Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Naughty Blanche and Stories From Back Home - 20 January 2018

20 January 2018 – Got up before 7:00 a.m. to have the clothes washer to myself.  I washed my clothes and ate breakfast. It was probably the best breakfast I had since I checked into this hotel. While my clothes were washing I read over my blog document. I found a few clinkers that I removed. I then started plotting my route out of Bogota. I found all my waypoints and then I entered them into Blanche. I really hate when Blanche starts thinking on her own. It is usually a mess that she comes up with. Well, it has been some time since I built a route in Blanche and I ended up entering the way
points into her incorrectly. She spit that back at me with a message that said “NO AVAILABLE DATA” in big, bold, mean letters. I panicked and I thought I blew her brains out. I checked all her functions and they all seemed in order. When I checked her Recently Found directory, it was empty. Everything was gone. Just as a test, I searched for a city. She found it and then I checked her Recently Found directory. The city was there. I started feeling a little more confident that she didn’t lose her mind.

At this point I had less than 1/4 battery left. I tried plugging her into my computer to charge her battery. She won’t fire up with the battery cover off. So, that ended my best laid plans. I can only charge Blanche in my GPS cradle on my motorcycle. So I entered all my way points as fast I could and then tested them out. I had everything working fine and was thanking God. I decided to name the route and save it in my Favorites. I did that and went back to check the route again. Sure enough, naughty Blanche had changed it. I had already received two low battery warnings and that’s it for reprogramming her till I get outside on my motorcycle. I was really bummed out. If I can’t get her programmed the way I want I will have to navigate the old way; one way point at a time till I’m out of the city. I’d rather not work that hard. So I took the precaution of writing all the way points down so if I had to reference them I had them handy. I also got all the road numbers recorded on masking tape to stick on my gas tank so I knew what to look for as I am driving. Then went to work re-organizing the stuff I had laying around the room and dug out my South American Maps. After I got everything put together I had a pile I could take down to my motorcycle.

I gathered up my stuff, went down to Reception, and asked the receptionist how to find the elevator to the motorcycle parking area. She drew a rough map for me to follow. I followed it to a tee and arrived at the elevator. When I came up the elevator the first time it was with a security person. When we left the elevator the security guy snaked around through the building and I lost track where it was. I can’t tell you how seriously they take security around here. The bicycles 3 levels down are padlocked to a u-shaped pipe in the floor. You cannot get your own bike because security has the key for the locks. You have to get the security guy and he unlocks your bicycle. I’m not sure if the owner has to have some type of card / or identification to get their bikes back. My plan is to take my stuff down and then put Blanche back into her cradle and let the motorcycle battery charge her for 20 minutes. While she’s getting charged I will put all my stuff back in the top box and saddle bags. I will stick all the route data I have written on the masking tape onto my gas tank. After all that, I still had 10 minutes to wait until the twenty minutes were up. I just stood around for that time. Then I pulled Blanche out of her cradle, put the rain cap back on and locked it up. I checked that I had the ignition switch off so the battery didn’t run down, and that the fork was locked. I checked that I had my saddle bags and the top box locked, then I put the cover back on it. 

On the way up, I bought a bottle of water for the trip tomorrow and headed back to my room. I fired Blanche up, set her by the window to pick up satellites and then re-entered all the way
points in the correct way this time. I then ran a preview test to see how the route looked. It was perfect. I saved it and didn’t name it or save it in my favorites. I can’t risk losing this route. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that it worked the way I programmed it. I did another review of the route after I saved it. Blanche repeated the route perfectly. Whew. 

I just talked to Mary and she told me that back at home, our cat Hissy boxed up the neighbor dog. The hound is really friendly but Hissy wasn’t having any part of her. Mary said Hissy was in the garage and the hound cornered her, wanting to play. Hissy leapt onto the dog’s back, dug her back claws in and was boxing the dog with her front paws.  When the dog squealed, she launched off the dog’s back onto the top of the garage workbench. She stood on the bench looking exactly like a black Halloween cat. All her hair was standing on end and her back was arched, and she was glaring daggers into the dog below. Hissy doesn’t take kindly to hounds, friendly or not. I must send this to Mary and then get something to eat. Tomorrow I’m leaving Bogota and keep working my way South.

How to Get Out of the Big City – 19 January 2018

19 January 2018 – Continued working on my blog and hope to get most of the pictures sent today. Probably will stay another day because I haven’t planned my route out of the city yet. Google says this is a city of 8,000,000+ plus people. It’s actually a little larger than New York City, New York and you know what people think about driving in New York City. They hate it.

Torture Shower – 18 January 2018

18 January 2018 – I worked on my blog all day, then decided to stay another day at the hotel and leave early Saturday morning. I found the shower pressure is so high it wants to drill holes in your skin. Controlling the water temperature is a fine art also. It almost goes from lukewarm water to scalding in the thickness of a hair. If you overshoot the fine line you’ll be jumping out of the shower.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Why Are They Laughing? - 17 January 2018

17 January 2018 – Today I had to go retrieve my motorcycle. After breakfast I hopped on the 8:00 a.m. Courtesy Shuttle to the airport. After the shuttle driver dropped off the 3 Americans at the airport he dropped me off at the gate where I can get into Air Cargo Pack Office. I gave my passport to the guard and he scanned it, and then allowed me to enter the rotating gate. I hiked over to the office and entered the building. Trying to retrace my steps from yesterday and looking like I knew what I was doing, I went up the stairs, opened the door, and walked down the corridor. I walked past the office door and to my surprise, there were no Air Cargo Pack people to be seen. I had entered the wrong office. So I tried again. I walked down to the next office, hiked up the stairs, opened the door, and walked down the corridor to a different office. Eureka! It’s the right office with the right people. It’s after 8:00 a.m. and not everybody is at work yet. The office lady who walked me to the hotel last night had just arrived. I sat down and waited until everybody got themselves settled. After they did, they asked me for my paperwork because it had to have a new date. I filled everything out and signed everything again.

Now it was time to go find my motorcycle. The office lady led me over hill and dale to get to my motorcycle. When we got down on the cargo terminal floor, there my motorcycle sat on the center stand. I was wondering how they ever got my bike on the center stand with all the bags and tires on it. That would be a four-person job. I imagine a fork lift was involved. I’ll have to look underneath it to see if I can see any scarring from the fork tines on my skid plate and on the aluminum swing arm. I locked Blanche on to the handlebars while the lads were tying up loose ends. I was also wondering how this thing is going to get to ground level. I’m either leaving by a back entrance or the motorcycle will have to leave off the dock. The dock is at least 5 feet / 1.5 Meters above ground level. That’s quite a jump for my old Kawasaki, which I affectionately call the Quackasaki. They must have something in mind that I don’t know about. 

Well, I learned they have a lifting frame which you drive your motorcycle into until front wheel stops against the frame. That’s when your motorcycle is safely all the way in. You stay firmly seated on the motorcycle, keeping it standing straight up. The fork tines of the fork truck slide through two tubes on the top of the frame. They lift you up high enough to move the frame with you and your motorcycle out the dock door. Scary…The tires of the fork truck are almost on the edge of the dock. Then you are lowered to the ground. Once the frame is setting soundly on the ground you back your motorcycle out. The frame is then lifted up and returned to cargo terminal floor somewhere. I took a couple of pictures of the operation, but didn’t get any showing the lifting frame. Darn it.

When I started my motorcycle to drive it into the frame everybody was standing around wanting to hear what it sounded like. When it ran like a purring kitten everybody walked away. Once I got it away from the building out of the way of all the activity around the terminal, I fired up Blanche. I typed in the Marriott Hotel GPS coordinates. She took them without rebelling. I walked back and said goodbye to everybody and took off. I drove carefully through the air cargo lot: lots of trucks big and small hauling cargo. You also can’t get out of the gates without security letting you out. The two security women (young) asked me something or wanted my passport. Of course I didn’t understand a word they said. Then they started laughing, about what I’m not sure. Finally, I took out my passport and showed it to them. Then they burst out in hysterical laughter and gave my passport back. I asked if I could leave and they told me to go ahead. They were still laughing as I drove off.

