After consuming the great breakfast included in our hotel rooms the team readied the bikes for a day on the road for the capital of Costa Rica, the city of San José. It was to be the first bigger city on the trip for me and Lise, and we were looking forward to buy some things we lacked. Evans needed to go to get service for his BMW beast in a licensed BMW shop. Off we went on fairly nice roads, but as we got further inland the traffic got denser, and the amount of heavy traffic increased which made the roads up and down the steep hills very slow at times. On top of that it soon started raining so we found a little shack where we got our rain liners on. We were worried the rain would stop as soon as we got dressed for it, but this time it was not the case. It rained, and I mean rained! Add thunder and lightning right on top of us plus traffic. But we pushed on and after a couple of hours we got onto the multi lane highway leading to the heart of San José. Evans guided us with his waterproof GPS and soon we stopped outside a big iron door that led us in to a very crowded parking space belonging to the hostel we had booked. The hostel staff was not very keen on letting us hang our clothes to dry in their establishment, but luckily waited to react until the next morning. Not that we had any choice. After drying a bit we went to explore the bustling downtown of San José.
It’s interesting to be among so many people after living only in small villages for so long. We walked around in small shops and big markets with clothes and food just to feel the energy. After this we went back to the hostel to rest and then to dinner at an Egyptian restaurant close by. It was unexpected but very nice food!
It was time for another day of rest at the beach! It was also a day to make some decisions. Not so much for me and Lise, but for Evans and especially Sam, who had to figure out if he could scramble up enough money to make it across the Darian gap and down South America. There was also the question about how the two of them could do it most cost effective. I had gotten them in touch with the Stahlratte, a big German boat with good reputation, and today I found a site for booking several boats that run the rout betweeen Panama and Cartagena. Evans had also found an option of sending the bikes in a container by boat and buying air tickets for themselves.
Between breakfast and lunch was spent sending emails and discussing different options if and if not Sam could make it, which certainy wasn’t fun for him. He finally got hold of his family and managed to get the funds to move on. Great news! After comparing methods they decided to go by boat together with the bikes, similar to us, and get a booking on whichever boat was available first.
We then went searching for a well needed laundry shop, but the only one around charged $4 per kilo so in the end I went to the supermarket, bought detergent and washed our clothes in the hotel room sink. We first tried to dry them outside the room but because of the humidity I made a clothes line from some tie downs and hung them inside the room with blasting air condition.
After this we went to the beautiful beach, drank coconuts and me and Sam decided to rent surf boards for an hour. As neither of us had been sucessful at surfing before most of the hour was spent awkardly flopping around in the waves and trying to catch a wave. I think I stood up for bout one and a half second once. At least we made Evans and Lise laugh…
Dinner was then consumed in a sports bar where Lise and Evans explained all about baseball to Sam, whereafter we all returned to the hotel for rest and planning of tomorrow. We will aim to go to San Jose for a few days, checking up on Evans bike and see what the Capital is about. Maybe we can find good music!
The team woke up early and left the hostel around 7. 30 am. The plan was to catch the first boat to the mainland at 9 so that we would have plenty of time for the border crossing into Costa Rica. After about one hour riding we arrived Moyogalpa and went straight to the port to buy tickets. There was still room for us but we discovered that it was slightly more expensive to get off the island than to get there from the mainland. No big deal though. As we waited for the ferry to arrive Lise and Evans went to buy breakfast while me and Sam stayed to watch the bikes. The ferry arrived and the staff told us to load the bikes so I loaded my and Lise’s bike, Sam loaded his and Evans came back to load his bike and went back to get breakfast again. Suddenly the crew started untying the ferry but Lise and Evans had not yet come back. I asked a crew member to wait but he said Lise and Evans would have to take the next boat. So I asked him to wait one minute and ran off to find them. After about thirty seconds I found them carrying our breakfast and we ran back to the ferry and jumped on just as they untied the last rope and took off.
The ferry ride was uneventful after this and about an hour later we were back on the road towards the border. About 45 minutes after that we rolled up to the Nicaraguan immigration office to get our exit stamps. Not many “helpers” here and the few that came up were not very persistent. Nice! After figuring out the procedure we went through the processes in teams of two while the other two kept an eye on the bikes. It took us maybe 45 minutes in total. Then off to the Costa Rica side. Here we ended up behind a group doing a tour through North and Central America. They had several 4×4 vehicles and lots of paperwork, and at every station there was only one service window open, so there was a lot of waiting at the immigration and vehicle import offices.
