nights - but Carol got sick (stomach virus - not food related, we are pretty sure) and so we ended up staying a third night so she could get well. Regis was very generous in showing us around, and allowing us to park our bikes at his place, since the condo place had a "no bikes" policy. Thanks Lee for letting us crash at your place, and thanks Regis for taking care of us!
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    Very prominent and well known establishment - has been around for some time. Pete only bought it fairly recently and has done a lot to modernize and kick it up a notch. DSC01908.JPG

    The brewery at Coconutz is called "Angry Goat". On the night we were there, they offer a "beer and bites" menu, where they pair different beers with menu items in small portion. It was very good. The cool thing in this picture, which I have never seen before, is the "chilled rail" for the drinks. The white rail that the beer is sitting on is actually white with frost - that is ice. It has coolant lines running under it. So you sit your beer on there and it keeps cool! Cool!

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    Regis! Thanks dude! With his wife Christi and awesome daughter Kiera. We really enjoyed getting to spend some time with you all.
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  9. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    At this point in our trip we are sort of making a bee-line to Panama to meet up with the Stahlratte for our journey to Columbia. So not much sight seeing - but we did spend one day at this great place in the Costa Rican jungle, called Villas Alturas. It is associated with the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary which is just a short walk (click names to follow links). They hotel is eally nice, what I'd call a resort-class hotel, and on another part of the property is this wildlife sanctuary, where they do rescues of native animal species and try to release them back into the wild. They have some "permanent" residents that for various reasons cannot be re-habituated to the wild. We spent one night at the hotel and did a tour of the sanctuary, and saw some cool animals. Some of the cool animals were not part of the sanctuary - they were just there in the wild; the setting for this hotel is awesome, tucked back off the road, and up (really up - very steep dirt road, I had to ride Carol's bike up) in the mountains. The hotel is not cheap, but it is really nice, and anyone can come (and pay) for a tour of the wildlife refuge.
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    View from the pool deck at the hotel.

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    Another view from the hotel's pool and dinner seating area. Just to give you an idea of the setting.

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    View down to the sea below - which is where the main road is. The road from there to here is up up up - very steep with almos no flat area until you get to the parking lot. I was happy to ride both bikes up the ~1.5km road, and the hotel staff gave carol a lift in a car coming in and a quad on the way out. I did walk it all the way back down to the road once, and I was really sore the next day! Quite a hike.

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    Selfie from the pool deck. We would have spent another day here if we weren't on a deadline.
  10. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    Some of the animals we saw - some in the wildlife reserve, but some just hanging out around the hotel or the grounds around the wildlife reserve.
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    White faced monkeys - there were several groups of them in the trees around the hotel and sanctuary.
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    A Coati. He was hanging around the sanctuary - they had tried to release him to the wild, but he was to habituated to humans and kept coming back. This animal is more or less the Central American equivalent (from the niche if plays in the urban environment) of a Racoon.

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    An owl-faced monkey at the sanctuary. This is not native to Costa Rica - they are found in Panama. They got it as an infant and had to hand-feed it. They tried to get it to another sanctuary in Panama that could get it into a communal group of other owl monkeys, so it wouldn't imprint, but the red-tape dealing with animals, animals that legally cannot be owned as pets, was so complicated that by the time they could make progress, the monkey was already habituated to humans, so now it lives here.
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    A sloth doing what sloth's do - not much of anything! There were two, in the wildlife refuge sanctuary, and were not candidates for re-introduction to the wild for various reasons.
  11. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    Some cool birds we saw from the pool-deck at the hotel. A toucan, and a we-don't-know-what!
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  12. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    Date stamp: Monday, May 27, 2019. We left Alturas Villas and headed for the border with Panama at Paso Canoas - our last Central America border crossing! We have to leave Panama, but entry into Columbia is a new game. From what I've read, the South American crossings are all easier . And, the Stahlratte takes care of all the details for exiting Panama and entering Columbia as part of the deal, and I'm happy for that. It started raining and so we stopped and geared up (rain suits), and as soon as we got to the border and it just let loose - buckets of rain. A week earlier when we were at Coco, Costa Rica, I purchased a really cheap umbrella and it has come in handy! Walking around between various buildings with important papers in pouring rain is a lot easier if you have an umbrella. Some of the places you have to go to have a window to the street with maybe a three foot overhang, and when it is a biblical deluge, that is not enough to keep dry w/o an umbrella.

