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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mildly Melancholic Musings From Panama

Panama to Venao (Playa Venado)
Interesting how things change.  In my last post I was high on life and travels, and in amazing/positive spirits.  This post reflects a bit of the opposite.  I'm currently doing just fine, lazily sitting in a hammock enjoying a nice breeze in Venao (Playa Venado).  However, the past few days I wasn't doing so great.  Let me start from the beginning...

I left David (Daveed) and made it to the city in Panama in record time.  As referenced in the last post, I found a nice hostel called Siriri.  It is located in Marbella, close to the Multicentro shopping mall, and in a safe area of the city.  Pablo, the owner, and the staff were all nice enough, and they let me park the bike directly in the entrance hallway, which was nice.  However, after a few days in the city things started to go slightly awry.  

First, I ended up going out that first night with several people from the hostel, but forgot how expensive the city can be.  The last time I was there was in 2012 during a trip with the ex.  We stayed at Le Meridien, danced salsa at Havana Club, sailed through San Blas, and painted the town red together.  Since I had a job waiting when I returned, money wasn't a concern.  This trip is obviously different.  I don't have a job waiting, and Hostel Siriri, while nice, is a far cry from Le Meridien.  I ended up going way over my budget that night, which pissed me off, and everywhere I looked I was reminded of the trip w/ the ex.  We kept driving by Le Meridien, the guys wanted me to take them to Havana Club, then we ended up at a lounge in Casco Viejo (old town) that the ex and I had been to.  It wasn't the reminders of the relationship that bothered me, but reminders of my past life.  While I'm immensely enjoying the ways things are currently, it is a bit of a struggle to travel with a completely different mindset and on a completely different monetary budget.  Not a bad thing, but the city was a friendly reminder that I'm certainly on a budget and can't do everything I want.  

So after my quick realization that the city would be challenging due to budget constraints, I actually became a bit bored.  Since I'd been there before, there wasn't much left that I hadn't already explored.  I did take some nice runs up and down the boardwalk, visited the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, explored several different/new areas of the city in search of cheap eats, and tried to find various other things to fill my time.  The majority of the people at Siriri ended up just hanging at the hostel most of the day and night.  While sitting around doing nothing on occasion is nice, I found myself bored and with a feeling that I was wasting days waiting for March 3rd, when the boat departs for Colombia.  I'm not sure why, but a feeling of depression started to creep in.  I know that not every stop during my journey will provide epic adventure and fun, but spending several days cooped up in a crowded hostel just didn't feel right.  I finally slapped myself and decided that I'd leave to meet up with a friend in Venao/Playa Venado to spend a few days lounging on the beach, which is where I am now.

The third blow came after a few nights in Panama.  I had booked a flight with miles for my new friend Sarah (the girl I met in Puerto Escondido) to come meet me in Cartagena.  We were both looking forward to getting to know each other better, and spending time together in Cartagena and farther up the coast in Santa Marta.  I had organized a nice hotel for a few nights and started planning the agenda for our week.  However, Sarah informed me that unfortunately she wouldn't be able to make it.  She had been interviewing for months for a dream job, and they offered it to her.  She felt like it would be the wrong decision to delay the start date, thus couldn't make the trip to Colombia.  She asked if I thought she should just scrap it and come to Colombia, but I said it was ultimately her decision, and that I'd hate to be the reason that she didn't get a job that meant so much to her.  In the end, it kind of pissed me off since I'd put a lot of time, effort, and money into planning, and was really looking forward to seeing her, but you gotta do what'chu gotta do right?  

Blow numero cuatro came after speaking to another friend, Dorothy from San Francisco.  She and I have been communicating on and off about her potentially coming down to meet me in Ecuador.  However, shortly after plans fell through with Sarah, Dorothy informed me that she wouldn't be able to make it to Ecuador either due to an already planned trip to Vietnam, and now a destination bachelorette party that has sprung up for one of her best friends.  Again, I was really looking forward to spending time together to get to know her better, and it would have been great to explore the beaches and towns of Ecuador together on the motorbike, as I've never been.  Alas, we'll have to make it happen some other time.  It is lonely traveling alone at times, so I was looking forward to having two visitors along the way.  The combination of both cancelations sent me further into a funk.  

And the last thing that contributed to my melancholy...  My father was going to help with my taxes, but due to some complex issues (divorce, sale of home, etc, etc, etc), we decided to file for an extension, which means that I'll need to be home and done with my taxes before October.  He has helped tremendously while I've been away with a ton of things, but this task is just too much.  After filing the extension, the realization that there is an end in sight for my adventure depressed me.  I may end up finding a place along the way in the near future where I can safely leave the bike, which will give me an opportunity to fly home temporarily to knock out the taxes with an accountant, then fly back down to continue the adventure.  We'll see about that option.  