Heading back to the hotel, I noticed Blanche wasn’t acting correctly. I pulled over to the side of the road and rebooted the GPS coordinates and then she started showing the directions to follow. She showed me the correct roundabout to take to get back to the hotel. So I’m pretty confident Blanche will work ok in South America. I get back to the hotel and stop near the door to unload my bags.  Instantly, Security was all over me about where I parked. I had to get somebody to tell them I was just taking off my bags to take them to my room. I told them I would be finished in 20 minutes. Just then one of the kitchen staff looked out the window and saw my motorcycle. He just couldn’t see enough of it. Well, I needed a cart to haul all my bags. Somebody found one and brought it to my motorcycle and then offered to help unload my motorcycle. I had to unlock all my padlocks to get my bags off the motorcycle. It was in the reverse order I put them on. I piled everything up on the truck and off to the room my helper and I went. He carried everything into my room except a few items. He left, taking the truck with him. I was so caught up getting my stuff off my motorcycle that I didn’t see that he was Security. So, all the while I was unloading my motorcycle he was checking me out. I went down and pulled some more stuff out of my top box. I brought it up to the room and finally was done unloading my motorcycle.

I went back down to park my motorcycle in a place that would make Security happy. I headed toward the parking lot and they directed me down underneath the hotel. I had to get my blue room card out so the gate would open. I got to the first level and start parking. The next thing I knew somebody was hollering at me. Basically, he said I couldn’t park here. He said to follow him. He directed me down two more floors to the basement. I was now three floors below the hotel. They had a roped off area for motorcycle parking. I then saw a sign that said motorcycle parking for the Marriott Hotel and I parked there. He came over there and told me I can’t park there either. I pulled out my card and showed him my Marriott room card. He then said it was ok to park in the hotel parking area. Once I had my bike parked and covered he took me to an elevator that lifted us to ground level. As of right now I’m not sure I can find that elevator. I can walk down 3 levels to get to my motorcycle. That thing is buried so deep I don’t think anybody could steal it. Well that was enough motorcycle stuff for today. I started working on this blog after all of the above and fell asleep by 7:00 p.m.

The American Wuss – 16 January 2018

16 January 2018 – I rose, got dressed, and ate some breakfast before departing for the Tocumen International Airport at 7:30 a.m. Leanardo drove me again and on the way, he told me Tocumen was a very famous chief and Tocumen International Airport was named after him. Other than that, I don’t know any more about the guy. I gave Leanardo two of my blog cards so if he wanted to look at the pictures I took, he could. He dropped me off and we shook hands goodbye.

I walked up to Avianca Airlines check-in counter and handed the lady my ticket. She processed it along with my passport. Everything was going smoothly until she asked me if I had a return ticket. I said no. She had to get some advice from a co-worker about how to handle my situation. Her co-worker asked me if I had any credit cards and I showed her my two cards. That was acceptable to her so she finished processing my ticket. Columbia doesn’t allow any one-way tickets into the country. They want to know they can put you on a return flight to wherever you came from. I walked up to Security and started emptying out my many pockets in my Aerostitch jacket. I had four bins full of my stuff. It all passed through the scanner ok. I walked through the archway and no alarms went off. I was glad of that. I quickly put all my pocket stuff back in their appropriate pockets and got out of there.

I hiked it down to my gate and it was full of people leaving on an earlier flight. My flight didn’t leave until 10:45 a.m. and I had some spare time so I found a chair in another gate that was free of people. The only thing I have to say about me waiting for two-plus hours is about the gate attendant.  I am not kidding you about this; she talked for two hours straight. The only time she came up for air was when someone asked her a question. She was talking to a co-worker. I could hear every word she was speaking and wished I could have understood the conversation.

Eventually, my gate started loading and I was about the 20th person to get on the plane. I found my seat and stashed my helmet, motorcycle paperwork and laptop in the upper compartment. I was ready to get going. People kept filing in and my row of seats remained empty until about 5 minutes before they closed the boarding door. A woman came in, took her seat by the window and went to sleep. She never moved until it was time to dis-embark. Midway through the flight, the flight attendants started passing out customs forms. I took one and it was all in Spanish so I asked the flight attendant if they had one in English. He said they did, and went and got it for me. I filled it out in during the flight so I was ready for Customs when we landed.

One noteworthy situation during my otherwise uneventful flight was a mother who came into the airplane with her three children and Grandpa and Grandma. The instant the mother sat down the baby started crying. Nothing slowed down the crying. Mid-flight, Grandpa came up to console the baby and the crying got louder. Then Grandma came up and took the baby. The crying moved to about seven rows behind me. All the toys, consoling and pats didn’t quiet this baby. You know if that was in the U.S. that mother would have been hiding in the lavatory trying to muffIe that baby. All the well-meaning people around the baby would have been having a fit. I was among the first 20 people to leave the aircraft and escape from the baby. You know, that was two straight hours of crying and no one on the plane got upset about it either. Very impressive.

So, I was off to immigration. All the signs were in English and Spanish, so no problems finding immigration. It wasn’t real clear to me which line I should be in so I stood in the first line I came to. Each one of these two lines had at least 200 people and I didn’t know which was the right line for me. After about 20 minutes I changed lines and stood in the other line. The three guys in front of me were English speaking so I asked them how to know which line I should be in? Well they were shocked I spoke with them and one the guys said they were in a connecting flight line or departing line. Uh-oh, that clicked a light on in my head and I looked at little closer at the sign, and sure enough it said DEPARTING. I looked at the other sign and it said, IMMIGRATING. I started out in the correct line, then I changed to the incorrect line, so I had to change back to the other line again. Well, that little goof up cost me another 45 minutes in Immigration. The line trickled on slowly and I eventually got my passport stamped.

Thinking I was all done with Customs and Immigration, I exited the room. One of my first priorities was to purchase $200 USD in Columbian Pesos, and then to sit down and take a break after my ordeal. I ate an apple and a candy bar. While I was eating my apple I happened to glance down the airport hallway toward the exit sign. To my surprise, there was Customs waiting for me. So I dug out the customs form I filled out earlier. I gave them my passport and the form. They glanced at the form and put it in a pile and gave back my passport. She pointed to the x-ray machines and I headed in that direction. My laptop, my helmet and motorcycle paperwork were scanned. Everything came out clean and I actually was through Columbian Customs and Immigration now.

I walked out into a waiting area and found a chair. I needed to find the address of the Air Cargo Pack Terminal and take a taxi to it. I knew it was near but I didn’t know how close. I did get a taxi, and he takes me to a gate which he can’t get in to. He asked at the gate how I could get in and get to Air Cargo Pack to pick up my motorcycle. Well, the Gate Guard said, he needs to see a passport and I had to have my picture taken. At the same time an Air Cargo Pack delivery truck was coming through the gate. He caught wind of me and said he could give me a ride to the terminal. When the guard was finished with me, they let me through the gate and I jumped into truck and the driver dropped me off at Air Cargo Pack Office / Officina.

Once there, someone gave me an escort to the office. It was on the 2nd floor. I was introduced to the office staff and offered a glass of water. I presented my paperwork to them, which they worked on once they completed their more pressing issues. Within 30 minutes everything was ready for Customs in another building. Carlos and I hiked over there. I had to be specially cleared to enter the building, and Carlos had a pass. The room was full of people. Everyone who came in had to sign a log book and then request a certain type of help. My helper was handling all of that. I was just there to sign paperwork. We took our chairs among the mass of people waiting their turn. I know we were in Customs by 3:00 p.m. It was about 5:00 p.m. by the time they started my paperwork. It took 20 to 30 minutes to complete it and then I had to sign all the copies of it. Carlos’s wife called and asked what the hold up was, and when he was going to be home. Even though I didn’t understand the words he was saying, a guy recognizes those telephone calls from a mile away.