    I managed to fend off the pesky "fixers" and did the Costa Rica side on my own, and it was straightforward (another shout out to Round The World Paul's border crossing book). The Panama side was more dificult (entering is always harder than leaving) and there was a nice young man (I thought) offering to help, and with all the rain, I thought "sure - why not. Anything to get us back on the road quicker." Turns out he was a nice young man, he did not try to rip us off, and I'm glad we used him. Carol will laugh at that if she reads this because the time I kept saying "I can do this - we don't need him" and she was all "he needs the money and we need to get going - just use him!". Hate to say it but she was right :-)

    The Panama side was a (typical) maze of steps, and going from one building to the other. We had to wait for a good 30 minutes for someone to come and "inspect" our motorcycles to make sure plates and VIN matched documents. But he didn't even check the VIN, just the plates! But we checked every line of the import permit before signing for it (they ask you to check it - but we gave it a real go-over). We have heard that entering Columbia will be very difficult or even impossible if the canceled Panama import permit is not accurate in terms of the vehicle and personal information. And I found a mistake on mine! They had the model as BMW R1220 (?!). The clerk started to argue with me that it didn't matter, but as soon as I put up a little resistance, he re-did it.

    I checked the time stamps on the Garmin Inreach track points:

    Exiting Costa Rica: 1:20 PM - 2:06 PM (46 minutes)
    Entering Panama: 2:06 PM - 3:56 PM (1 hrs 50 minutes)
    Total: 2 hrs 36 minutes

    Not bad I guess - but it was pouring rain and that made it seem longer!

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    At the border - costa rica side. Note the rain! Wow did it come down.

    20190527_132229.jpg Panama side - waiting to buy insurance.
  13. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    A word about rain suits. We have Revit Pacific H20 one-piece rain suits - we have had them for years and they work well enough. They are a bit used by now and I probably should have bought new ones for this trip, but I did seal the seams. So when it started raining, we started putting those on.

    But it is so miserably hot here that first Carol, and then eventually even I, gave up using them. We just ride and get wet - it is either soaked by rain or soaked by sweat, and honestly rain is a little more pleasant. And when it does stop you immediately start to dry out, where as with a suit, you just continue to stew. So until we hit colder weather, we are not bothering with the rain gear.
  14. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    Once we cleared the border, we headed to a bed and breakfast called "Little Italy" just before David, Panama. We arrived soaked to the bone, and were glad to change into dry clothes. The owners are Italian (he) and Panamanian (she), and they offer dinner as well as breakfast, which was great because we definitely were not in a mood to head back into the rain for dinner, but we were starved. The next day we continued to Santiago (Hotel Mykonos) where I managed to leave my credit card. It was in the key envelope when I checked out. The hotel contacted me later that day, and I arranged for Chris and Sharon Struna to pick it up for me on their way through, and I'll get it back on the Stahlratte. Lucky me, and thanks Chris and Sharon! Leaving Santiago we had an easy day into Panama city and to our hotel on the Pacific, the Westin Playa Bonita, for five nights of R&R and some Panama sight seeing. It is so nice I feel like apologizing, lol. In my job, I traveled internationally a lot. So over the years I racked up a lot of hotel points and "Platinum Elite" status with the SPG hotel chain, which is now owned by Marriott. So as we go along, we are burning through those points and using the perks when and while we can :-) One thing I love is that hotels like this are not used to guest arriving by motorcycle, and we almost always get special treatment. Here, as was the case at the Westin at San Jose del Cabo, Baja Sur, they asked us to park our motorcycles right in front near the main entrance. And everyone knows us - we are "that American motorcycle couple on the BMW motorcycles". A number of the staff are now following us on Facebook.
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    Our bikes parked to the left, right up next to the building.

    DSC02234.JPG The hotel as seen from the beach.

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    Zoom-shot of Carol on the balcony of our room on the 17th floor. Had quite the view.

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    The Westin Playa Bonita is a wonderful property with nice amenities like four gorgeous swimming pools with plenty of lounge chairs and hammocks. However - "Playa Bonita" is like "Greenland" - it just isn't. The beach here is liter strewn every morning from what the tide has brought in with large amounts of plastic debris in addition to natural "liter" like leaves and drift-wood. Early every morning, a team of guys with rakes and wheel barrows clean it up. But even if it wasn't for that, the beach is just not a good beach. The bay here is extremely shallow and the tide ranges in and out over at least 100 yards. With that much tidal "throw" on a shallow sea, the water is perpetually turbid with mud and sand. People swam in it - it wasn't appealing to us. The pools however were amazing.
  15. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    Westin property viewed from our balcony - four pools, very nice.