The final office where we got the import paper took us about one and a half hour to go through. The tour group had some problems with their documentation and the guy in the office was extremely slow. We were all hungry, hot and slightly grumpy by the time we finally got back on our bikes and rolled off into Costa Rica. Total border time: around 4 hours! The longest this far.
20 minutes later we drove through La Cruz and got on a dirt road with huge gravel (very annoying to ride) to get to a little kite surfer hostel Evans had found on the coast. We arrived and got a four person room for a good price. The hotel is in a slope and the road up to the parking for the room was very steep and bumpy. Me, Evans and Sam drove up and parked. As I was unloading I suddenly heard Lise yell my name. I went down to find her bike halfway through a fence on the side of the drive leading up to the room. Both she and the bike seemed fine and we untangled the bike from the fence with some help from the hotel chef. The only damage was to Lise’s pride and to the fence, which I guess will show up on tomorrow’s checkout bill.
After this we could finally have a deserved shower, beer and brick oven pizza after a long and sweaty day.
The rest of the evening was uneventful except for a temporary jungle ant infestation in the bathroom, and the crew started passing out around 21.00.
So I intended to sleep in this morning but I sort of passed out by 8:30 last night, so I was wide awake by 7:00.. I guess that’s still sleeping in? The mornings here are cool and beautiful, and it’s fun to watch the school kids trickle in. I learned a bit more about the school here. The man who started it is Nicaraguan and has built it out of recycled 1.5 liter water bottles filled with certain kinds of waste. He started a program where villagers can bring these bottles filled with non-organic litter and he gives them money for them. It helps people of the community while cleaning up the town as well, and gives the kids a school! Pretty innovative!
I spent the morning wandering around the Hacienda/school grounds, catching up with family and updating this websites. Oh, and I made friends with a puppy.. The boys occupied their time figuring out border crossing logistics and fiddling with Sam’s bike.
For lunch we headed back toward the middle of the island to find an affordable place to eat before swimming at the freshwater springs called “ojo de agua”. A few places we checked were priced in U.S. Dollars, not a good sign, and definitely too pricey. We eventually found a decent place with good food. I’m definitely getting my fill of plantains! Yum!
We then headed to the springs, which were really nice. It’s a fresh water spring that comes up from the ground! We ran into another American motorcyclist that Sam and Evans met in Guatemala. He is heading south too, so maybe we’ll cross paths again down the road.
There was a slack line across the pool which we spent a good amount of time horsing around on. It was really nice to just float around the pool and stare up at the big trees.
We headed back to the Hacienda down the dirt and rocky roads. I am starting to get more comfortable with dirt roads and riding through water. It’s actually feeling kind of fun! I still have a lot to learn, though.
We spent the evening enjoying some cold beers while watching the sun set and listening to the monkeys hoot. Also, there are fire flies here! So cool! We discussed the next few weeks over dinner at the Hacienda. Evans and Sam are trying to find a reliable and cheap way to get from Panama to Columbia. I really hope they find a way that is close to when we cross. We have all agreed that it wouldn’t be a blast to explore Columbia and beyond together. At this point we already feel like old friends! Tomorrow we head into Costa Rica, so it’s going to be an early wake up to get across the lake in good time. ¡Buenas Noches amigos!
Today we went to climb a volcano. The island Ometepe consists of two volcanoes, Conception and Maderas. Conception looks like the perfect volcano from your favorite pirate story. You can climb it in 10 hours and look down at lava I’m the crater. Maderas is a bit smaller and covered with forest. There are really three micro climates with jungle at the bottom, tropical forest midway and rain forest closer to the top and on the crater. In the crater there is also a lake, and the only species living there is a type of frog.
We decided to climb Maderas. Evans who had done the hike to both volcanoes years ago decided not to go so me Lise and Sam met up with our, Randol, and set off around 07.30.
