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Rocinante's upgrades
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01 New York
02 New England
03 Maine to Midland
04 Midland to Sturgis
05 Indians'n Cowboys
06 British Columbia
07 San Francisco
08 SF to San Diego
09 Baja to Canyons
10 Baja California
11 Northern Mexico
12 Mex. to Guatemala
13 Gua. to Costa Rica
14 CR to S. America
15 Ecuador
16 Peru and Bolivia
17 Chile
18 Patagonia
19 Argentina/Brasil
20 The road home
Photo Gallery

Norwegian version

E-mail: mail at dagjen.no
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Chapter 14 Costa Rica to South America

Start: December 1st, Heredia, Costa Rica, Stop: December 28th, Panama City, Panama,
2260 km, Total Distance: 32430 km [Map]

From a paradise on the Costa Rican coast to Guayaquil in Ecuador. A broken rear shock caused a delay that brought us to the shipping agents in the middle of Christmas, and stories about difficulties with the Ecuadorian customs made us engage in a frenzy of activity to get to Ecuador and South America before New Year.

An oasis in the mountains

Fast running bikes

Henrique Martinato and Ivan Bento Alves, on a very hasty trip to Brazil. Their custom made aluminum panniers and top boxes were huge. They were doing a daily average of between 600 and 1100 kilometers.

A few months earlier an e-mail dropped into our mailbox. It was from Ricardo, a native Tico, the name Costa Ricans have on themselves, who questioned us about driving a motorcycle in Spain. When we replied that we were coming through Costa Rica, he quickly invited us for a stay in the mountains outside San José.

Now we were on our way there and had warned him that we were in the neighborhood. On the way from Nuevo Arenal, we stopped at the volcano by the same name, the most active volcano in Costa Rica. Smoke was coming out of the crater, and hiking up the volcano was strongly advised against because of the gases and danger of new eruptions. As the anti thrill seekers we are, we settled at the foot and watched for a while.

Further down the road we met two Brazilian guys on fully dressed motorcycles and pulled over. They were on their second leg of an Alaska to Brazil journey, and planned to be back home in three weeks. One of the bikes were more loaded than ours, with extra tyres resting on top of an already fully loaded bike. We chatted for a little while, exchanged e-mail addresses and then they had to go. They were in a hurry. We smiled and wished them the best.

We came to Heredia in the afternoon and met up with Ricardo and his friend Jorge. Far up into the hills and long into the night we saw a house wrapped up in tiny Christmas lights all the way to the chimney. Nicely situated in the woods, it was a fantastic house built in wood, and we enjoyed it immediately, realizing how much we loved wooden houses. Back home in Norway almost every house is wooden, while in Central America they are far between. Inside, the house was custom built with a half second floor giving a very open impression. The pretty details showed that the owners cared.

During a pleasant evening Ricardo and Jorge revealed that neither drove or had driven a motorcycle, and admitted that the reason for asking us was that after reading our stories from Spain they thought it sounded interesting. We were flattered and said so. When we went to bed that night in the attic bedroom, we knew that for the nth time we had hooked up with the most hospitable people we could imagine. We smiled happily and couldn't help wonder were all the hospitality came from?

Ricardo and Jorge's house

Ricardo and Jorge lived in a beautiful wooden house that we fell in love with immediately. Maybe it was a sign of something in us that we looked at houses again with dreams in our eyes. We probably weren't made for this kind of life......

The next day we went in search for Motos Breymann, the only Triumph dealer in Central America including Mexico. They had new tyres and several spare parts waiting for us, and when I had contacted the owner Oswaldo Breymann a few weeks earlier, he replied that they would give us everything we needed for net costs, as a support to our trip. That meant we got a couple of proper dual sport tyres for less than half the normal price.

What they didn't tell me was they would work for free on the bike as well. We replaced tyres the first day, and it felt strange but good to ride properly dressed for dirt roads again. I decided there and then to do a valve check before leaving town. I had never done it on my own and this time I could join in and learn the tricks. Next evening I was back in town, and Oswaldo's brother would guide me over to the new workshop where the job would be done the next day. I had to leave the bike over night to let the engine cool down completely. He rode a Triumph Speed Triple, a bike according to him a little awkward to ride in Costa Rica but a lot of fun. I followed as best I could, and in between my desperate moves and overtakings to follow him, I was impressed at how easy he handled the crazy traffic in this town. I had to give my very best to follow him, and felt the danger hanging over me when speeding through intersections as if I was alone on a highway. When I came to the workshop sweat was pouring down, and not because of the heat.

