A bridge too far

January 9, 2011

After spending an extra day in San Jose trying to get over my abdominal issues, I packed up early and hit the road to the state of Limon with the intention of getting to Puerto Viejo for the football games. The riding was easy and the countryside was beautiful as I made my way to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. I had the unique privilege of stopping for a couple of hours at the world’s only sloth sanctuary. I never even really understood what a sloth was and I can’t say that I even had seen a picture of one before. The only sloth that came to mind was the one in the kids Ice Age movies :). Check out my blogroll for more info on this amazing creature.

I was making good time on the roads despite everyone saying how poor they were. That’s the beauty of the BMW… It eats roads, good and bad, for breakfast!!!! I end up blowing by Puerto Viejo and heading on to the border at Sixaola. I chose this border because it is far out of the way and the only crossing on the east coast of the country. It was a Sunday as well so I figured that traffic would be lighter. I had read up on the crossing and it seemed fairly straight forward with the exception being the bridge. The two border towns sit on either side of the Rio Sixaola, an impassable river. The bridge was constructed some 50 plus years ago as a way for trains to cross the border. It was never designed as a vehicle or pedestrian bridge and has been converted, Central American style, into a makeshift crossing. When I say makeshift this is what I mean:

Sixaola bridge

I got to the bridge around 2:30pm which was late in the day to be crossing the border but I just went with it. I stood in line at Costa Rican immigration for about 30 mins until I finally got stamped out of the country. Then a language barrier with the customs folks about the fact that I was permanently exporting my BMW cost another 15 mins but eventually I got what I needed and hopped on my bike. Now comes the fun part. As you can see from the picture above, you have to pick the left or the right side of the bridge to ride down because no way you can ride down the middle. Of course, there are pedestrians coming across the bridge and so you basically have to barge your way through… Which I did quite well. However, as I get to the center of the bridge, I come upon two cars… one headed to Panama and one headed to Costa Rica!!!!

It seems that Costa Rica and Panama defy all reason and logic when it comes to communicating. Maybe they are related to my ex :). Anyway, it turns out that they do not possess a simple two way radio that allows them to say “ok, coast is clear” when allowing traffic to cross a ONE WAY bridge!!!! Even more comical was the fact that the guy in the minivan refused to reverse back to Costa Rica because he didn’t believe the guy from Panama who was telling him that he couldn’t back up because there was a semi truck waiting at the beginning of the bridge on the Panama side. So the guy in the minivan gets out and runs to the Panama side to check that the other guy isn’t lying… Which he isn’t. So now the minivan guy is back and wants to back up to the Costa Rica side. Small problem… I’M BEHIND HIM!!!! No way I can reverse my bike over the dodgy planks and I tell the guy so. Eventually, I get the guy from Panama to get the guy from Costa Rica to maneuver his minivan to the side a bit so I can squeeze through. No sooner had I accomplished this then I look up and, instead of waiting for the mess in the middle to get sorted out, the dumb ass semi truck driver decides to come onto the bridge as well. So, I now have figure out how to get by not only the jeep of the Panamanian guy but now a giant tractor trailer!!!! I’m pissed now but I see a broken down railing and a small space where I may be able to get out of the way. Problem is it means crossing the rail tracks which look extremely unsafe. Screw it, I say and wrestle Juliette across the tracks and into the small break in the fencing on the side of the bridge. The jeep squeezes by and then I dart forward to another opening and prepare for the semi truck to get by. It makes it by mere inches and I had to get help from a guy just to back my bike onto the planks again. From there I wobbled my way past more pedestrians until I made it to Panama to begin the hour long process of getting myself and my bike into Panama. Check out my video of this whole debacle. Unfortunately, I cannot edit the video and I lost all the sound due a corrupted video file. This was all I could do to recover the event.

