Not AGAIN!!!

January 1, 2011

I enjoyed a lovely Nicaraguan breakfast before setting of for… well I wasn’t really sure. Costa Rica, I guess but I wasn’t sure if driving 5 hours then trying to cross a notoriously difficult border on New Year’s Day was the smartest thing. Either there would be a million people there or it would be empty. If it was too packed I would just turn around and head to San Juan del Sur for a little surfing and then try early the next morning.

My blood was pumping and so was my music as I exited town and made my way south. There was very little traffic on the road but all of it was going two miles an hour. So I passed a slow moving taxi near the end of a town by crossing a single yellow line. So apparently, there is no difference between a single yellow line and a double yellow line in Nicaragua. You can’t overtake on either according to the policeman who waived me down and he would not explain to me the difference between the two. I tried the old don’t speak Spanish trick but this dude had pulled me over for one reason… MONEY! He demanded 40 dollars. No way, I was paying that. We got down to twenty by me telling him literally “no 40 dollars” in Spanish. What I was trying to say was that I didn’t have any dollars on me (should have used “no tengo cuarenta dolares”) but he thought it was a negotiation tactic and changed it to 20 dollars. I fished for my wallet and he ushered me to keep the wallet out of sight. He then proceeded to take my last 500 Cordobas (about $25 dollars) and send me on my way. I chuckled about it because it was my own fault. I did not learn from my last run in with police. Bottom line is that the only place you are likely to get a ticket is in a town so drive patiently while in town… DUH! At least the bribe compelled me to cross the border because now I had no money and I didn’t want to hit a bank machine. The road out of Leon toward Managua is in horrible shape. Huge sections of potholes, washed out road and many other teeth grinding obstacles. Fortunately, that’s what Juliette was designed for and it felt good to pass all the cars with impunity… after all, no single or double yellow lines (or any lines at all for that matter) to be crossed 🙂

I made it past Managua and kept on going. Turns out that the riding near the border is actually quite pretty. The road runs very near to the shore of Lake Nicaragua and the mountains in the background make for a beautiful site. After all the poverty and general “third world” atmosphere in Nicaragua, the one thing I didn’t expect to see was state of the art, eco-sensitive power generation and yet there it was on the shores of the lake about 5 mins from the border. A huge windfarm! I was duly impressed and also had to chuckle that a wind-farm needed 24 hour armed security 🙂

I arrived at the Nicaragua side of the border and was immediately swarmed by handlers. I knew what the process was for this notoriously confusing and time consuming border because I had researched it quite a bit. With this in mind, I enlisted the help of a handler and told him two important things. One, I would pay him and him only so don’t go enlisting the help of another guy or handing me off to someone else and then picking me up again later and two, I know what the process is and how much it all costs so don’t go telling me different. He got the message and was extremely important in getting the right signatures for my motorcycle paperwork. It would have been a disaster trying to find what guy wondering around in no uniform had the signature I needed. I shared a laugh with two aussies who were driving a car down south because they ended up with nine signatures on their paperwork before they had the “right” ones. I only needed two 🙂 Apparently, five is the norm. A word of advice for those crossing the border on a holiday… ENJOY!!!! The place was deserted! I totally nailed it. There was no-one at either side of the border and the usual 4 to 5 hour debacle was accomplished in one hour of almost bliss. Costs were:

$1 – municipal tax to leave Nicaragua
$2 – immigration exit fee for Nicaragua
$14 – Costa Rica motorcycle insurance
$1 – two copies for Costa Rica customs

There were no fees for me or the bike to enter Costa Rica and the fumigation thing must have been closed for the holiday or has been done away with all together. I didn’t ask too many questions 🙂

Two police checkpoints later I was breezing through Costa Rica. Right away, you could definitely tell that you were in a richer country. The condition of the roads, buildings and towns just seemed better. The countryside was really beautiful and I made my way to Liberia, arrriving around 4 o’clock. My destination of the Arenal volcano was too far away to reach so I was looking for both a place to eat and sleep. My bribe earlier in the day left me broke so hadn’t eaten since 7am and I was starving. Just as I rode into town, the Lord answered my prayers as the golden arches of McDonald’s loomed in the distance 🙂 Good comfort food after a long day of travel! The aussies had the same idea and arrived about 20 minutes after I did so we shot the breeze for a bit before they headed to the beaches and I found a cheap hotel down the street.

