Friday, April 22, 2011

I'm a tourist, you're a tourist, we're all tourists!

Traveling south on my motorcycle, I was a motorcyclist, an adventure rider and a traveler.  I guess I was a surfer too seeing that I have a surfboard mounted on my bike, and yes, I've caught some waves.  I normally don't put myself into the surfer category as I'm kind of a hack, but when it comes down to it, I'm a surfer too.  Over the past week, since my visit to the Panama Canal, I feel like a tourist.  I am a tourist.  I've been a tourist from the moment I left Canada, but I haven't really embraced it until now.  Lately, I've gone on a few tours, I've been taking more photos and I'm asking for directions.  I even got lost yesterday, went up a wrong set of roads and it was great.  Aren't tourists supposed to get lost and ask for directions?  The past week as a tourist has been fantastic.  I guess I need a hat, a tourist hat.  

Leaving my Hotel in Casco Viejo, Panama City, this little guy was certain he was about to join my adventures
"Where do I sign up?  I'm in!"  Problem was, we couldn't find him a helmet small enough...

A couple of friends from Canada did a cycle tour trip from Guatemala south to Panama a few years ago.  Before embarking on my adventure, we got together for dinner, drinks and a gab-session about places that stood out for them on their trip.  I took them up on one of their suggestions and headed into the northern mountains of Panama to a little town called Boquete.  I ended up spending 3 nights, going on a fun afternoon ride through the mountains, hitting up a coffee tour, and taking care of some well needed maintenance on my bike.  I can now recommend Boquete, a wonderful place to visit. 

Getting prepped for oil change numero dos on Rojo in addition to some work on my drive train.
An afternoon ride through Boquete on an unloaded bike = :)

Boquete, Panama - Coffee Country

 Trip Summary:

Total distance covered to date = 10,744 kms. 
Rojo's performance = Purring like a kitten
Whats been on my iPod = 'd' - all of the above (ranging from: Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, Bob Marley, Sean Hayes, Alexi Murdoch, the XX... to Fleetwood Mac, Madonna, Manu Chao, and much, much more!  (Muchas gracias mi amiga DJ Lana-G)
Fun Factor = High to very high, fully-funtastic!
Flowers = to the people I've met, to Baja overland, to the waves in El Salvador, to the Panama Canal, to the ride in and out of Lago Attitlan (Guatemala), to my Dad for chill time in Baja, to my money making bribe in Honduras, to the Rio Pacuare... this list could go on forever...
Fish-heads = to a hotel in southern Mexico, to the highwinds in southern Nicaragua, to the bus in my lane, to the bee that stung me at 100kph (oh yeah, you are dead!), to itchy ankle biter bug-bites, to sweating profusely at border crossings in my riding gear, to douche touts, and to the dog that almost bit me.

Trooper Award = this goes out to my bike Rojo, I've been putting him through the wringer and he rarely complains. 

Me and Rojo, posing large
Beautiful Boquete, Panama

Coffee. Java. Joe. Cafe.  To some people, 'the elixir of life', to me, a well enjoyed social drink that sometimes provides me with the jitters.  I enjoy coffee, but I normally don't prepare it on my own.  I enjoy going out for coffee with friends, going to the local coffee house and getting one to-go, and I used to enjoy drinking coffee with my Mom.  Coffee is something that is a part of my life and it will undoubtedly continue to do so on a very social basis. 

Special thanks, props, and kudos to my Boquete neighbour Paulina from Argentina.  Paulina provided me with encouragement and support to embrace my inner tourist while in Boquete.  We went together as touristas on a coffee tour in Boquete and it was fantastic, informative and very interesting.  Our guide 'Felix' took us up into the mountains of Boquete to the creative and eccentric 'one-man-show' plantation owned by Don Alfredo.  Tito - as people call him, named his company and coffee 'Royal Cafe' after his parents. Tito has world class Panamanian coffee that has been receiving awards and praise for years on end and he takes a great deal of pride in every cup o' Joe he prepares. 

