Almost through with Central America

Well rested after three nights in our comfortable cabana on Island Ometepe in lake Nicaragua, we slowly packed up and made our way back to the ferry and the short ride to the border with Costa Rica. The morning was warm but overcast and the winds were still howling over the lake with high wind warnings showing on my phone’s weather app. It’s hard to get a picture of high winds but you might get the idea from this picture of a ferry just like the one we were on going the other direction.

We were bobbing up and down in a seasick inducing motion for an hour. Deby and I found seats outside on the top deck and were busy keeping our eyes on the horizon.

Soon we were back on the bikes and heading for yet another border crossing. We were getting better at border crossings and mostly knew the general steps needed to export the motorcycles and ourselves and then import ourselves and then our motorcycles. Still, each crossing had variations that involved things like tiny slips of paper with stamps, the requirement to get copies of various documents and twice our motorcycles have been fumigated. Only once did we have to put luggage through an X-Ray machine. It seemed weird we only needed to X-Ray our top bags but not our panniers. Nobody really seemed to care anyhow.

Entering Costa Rica was slow, almost four hours of waiting and standing in various lines in 90+ degree heat. We were mixed in with a couple of tour bus groups that really slowed things down. Entering Costa Rica we had one final place to visit, a building about a quarter mile away where we needed to purchase the mandatory insurance. While waiting there we meet a couple riding Harleys through Central America (in the heat). Rafa and Priscila are from Brasil and were heading home.

Priscila was riding the Sportster shown above. They were both pretty loaded down with camping gear but it didn’t seem to be a problem. I noticed Rafa had a Harley 100 anniversary pin on his vest. Hey – were you there? Yes he was. Deby and I were also there back in 2003 on my Harley Dyna Wide Glide. Here is Rafa’s 2003 100th Anniversary Road King.

He was pulling a trailer and was loaded down but Rafa and the Harley were up to the task. We exchanged contact information and he said to let him know if we needed any help on our way. It’s a rare sight to see Harleys travelling in Central America kudos to them.

It was getting close to 4:00 by the time we were free to enter Costa Rica and we were too hot and tired to continue much further. We didn’t have any plan or reservations for the night and not even sure where to go. While waiting in line to purchase our insurance by some miracle the data plan on my phone started working. I must have connected to the Costa Rica phone system where my data plan was accepted. While Deby and I stood at the window as the guy was slowly typing something in his computer I did a quick Google search of hotels nearby and a place with cabanas and a restaurant popped up about an hour away. Deby and I scrolled through a couple of pictures and decided to hit the reserve button. That’s how we ended up at Hotel Cabanas La Teca.

Again, we rode down some back roads off the highway that turned into gravel and we came upon a wall with a gate, was that it? We entered in and were greeted by the owner Juan who was standing in the driveway like he was waiting for us. He helped us check in and showed us to our Air Conditioned cabin that was almost next to the pool and restaurant. Perfect.

At dinner these kids came over to talk with us in Spanish. They wanted to know about the motorcycles. Deby found some stickers to give them and they came back with their cell phone to show us pictures of their family dog and some videos of them jumping off a cliff into a pool of water somewhere. Then the older one (11 years old) pulled down his shorts a little to show me his scrapes and bruises from hitting the side of the cliff. He was very proud of the damage and said it didn’t hurt.

It was a nice place to stay but in the morning the heat was building and we were looking at the calendar and realized we needed to continue to make time through Central America. We wanted to visit the Lake Arenal area, a beautiful place up in the mountains that we had visited before with the MotoRaid crew in 2013. We also hoped in would be slightly cooler up in the mountains. We splurged a little and booked a room at the Hotel Arenal Lodge.

It was ok. It seemed like back in the day it was an expensive resort but now catered to people travelling on more of a moderate budget like us. We entered a gate by the highway after being vetted by the guard and had to ride 2 km up a steep winding cobblestone road to the lodge (fortunately, the smooth kind of cobblestones!). The hotel was situated with nice views of the volcano but we never really got to see the whole thing because of the clouds.

In the morning it was totally socked in so we ate an early breakfast and packed up to continue on.

We were excited for the day because we had a plan to ride on the highest point of the Pan-American highway, just under 11,000 feet. We were hoping it would be cooler at those elevations. It took us 160 miles to reach that spot and the route there was brutal. First it was rain and mist and them we climbed over another pass and the rain and fog started. This time we were going up a mountain in first gear behind lines of cars and trucks. The visibility was so bad we didn’t dare try to pass.

We crested the 6,000 foot peak and the sky cleared and soon the temps rose back into the mid to upper 90’s. For the rest of the day we slogged through really bad traffic. It took us almost two hours to traverse the capital city of San Jose. Most of that time we were in gridlock slipping our clutches in first gear to inch along while we were dripping in our riding gear. We had planned to take a bypass road around the city but evidently so did everyone else. We would lane split and ride on the shoulders when possible but often the roads were too narrow for that to be a viable option. I didn’t take any pictures.