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    Several days of riding in the rain plus a nice large, air-conditioned hotel means "time to dry out!" The maid service was a little confused. One of Carol's panniers has developed a leak due to shape-modification of the box from her many drops. We are working on a solution going forward - we'll see.
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    The view from our balcony. We could see the big container ships come in and wait for their turn to go through the canal. Entrance to the canal is inland to the right of this picture.
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  16. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    We went downtown one day and visited a museum and the "old city".
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    Carol walking from the museum building towards the center courtyard in downtown old-Panama.
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    The requisite church. Note the clock face - similar numbering as we saw on an old clock in Nicaragua
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    Four o'clock - that is the thing to note. Old-school Roman numerals, as we understand it. Not what we learned in school!

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    The organ inside the church was really cool. Would love to have heard it, but on looks alone it wins points.
  17. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    We spent one whole day doing a "partial transit" of the Panama Canal. We started at a marina on the Pacific, close to our hotel, and from there we were bused to a marina inland, on Lake Gatun, the artificial lake created for the canal and high-point of the canal transit (as I recall, 85 ft above sea level). All ships have to come from sea level, up to Lake Gatun level, and then back down to sea level, via the locks. We went through three locks, including the two-stage Miracoles locks, to get from Lake Gatun back to our starting point, the marina on the Pacific. We shared our passage with one other tour boat and a huge cargo ship, which made our 300 passenger, three level tour boat look like a child's bathtub toy.
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    At the marina on the Pacific side - our starting point.
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    Loaded container ship we passed, going the other direction (Pacific ==> Atlantic). The toll for a fully loaded container ship is in the 100's of thousands of dollars (US$). But the fuel they save by not having to go around more than offsets that toll costs.
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    We shared passage with this cargo ship. It got really close to us in the locks and made us feel VERY small!
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  18. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    Miraflores lock visitor center - seen from the boat. We had been here the day before, on the platform. There is a really good canal museum there, and if boats are coming through you can watch the whole process.

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    The Miraflores locks are a two-stage lock system. It takes you down to sea level and the pacific ocean. You start at canal level and enter the first lock, at which point the second lock is at sea level and is closed. After you enter, the first lock closes, and then passages are opened between it and the second lock, and water rushes into the second lock until the two locks are at the same level, which is now somewhere between canal level (behind you) and sea level (ahead). Then the gates open between the two and you move to the second lock. Then the gates close, and passages are opened to let the second lock discharge to the sea, which brings it down to sea level, and doors open and you are done - from there you head out into the Pacific. There are no pumps in the system - it is all done with valves and gravity feed. Pretty cool.

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    Rains every day now. This guy didn't seem to mind. The birds hang around the locks because they stir up food (we were told).

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    This is how close the big cargo ship got to us in the locks!
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  19. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    After we docked at the marina, we walked for an hour or so along the causeway that leads from the mainland out to the marina - here are some views.
    We took Uber back - Uber is very functional in Panama City, and we used it a lot. We went all over the city, much more than we would have if we were forced to pay taxi fares. And Uber is cleaner and nicer. Love it. This is the first place we've been since Mexico that has Uber.
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    THere is a substantial container port near the entrance to the canal, and a railroad that goes from Pacific to Atlantic sides. Some ships will unload part or all of their cargo and have it taken by train to the other side, where it is usually picked up by another ship. The reason for a partial unloading is the canal limit on draft (39.5 feet) - if the ship is below that, they have to unload enough cargo to meet that requirement. There is a new, larger set of locks in operation now for several years. Boats using those share the same passageway/canal as the "old" system, but they use the new, larger locks that can take wider, longer and deeper (draft) ships. They told us the record toll was set recently for a ship using those locks,and it was well over a million dollars. The economics of the locks are on a scale that matches the size of the ships.
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    Panama City as seen from the causeway.
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    This is the coolest building in Panama City. It looks "pixelated" and it sort of is, but in reality, not a photographic artifact. The construction is very unique.

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    Hey -over four months in and we still smile at each other :-)
  20. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

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    And now I am again up to date. Tomorrow we leave for our rendezvous with the Stahlratte - we are meeting up in the morning with Chris and Sharon Struna for the ride out to Porto Corti. So next post will probably be from Columbia!