Written March 1, 2016
When you ride south from Granada, Nicaragua you are along the shore of massive Lake Nicaragua, where fresh-water sharks swim, and you’ll also find the tallest island volcano of any lake in the world, at about 2,000 meters. It was hot when we left at 7 am, and when we got to the border crossing into Costa Rica about an hour later, we were sweating, even in our mesh riding gear.
The cops motioned us into a shaded area, where an Aduana guy (Customs) looked at our bikes and issued us each a official-looking piece of paper to take to the next station. We rolled 100 meters ahead and parked where the cop pointed, then I went inside and started on my Passport stamp out of Nicaragua. All went well until I got to the window where I should have been given a free form to fill out, but the kid outside wanted $2 for it. I asked the lady behind the glass for a form, but she just pointed to the kid. I wasn’t going for it. I returned to Jalene, and we agreed to let a “fixer” help us through the process. Hector went so far as to help us through the Aduana process, but I still had to walk back to the beginning and get the correct signature on the official-looking paper for Jalene’s bike. After Aduana and Hector told us we were finished (and vanished instantly with our “tip”), we were denied exit and sent back because our passports weren’t properly stamped. This time I paid the kid two bucks, took the forms, got our stamps, and out of Nicaragua we went.
Ride forward 200 meters over the stripe. Entering Costa Rica, we got our passports stamped no problem, but they gave me 90 days automatically and Jalene only 30, because they asked her, and she only asked for 30. Then we had to go get insurance, where the lady spent 45 minutes talking with her office buddies before helping Jalene. When my turn came, she had to finish the text or Facebook post or whatever it was before I could be dealt with. Talk to the hand. Then, insurance certificate in hand, to Aduana to import the bikes now that we had proof of insurability, then back to finish up with the insurance, this time with a much more efficient and helpful person. Finally, we rolled up to the gate and by some miracle all was correct and we took off into Costa Rica! Only about 4 hours, but this crossing was the most BS-filled yet. I don’t know that they can get much worse, but we’ll see.
This border crossing did one good thing. All the pressure from vendors, fixers, and the whole circus of figuring out how to get through the border had us chipping at each other pretty good at one point. We had a long discussion later about what happened, and agreed that when certain “triggers” occur from now on, we will simply stop, no matter what is going on around us, and let the one who’s strengths are called for take over. We are the ones with the paperwork and the money, so everyone else can wait.
And that leads me to a larger subject, which we also shot a little video about. Jalene and I have both changed quite a bit on this trip, and our marriage has been improved because of it. My take on a relationship is that because it is made up of two individuals, if it is going to be improved then it’s the individuals that have to do the growing and learning. We have each changed in various ways – for me, I’ve become much more willing to stand up and call BS on someone who is being unkind or prejudicial or just rude. What really changed is that I’m far less tolerant of that behavior in myself. At the same time, I’ve become much more open to other’s ideas, especially Jalene’s, in areas where I normally assume that I know best what to do, such as navigating or working on the bikes, and especially about scheduling.
We only travelled about 15 or 20 kilometers into Costa Rica before finding the campground at Cañas Castillo, a peaceful, beautiful place on the lazy Rio Sapoa. There are both cabañas and a camping area, so we elected to pitch the tent. The camping area includes a bathhouse with showers and a covered kitchen area with tables and chairs and potable water on tap, the first we’d seen since crossing into Mexico. This place was magic, with howler and spider monkeys, toucans, and sloths seen everyday in the trees overhead, and a 4-5 meter long crocodile that loved to haul out on a flat rock near us in the afternoon. He was quiet and never came over to the shore where we were, so we could watch in relative safety. We spent time walking the various nature trails that circled out and back, and saw lots of critters, including blue butterflies, which are big and bright, but never land anywhere long enough to give you a chance at a picture. We loved it so much there that we stayed an extra couple of days so as not to travel on a Saturday.
At the border into Costa Rica, we had met a couple from South Korea, TB and Yoon, who had flown over to Seattle with their bicycles, and had spent the last 9 months pedaling south. They had gone right by our house in Oregon, probably when we were still there. About an hour after we pulled into the campground, there they came, and they pulled in to camp with us. We spent the next four days camped with them, and so enjoyed our time getting to know them. I lived in Korea in the mid-80’s and so many memories came flooding back about words, food, places, and many other things I loved about that country (I can still count to ten!). I was only about 25 then, and remember the way I was instructed to talk differently to elder folks, out of respect and reverence. I noticed that TB and Yoon treating me the same way, which I found wonderful, confusing, funny, and a little bit sad all at once. Now I’m one of the respected elders, I guess. You can’t stop the years going by, but I hope I’m handling them with grace. Yoon and TB, wherever you are, thank you for four days filled with interesting conversations and fun. I hope you reach Tierra del Fuego safely, and that your trip around the world creates extraordinary memories for you, and you collect many tales to share with your families and friends.
