Monday, March 30, 2015

San Ramon, San Jose and a personal audience with "San Pietro"

One of the many lovely things about having a family that is supportive of your adventuresome wanderlust is that they’re keen to make sure you have a “safe” place to stay whenever/wherever possible. So I’ve gotten a lot of messages like “Cousin Betty’s college roommates son lives _______ - he said you’re welcome to stay there when you pass through on your way to San Diego.” It’s really sweet and for the first time, we’ve actually been able to visit one of these 5-degree of separation connections.

My Uncle Brian in Arizona put us in touch with his friends Lon (American) and Rosemary (Costa Rican) who are living in San Ramon, Costa Rica. And so after our night at the fire station, we took a ride around Vulcan Arenal and then headed to San Ramon.

Before I get too far ahead of myself: Yes, we skipped that peninsula full of beautiful beaches that so many of you recommended that we stop at. :( No one was more disappointed about that than me, BUT we found out that the Ferry Express will stop running on April 20! And there have been a couple of sailings that haven’t gone due to bad weather, so we want to be on the April 13th ferry. Otherwise, we’re left with the Stahlratte option. While lovely, it is NOT in our budget, so we’re now “racing to make the ferry.” Oh well - at least we’ll have tons of reasons to return to Costa Rica. We like it here ;)

Anyway, we arrived at Rosemary’s house in San Ramon and she, Lon and her lovely teenage daughters made us feel instantly welcome. They toured us around to several nice spots in the area and made sure we tasted all of the local specialties from coconut cookies, to Costa Rican string cheese to ceviche served in a bag of chips. And with Rosemary’s incredible Gallo Pinto and eggs for breakfast every morning, I think we each gained a couple of kilos.

A yellow fever vaccination will be necessary moving forward (Panama, Colombia, etc.) so off to the pharmacy I went. In the US, it would have cost $140 at Safeway to have this done. In San Ramon it cost $80. And NO, I'm not crying in this photo!!! (If I have to get a rabies booster, that may be another story )

Visiting the local markets in San Ramon to gather ingredients for lunch

Partners in Crime

Had too much fun with these lovelies! And thanks to them, my Spanish improved every day we were in San Ramon.

Ceviche in a bag of chips!

Lon from Tucson, Az, Rosemary, me, Rosemary's daughter, Angelica and her friend.

From San Ramon we headed to San Jose to meet up with a former colleague of Roel’s, Marie Ange. We had a really nice time with her and she gave us some interesting insights into what life is like in San Jose for a foreigner. In case we get any ideas for the future… you know

Roel and his former Dutch colleague Marie Ange. Sometimes, it's a very small world.

On our way out of the city, we passed a small motorcycle shop and the owner came running out waving his hands in the air just about at the time Roel shouted ‘HE HAS AN AFRICA TWIN’!!! So we found our way back on the one way streets and not only did he have an 1990 Africa Twin, he had a 2008 Transalp, and several other beautiful rare bikes that one would not expect to see in Costa Rica. Pietro kindly let us ogle his collection for a while and even brought us back to his rare and precious parts room. While glancing around the parts room, Roel’s eyes fell on a chain guard that looked awfully similar to his decayed original Honda one. His Dad has made several replacement ones out of metal since the original died, but they seem to eventually crack and rattle to the point where Roel has to replace them again. Pietro insisted that Roel take it and a VERy happy Roel installed it on the spot. WOW. What are the chances!?

Pietro and Roel with his beautiful Africa Twin

Roel preparing to install his new chain guard, courtesy of Pietro.

We rode off into the sunset and found a nice place to camp next to the Pacific on our way to Manuel Antonio National Park.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Camping with Bomberos in Costa Rica. Oh, and we crossed another border ;)

Africa Twin x3

We were just behind Shannon, Mike, Cisco and Wayne (who we met up with again on Ometepe), at the border. Things were going quickly until two more Africa Twins being ridden by Dutchies rolled up, and then I simply stopped timing this border crossing.

Jeri and Dagowin are posting about their ride from Argentina to Alaska on TwinWayAmerica and so as you can imagine, Roel and the guys enjoying exchanging information in their native language while I was getting us through the Nicaraguan side of the crossing.