Video coming soon

Eventually, I succeeded at that and headed south toward David. Here is where it gets really pear shaped. I haven’t properly researched my route to David because I wasn’t actually planning on crossing the border until tomorrow. It is late in the day and I decide to rely on the GPS that has proven to be semi useful on the trip. Problem is that David is not listed in the GPS so I put in Panama City instead. Up comes 2:19 and I’m like cool… I will be there in two hours. AHHHHH…. WRONG!!!!!! Somehow, I had changed the GPS settings to give the arrival time at the destination not how long to the destination so what I thought was 2 hours and 19 mins was actually an arrival time of 2:19AM!!!!!!!!!!!! BY the time I figured this out it was already way off the rails.

So, ignorant me is cruising along the very desolate Caribbean coast road and admiring the beautiful ocean views and sunset. The hour is getting later and later and darkness approaches. After riding for a couple of hours, I realized that I had made a mistake with the GPS but I push on because now I truly am in the middle of nowhere. The road starts to climb into the mountains and a light rain begins to fall. As I climb higher and higher it gets darker and darker until I hit the dense fog that has enveloped the top of the mountain range. Now it is pitch black, completely deserted, raining and dense fog that cuts visibility to ten feet. I am tired, hungry and annoyed so I zoom out on my GPS to see where I am in grand view of things. Much to my dismay, the route the GPS is taking me suddenly dead-ends… as in the road just stops! Now, I know there is only one road on the eastern coast of Panama and I am pretty sure it takes me near David so how in God’s name can the road just end on the GPS?

I debate turning around but the thought of sleeping in the jungle does not appeal to me. I stop on the side of the road and pull out my Panama map for the first time. I scour the map and determine that yes, thee is only one road on the east coast and so, it stands to reason, that I am on it. I put the map away and take off again. Now I am really getting concerned because my gas is running low (I think but was not sure as the gauge seems to be acting up again) and I am really lost and can’t see five feet in front of me. I am praying to God and anyone else who will listen to get me safely off this mountain. I am literally going 5 miles an hour when a huge 18 wheeler comes up behind me and I pull to the shoulder to let him by. God had heard my prayers because this beast of a truck was lit up like a beacon in the night. Its huge headlights and massive floodlights under the trailer provided me with plenty of visibility and a wild animal battering ram! I quickly dropped in behind the truck and spent the next hour at 50 miles an hour getting guided out of the fog and off the mountain.

I finally made it to the Panamerican Highway about 10pm and then I made the mistake of going left instead of right and back towards David. I figured there must be a town not far away where I could bunk down for the night. WRONG AGAIN!!! I drove on and on for what seemed like forever until I almost ran out of gas. At a gas station I tried to get directions to the next town only to find that the guy I was talking to didn’t speak English or Spanish… he was Italian! I was so tired that I couldn’t even understand how much the woman who sold me a coke was asking for it. As I rode on further and further I found myself alone for long periods of time. I started to get more and more nervous of being attacked, run off the road or stopped by the Police. Then suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, a bright light called out to me from afar 🙂 It was probably the only lit sign I saw in all of Central America and it was for a “lakeside hotel”. I jammed the brakes on and hit a hard left before bouncing up and down on the gravel road that led to the hotel. The parking lot had a few cars parked in it and at 11pm I figured this was a good sign. I parked the bike and wondered into the lobby. I looked around but no one was there. I called out several times but no answer. I walked around the building but could find no-one. Just as I stepped back into the lobby, a long steel barrel emerges from the the shadows followed by the rest of the rifle and a rather shifty looking Panamanian guard. I immediately froze and quickly babbled that I needed a room. After looking me over in my space age riding suit, he decided I was harmless and was able to get me a much needed room. As I collapsed into bed, I thought how mad I was for riding in the dark for so long and for missing what was surely some beautiful countryside. I also thanked God that I was still alive.



January 7, 2011

So for the last five days I have been having upper abdominal pain that won’t go away. I’ve tried every trick in the book but it is getting worse, not better. I finally broke down and decided to go to the doctor. I went to find help from the hotel staff but somehow none of them knew of any English speaking doctors in San Jose. Next stop was the British Embassy’s website where I managed to scrounge up a list of doctors. Out came the iPad maps and off I walked in search of a doctor. Of course, the doctor I wanted was nowhere to be found and after explaining my problem to a local pharmacist he directed me to the nearest hospital emergency room. Actually, my Spanish had improved enough to the point where the conversation went fairly smoothly so that was the silver lining, I guess.