One other cool thing. I passed the 20,000 mile mark today!


Surf’s Up!

December 31, 2010

I got up fairly early and decided that while I enjoyed hostels in my youth, I was now firmly spoiled and that was probably not going to change. I checked out early and had already secured more appropriate accommodations at a hotel a few blocks away. I figured it was New Year’s Eve so I could treat myself 🙂 However, I had booked the volcano surfing trip through the hostel so I waited patiently along with 20 or so other people for the truck to depart. Eventually we left, on Nicaraguan time that appears to mimic Bermuda time in that everyone is always running 30 minutes late. The hour long truck “ride” out to the Cerro Negro volcano was a bone-jarring, butt-crunching, less than enjoyable experience only to be bested (or maybe it should be worsted) by the nerve-numbing, back-cracking, stomach-churning ride back! Check it out.

The volcano itself is an interesting paradox. At 160 years old, it is the youngest volcano in Central America but it is also the oldest cinder cone volcano in the world. These types of volcanoes apparently have much shorter life span. See my blogroll for more info on the volcano. In case you are wondering what volcano surfing is… well it is basically sitting or standing on a specially designed board and speeding as fast as you can down the side of a volcano made entirely of small rocks and sand. How well you do is determined by the speed you attain near the bottom. Current speed record is over 170Kph. The speed record for the tour groups out of the Bigfoot Hostel is 84Kph for men and 80Kph for women. Pretty fast!

We got to the base of the volcano and were given a bag containing a bright orange jump suit (the hostel’s colors) and goggles and we had to carry that plus a specially designed surf board to the top during a hour long hike. That board and bag began to feel a little heavy by the time we finally got there but it was manageable. The wind was blowing steadily and a light rain fell which was actually good because it kept the day nice and cool. Here is the scenery as we trudged up.

Video coming soon.

As luck would have it, the sun came out just as we were getting ready to start surfing. Most of the women went first and then a couple decided to race each other. All good and well until the girl comes off her board at 55Kph and proceeds to Ninja roll down a bit of the volcano. Not good. Think hard, jagged, abrasive volcanic rocks and you will realize that falling off the board at any real speed means blood coming out of you. My turn came and I was a bit of a sissy given that spill the girl took. I got to the bottom safely, albeit slowly:) After checking out her injured leg, I was glad to not have tried some speed record nonsense. A few minutes later, the resident nutcase came hurtling down the volcano and he was really moving. Unfortunately, at that speed, one little bump and you are toast. That’s exactly what happened and the guy was thrown from his board and slide to a painful stop on his face! His goggles and board were stopped about 20 feet above him and he really got quite scraped on his arms and legs. His face, thank God, was fine.

As we boarded the truck for the return trip, the tour guides handed out the beer and the group had fun discussing the trip. More mojitos awaited us on our return and the group spent a little time chatting before breaking up. I realized that even though I was staying somewhere else, I was fortunate to meet some younger people who actually were a pleasure to talk to. Shout out to Dave (the daredevil), Vincent (the board breaker), Kendall (the North Carolina ninja) and Harrison (the one armed surfer). It was a pleasure to surf with you and sorry I missed you at New Year’s 🙂

New Year’s Eve was only five hours away so I headed out and was so glad to be able to get a long hot shower. The amount of volcanic dust, gravel and grime you get on you in one 7 minute trip down a volcano is amazing. Then I relaxed and watched a movie before trying to settle in for a little nap. I couldn’t sleep so I had some dinner before wondering back to the hostel to see if anyone was around for the celebrations. The place was pretty quiet so I returned to my room and was asleep before the New Year came in. I must have been tired because fireworks, loud music and screaming did not keep me awake for one second 🙂

No Hablo Espanol

December 30, 2010

I got awoken by the lovely blaring of music at 6:30am. This is something I will never understand about Latin culture. Anyway, I packed up and made my way out of town after a little sleep-in once the music people went to work. I was about half a mile from the end of the town when I stupidly passed a slow taxi by crossing the double yellow line. This wouldn’t have been so bad had I looked ten feet further up the road and seen the three traffic cops standing there. I wasn’t even halfway past the taxi when they excitedly ran out in the road and flagged me down. CRAP!!!! Here comes my first bribe, I thought. As I got off the bike and removed my headphones and helmet, I contemplated my strategy. Profess deep sorrow and ask where to pay my “fine” or act dumb. I chose to act dumb because passing that taxi was… Well, dumb!