I’ll put this information here with the caveat that it may not be 100% correct as it was a bit of a marathon and my memory may not be 100%. But, I map a diagram that I hope helps to make clear what I've written below:

Ummmm, yea... good luck!

Nicaraguan side

1. Stop at gate and show elderly gentleman in uniform your bike import docs and passport. (I can’t remember if he writes something on them or just looks at it - sorry!) He gives you a customs declarations document.

2. Proceed to the left (not straight, as that is for trucks) and you will come around one building and see two buildings across from one another. Refer to diagram. Find the man in the white tee-shirt who will review your bike paperwork, the customs declaration document (I think he needed this - I just tend to hand over everything and let them figure out what they want and hope they find it in the pile of papers I give them) and look at your passport and is SUPPOSED to look at your bike. He didn’t look at mine - only asked for confirmation that mine was out that in the mess of dual sport bikes parking in front of the aduana.

This is where Steps 2 & 3 take place

3. Go to window on the building on the right side of the road (this should be just to the left of where you encountered the guy in the white shirt). I believe this is the Aduana. Hand over bike documents, passport, etc.

4. Go across the parking lot to Migracion. You will have to stop at a little booth and buy a ticket for $1 to go to the Migracion window. Waste of friggin’ paper.

5. Go to Migracion window and hand over documents. Pay $3. Get a receipt. (Now, on costs, I can’t be 100% sure if I should have paid for two tickets to get to Migracion or only one and maybe I should have paid Migracion $6… I could be wrong here, but I’m not going to break my head over a difference of a few dollars.)

6. Go outside again and around the corner to the “Police” office where if you’re lucky the police woman might actually acknowledge you when she stamps your customs declaration document.


Go to the Costa Rican side…

7. Stop and show your paperwork to the guy in uniform who will tell you if you can proceed (or, like in our case, if you are missing a stamp).

8. Go to Migracion on the left. You will need to fill out a Customs Declaration document and they will stamp your passport with 90 days (Roel waited with the bikes and then had to go in himself- they wouldn’t let me do it for him.).

Good luck weaving through trucks to find your way to the Aduana!

9. Now you need to find your way through the maze of trucks that obscure the road that goes off to the right towards the Aduana/Insurance peeps. (Shannon gave us the tip that we should get our bike import paperwork ahead of time so we could be filling it out while we waited for the insurance lady to fill out or documents - there is a little hut across from Migracion, and this is where we got that paperwork.) Provide bike paperwork and I think copies of everything, too. MANDATORY insurance is $25 each.

In the very middle of this photo you can see me at the Insurance window

At this point, Mike, Shannon, Cicso and Wayne were on their way!! Roel's little "chat" with the Dutchies put us about 40 minutes behind them.

10. Go to copy place next to this building and have copies made of the stamp in your passport from Costa Rican Migracion and your insurance receipt - MAKE SURE THE COPY SHOWS ALL NUMBERS ON THE RECEIPT. (Again, learned this the hard way after waiting in line for 40 minutes a few steps later.)

The guy in the yellow shirt is standing at the copy office

11. Go back to the small hut across from the Migracion building and give them your bike paperwork, the documents you filled out for him, the proof of insurance and copies of the stamp in your passport… and of course, he needs all of the originals, too. He will provide you with a stack of paperwork that you need to bring to the Aduana office that is in the same building as the insurance office.

On the right side of this photo is CR Migracion and on the left is the little shack where you get your vehicle import documents.

12. Back to the Aduana and wait until he checks your documents. If anyone is going to give you trouble about any aspect of your paperwork, it’s this guy. He wasn’t happy about Roel’s first initial being on his ownership papers instead of his full name, and the copy of my proof of insurance was missing one number so he sent me back to the copy place for another copy. Ugh. Eventually, he handed over the temporary import papers for both of our bikes and we were off!!

Pura Vida, Baby!!!!

The bad news was that the sun was setting (yes, I feel like it’s groundhog day given that we had the same experience crossing into Nicaragua). The good news was the the roads where great and in a matter of minutes we were in La Cruz.