The first hour or so we walked towards the volcano beside rice, corn, coffee and bean plantations. Soon we got on to a smaller trail and we gained some altitude. As we worked our way through the jungle over roots and mud the temperature gradually dropped and the forest got damper and damper. The trail also got steeper and steeper and after about two hours hike we were scrambling over roots and the trail felt vertical at times, taking short breaks and admiring the fantastic view of the island. We met two other tours the whole day, a young woman with a guide and a couple from California with their guide.
About three hours into the hike we were really working hard and it felt like we were climbing the trees to follow the trail. It was like an Indiana Jones movie where we crawled through gateways made from roots and up impossible looking stairways with moss hanging from every branch.
And then suddenly it opened up and we were on the crest, surrounded by clouds.
Here the guide offered to take us down the crater to the lake. After a bit of discussion we decided not to do it because the extra time, one hour down and one up, might make us walk the last hour in darkness. So we had a soggy sandwich, rested a bit and started walking back. The trail back down was the same as the one we came up on, but going down was a totally different experience. Suddenly we were on a spiral stair case of roots and mud leading straight down and I found myself hanging from branches swinging my way down. After the first steep decent the rest of the decent consisted of roots, slippery mud and rocks with moss on it, that felt much more slippery coming down than climbing up.
Once down at more level ground the guide stopped and showed us some monkeys jumping around in the trees. These monkeys were spider monkeys and they were very curious about who we were but also shy enough that catching them on a picture was pretty hard work. Further down the trail we found a family of howling monkeys eating leaves. They looked like smaller gorillas with tails, probably almost as tall as a short human if standing up. The guide made some grunting noise and the alpha male responded with growls and howls like if there was a monster from the deep abyss in the tree.
After this we were pretty close to the end of our hike and we were all pretty exhausted, including the guide.
We went back to the hotel after paying and saying bye to Randol, got our swimming pants on and dove into the lake. Then we had a beer and went for food at a Greek restaurant around the corner. Pretty unexpected but not bad food at all.
After going back to the hotel for some homemade coconut ice cream we were all pretty worn out. Lise went to bed around eight and the rest of us will follow pretty soon I’m sure.
It has been one of the greatest days onthis tripso far and we are all full of impressions and new experiences.
This morning our adventure group grew to double size! We were aiming for the beach in Pochomil with our new friends Evan and Sam! It felt great to travel as a team and it was very nice to see three bikes in the rear mirror positioned in a “w” on the highway. The roads were great to Pochomil and soon we arrived in the little town. Evans had checked out a hostel run by Canadians and he led us down a rough dirt road towards the establishment. Unfortunately as it was low season the owners had decided to leave and the hostel was closed. A local told us that most places were closed but that there was one place close by that was still operating. After a short detour riding down on the beach to the ocean we rode back to find that the hotel recommended to us was a pretty worn down looking place. The guy in charge first offered us rooms for 50$ a piece but quickly accepted 25$ per room, which it was still not worth but we didn’t have much of a choice. And neither did he as we were the only guests there. The rooms had dirt on the floor and filthy toilets, although the bed clothes were clean and we did not find any bedbugs . We did have one unwelcome guest as we unpacked and a bat flew in through a hole in the ceiling, into the bathroom, back to the bedroom and out through the same hole. I quickly moved the misplaced ceiling tile and closed the way for future surprises. The whole air of the place kind of felt like a post apocalyptic movie, or like if someone just decided to suddenly just drop everything and leave. The vacuum cleaner for the pool was in the pool like someone was just taking a break from cleaning for a minute, but it was obvious that it had been there for weeks or months.
We were hungry though and wanted sand under our feet so we took off by foot to walked along the beach in search for a beer and lunch. There were empty food places all along the beach but almost all of them were closed. We finally found a nice place with a nice view from an open second floor. We had a beer, looked at food prices and decided to go somewhere else. There must be crowds of tourists here other times of the year because food and rooms we’ve seen have been really expensive. We found a little restaurant further inland and had wonderful fresh fish and plantains for lunch, for a good price, around 3$ eaxh
After lunch we went for a dip in the ocean. The beach is really beautiful and huge, and the water really pleasant and clear.
Me and Sam decided we wanted to ride our bikes on the beach so after taking a quick shower we geared up and got on our bikes. Lise and Evans walked down to catch the sunset.