It was going on four in the afternoon before we started climbing to the cooler weather and the highest point. We were tired, hot, thirsty and hungry as we made the climb. It must have been the time of day that all the trucks were going that same way. The whole time we would pass a black smoke belching truck, ride a mile or two enjoying the road and then come across another black smoke belching truck that we would follow on the twisty mountain road looking for a place to pass. It was getting to be hard work and not as much fun as I thought it would be.

I was looking for a place we stopped near the top in 2013 but we couldn’t find it so we kept going. I did find this picture that I took of Keith and Dave in 2013 at the spot. It was significant to them because they had memories of stopping there in 1963 during their epic motorcycle trip to South America.

We reached the peak and twenty miles later we dropped to an elevation of 2,000 feet and were back in the heat. Now what. We were both tired and worn out and once again didn’t have a plan for the night. We had just slogged through the city of San Isidro and decided to stop at a random gas station for water and try to decide what to do next. We were both on our phones checking Google,, and even AirBnB but were coming up short. Then it happened….. This same thing has happened at least twice before and I’m always amazed when it does. Deby looked up, across the street and saw a sign “Hotel del Sur”. Ummm, how about that place? We didn’t expect much but we put on our helmets and crossed the busy intersection to check it out. Wow, were we surprised. We parked at the non descript entry for reception and I walked in to see if they had a room. The receptionist spoke perfect English and found a room for us on her computer. I looked around at the spacious restaurant next to a huge pool full of kids and families playing. There was a soccer pitch, large playground for kids and a huge poolside bar with chairs and tables. Nice.

We had a refreshing night’s sleep and were ready for another day and one more border crossing – into Panama. We were on the road by 9:30 AM and the temperature was already 91 degrees, Uggh. We had about 100 miles to ride to the border but decided to take a back road that we had ridden in 2013. In my blog back then I noted that it was one of the best roads on the trip so far. Ok, we’re doing it! It was well worth the diversion. The road weaved through the mountains finally away from the busy Pan-American highway. Traffic was light and the temperatures moderated into the upper 80’s ahhhh.

I grabbed my phone while cornering to click a screenshot of the map. This was our kind of road.

We hit the border about 1:00 in the afternoon and started the process all over again. Fortunately there were no tour busses and the whole operation went pretty smoothly taking about an hour and a half all together.

Ahead of us in line was an Aaron Rodgers fan. I didn’t talk to him because we were both busy with Aduana forms but it’s good to see Packers fans around the world. Ok, I’m sure he had no clue what the shirt was but it was good to see.

We took our turns and waited….

I even added our sticker to the collection on the upper left, proof that we were there!

The final step was to ride over to another building and pay $6 USD to get our bikes deloused or de-fumigated or something like that. The process of spraying the bikes took 30 seconds. The process to fill out the paperwork and stamp everything to prove we’ve been sprayed took about a half hour.

Finally, finally, finally we were cleared to go. We rode about 100 feet and there was a checkpoint. Dang, I had all my paperwork put away in my trunk. We pulled over and I gathered our documents. When we got to the checkpoint he waved us through. What? What about my import permit? What about the stamped, signed and stapled proof of fumigation? Passport? Nope, nothing he waved us through. Arrrg. I pulled over in the blazing sun and put the documents back in their safe storage place. Let’s go!

We took off on a wide, modern four lane road with a divider and no traffic. Ahhh, speed meant airflow and our soaked shirts were making really good swamp coolers. I was just shifting into 5th gear when two cops jumped out of the shadow of a tree and waved to us to pull over. Now what? I hadn’t been in Panama for 2 minutes and was getting pulled over? We stopped on the side of the road, got off the bikes and took off our helmets. They came over and one was holding a speed gun.

I should have just claimed that I didn’t know any Spanish and stared at him with a blank look. However, for better or worse, my Spanish was getting good enough that arguing with the police was now getting easier. Blah, blah, blah, did we know how fast we were going? No. The camera said 86kmh (55 mph). Did I know the speed limit? Me: ¡No hay señales de nada! He points behind me at the 60kmh (31 mph) sign standing right there. No senor, there were no signs when we crossed the border. I’m thinking it’s a huge, wide four lane divided highway and the speed limit is 31 mph? Then in Spanish I argued that I didn’t have any cash with me because I couldn’t find an ATM at the border, which was true. He then put down his book and told me to watch my speed all the way to the city of David. The limit the whole was was 60 but he said I could probably get away with 70 or 80. He smiled and waved us on.