These are cards and stickers from others who have shipped their motorcycles using Air Cargo Pack.  I added my blog card to the wall.  I also found my Brazilian friend's sticker there.
By the time we left Customs it was dusk and a light rain was falling. I placed the paperwork in my plastic bags to keep it dry and wore my helmet on my head. This rain is not making me happy. We got back to Air Cargo Pack’s office and put the finishing touches on my paperwork. Carlos left for home. He had worked past his shift. The lady processing my paperwork (bless her soul) also worked past her shift to get my paperwork finished. By this time, it was dark and I wasn’t going to drive in the dark where I can’t see pot holes and don’t know where I am going. I asked where can I find a taxi and they said, you can walk. I said it was too far to walk. I told the office staff, its dark, I’ve been in Bogota for six hours, I don’t speak Spanish, I don’t read Spanish, I don’t understand Spanish, I don’t ride my motorcycle in the dark and I don’t know the roads. What do I do if I get lost? They basically told me I was a big wuss. The office lady said she would show me to my hotel. All the guys were snickering that I had to be shown to my hotel by a woman. I didn’t know at the time that it would be a two mile walk or I would have taken a taxi. My laptop and motorcycle paperwork weigh at least 10 Lbs. / 4.5 Kgs. My arms felt like they were 2 Inches / 51 mm longer after the walk, but we got there.

We arrived at the Marriott Hotel about 7:00 p.m. I checked into the hotel with my reservation and everything went fine. I asked the reception lady if the Courtesy Shuttle could drop me off at Air Cargo Pack by the airport in the morning. She said it leaves for the airport every hour on the hour and should be no problem dropping me off. So, I took my helmet, laptop, motorcycle paperwork and tooth brush to my room and went to bed.  It felt strange not making multiple trips to carry all my bags up to my room.

A Mall is a Mall is a Mall, and Securing My Bike For Flight – 15 January 2018

15 January 2018 – Today was a big day and I rose about 6:00 a.m., ate some breakfast, made sure I had water to take along with me, loaded my bike per my instructions, made sure Leanardo was on board with my pickup plans, made sure the receptionist understood they must dispatch Leanardo to pick me up when I call the hotel, and departed about 8:00 a.m. My idea to get on the autopista and go through the roundabout was a great time saver. The traffic was mild and moving. I followed Blanche’s directions to a tee and she delivered my motorcycle and me right to the Air Cargo Pack. I always laugh at how nice all the roads look on Google Maps and then when you drive them they are totally different.

I parked my motorcycle and grabbed my paperwork. I went into the terminal and asked for Leivy. I was looking for a guy and it turns out Leivy was a woman. I was surprised because all this time I thought she was man. Well, blow me down. Anyway, she asked if I went through Customs and I said no. She said you have to go through Customs. I said I was told Air Cargo Pack handled all the paperwork. She said I had to go back to Customs / Aduana and get my papers processed. So, I did. There were four windows. So, which one do I pick? I see this guy and he points to a window so I go there. I give my paperwork to her and she doesn’t know what to do with it. I give her my passport and she doesn’t want it. She stamps my paperwork and gives it back. She’s still was acting weird as I walk away.

I take my paperwork back to the Cargo Terminal and Leivy said to me that most of the paperwork she needed was missing. I said that’s all the woman gave me. So, she says, you come with me and off we go back to Customs / Aduana. She went to another window, hands in all my paperwork to the woman inside. The woman inside says I can’t find his paperwork online. I told Leivy the Wi-Fi was down at the border so they hand wrote out the paper I have. So, the woman inside had to re-enter all my information. This probably took 30 minutes and all the correct paperwork was returned to Leivy when she completed it. We were good to go. I noticed the people at the window that stamped my paperwork the first time were all missing when Leivy and I returned. I think they knew I would have to return a second time to get my paperwork done correctly and all they did was send this loco gringo on a wild goose chase and sat back and laughed about it. I guess I’ll never know for sure. So back to the Cargo Terminal we go.

I roll my motorcycle into the terminal and tell the guys there how I’d like it anchored during shipping. They showed me the straps they used, and the pallet it would sit on. My plans wouldn’t work so we sat down to figure out a way to anchor it that worked for them. I didn’t want any straps pulling or putting pressure on the gas tank or on the saddle bags. I didn’t want the bike tipping over either, and I showed them how that can happen. I showed them how I used a stick under the right-side foot peg to keep it from falling over to the right. I battened down all the hatches and left the motorcycle to them. I signed all the paperwork Leivy wanted me to sign and paid the shipping charges. My part of the shipping process to Bogota, Columbia was done.
Leivy called the hotel for me and they dispatched Leanardo over to the Air Cargo Pack Cargo Terminal. After everything was done I was arranging my copies of the shipping documents and for no apparent reason, I get a bloody nose. Before I could run down some toilet paper to shove up my nose the nose bleed stopped. Luckily, I didn’t destroy all my paperwork. I finished arranging my copies and Leanardo arrives. I grabbed all my papers, thanked Leivy for her help and we departed back to the hotel. Tomorrow my bike ships to Bogota, Columbia.

We got back to the hotel and I had a little time to kill so I walked over to the Metro Mall and walked around. I thought I would see something that was interesting, but I didn’t.  It was just a mall.  I stopped in Dairy Queen and purchased a Strawberry Cheesequake Blizzard. It’s a favorite of mine back home.  I then left the mall, but it was so close I came back later sometime around 6:00 p.m. and ate lunch / supper at Burger King. I was looking for napkins when a lady recognized I was an American and asked me what I was looking for.  I told her napkins. She barked something out to one of the order takers and I promptly received some napkins. I talked to her for a bit and she told me she lived in Miami for 30 years and was down in Panama looking after her aging mother. She was born, raised and educated in Panama and moved to Miami when she was 23 years old. She said she was now 56 years old and running a small import business. She imports Panamanian arts and crafts into the U.S.A. Whoever she was waiting for eventually arrived and I excused myself because they had plans.

I went back to the hotel to get ready for tomorrow’s flight to Bogota. I was able to print out my ticket ahead of time, which made me much happier. I could just show it at the Avianca Airlines check-in counter and there should be very little need for conversation.  With that, I went up to my room and retired for the night.

Securing Everything Down So It Doesn’t Walk Off – 14 January 2018

14 January 2018 – After a day of goofing off, I am back on the clock again. I have to get my route planned for how I am going to get to Air Cargo Pack at the Cargo Terminal to drop my bike off. I got it pretty much planned and entered it into Blanche, but I think I might deviate from it. I found a new way which will hook up with Blanche’s programmed route. She will rebel at first but will then accept it. I’m going to start on the autopista right off and skip the neighborhood driving. That should work out better for me. I actually walked down to the autopista and checked out the roundabout I will use. So I get on the autopista, then I need to drive into the roundabout, perform a 180 and drive back on to the autopista going in the opposite direction. I need to print out a Google Map and the business card for Leanardo my taxi driver. It will show him how to get to the Air Cargo Terminal to pick me up and bring me back to the hotel after I drop off my bike. I will give that to the receptionist to give to Leanardo. When I deliver my motorcycle to the Air Cargo Pack Cargo Terminal it may take some time to get the paperwork completed so I don’t want Leanardo there standing around. When all the paperwork is completed I will call the receptionist at the hotel and she will dispatch Leanardo to come pick me up.

My plan for my luggage is this: my helmet, my motorcycle paperwork, my GPS, my laptop, my toothbrush and my red Aerostitch motorcycle jacket will travel with me when I fly to Bogota. Everything else travels with the motorcycle. I dug through my saddlebags and pulled out all my security cables and my small padlocks. I put SPOT my electronic device, my Swiss Army Knife, my Buck tool and my Aerostitch red riding pants into the top box. To secure my bottom black bag, I will weave my long cable through the bag’s carrying handles and out through the bag end loops. I will then padlock each end of the cable to the motorcycle luggage rack. I will lock the zipper on the top bag and then run my short cable through the carrying handles and lock the ends to metal cargo loops on the lid of the top box. The tires will go in their usual location with a cable around them and the ends padlocked to one of the metal cargo loops on the lid of the top box. The top box is always padlocked as that’s where my laptop and motorcycle papers are kept. So as far as security goes…that’s as secure as I can make my luggage on my motorcycle. So tomorrow I will eat breakfast, load my motorcycle like I describe above, double check with the receptionist about giving Leanardo the Google Maps and depart for the Air Cargo Pack Cargo Terminal. I went to bed.