Ok sorry, there is one additional negative thing bothering me.  I very rarely get sick, but I think all my time traveling, the vicious heat, burning the candle at both ends, and staying in crowded hostels has finally caught up with me.  Somewhere along the way in the city, I started to feel a tickle in my throat.  It kept getting worse and worse, and today I'm actually fully ill.  The good news is that I wanted to chill for a few days in Venao and do absolutely nothing, so this gives me a good excuse to do just that.  My only hope is that I'm 100% in a few days for the boat trip to Colombia.  It would be a huge bummer if I was ill on a rocking boat laying out chum lines through what should be fun filled paradise.  My plan is to chill here, get plenty of rest, drink a TON of water, and nurse myself back to health by the time I return to the city on the 1st.  Cross your fingers for me that it passes quickly.

All that said, and sorry for the venting, I am doing well now.  Even though I feel like garbage, I'm enjoying my time away from the city on a beautiful beach.  My buddy Paul should be here shortly, so it will be good to hang with him.  We're staying at a nice little spot called La Choza Playa Venao.  You can set up a tent for $8, the dorms are $13, and they have privates for $40.  I opted for the dorm, but may end up throwing up my tent the next couple of nights to save some money and get a bit more privacy.  The dorm, although hot, isn't too shabby.  Five out of the six beds are filled with beautiful girls from Argentina and Spain.  :)  

Regarding my melancholic mood, I feel like a right hypocrite since I'm the one that's been saying "you can't have the good without the bad".  However, the combo of all those things did a number on me.  Like I said, I'm doing much better now, and know that five days on the boat will surely cure what ails me.  It is always interesting though when you travel to have any sort of negative feelings and/or emotions.  When planning trips and adventures like this, it's all roses and adventures in theory.  Turns out, it's still real life.  It feels good to write about it though and get it out, so thanks for reading/listening.  

Ok, I'm going to get off my complaining arse and figure out what to do next.  On the ride down to Venao yesterday, I managed a few detours to check out some random beaches.  Some were on the map, and some weren't.  Aside from the last picture, which is of Venao, the beach photos above were from one I stumbled upon accidentally.  A smooth winding road (resembled a supermoto course) led all the way down to Playa Destiladeros.  The road ends and the desolate beach begins.  There is only one hotel there called Villa Camilla Suites.  It is one of the most isolated beautiful beaches I've ever seen, certainly the best I've seen on this trip.  I may shoot back east today to go lounge on the beach there with my book.  The bike always puts me in a good mood anyway, so a spirited ride to Destiladeros may be in order.  I might, out of curiosity, look at a few properties for sale around the area.  I find it hard to believe that the area won't be growing very soon, so it would be a nice investment IMO.  Even if that takes time, it would be an amazing place to own property regardless.  

That's all for now...  I'll try to get a post up prior to our departure on the 3rd.  If not, there will be a fairly long delay due to the five day trip on The Stahlratte (two days through San Blas, three days open water to Cartagena).  

Ciao for now...  ~ D

PS...  One tip for people doing a similar trip.  The Panamericana in Panama sucks!  It is FILLED with moto cops radar-gunning everyone.  I told you in a previous post about getting popped, but getting off with a warning.  Since then, I've been diligent about looking out for them.  Yesterday shortly after leaving the city, I noticed a car coming the opposite direction flash his lights at me.  I immediately started looking out and sure enough, about a mile up, there was a guy on my side locked and loaded with his trusty radar gun.  The posted speed limit was 80k, so I made sure to slow down to just under that.  I know for a fact that I was slowed far enough in advance for him to have nothing on me.  However, he came calmly walking out into the highway to wave me over.  Now if I do something wrong, I have no problem taking my punishment.  But, if he just wants to pull me over to be an ass or hassle me, then he can stuff it.  His waves got more and more animated as I got closer.  As I was passing him he looked pissed.  I waved back at him and kept on going.  After cruising a mile or so ahead, I rolled hard on the throttle and sped out of there.  Nothing came of it, and about 15 miles or so I stopped for lunch.  So for what it's worth, if you find yourself in a similar situation, maybe claim 'gringo stupidity' and run right through the checkpoints and traffic stops with the explanation if you get pulled over, "Lo siento, I thought you just liked motorcycles and were waving hello".  :)  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

GO 78, GO!!! | Costa Rica >>> Panama

I woke up this morning in David, Panama after a brief stopover.  I originally planned a couple of nights in David, but I wasn't a fan of the city, so decided to book it to Panama City today.  And book it I did!  The racer in me came out and I made it from David to Panama in 4 1/2 hours, which is a record (if you take into account the two gas stops and 30min police detour).  Hence the name of this post...  GO 78, GO!!!  