After the beach ride, that went well although it was a bit looser than expected, we went off to check out a dirt road shortcut for tomorrow’s ride. We pretty soon ended up in a puddle of mud as evening threw itself upon us. We quickly turned around in darkness and returned to the hotel to wash the bikes and report that there might be a better route for the morning. After this we sat in one of the cleaner corners of the hotel chatting for a while before daring ourselves to go back to the rooms for some rest .
What better way to spend a Sunday than resting in Leon? We definitely needed a little down time after all the crazy border crossings. We woke up to the hostel dog (Ava) running laps around and barking at various things. I didn’t mind, she is still a puppy and I appreciate any canine contact I can get. Especially if it isn’t with a mangy pack of wilds ones hanging out at the border…
We decided to gather our stinky and still damp clothing and venture out to find a laundry place and then some breakfast. Our lovely hostel hostess pointed us towards both places. We dropped our clothes off and found a good and cheap breakfast place. We then wandered around Leon taking a few pictures and exploring the city a bit. A lot of places were closed at it was Sunday. It has a few old and beautiful churches and a nice center square, but other than that, it seems that Leon is a hub for adventures outside of the city. Like surfing down the side of a volcano, or camping trips or surf trips.
Once back at the hostel we ran into our new friends Sam and Evans and planned to have dinner with them. It’s great to hang with fellow motorcyclists!
For lunch we had some bread, cheese and apples from the grocery store. It had been a while since reliable internet was available so we hung out at the hostel for the afternoon catching up on email and blogging. The hostel was really great. It’s run by a polish guy and Sri Lankan girl and is called Trail Winds. They also run a delicious restaraunt and were very welcoming to motorcyclists. We had a private room with a shared bathroom. It was clean and nice and super quiet at night.
For dinner we joined Evans and Sam for some street food barbecue. It was delicious! And there was way too much to eat! They had chicken, pork, beef, chorizo, and tons of things to go on the side: fries cheese, plantains, plantain con queso, and corn quesadillas. It was packed with locals, which is always a good sign.
We had a great time with our new found friends. Evans is from Quebec and Sam is from the U.K. Sam is definitely Dylan’s long lost twin. He even quit his job as a mailman to do this trip!
We decided to continue our travels as a group for a bit. So tomorrow we will head for the coast and stay in a little beach town called Pochamil. Maybe we’ll finally go for a swim in the Pacific!
The day had finally come. We were to cross from El Salvador to Honduras and Honduras into Nicaragua in one day. These were the borders we had heard so many horror stories about. Stories of people being swarmed by kids and helpers climbing on their cars, guards with guns asking for money and officials who won’t let you get the papers you need and working in snail tempo. It was time to see what it held in store for us!
We had a quick breakfast in our room, packed up our bikes and discovered that Lise’s jacket was full of ants. There were ants in all the riding gear but they apparently found some old mint candies in her jacket pocket and promptly decided to have a party right there. The receptionist and a guy repairing the Internet were a bit curious so Lise explained the situation and handed them the mints, hoping they would help dispose of them. They happily did so by eating them. After about ten minutes of shaking and brushing she finally agreed to put it on and we were ready to go.
We were only about 20 minutes from the border and soon we rolled up by a small booth on one side of the road. Immediately a group of men came up telling us to exchange money and that we would need their help with the paper work. After saying no about a hundred times they backed off a bit and we could get to the window. This was the window to cancel the vehicle papers for El Salvador and after running a few times between the window and a copy store we were ready to move on, hoping we had the right amount of copies for the immigration. We drove a little further to a building in the middle of the road. Crowded around were more “helpers” and a line of people waiting to get their passports checked. A bus rolled in and we ended up chatting with a young Swiss couple that showed up behind us in line. The officials checked our passports and we were ready to get our bike import cancelation done. It turned out it was a holiday this day and there was an extra service charge fee to get the papers done. After verifying this info by posters on the wall we agreed, and the kind officer told us that as we are a family we only have to pay once. Yay! OK that wasn’t that bad, now on to the Honduras side. Went over a bridge, gave copies to a guard on the El Salvador side and more copies to the guard on the Honduras side. He then took us to the immigration window where a lady started filling out our vehicle papers while we got our passports checked. It took maybe 20 minutes here but all was well organized and painless, except for an old man sitting on the ground begging for money that kept poking Lise with his cane while she got her passport checked. Ok done here after about one and a half hour. Not so bad.