The Panama Canal – 13 January 2018

13 January 2018 – Because I arrived a day earlier than expected I have more time than I initially planned. At the hotel desk, I checked on a tour of the Panama Canal. They said the best viewing time is after 2:00 p.m. So, I arranged for a taxi driver to leave the hotel at 1:30 p.m. I went back to my room and looked over my e-mails from Air Cargo Pack. I had to make a decision when to ship my bike. I finally decided I would drop it off on 15 January 2018 and ship it on the 16 January 2018. I e-mailed Leivy at Air Cargo Pack of my decision and she promptly e-mailed me back that she will be expecting me on Monday. 

Leanardo my taxi cab driver arrived at 1:30 p.m. and drove me to the Panama Canal. I went through the museum, watched a video about the construction of the canal, and then watched a U.S. submarine and three ships pass through the locks. The newer and larger locks do not have an observation deck like the older locks have. You could see the large container ships pass through the larger locks but only at a distance. I would say you could see them at about 440 Yards / 440 Meters. It was pretty interesting. I was there from 2:00 p.m. till 5:00 p.m. My taxi cab driver tried to explain some stuff as best he could on the way to the Panama Canal. He told me about the U.S. presence there and the breakeven operation we ran. Panama now runs it to make a profit. I was told the smaller ships using the old locks can be charged as much as $300,000 U.S. Dollars for a single passing. Off course if a small sailboat or a large yacht go through they don’t pay the same fee as a cargo ship. Panama pro-rates that somehow. The larger ships using the newer locks can be charged up to $500,000 U.S. Dollars for a single passing. In 2016 the one millionth ship passed through the Panama Canal. Panama held a huge celebration over that.

My driver and I left at 5:00 p.m. and on the way back to the hotel he gave me a tour of the downtown Panama City area. I was able to take a few pictures of the skyscrapers.

It was a nice quick tour and then back to the hotel. I now had to start planning what was going to travel with the motorcycle and what was going to travel with me to Bogota, Columbia. How do I juggle my baggage?

The Morning I Met Yoda – 12 January 2018

12 January 2018 – Oh that 5:00 a.m. comes hard when you don’t want to get out of bed. I mobilized myself enough to look out the door and saw that one of the hotel patrons had backed his car up tight against my motorcycle and there is no way I can get out. I hardly could get my cover off he was so close. At the time I didn’t notice but he also blocked in a truck. Well, I couldn’t be slowed by this so I took off my cover and rolled my motorcycle forward to the curb. I then could walk around behind my motorcycle. I continued loading it hoping the dude would show up and move his car. I was putting the finishing touches on loading my bike when the Harley Rider hears me making rustling noise with my bags and footsteps. He walks out of his room with his blanket wrapped around himself. He looked like Yoda from Star Wars, just a larger version. I’m sure like me, he was thinking somebody was messing with his bike and he came out to investigate. I of course, was complaining to him about the dude who blocked me in. I wanted to get going. The Harley Rider gives my motorcycle a really good looking over and told me he liked it. I told him about the disadvantage of the wide saddle bags. You can’t split lanes with it without the possibility of rubbing the cars next to you. He agreed that was a disadvantage. I had my bike loaded and ready to go. He went back to his room and went back to bed. I also went back to my room and laid down until the truck, the car behind me, or the car to the side of me moves out of the way. I set my alarm to 7:00 a.m. hoping something would break loose by then.

I awoke to the sound of a diesel engine. I stick my head out my door and the truck can’t get out, and he’s madder than a hornet. Finally, he gets after the office to find the dude blocking us in. It takes them 10 minutes to find the guy. In the meantime this truck driver is just fuming that he can’t get out. Eventually the guy shows up, moves his car and disappears really fast. The truck driver gets out and is now happy, and so am I. The Harley Rider show up again all dressed up in his Harley attire. We talk some more and I showed him my Harley-Davidson Cross Bones. He likes it. He then tells me it’s only a 5-hour drive to Panama City. He just rode it yesterday. He also said to watch out for the Policia, they’re everywhere. He also said it is a new four lane highway all the way to Santiago and old four lane from there to Panama City, Panama. I asked him what he does for a living and he said he was an architect and designed buildings. I told him I worked as a machinist for 37 years and was now retired. He said if I had time to spare I could stay with him for a while. I had to decline because I already had plans and I didn’t want to break them. We parted ways and I was headed toward Panama City.
He was right about the road. It was all new and the road was straightened. In the next 124 Miles / 200 Kilometers I slowed down probably 10 times to 40 Mph / 65 Kph otherwise it was 50 / 55 Mph / 80 / 90 Kph. It was the best riding as far as making good time as I could remember. Man, that was an uneventful ride and it was great. I must point this out. Like the Harley Rider said, watch out for the policia. At the outskirts of every town they were there with their radar guns. Every officer had somebody pulled over. The speed limit was 31 Mph / 50 Kph through town and 50 Mph / 80 Kph on the highway. It’s Panamanian law.

There was a stretch where I encountered a car that was driving the exact speed limit. If it was 50 Kph he drove exactly 50 Kph. If it was 80 Kph he drove exactly 80 Kph. He was always behind me, alongside me or just in front of me. I just couldn’t shake the car. This went on for at 10+ Miles / 16 Kilometers.  It was a fancy car, with fancy chrome wheels like you see in the U.S. and totally blacked out windows. I saw my perfect excuse to lose him. A McDonalds popped up and I turned in to get something to eat. I was there for over 30 minutes and he was long gone. I hate when cars track on me like that. It happened to me in Russia.

While I was stopped, I also filled up with gas and decided I would make the run to Panama City. I was on the outskirts of the city by 3:00 p.m. and the traffic was moving nicely. I had Blanche navigating and she was sticking to the major highways. Eventually the traffic slow down to 25 Mph / 40 Kph and by the time I was within 4 Miles / 7 Kilometers of the Marriott hotel, it was stop and go traffic. I worked my way through the traffic as best I could, but the wide saddle bags don’t allow for that very well. Eventually, I reached an off-ramp to the hotel and Blanche took me to the door step. I thanked God I was through with that stop and go traffic mess.

I take my helmet off and the people in the lobby look at me like something the cat just dragged in. I go into reception and they looked at me strangely too. I was armed with my reservation number and showed it to them, which makes them happy. I get my room assignment and go upstairs to drop off my jacket and helmet. While was setting in the stop and go traffic, I was sweating profusely. I came back downstairs and caught all kinds of looks. My shirt was soaking wet from perspiration and so was my hair. I got myself a truck / cart and unloaded my bike. I pushed my baggage inside and people just stared at it. I must be a novelty to some people. I got my motorcycle covered and sent a Spot out into the universe. I have found of late my Spot device has become really finicky about having open sky to pick up a satellite. If there are any trees in the way it won’t find them. Anyway, I was ready to take a break from the madness of the traffic and the profuse sweating. I ate something and went to my room. I need to check on a sightseeing tour to the Panama Canal. I can do that tomorrow morning: I’m too tired tonight. 