The "police detour" was totally my fault.  I failed to realize that there are a $hitload of police radar points in Panama.  I was cruising at 120k+ in an 80k zone and split between two cars directly in front of Manuel (my new friend - the police officer).  He waved me over and I pulled to the side immediately.  He came strolling over and immediately pulled out the infraction/ticket book.  He told me that he was going to write two tickets.  One for splitting between vehicles, and one for speeding.  After chatting for awhile and pleading ignorance and gringo stupidity, he laughed and said he would drop it to just speeding.  As he began to write, I started chatting more and joking with him to see if I could get him to let me off with a warning.  He was a cheerful guy and seemed to be in a good mood.  I also got it out of him that he is a lifelong moto fan.  I showed him some photos of the racing days and from my trip.  He looked at me and asked "are you sorry?".  I said, "of course...  lo siento!  It won't happen again".  He said, "ok amigo, be careful and slow down".  So all-in-all, the 30min police detour could've been much worse.  Thanks Manuel!!!  

In my last post I mentioned that I would be leaving Manuel Antonio and exploring more of Costa Rica and possibly Bocas in North Panama.  But damned if it didn't happen again!  I got stuck in Manuel Antonio for a week (originally planned two nights).  There were two reasons for the delay.  First, I was staying at Hostel Plinio, which is a killer spot.  I talked briefly about it in my last post, but can't say enough good things about the place.  If you are coming through Costa, and are looking for a nice room w/ secure parking for the bike, don't hesitate to stop.  It is owned by a really nice guy named Corey, and all of the staff are amazing.  I felt at home at Plinio straight away and could have spent a long, long time. 

The second reason for the delay was of course a chica.  Donna is a lovely Peruvian that works at the hostel.  She has been in Costa for a little under a year and plans to stay.  We ended up having a LOT in common and had an amazing time exploring the town and surrounding beaches and areas.  We zipped around on the bike together all week.  We rode to Domenical, Uvita, waterfalls, random beaches, etc, etc, etc.  She was my tour guide and we were pretty much together 24/7 when she wasn't working.  We are in the process of planning some time together when I'm in Peru.  She needs to visit family there anyway, so it works out perfectly.  BellaDonna, my poisonous Peruvian wildflower, if you are reading this thank you for the amazing tour around Plinio and Costa Rica.  Five stars!  I can't wait to spend time with you in the future.  ;) 

So now I'm in Panama...  That means that I've clocked approx 7k miles on the bike since I left.  I've been away from home for three months, and have visited eight different countries.  A close friend Kat sent me a message last night asking, "how is your heart?", and I have to say that I'm happier than I've ever been in life.  I know that sounds like a cheesy blanket statement, but it's entirely true.  I'm incredibly relaxed and am completely immersed in this adventure/journey.  Chloe (the bike) has done an amazing job thus far.  Aside from one flat rear (not her fault), and a small battery issue, there have been no problems.  I feel confident, happy, strong, and muy tranquilo.  I've grown internally as a person a great deal, and know that it was the right decision to kick a leg over the bike and go.  In fact, I'm a bit sad I didn't do it sooner.  Alas, I'm loving it now, and there is no such thing as the past or future, so I'll live in and enjoy the present, and enjoy the ride.  

I was planning to do a few things in the city while I'm here.  First, my friend Estefania lives here, but she is lame (I hope you are reading this E!).  She booked a boat tour through San Blas directly over my trip here, so I probably won't be able to hang with her.  I also wanted to stop into the BMW dealership to source new tires and ask about the rear wheel bearing recall (anyone reading this - I would appreciate any insight you have into this).  However, after doing some research it looks as if Ruta 40 in Medellin is a better option for service.  Plus, my tires have some meat left, so I'll wait until Colombia.  So, now I have three nights booked here at Hostel Siriri (nice place - they are letting me park the bike directly in the lobby) with no plans.  I'm thinking of studying more Spanish here in the city for a few days.  I leave Thursday the 27th to meet up with Paul, my friend and fellow moto traveler from England in a sleepy little beach town southwest of the city.  We'll be there for a few days, then I'll return to the city for the beginning of Carnival on the 1st, then board the Stahlratte on the 2nd for the trip to Cartagena.