As we went to bed one night, Jalene found her sleeping pad ballooned up along one side, where the longitudinal internal baffles had ripped apart inside. She was able to pile riding gear under the “low” side, and still sleep well. Our mats are made by ExPed, and when I emailed them with the problem, the answer was instant – we’ll send you a new one right away. Per instructions, I checked the manufacturing lot number, and noticed it was the same on both our pads. I told the company this, and they have sent TWO pads to Panama City for us, just in case. I can’t tell you how impressed I am by this kind of customer service and willingness to stand behind a warranty. There was no hesitation about shipping to a foreign country, just “send us the address and we’ll take care of it.” My advice: buy ExPed products. More expensive, sure, but well worth it in the end.
We headed south to Puntarenas, Costa Rica from there, not for any good reason except that it was on the Pacific coast, and from there we could decide whether to head across to the Caribbean side, go through the central mountains, or stay along the Pacific side. We stayed at a funky hotel that had the best-ever pool, and a kitchen area we could use to cook our own dinner. The heat was pretty bad, so we didn’t balk at the higher price, but when you can make your own dinner, it always saves a ton of money. The next morning we were able to get going by fairly early, and took the highway up into the mountains. We crossed the central range that runs down the spine of the country after working our way through San Jose and Cartago, taking the twisty Hwy 10 over the top in about 4 hours. The nicely paved road wound up and down and around, with comparatively little traffic, and we had a ton of fun while seeing incredible green vistas of farmland and forest, wonderful flowers, jungle trees, and in general a richly fertile land.
We stopped for the night in Siquirres after descending the eastern side of the mountains, and then took off early in the morning for the east coast. After crossing the rich coastal plains with massive banana plantations, big braided rivers, and thick jungle everywhere, we began to see cleared areas with stacks of shipping containers, and trucks running inland from the port of Limon. Limon is a scrappy little port town, and we rolled in hoping to replace a little screw for my helmet shield mount, which was flopping around loose and threatening to break. After a few stops, we found Casa de Tornillos (House of Bolts), and they had just what I needed. We left Limon and headed south along the coast of the Caribbean for about 60 kilometers to Puerto Viejo, where we checked into Kaya’s Place, a very relaxed and inexpensive hostel and brewery on the beach. What a great place to chill for a few days, drink local beer, and enjoy a relaxed little town. The beaches are black sand, so be sure to wear your flip-flops or it’ll burn. The water is warm, and you can just walk in with no hesitation, and a swim seems just the thing about three times a day. A shop not far away has ice cream, a great way to survive a hot afternoon.
This morning I replaced the water pump in my bike for the second time. It was replaced in Austin, Texas, only about 7,000 miles ago. This is totally unacceptable pump life, and I’m glad I was carrying spare pump kits with us. I will buy two more kits in Panama City, but I’ve never had a bike that has even needed water pump attention before, and I’m extremely disappointed with BMW’s design (Rotax actually builds the engines). In all other areas, these are great bikes, but this is a real Achilles Heel. I also noted that the plastic gears that drive the water pump are in bad shape and so I’m going to have to do this all over again when I get a set of them in Panama. I will automatically replace the gears in Jalene’s. Her bike went for 40,000 miles before needing a water pump rebuild, mine is now on it’s third pump at 35,000. I had a covered area to do the job today, but was still on my knees in the mud just inside a woodshed behind the hostel. Not fun.
Another repair job that was a bit more fun occurred after Jalene’s bike rolled off the kickstand and it broke her windshield against my fork leg. It cracked right across the bottom, just above the bolts that hold it to the bike, cleanly into two pieces. It’s a Cee Bailey shield, and I’m wondering if the aircraft-quality plastic used in making it kept it from shattering into small pieces. I sanded the break, then used JB Weld to epoxy the two pieces back together. That by itself seemed to form a strong bond, but the next day, I drilled small holes in rows on either side of the break, and “stitched” it all the way across with stainless steel wire twisted very tight. Looks like Frankentein, but it holds well when flexed – I’m hoping it holds for the duration. In any case, it gets attention, and people love the look of it. I’d seen the wire-stitching done before on other travelers’ bikes, so knew it was a good approach.
We’ve regrouped quite a bit the last few days. We fixed the laptop, my helmet, Jay’s windshield, and my water pump, and arranged to replace the sleeping pad. I think we’re ready to head for Panama.