We looked around for a place to stay, but the only hotel/hostel that was available wanted $50 for a dodgy smelling room that didn't look too clean. Um, no thank you. Outside, we met a local guy who told us that he could show us were we could camp for free on the beach but said "I have to be honest and tell you that the last couple that camped there was robbed in the night." Um, DEFINITELY no thank you. So I went back into the hotel and asked if we could camp in their parking lot (hey - the answer is always “no” if you don’t ask). Indeed, she did say no. BUT, she told us that we could go to the Bomberos and camp there. SWEET! I love firemen!

Can you spot the NEMO?

So we arrived at the nice and very new looking fire station and asked if we could pitch our tent there for the night. No problem, and they wouldn’t even accept our offer of a donation. The next morning, we went to thank them and say goodbye and they had us sign their “guestbook” - awesome!


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Taking Time for Ometepe

Our cute 5am alarm clock.

From Granada, I think the 5 of us were looking to get off of the tourist trail a little bit. Seb had heard about a nice beach just North of San Juan del Sur which apparently was off of a dirt road (i.e., fewer tourists) where we could probably find camping and basic services.

So off we went and after stocking up on water and snacks, we followed Seb and Kim as their Hondas bounced over the gravel and potholes that were between us and a refreshing dip.
When we finally arrived at Playa Maderas, we made quick work of finding a spot to set up camp, and had parked the bikes and were in the water in under 30 minutes.

That night we had a lovely campfire and enjoyed trading a few stories and pondering life a bit.

Beach Breakfast

Adios Amigos!

Seb, Kim and David were border bound the next morning and we were waffling. We felt like we were rushing through Nicaragua a bit, but at the same time, we didn’t want to be on the “tourist trail” any more. We decided to take a ride to Rivas and at least check out the ferry to Isla Ometepe: we knew that Cisco (Bring My Wheelchair) and Shannon and Mike (S & M Boilerworks) were there at a nice camp spot and it would be fun to ride around the island a little. When we arrived at the ferry and they had just enough space for our bikes and the ferry was leaving in 5 minutes, we decided it was meant to be and crossed Lake Nicaragua to Ometepe.

Isla Ometepe

The two volcanoes that rise up from Isla Ometepe are truly a sight to see. And riding around the island was pretty fun. The temperatures were much more friendly once we got to the smaller part of the island and when we finally made it to to Hacienda Merida, the sun was setting and the breeze was delicious.

The view from our campsite at Hacienda Merida

We finally caught up with Cisco, who made Roel a rear brake retainer for the Africa Twin just before he left for his own year+ ride.

It was great to finally meet Cisco, Shannon and Mike who we’ve “known” through social media. We traded stories, routes and plans and also a lot of laughter.

Shannon and Mike left Seattle six months ago with their dog Ducati. A couple of days before we arrived, Ducati died tragically on Ometepe, and poor Shannon and Mike are now facing with how to move on without a cherished member of their family. They were troopers and continually put on smiles and positive attitudes, but as anyone who has lost a pet knows, it’s a heartache that continues for a while.

Little Ducati's final resting place on Ometepe

After paying our respects to little Ducati, we rode around the island and met up with everyone else to take the ferry back to the mainland and head to the Costa Rican border.

Interesting and colorful cemetery

All of the chicks on this island are painted pink! Given that they seem to spend most of their time in the middle of the road, it's a good thing they're a little more visible.

There were evacuation route signs everywhere. I'm pretty sure that if the volcano blows, following an evacuation route around the island would be just about the worst thing one could do.

Modern cowgirl


The ferry back over was a PITA as they delayed boarding the bikes, so every backpacker and his cousin took the seats on deck AND these guys thought it was acceptable for the bikes to rub against the railing of the boat AND that strapping a little bike onto the Transalp was a good way to keep everything
secure. Um. Really!?

So, I stayed with the Transalp for the duration of the crossing and fortunately managed not to toss my cookies.

Really, this is not acceptable.

Cuddling my baby.

Seeing the sheer number of people on the shores of Ometepe on a Saturday morning made me a little nervous about being anywhere near water during Holy Week.