That night we went to a café somewhere in San José, we have no idea where since we did at least a million turns in Ricardo's car before we arrived, and met up with four of their friends. Most of them worked in Intel, the micro chip producer which has one of the major production facilities in Costa Rica. We spent a pleasant evening talking about our trip, explaining how we could afford it, how we dared do it, and listing the highlights. The latter was actually difficult. Whenever somebody asks us what the best place so far has been, we turn dumb and don't really have an answer. The places we have seen are so different that they are hard to compare. But when we think about it, we always end up saying that the people we have met are what we get stuck with in our memory. Forming new friendships is a much more lasting impression than Grand Canyon will ever be.

Were the heck did that shim go

Volcan Poás

Just as if someone pitied us, the foggy curtain opened up and revealed Volcan Poás north of San José.

At noon the next day I was back with Oswaldo and his mechanic Gustavo, and together we started the valve check. After a few hours I was very happy we checked them, since eight of twelve valves were too tight, and two of them so tight they had no freeplay at all. If untouched, this could have led to problems later. We replaced the shims and cursed out loud when the very last shim managed to jump over Oswaldos finger and down into the cam chain well.

A long lasting search began, but we just couldn't find it or fish it up again with a magnet. I unmounted the right crash bar, took of the ignition cover, but still couldn't find it. In the end, while we were running out of ideas, we took of a little cover in front of the ignition cover, and voila, there it was. There is a tiny little opening to the well from this point, and we were pretty amazed at how it could have slipped through there. By now it was late in the evening and we hurriedly put the bike together again, started it and then I drove back into the mountains. I knew Bente was worried. I had been gone for seven hours, and when I left I said it would take maybe three, so I had not left a telephone number she could call, and there was no phone in the house. When I missed the turnoff to Heredia and couldn't turn for twenty-five kilometers on the highway, I swore and cursed the modern highway system. Finally I was back though, and Bente came running out to meet me, hug me and ask me where the hell I had been for all those hours.

We spend another day with Ricardo and Jorge. The plan had been to leave on Saturday, but I thought the bike's engine was so noisy after the valve job that I returned to the dealer to double check that all was normal. It was, and the reason for my worry was that I had gotten use to valves which were tight and hence gave off no noise at all. "Noisy valves are happy valves", said Oswaldo's brother. Fine with me.

Another extremely pleasant stay was over, and the Sunday morning good-bye was full of promises to keep in touch and to meet again, maybe in Norway, some day in the future. We turned north again and headed for another volcano, Poás, in the rainy mountains of Costa Rica. This country is so green it's hard to describe. But the reason for its greenery became more obvious as we got further into the mountains. We were soon immersed in a wet blanket created by rain and fog, and it got colder and wetter the closer we got. The Mount St. Helens feeling came back.

When we visited St. Helens in Washington, the volcano was completely hidden from us by fog, and it looked like we would go through the same here. We stopped at a café not far from the mountain, where on a normal day you could see the cone in a distance, and discussed skipping it all together and head straight for the coast. Luckily we didn't, and when we were a few kilometers from the top, the sun broke through. We increased the speed to beat the fog and got lucky. The crystal blue water that formed the lake in the center of the caldera was made even prettier with the remnants of fog drifting around it. It was a fantastic sight and well worth the wet weather.

We zig-zagged our way down from the 2700 meter volcano and enjoyed increasing temperatures as we closed in on the Pacific coast. Our plans were to find a little paradise and spend a lazy week there. We knew it would be expensive, but had decided we deserved it after six months of travelling. We stopped in Jacó for two nights, but didn't really like this bustling little tourist town. But it gave us plenty of time to send off the latest article and photos to the magazine in Norway.