Plans and Errands – 11 January 2018

11 January 2018 – I found out the hotel I was staying had a good strong wi-fi signal so I decided it’s time to send out some e-mails to Air Cargo Pack to see if I can get a reply back on shipping my motorcycle. I had prior copies of my e-mails which I included in my first e-mail I sent them. Much to my surprise, I had a return e-mail from them and was hoping for the best. I opened the e-mail and my heart sank. It basically said the person I was dealing with either no longer worked for the company, or was taking a family related leave of absence from the company. So, what do I do now? I went to the Air Cargo Pack website looking for the company contact information. I gathered all my information and was going to type up an e-mail requesting a quote to ship my motorcycle. Another new e-mail popped up, and low and behold, the prior e-mail was forwarded to an individual who had replaced the absent person. It basically said I have a flight leaving tomorrow 12 January 2018 at 3:00 p.m. Drop your bike off at 8:00 a.m. in the morning of the 12 January 2018. She gave me the address of the Air Cargo Terminal in Panama City, Panama. According to my rough figuring I was still two days out of Panama City. After a little thinking, I e-mailed Leivy (a female name) back. I assumed Leivy was a guy’s name. I told her that when I arrived in Panama City I would like to do some sightseeing / tourista stuff, and asked what other flights they have January 13th, 14th 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th. She replied back that she had a flight leaving on the 16th at 11 a.m. and to deliver the motorcycle to the air cargo terminal by 3:00 p.m. on the 15 January 2018. I still was unsure if I could make that date and still do some sightseeing in Panama City. So I e-mailed her back asked if she had any flights leaving on the 17th, 18th, or the 19th. She replied back that she wouldn’t know until Monday 15 January 2018. At this point I was pretty happy with my findings. I told her I would get back to her on the 16 January 2018 ship date and she would let me know about any possibility of shipping on the 17th, 18th, or 19th. No matter what, I had a ship date on 16 January 2018. I would have to see how that all matches up with my travel and sightseeing plans.

I’m getting pretty hungry so it’s time to find a Grocery Store / Mercado for some apples, bananas, bread and Snickers candy bars. When I opened the hotel door there sat a Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide. While I was e-mailing back and forth I thought I had heard one. Anyway, I found a super store within 400 Yards / 400 Meters. I walked there and on the way I spotted a car wash. I stopped by and asked if they washed motorcycles. They said yes and it cost $3.00 Dollars. I told them I would be back. I don’t think they believed me. I continued on to the Grocery Store / Mercado. It was a big store. I hunted up the likely suspects and in my tour of the store I spotted some ice cream. I thought “what the heck?” I need some fat on my bones. I’m going to purchase 1 pint / 473 ML. Just enough that I can eat it all in one sitting. On the way back to the hotel I spotted an ATM. When I get done eating my ice cream I will purchase some more U. S. Dollars. I may have not mentioned it but Panama uses U.S. Dollars as their currency. It’s nice to be using a familiar currency. I finished up eating my ice cream. I felt a little piggish but I need some fat reserves. My hip bones are sticking out and I haven’t seen them in 10 years.
I got to thinking I’m going to take my motorcycle down and get it washed. I pulled into the car wash and all the guys gave me a look like “what does this dude want?” I asked if they would wash my motorcycle and they said, yes. The price is $3.00 Dollars. I said, ok no problem. So off they went washing my motorcycle. Actually, just one guy washed my motorcycle and I just waited. He was having some trouble washing my wheels and spokes. So, we put it up on the center stand. It takes two people to put it on the center stand because of the weight of the bike. Now he can spin the wheels to clean them. After an hour of washing he had it pretty much cleaned. It looked 95 per cent better than when I brought it in. I paid the guy and gave him one of my blog cards. I showed him how to look it up on his cell and we both pushed my bike off the center stand. I was off to the hotel.

When I got back I covered it up and I was off to the ATM to shore up my cash reserves. Some of those ATM’s can be a little tricky and this was one of them. Sometimes the English translation doesn’t come through so clear. Anyway, I did get my $200 Dollars I wanted and I was good to go. Back at the hotel I put the GPS Coordinates for the hotel in Panama City, Panama into Blanche so she would be ready for tomorrow. I will be staying at the Courtyard by Marriott. As a rough estimate, I think I am about 250 Miles / 400 Kilometers away from the city. I was unsure I could make it all the way into the city without another hotel stop because of all the mountain driving. That really slows you down. If that was the case, I would stop 62 Miles / 100 Kilometers out and then drive the rest of the way into the Panama City the next day. So, for the record if it was slow going I would stop in La Chorrera and stay the night and if I could make good time I would continue driving into Panama City. I went to bed figuring to rise about 5:00 a.m. and be on the road by 6:00 / 6:30 a.m. just about sun up.

How I Got De-Bugged – 10 January 2018

10 January 2018 – I got up around 5:00 a.m. to get an early start. True to form, truck traffic starts picking up about 4:30 a.m. and they use their jake brake all the way through town through every gear. They are the equivalent to the roosters in the morning. When I heard the first two or three I knew what time it was. I still needed to pack my rain suit closer to the top of my black top bag. I got my system pretty much figured out. To get at my rain suit, I still will have to move the spare tires I have bungeed on the top of my bag, but when I unzip the bag the rain suit will be right on top where I can easily pull it out.

With that done, I loaded my motorcycle and departed for the Costa Rica Border. It was pretty much an uneventful ride. As the truck traffic started backing up, I knew I was within 400 Yards / 400 meters of the border. I slowed down and started looking for Aduana / Customs and Immigration. I saw a motorcycle backed up against the curb. He motioned to me to park next to him. I hooked a U-turn and backed my bike next to his. I asked him where he was from, he said, he was from New Zealand and his name was Chris. We shook hands and he was off to start processing out of Costa Rica. We made about 4 stops and were easily processed out. It took less than 30 minutes and we were free to leave Costa Rica. There was no running from one building to the next. Everything was very close together and the fees were small. Most of the Customs and Immigration people spoke enough English so that paperwork moved pretty smoothly. No helper was required for this exit. That exit was not painful. I gathered up my papers and departed for Panama.

Chris had already departed and I parked behind him in Panamanian Aduana / Custom and Immigration. I was approached by a helper and I decided to use his services. However, $5.00 was the maximum I was going to pay because of how easy the entry into Panama was. He agreed that would be fine. First, we needed insurance, then about 3 or 4 more stops. Both Chris and I were at the Aduana / Customs window when the wi-fi / internet went down. I guess this is quite typical. I actually had my motorcycle paperwork filled out on line but there was a mistake on the color of it. They had written the color of the paper as WHITE. You can’t have a mistake like that. So, Chris and I were caught in a time warp of the days before the internet.

We stood and waited and waited. I waited about 2 hours and Chris slightly less. The wait got so long I cut my helper free because I really didn’t require his help anymore. I guess they figured the internet would come back up and they could make the correction online and print out my import papers. Well, that didn’t happen and they processed my motorcycle import papers the old fashion way by filling them out by hand. During the wait, a tour bus lady approached me and asked if I could move my motorcycle because the bus couldn’t get out. The driver pulled up to within 2 feet / 1/2 a meter of the back of my motorcycle and parked. The bus behind him was parked so close he couldn’t back up to get more front clearance. So he was stuck. I moved my motorcycle, opening up a space so he could get out. Everybody was happy. I just thought of something: those tourist buses are well known for being aggressive and pushy out on the highway, and I mean pushy. I have more than once been on the receiving end of that behavior and if I was a vindictive individual I could have left my motorcycle sitting there blocking in that bus for another 30 minutes just to pay those dudes back. I didn’t: life is too short for that kind of crap.
I was finished with Aduana / Customs and my next stop was fumigation. It cost a dollar and they sprayed the wheels to kill traveling insects or bugs. It took 20 minutes of waiting in line to get the paperwork filled out. I found a mistake on the form; I questioned them about it and they blew me off. They said to leave, it doesn’t make any difference. I also got told to move my bike because it was parked incorrectly. I guess in the big scheme of things, if the paperwork was incorrect on fumigation the world would not stop turning. I got all my paperwork put together back up and departed through the truck fumigation booth. I thought the both was manually operated but it was automatic. My whole bike and I were sprayed down. As soon as those sprayers turned on, I was on the gas and out of there. I was mad and thoroughly ticked off. Thank God none of that spray got in my face. I can imagine when the Panama fumigators saw that they died laughing at the loco gringo.