Finca La Milagrosa, Boquete, Panama
A variety of berries at the Royal Cafe plantation
Starting out as a fruit

Seeds in the middle of the fruit...
Felix showing Paulina and I the wide variety of plants each producing their unique fruits

Separation and drying systems

Discussing the process of separation and drying

Seeds after drying before having husks removed

Drying houses and roll-out racks that Tito custom designed

Each bag is printed in house and then dried before filling and then shipping

Tito roasting light, medium and dark in a small scale roaster to show us the process
Paulina and I enjoying Tito's final product!  Cafecito!  Salud!
After my few days in Boquete, I headed back north into Costa Rica and high into the misty mountains.  The ride was incredible but quite demanding.  I logged 531kms and maxed out at an elevation of roughly 3300m in the cold, misty cloud-forests of Costa Rica.  It was the first time in weeks that I had to don my rain gear and I was sure happy to reach my destination of the day, Turrialba, Costa Rica - the hub of whitewater rafting and kayaking.

I had the funniest thing happen my first morning in Turrialba.  I headed to the morning market right behind the hotel I was staying at to pick up some fruit and vegetables.  I sat down on a bench to enjoy some pineapple and got to chatting with a local from the area.  It turns out that I was sitting beside a former whitewater National Champion kayaker of Costa Rica.  He mentioned it had been years since he had been on the water and he thought it would be fun to pick it up again.  I told him he should get back on the water, and then I agreed to join him for a day on the Rio Pacuare, one of Costa Rica's premier whitewater runs.  It was a brilliant, world-class run that my new friend truly enjoyed... his name was Briano Alejandro.  You should have seen this old-guy paddle!  

I took this photo from my Hotel room window in Turrialba, Costa Rica - had to navigate my camera through the bars on the window.  The morning market where I met Briano Alejandro.

Unloading boats and rafts at the put-in of the Rio Pacuare, Costa Rica
Former national champion, Briano Alejandro getting prepped for a day on the water
Rio Pacuare, Costa Rica
Rio Pacuare

A great group of guides getting lunch prepped on the Rio Pacuare, Costa Rica
Loads of rafting companies running the Rio Pacuare on a daily basis
Floating through the final canyon of the Rio Pacuare

Briano Alejandro giving a 'thumbs-up' to a great day back on the water

Rio Pacuare
From my exciting couple of days in Turrialba, I headed north and then west into a tourist hub of Costa Rica known as Santa Elena and Monteverde.  I guess back in 1983, National Geographic plugged this area as THE place to view one of Central America's most famous birds - the resplendent quetzal.  

En route to Monteverde, I passed Costa Rica's most famous Volcan Arenal.  From here, I zipped through the town of La Fortuna, around the north end of Laguna de Arenal and then down onto a dusty, bouncy 45km dirt track into the pueblo of Santa Elena. 

Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica
The constantly active Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica
Looping around the north end of Laguna de Arenal, (is that a quetzal off to the left??)
Just-in to my dusty, bouncy dirt road to Santa Elena and Monteverde

Once arriving to Pension Santa Elena I met up with fellow ADV rider Joe Jackson from the UK - check out his blog

Joe is riding from Argentina to Alaska and back down to Vancouver, BC to store his bike with his aunt

It was excellent meeting a fellow ADV'er once arriving last night.  Joe and I were able to 'talk-shop' over a few 'rons' well into the evening.  His sister Holly has been traveling with him for the past 3 weeks '2 up' and she heads back to London in a few days at which time Joe will continue his journey northbound.  I'm sure we'll hook up for some riding at one point.

As for me... I'm a tourist after all, so I best get into the jungles of Santa Elena and Monteverde and start my search of the famous 'resplendent quetzal', ... wish me luck!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The end of the road, for me.


When I left Canada on this amazing journey my intention was to travel as far as humanly possible by road south from my home in Nelson, British Columbia.  That location is Yaviza, Panama, just in the Darien Gap that segregates Panama and Columbia (Central America and South America).  I saw a photo from a fellow ADV rider at a walking bridge in Yaviza where you can no longer travel south (unless you ship your motorcycle and yourself around the gap via boat or plane).  My plan was to take the famous photo at the end of the road and then turn around and start heading home.  About 2 weeks ago, I decided not to head to the bridge.  My reason was simple, I really wanted to see the Panama Canal and Panama City, but I only wanted the 'photo' of the bridge at the end-of-the-road and that wasn't reason enough to go there, therefore an easy decision to cut it off my list.  As far as I'm concerned, this is the end of the road for me and I'm jazzed I made it this far and I'm equally jazzed to start heading north and home.  Home.  It is where the heart is.  It is always where my heart is.  I'm so lucky to love where I live.   