Fast running bikes

I cannot stop shooting sunsets in this part of the world. This picture shows the beach in our Paradise in Puerto Quepos on low tide. Someone exercising and trails from horses just added to the impression.[Large image]

A short ride down the coast led us to Puerto Quepos, close to the Manuel Antonio National Park. In the hills outside town we stopped at a luxury hotel with a sign stating they had very low prices in this off-season. The normal price was seventy-five dollars a night, far outside our budget. After a little bargaining, however, the price came down to thirty dollars, and we quickly calculated that with the included kitchen we would actually hardly go over our daily budget.

The stay lasted ten days, and it was the first time during the last six months we had decided in advance to stay at the same place for so long. It felt wonderful to unpack everything, spread it out in drawers and lockers, and then go to town and shop what we needed for the next few days. We bought several bags of fruit; papaya, banana, melon and more, loads of beer, a bottle of whisky, a huge bottle of wine, meat, potatoes, strawberries, ham, broccoli, cucumber, milk, coffee, sugar, salt, pepper, corn flakes, bread and whatever else is needed to be self sufficient. Then we dived into the crystal clear swimming pool and shared a beer in the sun.

The first night Bente made us an excellent dinner. Late in the evening I lit up one of the cigars we brought with us from the factory in Honduras, and of all things, MTV showed the U2 Rattle and Hum movie. We sat on our porch with the TV turned up loud, smoked cigar and drank whisky on the rocks, and discussed how hard it was to be travelling, to be adventurers on a "mission impossible", to be surviving the jungle and the other hardships in this part of the world.

After a totally inactive second day, we went for the beach, a ten kilometer walk in the heat. We sweated many liters that day, but felt good and did a sort of power walk back home, ending the session with sit ups and push ups. This little act of something resembling exercise was our way of pushing away the bad conscience that had built up after months with low or no physical exercise. After another lazy day we visited the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, a coastal jungle with snakes, monkeys and iguanas everywhere. The snakes kept their distance, but the monkeys were so accustomed to people that we had to watch our food and private belongings to avoid them running away with it.

Good-bye dear rear shock

Looking for Dr. Livingston

Born to explore! Bente the jungle fighter works her way through the bushes of Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. The stretch of bush we fought our way through was about thirty meters. So it's safe to say pictures can lie. The light in the background is the beach.

The road further down the coast was supposed to be a terrible dirt road, so I made up an excuse to check it out for myself before we went south towards Panama, an excuse that made it possible for me to enjoy a solo trip on dirt. So on our fifth day in paradise I brought a bottle of water and took off. Immediately after exiting Puerto Quepos the road turned to gravel.

Full of pot holes as it was, it was a hard ride, at least for Rocinante. But I enjoyed it and because the road was straight and wide, I found it much more fun and challenging to increase the speed towards three digits. Around a hundred kilometers per hour the bike flew over the pot holes with me half standing on the pegs to take off some of the beating. After twenty kilometers I passed a small dirt bike a little too close, because the rider decided to move to the left in the last split second. I waved to him in a gesture saying I was sorry for coming so fast, and stopped a few kilometers down the road at a café. After a little while the rider caught up with me and pulled over, entered the café and ordered a beer. Then he smiled and told me about his surprise when I passed him that close and that fast. I said I was sorry and hadn't meant to scare him, but he kept his smile and started asking the regular questions about the bike and our trip.

Carlos was his name and we talked for half an hour. One of the issues he kept coming back to was how a big bike like mine took the hard beating of such a bumpy road. I assured him the suspension was up to the task, silly me. In the end he told me he was the local police officer in the next village, the sole representative of the law in a tiny collection of houses along the coastal road. Since we had been stopped for speeding a few days before - which was our very first encounter with the police during the whole trip, they wanted to give us a fine for speeding in a school zone but couldn't because it would give us problems on the border when exiting Costa Rica - I was afraid he was rather unhappy with my dirt racing. But he either didn't care or didn't think I had been speeding. So we said good-bye and I promised to stop and look him up on our way south in a couple of days. I didn't know then that we would never take that route.


The White Face Monkey. They were everywhere on the beach in the national park.

The return trip to Puerto Quepos went rather fast as well, and as soon as I entered the pavement again, I felt the bike behaving strangely. I stopped and looked at the rear wheel which was fine, then threw a glance down at the left side of the engine.