So, for the next 30 or 40 miles before we turned off the Pan-American we were busy watching for cops. Actually, some type of official looking pickup truck passed us going pretty fast so we got behind him and drafted him down the road. It was awesome, he seemed to know all the spots the cops hid because he would slow down to 30 mph for a bit and then accelerate to nearly 90mph for other stretches. It was crazy, we glued to him and it was becoming a game, I think he wanted to see if we could keep up. Of course! Not a problem at all.

All this time it was hot and hotter. At the turnoff to our hotel along the Pacific coast the jungle started closing in on the narrow road.

Unexpectedly, it was getting hotter as we neared the water. It might have just felt hotter because the humidity was making a leap and the slower speeds meant less wind flow on our damp shirts. We were about 10 miles from the beachfront hotel and the road turned to gravel. We usually don’t mind that too much but we were hot and tired and sticky with sweat. Deby was behind me and every bit of dust I kicked up filtered through her mesh jacket and open face shield and plastered to her wet skin. Are we there yet?

We arrived and the hotel gate was closed and it looked abandoned. No, how could this be? It wouldn’t be the first time this happened but I was hoping it wasn’t happening now. There was nothing around and I wasn’t looking forward to riding anywhere in the heat.

Not sure what to do we continued down the road a little bit and found another gate that was open, ahhh. There were no signs and we rode around looking for something that looked like a reception area. We finally found it and checked into our air-conditioned room as fast as possible.  Another strange hotel. It was big with what looked like about 100 rooms and a big restaurant and pool. I’m pretty sure the only guests were us and another couple with two small children. Oh well, I didn’t really care and went right for the pool.

The hotel had somewhat decent wifi in the outside common areas and a weak signal in our air-conditioned room so between the two we were online looking for one more stop on our way to Panama City. Late at night, I found a place in the mountains that boasted people go there to get away from the heat. That was it, we were going.

Most of the hotels in the small city of Santa Fe were hostels or eco-resorts. We caught on that the area catered to more alternative lifestyle expats from a variety of countries. We used to call them hippies. We found a way to book online at the La Ohia Eco Retreat,  just outside of the very small village. To get there it was a 30 mile in and out road from the Pan-American highway. The road was narrow and full of potholes through the mountains. It made for exciting riding dodging the potholes and cars and trucks that were also dodging potholes.

I’m here now getting caught up on the blog on the porch of our little room in the jungle. It’s a little cooler here at 1,300 feet with off and on mist in the Panamanian cloud forest.

Somehow there is petty good internet speed so we took the time to plan the next few weeks of the trip. Tomorrow (Sunday) we ride to Panama City and have reservations at a modern high rise hotel in the middle of downtown. On Monday we have appointments to drop off our bikes with Overland Embassy, an outfit that will take care of the logistics for shipping our bikes to Bogota, Colombia. We bought plane tickets to Bogota for Tuesday and in theory our motorcycle will arrive there on Thursday. With that, we should be officially starting the South America part of the trip. We checked the weather in Bogota that sits at 8,000 ft msl. Sunny and cool high 65, oh yea!

There might be some problems brewing. I’ve been getting messages from people we know in South America that there are reports of problems getting into Ecuador. There has been a lot of uncertainty in that country as the government is battling with cartels that are trying to move in. If you look on a map there is no way to get into Peru without going through Ecuador. I’ve managed to connect with other travelers and a German who runs a hostel just across the border to get the latest updates. As of now, it looks like we can get through with some travel restrictions. We will see.

You can follow our real-time progress by clicking HERE to see if we make it….

Thanks for following and more to come!

Donn and Deby









4 thoughts on “Almost through with Central America

  1. Wonderful Reading – it’s a HIGHLIGHT every time you post a new chapter in your adventure South. Almost a bit like Yellowstone Dutton Ranch fans who eventually dress in western gear, and place saddles on saw-horses … yep, I have the heat turned up in our study to 90 degrees F, and 97% humidity … in fact I’m having a hard time typing this comment on your blog, the sweat is dripping inside my helmet and my faceshield is blocking the airflow to my face (a larger desk fan is being ordered from Amazon at this very moment!)

    It’s nice to see some serendipitous moments (finding unexpected acceptable lodging with a pool) come along every once in awhile.

    Continued safe journey to you both … and thank you for brining us along with you.

    Smiles, Scott P.

  2. Don our recent Mexico trip now sounds like a luxury cruise compared to some of what I just read. Can I do it? Yes. Would I have the patience for that type of riding? Maybe when I’m in my 70’s.

  3. Arduous, with some really cool cosmic stirrings and times when the Universe smiles on you both! Despite the challenges of heat, cobblestones, bike fumigators, your humor doesn’t flag: “We used to call them hippies.” LOL.
    I love that Deby gives kids stickers and that kids perch on her bike and feel real cool. So sweet.
    The variety of terrains and geographic features in Central America is fascinating.
    May all go well as you embark on the South American part of your journey.

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