Chris and I hooked up again about 100 yards / 100 meters down the road. It was a bad parking spot so we agreed that when we find a better parking spot we’d stop and chat it up some. In less than 1 Mile / 2 Kilometers there was a gas station with a food mart. We stopped there. I immediately found the latrine and washed my face and the face shield on my helmet. I didn’t know what effect that fumigation spray would have me or on the plastic face shield. Well, it didn’t look like it affected me or the face shield at all. I was kind of dehydrated so I needed to get some water and food. I was starving. I bought two liters of water, some fried chicken, French fries and Snickers candy bars. I drank one liter of water and ate all my food. I started feeling human again, and Chris and I talked travels and how we were going to ship our motorcycles to Columbia. I told him I was going to ship my motorcycle by air to Bogota, Columbia. He said he was going to do the same. He said he was having difficulty hooking up with his shipper so I gave him my information on Air Pack Cargo. That way if his plans fell through he could always check out Air Cargo Pack as a backup. We both filled up with gas and parted ways, wishing each other safe travels.

I was driving to the City of David to a hotel there. It was a short distance of maybe 45 Miles / 70 Kilometers. It was a new four lane highway all the way there. I was on the gas and kick’n butt. I haven’t driven at 62 Mph / 100 Kph in so long I thought I was driving 80 Mph / 130 Kph. Well, I had slowed down some coming into a town, and Bang-o! I was stopped by the Policia. They had me at 43 Mph / 77 Kph. The speed limit was 31 Mph / 50 Kph. The lady police officer showed me my speed on her radar gun. When I looked at it 43 Mph / 77 Kph. When she realized I didn’t speak Spanish and was an American she just waved me off. I breathed a sigh of relief. A little lesson was learned here. The Panamanian Police do not allow speeding, ever. If you’re caught, you pay a fine. Except in this case, for this gringo. I’m a quick study when it comes to that. Here’s what I learned: 50 Mph / 80 Kph is the maximum speed in Panama. At the outskirts of the city it will change to 31 Mph / 50 Kph so you slow down. In 300 meters there will be a motorcycle police officer with a radar gun. Sometimes I saw the speed limit at 62 Mph / 100 Kph,but this was rare.

I made it to my hotel safely and checked in. I got my perfect room; ground level, my motorcycle 2 Yards/ 2 Meters from my door, and good security. I unloaded my bike and reveled in the fact that I had reached a milestone in my journey to South America. I had reached Panama. Now I had to reach Panama City and start the process of contacting my shipper about flying my motorcycle to Bogota, Columbia. I was just going to take a break tonight.

Preparing to Leave Costa Rica – 9 January 2018

9 January 2018 – I was awoken with all the guys in the hotel leaving to go to work sometime before 5:30 a.m. Showers, footsteps on the 2nd floor, car doors slamming, cars starting and hotel staff watering plants. I believe most of the blue collar workers are off to work by 6:00 a.m. I went back to sleep and got up about 8:30 a.m. I sent out a couple of e-mails, then went to the office and had them start up my air conditioner. It went out during the night. I paid for another day, did some money changing from Costa Rican Colones back to US Dollars. I moved my motorcycle to a better location, adjusted the rear chain and oiled it. Driving in the rain always washes off the chain oil. I opened my top box and took out my light weight green pants with the legs that zip off to make shorts. I’m going to wear these pants under my riding suit instead of my jeans in an attempt to stay a little cooler. I went in the room and finished researching my border crossing. It’s looking like it maybe an easy or quick border crossing. It sounds good on paper but when you’re in the fray it’s a little different. I got all my paperwork sorted out so it’s ready to go. I went over early and ate another hamburger for supper. I have yet to rearrange my bags so that my rain suit ends up near the top of the bag instead of on the bottom. Otherwise I’m ready to leave for the border tomorrow. I hoping I can get through the border with no rain. 

What’s App? – 8 January 2018

8 January 2018 – I checked my riding suit when I got up, and to my surprise both my jacket and my riding paints were dried out. I was happy. I was going to stay another day to make sure everything was dried out and try to contact my friends in Brazil.  My plan is to spend some time with them on my way back up through the continent, and I had been keeping them updated on my progress. I wanted to get the WhatsApp app, which is what I used to communicate with them before my phone pooped out on me, activated again. I also wanted to research the border crossing to see what requirement were to leave Costa Rica and cross in to Panama. I have found on this trip that reading what others who have gone before encountered at the crossings really helped to prepare me for when I get there. I hope this blog is of some help to others. I also found a hotel in David, Panama I planning to stay at when I get through the border.

I was able to make contact through WhatsApp and did in fact reach my Brazilian friend James Meurer. That made my day right off. I did some research on flying my motorcycle to Bogota, Columbia. That will take some thinking on my part to pull that off smoothly. I have to get my motorcycle and myself there at approximately the same time, and figure out how to navigate once I drop off my motorcycle at the cargo terminal.  I went over to Impala Restaurant and ordered a hamburger and a bottle of water. The hamburger and French fries tasted pretty much like a hamburger you would order in a family restaurant in the USA. I never did get any research done on the border crossing and that irritated me. Because of that, I would be staying another day. I Skyped with Mary and Hissy, and then went to bed.

Rain, Rain, Go Away – 7 January 2018

7 January 2018 – Today was a travel day, so I packed up and checked out of the hotel. Jose cleared me out of the hotel parking lot with the security guard. I was off to the gas station to fill up. I was going to drive around San Jose with my programmed route. The cloverleaf I was to take had two loops closed to road construction and they were the ones I needed. Two kilometers down the road I made an illegal U-turn back to same cloverleaf and picked up Hwy 39 around the city. It was easy driving at 8:00 a.m. in the morning on a Sunday. I almost missed the exit because of lack of good signage, but I picked up Hwy 2, the PanAm highway. There were an untold number of bicycle riders on the shoulders. I also had to put on my rain suit for the first time. While I was stopped and putting it on, I met some other motorcycle riders. I gave them one of my blog cards so they can take a look at my blog. I got back on the road and in 1.25 Miles / 2 kilometers, the rain was gone. It sporadically came and went as I drove through the mountains.

I eventually arrived at a city where the sun was out and it was too hot to wear the rain suit so I took it off, wrapped it up and put it back in my bag. I met a former Kawasaki dealer who moved to Costa Rica to live. He knew all about the Kawasaki KLR650, which I was riding, and told me what great bike it was. I gave him a blog card for both blogs. He said he thought he read my blog where I documented my trip around the world. We shook hands and he left. I finished packing up my motorcycle and took off.

In 2 Miles / 3 Kilometers I was back in the rain, and this was serious rain. Rain drops the size of marbles. I was soaking wet. I broke Dave Reinhold’s rule of rain suits. Put them on before you’re in a rain storm. Now that I reminded myself of that rule, I won’t break it again. The rain eventually went away and I rode until I was dried out and happy again. I was within 20 miles of my stop for the day and guess what: another down pour. I was soaked again and the rain wasn’t going away. I was driving into Rio Claro and it was still raining right smartly.  To make it worse, the Police had an active check point working. They stopped me and wanted to see my driver’s license. I thought for sure he was going to ask me to pull out my paperwork in the rain. He has no idea what his name would have been if he would have asked for that. Since he didn’t and he was nice, I asked him for the best hotel in Rio Claro. He said, the Hotel Impala, so off I drove to find it. It was only down the road 300 yards / 300 meters. I checked in $35 / 20,000 Colons, and that was with hot water, air conditioning, a fan and Wi-Fi. I turned down the a/c to 17 Celsius and the fan to medium, to suck all the moisture out of my riding suit. I put on my riding jacket to sleep, along with two sheets and a towel over me keep warm. I slept really well.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Blogging: it’s Harder Than You Think – 6 January 2018

6 January 2018 – I paid for another day so I could work on my blog. Having access to good Wi-Fi is a plus and I need to take advantage of it. I will send off this word document and some pictures and will call it a day.