To my horror it was covered in oil, and so was my left leg. I wiped up some of it with my finger and smelled it. To my great relief it smelled like hydraulic oil. I'd much rather blow the shock absorber than the engine. The shock absorber's external reservoir, mounted on the engine's left side, had finally given in and blown open. It came as no surprise, really, even though I had assured Carlos twenty minutes earlier of how strong it was; After more than 64000 km of riding, where most of the distance had been riding two up with loads of luggage, it was about time to replace the unit anyway. I had wanted to do it in the States, but the replacement shock in my dreams would take seven weeks to get, so we skipped it and decided to wear out the old one completely and then stay put while we waited for a replacement.

Now we were lucky to be in Costa Rica with friends and a good Triumph dealer in the capital. The same night we set things in motion. Mails were sent to the dealer in San José, to a UK based after market specialist for Triumphs, to the Tiger mailing list, and to Ricardo and Jorge asking if we were welcome for another few days. The UK specialist came back already Monday morning and said they had an Öhlin shock on the shelves, and Tuesday it was on its way to San José with UPS. Motos Breymann wished me welcome back and said I could have a corner in their workshop to do the work, and Ricardo and Jorge simply replied, "Nuestra casa es su casa".

Meeting along the road

Stephan and Chenda from England were on their way around the world in 15 months. We met, saw each other's long distance touring mark, the aluminum panniers, hit the brakes, turned around and talked for half an hour before continuing in each our direction. They rode a Honda NTV 650 and had started in Kenya six months earlier, then flown the bike from Cape Town to Buenos Aires and headed north. Once in the States they would fly the bike to Australia.

We extended the stay in Paradise until the coming Thursday, and early in the morning I left with a loaded bike but no Bente. She would leave later in the day on the bus. With absolutely no damping back there, we did not want to take any chances with too much load.

The hundred and fifty kilometer trip back to the capital was easier than I suspected, but I had to keep my eyes open and stay alert all the time to avoid the many basketball size pot holes in the road. Hitting one of them head on could have had fatal consequences on the suspension linkage, but I came through without any disasters. When I arrived Heredia, I checked e-mail and the status of the UPS package from the UK. Bente had left a message saying the express bus was full, so she had to take the slow bus later in the afternoon which, according to her, would stop in every village in Costa Rica and arrive sometime during the night. On the UPS web site, the tracking number came up with a confusing message saying the package was delayed, rerouted, hub scanned again and again, and had already been in Stanstead, UK, Cologne, France and Miami, USA. I guessed it wouldn't arrive that day.

Out of Costa Rica to Panamanian cargo chaos

The shock absorber came on Friday. Customs grabbed it because it was a "suspicious package" and said maybe Monday. I went to the dealer and unmounted the old shock, replaced wheel bearings and did some regular maintenance on the bike, getting frustrated by the messages from the customs and UPS. There was nothing to do after that, other than spend another pleasant weekend with Ricardo and Jorge, among other things going to see Volcan Irazu, covered in a "St. Helens" fog which kept us out.

After the weekend I was back in the workshop, and finally, in the afternoon, the shock arrived. An hour later it was mounted and the bike ready to go. I was a little too eager to get going and forgot to mount the gas hose, resulting in a spill of gas when I turned the switch to on. Early next day we were on our way south, one week later than our recently revised schedule. Again we had said our good-byes to Ricardo and Jorge, and at noon we stood outside the house of Jorge's mother in San Isidro. His mother and sister had prepared a nice meal for us and offered us to relax for a few hours before heading on. We politely declined the last offer and headed south after lunch. We reached the border just after dark and settled for the night in a little hostel in a shitty frontier town.

End of PanAm Centro America

Here ends the pavement on the Pan American Highway in Central America. The plan is to pave it all the way to Yaviza, the end of the road before the Darien jungle takes over.

This border crossing was left to Bente. After an easy hour we were in Panama and increased the speed to get to the capital before nightfall. The going was good with an excellent Pan American Highway leading us down through the hot and humid lowlands and into Panama City, five hundred kilometers from Costa Rica.