I think that's it for now.  I'm off for a shower and shave, then we're having a BBQ here at the hostel.  Since I've been here to PC before, I've been nominated as nightlife tour guide this evening.  We're going to kick it off on Calle Uruguay at the clubs/bars, then make our way over to Havana Club for some sweaty salsa.  Wish us luck!  

Hasta pronto, 

~ D  

PS...  On yet another somber side note, Marco, the chef and manager of the restaurant at Plinio, was involved in a car accident last night.  He was driving back to Manuel Antonio from Domenical and apparently had a single vehicle accident.  I became close with Marco during my stay at Plinio.  According to Donna, the current prognosis is not good and the doctors fear the worst.  Marco is married with two small children.  Even though the majority of you reading this don't know him, please keep Marco and his family in your thoughts and prayers.  Rest well my friend, I hope to see you the next time I return to Manuel Antonio.  Hang in there Marcito!  

Rough life...  ;)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pura Vida | Costa Rica...

I left Granada two days ago after partying it up with my new friends Paul and Jayden (English / Canadian fellow motorcycle travelers).  I also met a really fun Irish friend named Caroline.  True to her roots she ended up drinking me under the table and making fun of me the next day for feeling like arse.  After that mess I wanted to find a tranquil beach in Costa Rica to relax and lick my wounds.  Manuel Antonio popped up on several searches, so I pointed my front wheel in that direction and headed out.  

The ride out of Nica was easy enough.  Smooth riding on twisty roads, but it was steaming hot.  It hit 99.7F according to my gauge, which is brutally hot with full gear.  I'd heard that Costa would be the longest border crossing due to the crowds and confusion.  Fortunately, I didn't have that experience.  I tipped the police officer and walked right into immigration in front of a line of about 200 people.  They looked pretty pissed, but honestly I was so tired and hot I didn't feel too bad.  After immigration I set off to make copies of all the documents, then followed two local motorcyclists who seemed to know what they were doing.  Sure enough they ended up pointing me in the right direction and I was off before I knew it.  

The roads in Costa Rica all the way down to M.A. (Manuel Antonio) were perfection.  Freshly paved, smooth, low traffic, and beautiful views in all directions.  I even managed to meet and ride with a local on a Honda Transalp for a bit.  He was a former racer as well, so let's just say our impromptu rally south was very spirited.  It was a long, but enjoyable ride.  After 280+ miles I finally pulled into Hotel Plinio at around 4pm.  The dorms are $12 per night here, which is a bit more than my $6 - $9 average thus far.  It is actually cheap for Costa Rica, which is shockingly expensive after being in other Central American countries for some time now.  I sat down for my first lunch and, after doing a bit of math in my head, was dumbfounded as to why the dish was $18 USD.  This realization further solidifies my plan to pass through Costa fairly quickly.  

There is parking here at the hotel and security watching the bike every night.  The majority of the staff are all volunteering in return for room and board.  Fortunately for me, they all happen to be attractive young things, and are all very nice.  Ev is from Ireland, Stacey from the States, and Donna from Peru.  They are like the United Nations of hot chicas.  Donna is off today, so I think we're going to take the bike for a ride to a private secluded beach that she knows about.  M.A. is nice, but there are a LOT of people running around.  A relaxing day on a secluded beach with monkeys sounds absolutely perfect.  

So far I've clocked just over 6,800 miles.  I left Denver on Nov 18th, so technically I've been gone for three months now.  I've checked off seven different countries, and seen and experienced a lot of amazing things along the way.  Maybe it's the vibe here in Costa Rica, but I feel like everything is really going well.  I'm happier than I can ever remember, and more relaxed than I've been in a long, long time.  Over the past few days I've ridden up and down pristine coastline, surfed waves, swam naked in the ocean at night (sorry mom), witnessed countless beautiful sunsets, two gorgeous full moon cycles, and rode to the edge of a very active volcano to trade my bike for a horse (fortunately we swapped back after a brief tour of the rim with my new friends from Slovenia Eva and Blanca).  All that and I still yearn for more, more, more.  

I'm currently sitting in a hammock at Plinio and have just loaded my route for tomorrow.  I plan to backtrack northwest a bit and then head east/south to end up in Manzanillo on the Caribbean Coast.  I've read it is a super chill place with fewer gringos, so if true I'll spend a few nights there.  After that, and possibly a few nights in Bocas Del Toro, Paul and Jayden have invited me to join them in Playa Venado for a few nights at a secret place that they've described as paradise on earth.  They didn't have to twist my arm too hard to get me to agree to that obviously.  Not to mention the three of us get along really well.  It's sometimes hard to find funny, genuine, caring friends.  They are good dudes, and I hope we're able to stay in touch through the years.  