I arrived at the hospital and fortunately they had both staff and doctors who were fluent in English so my concerns about how to say “no diarrhea” in Spanish were put to rest :). Two hours later and a battery of IV drugs, an EKG and blood tests revealed absolutely nothing! Grand total… a measly 365 bucks!!!!! Try getting that in a US hospital. I know where I am going for my next liposuction :). So, off I went with three prescriptions in hand; one for stomach acid, one for a stool softener and one for 14 vials of “good” bacteria for my intestinal tract. I kept telling them that maybe I had a parasite but they insisted that since my white cell count was normal that was not possible. I didn’t believe them.

That evening I met an American guy who was in on business and ran a very unique website at http://www.americanrhetoric.com. He is a linguistics professor and has created the only website in the world that aims to publish every single important speech of the English language. He is expanding to Spanish and various other languages. Check it out if you want to know who said exactly what. We spent the evening together having dinner and watching the football game before heading out on the town. I really can’t say what happened after that 🙂

Paradise found

January 6, 2011

Another early morning on the bus with a tour group was starting to wear on me but I had enjoyed the rafting so much that I wanted to try what is generally regarded as the best white water rafting in Central America. The Pacuare river trip is 20 miles of class II, III and IV rapids through some of the most beautiful jungle around. When we weren’t focusing on navigating the rapids, we got to view some absolutely gorgeous waterfalls and countryside. The absolute quiet of the area made you feel like you were the only person on earth. Our guide Chris was excellent and really made it worthwhile. The rafting lasted about 3 hours so most of the day was spent driving from San Jose but it was all worth it. I would have you take a look at the video highlights if it weren’t for the fact that I lost all those memories due to Windows 7 mysteriously deleting my videos folder. So much for technology.

Alex and Alicia, I miss you both. I wish you were here to experience all this with me 🙂

GPS or GP guess?

January 5, 2011

The next day I left the Arenal area in the pouring rain and headed southeast through the mountains. My destination was the capital city of San Jose. Seeing as it raining, it made stopping and reading my map a little problematic so I decided to rely on the GPS since it had listed a hotel near to the one I was staying at in San Jose. After riding through the fog and the rain through twisty, narrow and dangerous mountain roads I realized that the GPS was kind of guessing where it was going. It didn’t even remotely follow the most direct or shortest route but instead chose to route me through every run down, half baked village on the way. I got stuck behind all sorts of traffic and domestic animals and a two hour ride turned into four. When I finally did get into San Jose, I came upon a 3 mile long traffic jam due to bridge construction. No way I was waiting in that line of traffic so I used the empty lane that was reserved for buses only. Apparently, I was not the only one with that idea and as I neared the bottleneck at the bridge, I saw five policemen giving tickets to people who had tried the same thing. Fortunately, they were focused on them and not me so I nipped back into the flow of traffic and turned an hour long wait into a five minute delay.

Getting to my hotel continued to be a bit of a debacle because, like every city in Central America, most of the roads are unsigned and one way only… usually the opposite way that you wish to go :). I drove around and around for 30 mins knowing that I was close but not being able to get there. Eventually, I stopped to ask a taxi driver where the hotel was and he had no idea! Idiot. The next taxi driver spoke such rapid Spanish that I just gave up. Another 15 mins of driving around had me showing my IPad to a parking lot attendant who spoke no English. However, he was a lot more interested in helping me and eventually we figured out where I needed to go. Another few minutes and I was pulling into the secured parking at the hotel. Thank you God! I was tired and frustrated and I was getting picked up at 6:20am in the morning so I really need to get settled and relax a bit.

Clayton! How does he know my name?