Getting Ready to Launch – 5 January 2018

5 January 2018 – My goal for today was to find a route around the City of San Jose, Costa Rica and build a route in Blanche to take me around the city like she knows where she’s going. No trips over hill and dale. It will mostly be Autopista driving, which will be nice. I built the route and it works. There’s one glitch where she goes to a roundabout, does a 180 degree turn, drives back about 1-1/4 mile / 2 Kilometers to another roundabout, does a 180 degree turn and drives back down the same highway. I sometimes don’t follow her craziness. I kept trying to get that out of her until I ran out of battery. So I guess I’ll have to live with it. Have I mentioned that she’s a little finicky sometimes?

I took a trip over to Walmart which is also next to the Marriott Courtyard. I thought I was in one of the Walmarts is the U.S.A. I purchased my usual and reached into my piggy bank again and withdrew some more money. I found something I haven’t treated myself to in months. I found 1 pint / 473 mL of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. It was Strawberry Cheesecake. I ate the whole thing in one setting. I also ate one of my fresh loaves of bread with a banana. I then watched two English speaking movies and went to bed.

Dang Phone – 4 January 2018

4 January 2018 – I got up about 7:00 a.m. to start washing my clothes. I didn’t want to have stand in line waiting for the machines. By 8:15 a.m. I have my clothes washed and dried. I threw the hotel towels into the drawer to help the clothes tumble and dry. 

I tried several more times to get my cell phone to start up. No luck there. Mary had suggested I ask about the Marriott courtesy shuttle, so I went downstairs and paid for another day and asked if anyone knew where I could take my cell phone to be checked out. They told me there was a place in the City Mall Alajuela that is within walking distance from here. I asked if Jose, the porter I met the previous day could accompany me to Samsung Store to interpret for me. His supervisor said it was ok. We took the Marriott Shuttle to the Mall at 11:00 a.m. Jose took me to the Samsung Store where he explained to the guy working behind the counter what the problem was with the phone. 

We removed the SIM and S/D Card and the Samsung guy crashed my phone then rebooted it back up. He downloaded everything back into the phone which probably took an hour. Then Jose and myself worked to get all the apps working again. I lost all my contacts and all my notes I had written along the way including people’s addresses. That part bums me out the most. For the most part between the 3 of us we got my phone back to 90% plus. I can’t thank Samsung Guy and Jose for all the help they provided enough. That phone would have never worked again had it not been for them. I tipped them nicely for all their help. I could have never gotten it going. 

Later that night, Mary and I got the Skype working again. So that works. My AOL account on the phone isn’t working correctly. That ticks me off and I have yet to get the Whatsapp working so I can communicate with my friend Jim Meurer in Brazil. Otherwise, I got everything else pretty much straightened out. It took the vast majority of the day trying to get that phone up to speed. I sure wish that once in a while there would be one day when I didn’t have to think about some insane problem like the cell phone. I watched one of my favorite old movies from 1971 called “The Hard Ride” with Robert Fuller. I liked the Harley-Davidson Knucklehead chopper. She’s a beauty.  With visions of the chopper in my head, I went to bed.

Nicaragua to Costa Rica Border Crossing and The Road To Nowhere – 3 January 2018

3 January 2018 – My alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning. I wanted to get an early start at the border. The hotel was still asleep and I didn’t know if the front door was locked. I walked out in the hall to check and the doors were locked with the night watchman sitting in front of the doors. Good, I can start loading my motorcycle! I removed the cover off my motorcycle and rolled it out where I could load it and squeeze out between the parked cars.

I was off by 6:30 a.m. heading for the border. I had 15 miles / 24 Kilometers to get to the border, about a 30-minute drive. I was about a mile from the Nicaraguan border and despite the fact that I’m there early, the semi-trucks are already backed up 5/8 of a Mile / 1 Kilometer. I can already see the tour buses setting in the parking lots with hundreds of people milling around. I thought to myself that it could be a long day.

I stopped short of Customs and Immigration and removed my paper work from my top box. While I was doing that my helper showed up. We agreed on a price and he set about managing my paperwork. I paid 50 cents for someone one to watch my motorcycle. My helper and I headed toward Customs and Immigration. He asked for 500 Nicaraguan Lempira ($21 US). I asked him what he needed that for and he said, “to speed up the paperwork.” I went and stood in line at Immigration and got my passport stamped. There was some kind of fee for that. He got at a $2 USD gratuity for that because he didn’t have the correct change for a $20 USD bill I gave him, or said he didn’t. When I was finished there, all the paper work was completed on my motorcycle. No checks on the VIN Numbers. Just drive through two check points: one person gets a small piece of paper and the other checks that my paper was stamped correctly. All within less than 45 minutes.

At this time I was introduced to my next helper who would get me through Customs and immigrations on the Costa Rican Border. We agreed on a price but before I left I changed my Nicaraguan Lempira currency in to Costa Rican Colon currency. I think I got taken for a ride there, but I road through both check points successfully. When I reached Costa Rica I gave my helper all the copies he would need for his job. I went through Immigration and he set about pushing my paperwork through the Customs Bureaucracy. The women who helped me spoke English, which was helpful. She had a problem swiping my passport through her scanner. I told her they swiped my passport in Nicaragua Immigration and it worked ok. She asked where I was staying and I gave her the hotel address. By the time I finished, I had to sign some forms and get some forms filled out and signed. Then it was off to purchase Insurance. That cost me $32 USD. With all the forms signed and money paid I had to go through two more check points. Someone checked my passport and another checked my insurance and passport. I was done in about 1-1/2 hours and free to go. Hurrah!!!!

I punched in the coordinates for the Hotel in Liberia, Costa Rica, which I was planning to stay at. I arrived right on its doorstep. Blanche did a fine job of navigating. Right across the street was McDonald’s. I parked in their lot and walked 100 Yards / 100 Meters to the bank and purchased more Costa Rica Colon. I goofed up on the decimal and thought I had more money than I had. Anyway, I went back to McDonald’s and ordered lunch. After I finished eating it I Skyped Mary. We talked some but the Wi-Fi signal was weak and she kept fading in and out. So we hung up with hopes of better Wi-Fi tonight. I got on my bike and went back to the bank and withdrew $100 in Cost Rican Colon.  Now off to the hotel.

I was back on my bike heading toward Alajuela, Costa Rica about 125 miles / 200 Kilometers away, an easy drive in 5 hours. I rode some very nice roads until we entered the mountains and then it was switchbacks and slow traffic 30 to 40 Mph / 48 to 65 Kph. I eventually broke free of the mountains when I neared Alajuela. Blanche was navigating and doing a good job. We exited off the Autopista into the city to the Airport Hotel. Eventually we came to dead end. No road to follow anymore. It was gone.

So, I took Blanche past the hotel where she could bring me in another direction. Then she found the hotel, but took me to the back side of it. I was thinking the hotel was out of business. It has happened to me before. I asked, a husband and wife walking along side the road if the hotel went out of business. They said, no, follow this road and bear left and you will come to this road. Sure enough, there was a road right alongside the Autopista which to took me to the Airport hotel.

I arrived at the gate and I had a bad feeling about the place. The guard asked if I had a reservation. He finally let me through with a pass. I drove up to reception and asked if they had a room. The receptionist spoke very good English, thank God for that. I asked if he had a room for the night. He asked if I had a reservation. I said I didn’t, and he told me they were booked up, no rooms available. Everything this guy was saying sounded very phony to me, like he was lying to me. He told me to go online find a hotel and book it. I told him I couldn’t because my cell phone was broken. I said that I looked for this hotel for over an hour, and can’t I please stay? He said they were booked up. He told me I could use his computers to find a hotel to stay at. I thought for sure I would be sleeping outside tonight. I told him I would check my motorcycle for hotels. I had Blanche check for hotels. Guess what popped up? The Marriott Courtyard. I told Blanche take me there.