I've decided to keep this post short.  Loads of photos and less writing.  My journey from Nicaragua into Costa Rica and then into Panama has been fantastic.  Lots of interesting moments over the past week which include having a bee fly into the sleeve of my riding jacket and sting me good,... thankfully installing an extra carb-vent into my KLR before leaving Canada (same as a snorkel on a 4x4 truck) for 2 deep river crossings in Costa, I'd still be in the middle of those rivers had I overlooked that modification to my bike,... pushing through an indigenous road-blockade in Panama, riding Rojo over logs and brush blocking the road while getting yelled at by protesters and thankfully not stoned,... and this morning, touring the Panama Canal.  All, truly memorable experiences not mentioning the cool folks I've bumped into, the excellent food I've eaten and the rain falling from the skies earlier than normal.  

I'll now let the photos do the rest:

Christian - owner of Calocita where I stayed at Santa Theresa, Costa Rica.

Santa Theresa, Costa Rica.

Dusty, busy roads of Santa Theresa, Costa Rica.

Infamous 'ding-repair' shop in Santa Theresa.

Saturated ferry photo en route to mainland Costa Rica from the Nicoya Peninsula heading east

Heading east to mainland CR.
I took this shot as I was getting off the ferry and gearing back up - it was a tad warm. 

Croc-stop south of Jaco, Costa Rica.
Jaco region, Costa Rica.

An amazing, eccentric guest house in Estrillos Oeste, Costa Rica.
My room for the night at the top left of this photo - 'Thanks Lee! a true pleasure.'

My 5 guard dogs at Rancho Cannatella, Pavones, Costa Rica and yes, the waves at Pavones are worth the trek.
Joseph of Rancho Cannatella took me from Pavones, which is in southern CR, to the Panamanian border... along a fun, greasy dirt-road which hugged the CR/Panama border. 
At the CR/Panama border saying thanks and adios to Joseph after a fun morning spin to the border

From Nicaragua south I bumped into a few other ADV riders at various places along the way and on the road

I'll briefly introduce them:

Paul and Rene from Holland.  They were backpacking in CA and decided to buy a bike and travel on their own.  They did their best at kitting out their new moto out and hitting the road.  Such a great story.  I hope to meet up with these 2 on my travels back north. 

Meeting Frank (Panny) at the Costa Rica/Panama border - he and his girlfriend are traveling the world on Honda Transalps.  Turns out, they were in Nelson, BC last summer.

Frank and his Honda Transalp from Germany
Frank and Simone on their around the world adventure, paperwork complete... well, almost.

Met Tim and Camilla, 2 more ADV riders from Nova Scotia just south of the Panama border.
My plush digs at Eco Venao Lodge in Playa Venao, Panama

Views from my Casita, Playa Venao
Arriving to my final destination - Panama City, Panama.

Mercado de Mariscos (Seafood market), Panama City
Mercado de Mariscos, Panama City

Casco Viejo, Panama City 

Panama City, Panama

Casco Viejo, Panama

Casco Viejo, Panama
Shot from the roof of my hotel, Casco Viejo, Panama (looking south)

A mix of old and new - Panama City

Casco Viejo, Panama

Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal


Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal

Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal - official web including live cams!

Now, I plan to turn Rojo around and start heading back north, either tomorrow or the next day.  I have also decided to keep my surfboard seeing that I won't get much selling it down here and I also really like the board :)  I am still very surprised how solid and stable it is on the bike so I figure why not bring it back north with me.  I have looked into shipping it back home but I don't think I'll be able to work it all out in the next day or two.  I'm excited to get into the mountains more on my route north and plan to check out a few areas including Boquete - Panama, Turrialba and Monte Verde - Costa Rica, and then...???  

The path will unfold as it has been each and every day.

Perhaps my surfboard will start convincing me to head back to the coast?

All I know is that I'm now going to be slowly working my way north and this is something that is fresh, exciting and new.