Alright alright, I think that's it for now.  Donna is giving me the evil eye and pestering me to get off me arse and head to the beach on the bike.  That said, hasta pronto amigos!!!  

~ D

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Going Back, Back, Back... To Nica, Nica, Nica!!!

As with most places so far, due to new friends and a couple of really nice girls Graziella & Linda that I met the day before I was supposed to leave, I ended up staying in El Tunco longer than expected.  It turned out to be one of the best stops on the trip so far.  I fell in love with the place, had one of the craziest nights of my life, explored caves, had mud/sand fights, and also met two new amigos for life. Paul (the crazy Brit) and Jayden (the crazy Canuck) are traveling to Panama on bikes that they sourced in Guatemala City.  We got on well and decided that we would all ride together to Leon in Nicaragua.

The three of us met at 7am yesterday morning and got out of El Tunco, El Salvador rather quickly.  We knew it would be a long day as we had 287 miles of riding along with 2 border crossings into/out of Honduras.  Paul is on a large (loud as $hit) cruiser that fits his personality well.  Jayden is on a small Honda 230, perfect for dirt, but not so good on the highway. We kept a good pace through the twisting roads and made good time to the border.  We exited through El Salvador fairly easy and quickly, but the entrance into Honduras was a different story.  Remember my "you can't have the good without the bad" epiphany from before?  Well, my prediction about 'the bad' coming soon turned out to be spot on.  Honduras wasn't the best experience, which matched up with what I've read in other travel reports.    

I had decided to help out a local guy (helper) again, but this time the experience was much different.  He started out very friendly running around making copies of necessary documents, and helping me cut in lines here and there.  We made it to the end and he started telling me that there was a "road tax: and I also needed to get my bike sprayed for $45 USD.  I laughed at this and went to give him $5 for his troubles.  He wouldn't accept it and said, "follow me, I show you".  I walked with him towards a sketch building where he assured me I needed to go, but I turned around and promptly told him to F off.  I offered him the $5 and he said, "no $45".  Again, F off.  After going back and forth he then said, "OK, I accept $10 for my work".  I said "wait, I tried to give you $5, you then try to screw me, and now you want $10?".  I offered him $4 now and said "take it or leave it".  He did work, but I deducted $1 due to his attempt at fleecing me for $45.  Wanker.  He left in a bit of a huff, and I assume it would have gotten more heated had there not been a ton of people around.  So now I'm batting 50% with helpers.  Not sure if I'll use them from here on out.  

The three of us made it through Honduras fairly quickly.  It hit 99.5F during the ride, which is the hottest it has been during my trip.  We made it to the exit of Honduras, and said goodbye with a one finger salute.  Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the country is amazing, and the majority of the people fantastic, but the border and police roadblock/shakedown that we experienced left a bad taste.  We entered Nicaragua and immediately ran into another issue. Jayden has five months remaining on his passport.  The guy at immigracion was in a sour mood and refused to let him into the country without six months remaining.  At first I thought it would be a minor setback and they would eventually let him through.  After an hour of arguing with the guy, and his boss, there was nothing that they would do for us.  Unfortunately, both Paul and Jayden had to turn back, while I continued on towards Leon (sorry guys!).  

Upon arrival in Leon, I drove around for a bit and found a hostel.  However, they wouldn't allow me to park my bike inside, so I found another that would.  Tango's Hostel is a new place that is very clean, run by a nice young couple, and allowed me to roll the bike right up into the restaurant with no issue.  Since it is new, I'm the only guest.  I feel like a VIP and have a 4-bed dorm all to myself for $6/night.  I plan to explore Leon today, and then head out to Granada tomorrow.  After another two nights in Granada, the plan is to head back to the beach in San Juan del Sur.  I would highly recommend this place if you want a cheap, clean, safe place to stay very close to plaza central.  Ask for Nahuel and/or Alejandra when you arrive to Tango's, they'll get you sorted.  

On a random, but somber side note, I received loads of messages while in El Tunco reminding me to stay vigilant and safe during my travels.  Apparently, a guy doing a similar trip has gone missing in Michoacan, Mexico.  Read the article, join the Facebook page, and pass along the word.  Hopefully Harry is found safe and sound...  

See everyone on the flip...  Hasta pronto!

~ D