After a bunch of staggering around I eventually got back on the Autopista. It’s not as easy as you think. I had to get on going west, then get off and go through several roundabouts and get back on going east. I drove 2 Miles / 3-1/2 Kilometers of stop and go traffic. I eventually got to the Marriott exit and made my way to the hotel. I parked my bike and security comes over and tells me to move my motorcycle. It’s only for car parking. I asked if I could park for 10 minutes while I check on a room for the night. He was ok with that. I went inside and checked on a room. The have a room and I booked it for the night. Whew, what luck. I have a place with the internet and a place with secure parking. When I was done with registration, I went outside and thanked the security guard for letting me park until I got registered and then moved my motorcycle to the hotel parking lot behind the building.

I enlisted the help of a porter to move my bags from my motorcycle to my room. He was a friendly chap who could speak really good English. I was still having this problem with my cell phone. Man, what am I going to do about that?  Even though I got my first smartphone just a few months before I left for my trip and navigated around the world without one in 2009, I’ve gotten so used to using it on this trip that I can’t live without it anymore.

I got myself all settled in my room, got out my computer and hooked up with the Courtyard’s Wi-Fi. It has a good strong signal. I sent Mary an e-mail hoping she can help me unlock my cell phone. She replied back quite quickly. We both worked together trying to unlock the phone. We didn’t have any success. We both went to bed stumped by the problem. The phone worked well in McDonalds in Liberia, Costa Rica. In between Liberia and Alajuela, Costa Rica the phone locked up for an unknown reason. Before I went to bed, I asked about washing clothes and Marriott provided a complementary washer and a dryer but you have to purchase the soap. First thing tomorrow is wash clothes. I know my shirt hasn’t been washed in three weeks.

Cool Pool and Uncool Guy – 2 January 2018

2 January 2018 – In the morning I walked over to the restaurant and ordered breakfast. I ordered my usual and was looking at this building out the window. It was in disrepair. After I finished eating, I walked over to it and walked inside. There was a swimming pool inside with a bar and restaurant. Around the edge of the pool in the water were concrete stools covered with tile about 1 yard / 1 meter apart, and a ledge your breakfast was placed on. Similar to what you would see in any McDonalds, but in the water. I walked outside and translated the writing on the wall with my cell phone.   Basically, it said you can swim and eat breakfast at the same time. Your breakfast was served to you in the pool. The tiles were falling off in the pool and lifting off the floor surrounding the pool. It looks like a cool idea but I think the idea didn’t take off or it was too expensive and ordinary people couldn’t afford to get in. Or it was something you tried once and never repeated.

Anyway, I went back to my room and continued reading up on my Nicaraguan / Costa Rican Border crossing. I got all my paperwork reviewed, found out the different fees I would have to pay, and the insurance I would have to purchase. I also got all the copies that I would need for each country laid out and in order. I then checked my cell phone and found two hotels I would potentially want to stay at. The Wi-Fi was so weak in the hotel I was in that I couldn’t get on the internet with my computer, which had me seeing blue. I texted Mary and she found the GPS coordinates on these hotels. Both Mary and I converted these coordinates to Degrees, Minutes and Seconds, which is how Blanche insists on receiving coordinates.  She’s a little finicky, as you know. I caught Mary trying to send me into never Neverland: two sets of eyes are better than one. That GPS coordinates business…………either you’re right or you’re wrong. There is no in-between. When you’re looking for a hotel in a large city and you have 30 minutes of daylight left you don’t want to be traveling in never neverland.

While I was eating breakfast at the restaurant earlier, I saw another supermarket / mercado only 400 yards / 400 meters away from the hotel. I walked over and purchased apples, bananas, more bread and more Nicaraguan Lempira. I was spending my border money on my hotel and restaurant meals so I restock on that. So, I was pretty much ready to take on the border now.

It was about 7:00 p.m. I went back to the restaurant to eat a good meal. I bumped into John who was setting outside drinking a beer. I told him I was going in to get something to eat. He asked me when I was leaving and I told him tomorrow. Once in the restaurant, I ordered what I thought was going to be a meat with a lot of gravy. The waiter brings my meal and its shrimp, green peppers and some kind of ground up nuts. It’s exactly what I didn’t want. I’m not a big seafood fan. It kind of looked like an Asian dish. I tasted it. It was hot, so I just ate it. I thought to myself, Montezuma was going to be paying me a visit again. Now if that would have been meat it would have been perfect. The dish was served hot so I felt pretty safe with it.

After dinner, I went back outside and John was still there. We talked a little bit more and he kind of alluded to the fact that he may be an inter-dimensional traveler. He says he kind of knows what people are going to say and what will happen in the future. Now I can imagine if I told this story back at my old employer, Remmele Engineering. I know one or two guys would say “man, that dude found some really good drugs. I want some.” Well, we parted ways and told him the trash can he was looking for last night was back in place so he didn’t need to throw his trash on the ground anymore. He laughed and I went to bed.

A Debbie Downer Named John – 1 January 2018

1 January 2018 – Good Morning New Year. Let’s hope the world will be a better place this year. I woke about 4:30 a.m. I laid in bed wondering how I am going to get out of here so early with this hotel all locked down. I got everything packed up by 6:00 a.m. I heard the hotel unlocking doors. I grabbed my first load of stuff and headed toward my motorcycle. Three trips later and my motorcycle was loaded and ready to go. I said goodbye to Mario and prepared myself for the ride around Managua.

Much to my surprise it was an uneventful ride. The program I built to get around the city worked flawlessly. I couldn’t have been prouder of Blanche. It was some of her finest navigating she has ever done for me. Most of the riding was on rural blacktop roads, passing by cities of Masaya and Granada. The roads were mostly straight and in excellent condition. Most of my rural driving was at 50 to 62 Mph / 80 to 100 Kph. It was a short day of riding and I stopped for the night in Rivas, Nicaragua 14 Miles / 24 Kilometers from the Nicaragua / Costa Rican Border.

I needed to get my paperwork prepared for the border crossing. It is said that Nicaragua is the most difficult border crossing of all the Central American countries. So preparation is the key to keep your stress level low and getting through the border as quickly as possible. I drove through town looking for the hotel Blanche selected for me to stay at. I didn’t find it, but I found my second choice and it turns out to be an Auto Hotel which you pay by the hour. I pulled in, looked at the joint, said “no”, and left.

I drove back into town and located a hotel and restaurant which worked just great for me. I checked in for $15 Dollars a night. I didn’t purchase a room with air conditioning because the nights were like 68 degrees / 20 Celsius. I asked the receptionist if I could park my motorcycle in front of the reception door. They said sure no problem. I rode my bike up and they were shocked by the size. They moved their table so I could get backed into my parking spot. Initially they were thinking my motorcycle was a 125cc motorcycle which you see driven all over these Central American countries.
Something I found out with these lower price hotels is that they try to mask the smell of mold with air fresheners. The room I was in was solid concrete with no ventilation, not even for the shower. That moisture wouldn’t leave the room even with the fan running constantly. You had to leave the door open and suck in fresh air. I can’t complain, I got what I paid for.

That night I went outside to work on my route planning and bumped into John from Alberta, Canada. A colorful sort of chap. He was the most negative individual I’ve met in a long time. He’s retired and just travels. He said his luggage was stolen by the police in Mexico, his car was stolen in Mexico, and he went to jail 7 times in Mexico. He went back to England and was put in jail before he even got into the country. They deported him back to Canada and told him not to come back. He was hugely prejudicial toward Hispanics. I mean hugely. While he was telling me this, off course, he is the most kind-hearted, lovely individual there is on the face of the earth. I finally had to excuse myself because I couldn’t take any more of the negativity. John was originally born in Scotland and I asked him if that had any influence on his negativity and he said it sure did. In a nutshell, the whole world was against this guy. Well, all of that talk cut into my route and border planning and by then I just wanted to go to bed. I knew I would be staying another day. I just can’t walk blindly into a border crossing without knowing exactly what I’m getting myself into.