We took off through Honduras and here the roads started being pretty shitty. They were full of potholes big enough to ruin your day regardless of what vehicle you drive, and this made traffic a bit unpredictable because of the other cars flinging themselves over to the opposite lane to avoid them. It was also difficult being after a car or truck as you had less time to react on upcoming holes. The traffic was not that dense though, and after about 3 hours we were through Honduras and pulled up by the immigration building to exit Honduras. Inside there was a line of about 20 people waiting for immigration. No big deal, the only annoyance being the heat and gnats in your eyes. Half hour later we were done with the exit work, and the vehicle official even congratulated me on my birthday a week earlier. Then now over to the Nicaraguan side. Here we got our papers checked by a guard and were waved on towards a dirt parking place beside some buildings. More helpers, kids this time. The buildings were scarcely marked and we asked our way to the vehicle import window, but people were telling us we needed stamps and papers for our bikes from a lady that inspects vehicles first. Only problem: she was nowhere to be found. After looking around the buildings for about 10 min she showed up and did an inspection of our VIN numbers, not even realizing that she checked my paper against Lise’s VIN. Well as long as she signs the papers its not our problem. We went back to the line and waited. And waited. Finally it’s our turn and the lady started working on our papers while we waited. And waited… Papers done, time for immigration. No signs but the vehicle lady pointed down the corridor. Ok another window and another line moving painfully slow. And suddenly the stray dogs that wander around all over the place decide to start fighting right in the middle of all the waiting people. They did not even react to the people trying to scare them off. We were starting to get hangry at this point, and very sweaty. Finally we got to the window, got our passports checked and are told we need to pay for some tourist permit to show the guard at the way out. Payment was done in another window that said closed. A guy sat there with our passports for a bit and sorted some other papers and passports in bundles. Then he starts looking for something. And he asks some other guy something. And they both start looking. Soon three or four guys are looking for something, making phone calls and telling us to wait. Apparently they had ran out of the forms we needed to have filled out and none were to be found. So we waited, and waited and waited. About 45 minutes later someone finally arrived with some empty forms. Papers got filled out while we waited a bit longer, a bit more confusion was made about stamps that we didn’t need in the end, and finally we were on our way. Total time about three hours… Paper was given to the guard on the way out and off we went into Nicaragua. The traffic was by far the most chaotic here yet and we had to dodge off the road because of a semitruck that decided to do a left turn into a line of waiting trucks ending up blocking the whole road. After that we soon ran into a line of trucks waiting to get past some road work. People sneaked past and we’re told to wait at the beginning of the line. Soon other motorcycles zoomed past and continued down the road ignoring the stop sign. One of them signaled to us to just go and after a little wait we decided to go for it. As we went over dirt and concrete we soon realized that this roadwork was miles and miles of one lane road. We met hoards of big semi trucks traveling in the opposite direction, sometimes making the one lane pretty cramped space wise. Many times the one lane was made of concrete slabs with quite a fall to each side so getting off the road to let them pass was not an option. I managed to get cursed and thrown garbage at by truck drivers before we finally got past the final stretch and went back on normal road. It started to get late but we decided to push past Chinandega and towards León. The roads were well trafficked and we felt safe even though it got dark. Once in León we quickly went through a few hostels before finding one with a double room and garage space for our bikes. There was a Suzuki 650 and a BMW parked there as well, so we suspected that we were not the only riders staying here. We quickly found out that they belonged to Sam and Evans, an English young man and a French Canadian guy that had ran into each other in Baha, and had been traveling together since. We took a shower, ate some excellent curry at the hostel and had a beer or two while chatting with Sam about mud and worn out tires etc… After that it was time to get some well deserved rest. We had made it through what we thought would be the worst part of the trip. And it wasn’t that bad actually, except for the Nicaraguan side. Oh I forgot, apparently Sam and Evans got screwed over by the helpers on the El Salvador to Honduras border and ended up having to pay almost 100$ and go for an expensive taxi ride to a bank and all kind of crazy things! I guess the border can be even more of a mess if you don’t watch out…