The woman looked at my Bermuda license and immediately pulled out her ticket book. She was rambling on in Spanish and barking infraction, infraction although I pretended not to know what she was saying. I then told her I didn’t speak Spanish and then fought like hell to be completely baffled when she told me I had to go to the bank in town and pay my two dollar ticket. I feigned complete ignorance and spoke only in English. After about ten minutes of my bewildered looks she wandered over to her fellow officers and I noticed out of the corner of my eye (the good one) that she had put away her ticket book. A few more hand gestures got me to understand that they were letting me go. Many, many thank you’s flowed out of my mouth. By this time a crowd had gathered and turns out a guy who owns an apartment in Orlando was walking by. We chatted for a bit and pointed me on my way to Leon. WHEW!!!!! Who knew acting dumb works 🙂

Interestingly enough, at the very next town I was stopped by another traffic police checkpoint. The guy was on the radio and I swear he was talking to the guys who stopped me before. They proceeded to speak rapid Spanish at me and I kept up the dumb act just in case. In fact, they just wanted to meet me and shook my hand many times as I somehow conveyed that I was on my way to Costa Rica. An hour later, I was in Leon and somehow managed to find my way around the maze of one way streets until I found the Bigfoot Hostel. I decided to try the hostel scene to see if I was missing something by not co-habitating with other folk :). Turns out what I was missing was a uncomfortable bed, no hot water, no air conditioning, no privacy, no security and a whole lot of broke college kids who knew too little and talked too much! However… I liked the idea of sleeping in a bed next to half naked 20 year old college coeds so I told the manager to make sure it was only all girls in my room. Me and 7 girls… That works 🙂

Back on the bike

December 29, 2010

So my Xmas went well with the kids. I won’t bother you with the details other than to say it was a joy to see them, the ex… not so much.

I flew back to Honduras to face the rest of my journey alone but was fortunate to meet a lovely 25 year old English teacher named Jenna on the plane. She spoke about as much Spanish as I did so I was glad to see that if she can live in Honduras then I should at least be able to muddle through my trip. I am apprehensive about not speaking the language but I have been acclimatized to Central America already so everything is not totally new and that helps.

I returned to the hotel to find my bike safe and sound and I quickly set about changing out the windshield for the original one that I had brought back from US. Thanks Chris for shipping it to me. The swap out proved a little difficult because I added a cockpit plate and a head light protector as part of my original modifications. These serve their purpose nicely and also serve to make access to the windshield bolts extremely difficult. It took me at least five dropped nuts before I finally figured it out how to balance a nut on one finger and snake it past the bike frame, wires, etc. After that, I spent the evening talking, laughing and drinking and I suffered for it the next morning as I had to get up early and load up the bike. I saw Jenna off in a light drizzle, my first rain since Alaska! It didn’t last long… The rain that is 🙂

My plan was to make the Nicaragua border at Los Manos and try to reach Leon in one day. That plan turned out to be aggressive :). The drive was about 5 hours to the border and I arrived there to find a young boy named Antonio waiting to help me. Alex had met him during his border crossing weeks before and told him to keep and eye out for me. I was very concerned about the whole border crossing by myself thing but it turned out to be pretty painless with the occasional help of Antonio and another guy. I breezed though in a little over an hour and made my way towards Leon. If I kept going, I could have made it to Leon in the dark but given my last experience with that I made the decision to stop in a town about 2 hours north of Leon. I stayed at the Don Vito Hotel which was a very nice place considering it was 20 bucks for a room.

I had skipped lunch trying to get through the border quickly so I was starving. I wondered around the city streets in the dark until I found a little hole in the wall where I ordered a whole chicken leg, a plate of beans and rice and a beer for the grand total of four dollars and 31 cents! Move to Central America and you can retire being a half millionaire instead of a full one 🙂 I stayed up late watching episodes of Human Target because I had started watching them with my son over Xmas and I was really missing my kids so it took my mind off of things. Things… I hate having “things” on my mind 🙂