The next day we started the futile hunt for a flight or boat to Ecuador. We knew this would be difficult; Christmas was three days away, and Lars and Tini's Carnet problems made the entry to Ecuador difficult. The Carnet is a vehicle document that serves as a guarantee for the country that you will not sell the bike during your visit. The costs for this document are high, and the deposit is about 100% of the vehicle's value. Quite naturally this was not a document we wanted, and we were still hoping for a solution without it. Girag Cargo Agent was our first visit. They only had room for Colombia the next two weeks. Copa Airlines did not have room for Ecuador either, and Lacsa charged double fees for vehicles with potential fire hazards, i.e. any vehicle. The ship cargo companies were next. One after the other had either non-existing telephone numbers, did not go to Ecuador or needed several weeks to arrange everything.

We were left with two options; Go to Colombia and take our changes with the guerilla or go to Guayaquil in Ecuador for Lacsa's sky high price. For hours we stayed in an Internet café reading about people's opinion on the current situation in Colombia. Many thousand people are kidnapped every year, and this year was a new depressing record. The newspapers talked about peace talks, negotiations that both FARC and ELN, the two largest guerilla groups, had left several times and probably would do again. At the Colombian consulate we didn't get any more optimistic. All the woman could say was that she would not go there if she was us. The Norwegian consulate said the the same, and when we left there we had decided, again, to drop that wonderful country. I was there for one month eight years ago and was really hoping I could go back. But if the guerilla had so much control that all we could do was travel the main routes and hope for the best, then it wouldn't be worth it anyway.

Istmus de Darien

One hundred meters into the Darien region, we stopped, lunched and turned around. Now we could say we had been there....

Meanwhile, Pieter, the Canadian who'd cast the puncture spell on us in Northern Mexico, had arrived in town and would stay over Christmas. We would too, since we decided not to rush a decision that would rid us of about twice the amount of cash we had projected and planned for to get us to South America. Pieter had travelled with about our speed since we met in Mexico, but we hadn't been able to catch up before now. He had gone over rivers in small boats, across mud paths and dark unmarked crossings to pass from country to country. This caused some long days of explaining and doing the paperwork when he showed up in the closest town and said he just crossed the border.

Also he must have been cursed with another side of the Mexican spell, since he had a list longer than my arm of bad moments; Panniers robbed in Durango with all the clothes he had, license plates stolen, the new fake plates he made himself stolen the same day they were mounted, sleeping bag stolen, baseball cap stolen while walking in a Nicaraguan town (he chased a bicyclist for two blocks before giving up his favorite cap), robbed at gun point on a Honduras beach ("Do not go down that beach at night", they said. He did. A couple of dollars and a friend's sandals was the total loot), broke his rear rim in Mexico after a rather unplanned trip into a ditch, slid around in the middle of a sharp turn where he saw three cars and a lot of people go down a steep hill due to an oil spill. He had to pay bribes to the police in Honduras twice ("You just ran a red light, sir. That means a fine." "But there is no traffic light here!" "Either you pay me or you get in trouble!" Simple logic) But at least he hadn't had a single puncture since we saw him last.

He was all smiles though. One day he was in our room and saw all the crap we were carrying, I showed him with childish pride our pile of things we would leave behind or send home, something that would reduce our luggage to a pleasant level. He smiled and said he left that job to others. He was now travelling with a small top box, ditto tank bag and a back pack, looking like a guy on his way to work rather than someone who rode down from Canada. With our six bags plus two back backs I shut up.

It was Christmas and we forgot about cargo arrangements for a couple of days. Pieter celebrated the day with us, and after we called home and talked for a long time with our families, we settled in our cheap but excellent room with several movie channels on the TV and a fridge. Beers were popped open, the bed arranged as a sofa and television turned on. Snacks had been stocked up. I don't remember any of the movies, but the beer was good.

On Christmas day we left Panama City with Pieter to check out the Darien, the famous or infamous barrier between the North and South of this continent. About one hundred boring kilometers south of the capital we came to the end of the paved section of the Northern Pan American Highway. It continued for another two hundred kilometer to Yaviza, the last outpost before the jungle, but since we had made it a day trip we knew we wouldn't make it. Eighty kilometers further on we entered the Darien region, and the guard posts strongly advised us not to stop for anyone in uniform further south, because it might just as well be Colombian guerilleros. After a quick counsel we decided that the time didn't permit us to go on, not that the chance of meeting guerilleros made the decision hard to take. So we drove one hundred meters into the Darien and had lunch by the side of the road. The ride back was easy but tiring for Bente, who was compensating for the hard pot holed gravel road by leaning forward and standing up every too often. The new shock absorber was a pleasure to get to know though, and I was pleased to learn it took the beating better than the old one before it blew.