January 4, 2011

First things first. If you do not have kids you will not get the title of this post 🙂

The next day was spent nursing my sore muscles from the day before and just generally relaxing. The rain was pouring at times but let up enough for me to ride into town and get the pictures from the day before. As I was riding in, there were two BMW’s behind me but when I turned off they turned the other way. In the afternoon, I did a zip line excursion with Ecoglide. Again, someone who is afraid of heights probably shouldn’t be zip lining at heights of up to 200 feet above the jungle. It was pretty cool even though it was raining near the end. One part was especially nerve wracking. It’s called the Tarzan swing and somehow I volunteered to go first. Basically, you stand on this platform that is built into the side of a hill and they hook your harness to this rope that is attached to a giant tree branch. You then are forced to hold on to the rails while they open the gate that is stopping you from falling forward. You inch forward until your heels are on the edge and then you sit down and swing like Tarzan while screaming your lungs out. It is quite scary and a few of the tour group refused to do it. I can’t say I blame them because it is quite scary at first and you swing really, really high. It was a fun experience and I know the kids would have loved it.

Wet and wild

January 3, 2011

My tour bus picked me up at 6:30am and a group of about 20 of us headed deep into the jungle to begin our long day of adventure. The weather was cool and it rained on and off all day long. It didn’t really matter because the first half of our day was spent in the lost canyon where we got to rappel down four waterfalls. Now, seeing as heights make me nervous, you would have thought that rappelling was not something I would enjoy but even the 220 foot waterfall turned out to be very fun. Just as fun was the hiking/scrambling through the jungle and streams with the rest of the crew. It was nice to meet people from around the globe and everyone got on quite well. The hardest part of it all turned out to be the hike back up 🙂

After lunch, we jumped back into the jeeps and headed to the Rio Balsa where we climbed into rafts and spent the afternoon navigating class II and III rapids. It was a blast and I decided that I needed to do more rafting while I was still in Costa Rica. I didn’t get back to my hotel until after 6pm and I was exhausted and soaking wet. I had to send my hiking boots to the laundry to get thrown in the dryer. Now if only I could have fit myself in there as well.

Coasting in Costa Rica!!!

January 2, 2011

So I had a good nights sleep and left Liberia full of energy. My destination today was La Fortuna and the area surrounding the Arenal volcano. Every time I have thought about going to Costa Rica, this is the area that I most wanted to go. The natural beauty and adventure draws me to it 🙂

The sun was beating down and it was 90 degrees at 9:30 in the morning. Traffic was light and the roads were good until the turn off for Lake Arenal. As I made my way toward the lake, I relaxed into everything more. I realized that again I had been rushing through countries and not savoring them. Hell, I barely took any pictures of Honduras and Nicaragua!!! So, last night I booked myself in for 3 nights near Arenal and I will force myself to go on some adventure every day… Poor me 🙂

As I made my way through the twisty roads, I finally felt at peace. Maybe it was the jungle around me, maybe it was the beauty of Lake Arenal, maybe it was the pouring rain that had me soaked but I felt at peace. For the first time in a long time, I felt peace. Que manches!!! One of the nice things about my ride was that I finally got to see and take pictures of the howler monkeys. I also ran into some furry friends on the road that turned out to be coatimundi. Coatimundi are a member of the raccoon family, however, the raccoon is nocturnal and the coatimundi is not. The Coatimundi is also called the hog-nosed coon, snookum bear and Brazilian Aardvark and is a native of Central and South America.

After snapping a bunch of blurry pictures due to a wrong auto-focus setting, I stopped for lunch at the German Bakery. I was a little concerned because it had gotten mixed reviews, however, the food was excellent. Even better, Tomas, the owner, is an avid motorcyclista and we shared a few stories. Then, as I went to pay my bill he swooped in and rang the check up himself. He winked at me and said, “motorcyclistas get special rates”. I had a nice German beer, a huge bowl of beef goulash and then chicken in a fruit curry sauce. To top it off, the breads were freshly made. He charged me less than 10 bucks which is unheard of around these parts. Tomas you are the man!

One drawback is I am finding Costa Rica very expensive compared to the rest of Central America. I guess now that tourism is the main industry it is to be expected. The country definitely has a higher standard of living so someone has to pay for that. Anyway, I made it to my hotel around 3 and relaxed in my room watching football for a while. Then I had a great dinner before hitting the hot springs and then bed. I need my sleep as I have a long day of adventure planned tomorrow.