Wrapped up bike

Wrapped up and ready to go. Rocinante covered in a roll of shrink film, a lot of cardboard and strapped down with a kilometer of straps and ropes. Vamos a Ecuador.

Pieter turned around in Panama and left towards Canada the next day. He would be back in a few months, but since he was finally travelling with a guide book, he didn't know were and how he would do it. So it might take longer. We went back to the search and after another confusing and frustrating half day, we realized that if we wanted to get going in South America within the next weeks, we would have to fly to Guayaquil. Several agents offered their service with Lacsa Cargo, and we started with Intertrade who had sent a bike on the same flight a week earlier.

In my experience with freight forwarders and agents, they can never ever give you the total price. For some peculiar reason costs are added to their given price several times and they never understand why I get annoyed. Intertrade said they could pack up the bike for us. So we booked flights for the two of us on Thursday night and Rocinante on the afternoon on the same day. When we showed up at Intertrade the day before, our contact smiled and said they would charge us an additional eighty dollars for the packing. I immediately went through the roof and asked why he hadn't informed about this over the telephone, when I had asked for a complete price, but was left without an answer. We left the office and went over to Panalpina, an international agent my old company has used many times. The total price here came out lower than Intertrade, and according to them we could pack the bike ourselves over at the Lacsa terminal. When the papers were finally ready and we went over there, the message was the opposite, so we had to return to Panalpina and find a way to pack the bike onto a pallet.

Eight people started working with us, and soon a proper air cargo pallet and lots of belts and hooks were ready. The same eight people started wrapping up the bike individually, something that caused a few frustrated comments from me. Most of my directions went unlistened to though, so when I was sure the bike at least wouldn't tip over, we sat down and smoked a cigarette while rope after rope and a whole role of shrink film found its way to the bike. In the end it looked like a mummy ready to be laid down. Since the bike was resting on a wooden pallet which again rested on a wide steel air cargo pallet, a huge fork lift was needed to lift it up on the special purpose trailer. Even the long forks on the biggest truck they had hardly reached to the middle, something that Bente couldn't stand to watch and turned away. By now I was in a sort of hilarious mood and shot pictures while waiting for the whole construction to turn over and crash into the concrete. It didn't.

The bike was left to the cargo personnel, and we went straight to an Internet café to continue our search for alternative solutions to the Carnet problem. We had decided to wait until we knew whether we really needed it before ordering and paying for it. In stead a mail had been sent off to the Canadian Car Association, the only place we could get it, asking how long it would take to produce and ship it to Ecuador, just in case. We had also sent a mail to our bank back home asking for a confirmation that we still had funds to survive down here. The Norwegian Embassy in Chile had received both a mail and a fax from us telling about the trip and the possible problem in Ecuador, asking for a statement saying we were tourists passing through with no intentions of selling the bike. The editor of MC-avisa in Norway had already sent his declaration stating we worked for them and would definitely not stay and make money on our bike in Ecuador. In addition, Lars and Tini had told us about Ricardo Rocco, an Ecuadorian who drove around the world on a motorcycle last year (and who got kidnapped in Colombia earlier in the fall), who had helped a couple of Americans with their bikes, providing a similar letter from the tourist ministry in Ecuador. A mail was sent to him as well, asking for help.

We were arming ourselves for a battle with custom officers, and the latest messages had made us optimistic. Then we boarded the flight and were on the way to South America.

Granada arches
Bente's making tortilla, the bread replacement found everywhere in Central America. It had grown on us and both decided the newly learned skill would be used once back home.

Iguanas also walked the beaches in Manuel Antonio. I was trying to get even closer, but the ranger quickly changed my mind by warning me about venomous snakes.

Merry Christmas to everyone back home in cold and wet Norway. With regards from Paradise.

Friends of Ricardo and Jorge
A pleasant evening in the company of Ricardo, Jorge and friends.

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