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Archive for the ‘Costa Rica’ Category

Day 46 – Wet Wet Wet (Santiago, Panama)

18 Nov

We took off early with an idea of crossing the border before noon and getting deep into Panama before sunset.  Davis escorted us through Quepos to Dominical and then we continued on our own down the Pan-American highway.

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Farewell to Davis

It started drizzling as we were approaching the border, and it looked like our luck was running out (we had avoided the rain for 45 days straight!).  The road to Paso Canoas, the border town between Costa Rica and Panama, was full of trailer trucks.  We passed them all with no hesitation and went straight to the customs / migration offices, where we hired a helper to get us though the border as quickly as possible.

As we were chasing the helper from one office to another, we ran across few other travelers.  Frank, a devoted kite-surfer from Germany, has been on the road for more than four years; he was heading to Venezuela in his recently purchased van with California license plates.  We also briefly chatted with an Israeli-American couple who were riding to Argentina on two motorbikes.

The border area had a number of duty free shops and eateries.  We stopped at one of them that looked like a large warehouse for a quick meal.  It started raining really hard after lunch and we hoped that the rain would stop before we exit the border area.  A couple of hours later, all the documents were ready (this time the helper earned his tip).  We passed fumigation control and headed out towards Panama City.  The road was excellent, a four lane divided concrete highway, but the weather did not co-operate.  It rained most of the time for the next few hours, sometimes very heavily.  We had to ride more carefully, especially, on the turns.  Fortunately, our rain proof gear held up really well.

We passed a couple of small towns, but for the most part, the road went through agricultural areas.  Police stopped us a couple of times, but only looked at our passports and let us go.  We reached Santiago and hour before the sunset and decided to spend the night there.  It took us some time to find a hotel, since few places were over-booked.  The hotel was on the main street, which was crowded with street vendors and shops.  Loud music was playing outside and a middle-aged lady was dancing on the sidewalk in front of the entrance.

The room was only 25 USD, small and dark, but with A/C and shower – good enough for two tired and wet travelers.  We changed our clothes and went to a local eatery around the corner for some tasty chicken.  After the dinner, we walked down to the main square with a nice church in the middle.   The evening mass could be heard all over the place through a number of loudspeakers placed outside the building.  There was not much else to see.  We came back to the hotel and dropped dead.

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Church in Santiago

Routes taken: 34, CA2 (Pan-American)

Miles ridden: 279 miles (449 km)

 
 

Day 45 – Animal Kingdom (Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica)

17 Nov

Dago, an enthusiastic local environmentalist, arrived at the hotel at 7:30 sharp to take us and an Austrian couple (Roland and Liza) to a nearby Manuel Antonio National Park, one on the most popular parks in the entire country.  We spent the first half an hour, however, in the parking lot at Byblos, observing and talking about different animals, birds, and trees.

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Capuchin Monkey

Dago, with a tripod and monocular on his shoulders, led us to the park entrance along the beach at low tide.  The park was open only for a few hours today due to trail maintenance, and although we arrived early, hordes of tourists and guides were running around.  Other Homo Sapiens did not spoil our experience, as there were plenty of animals to see and to take pictures of: iguanas, capuchin monkeys, raccoons, sloths, agutis, bats and birds… too many to mention.  Dago had an uncanny ability to imitate bird tunes and to spot the animals, where we only saw greenery of the rain forest.

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Bats at Manuel Antonio Park

Not only we learned quite a bit about wildlife in Costa Rica and took many pictures, but also had a chance to eat some termites (that tasted like peanuts) and tested the strength of a leafcutter soldier ant.  On our way back, we had to take a boat due to high tide.  The beach that we walked on in the morning was under several feet of water few hours later.

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Vadim Running from a Crocodile at Manuel Antonio National Park (Low Tide)

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Paddling Back to the Beach (High Tide)

Vadim took a surfing lesson in the afternoon with a private instructor who had 17 years of surfing experience in Costa Rica.  Vadim always wanted to take surfing lessons in the past but was hesitant because of too many hobbies and not enough time.  Vadim was able to get up on the board on the first wave.  The instructor was impressed with Vadim further progress as well and both Vadim and the instructor had fun during the next two hours of the lesson.

In the evening, we went to another good restaurant with Davis and Sari for some tuna sashimi and tapas.  The food was great, the conversation was engaging and live music was entertaining.  We ended the day and our stay in Manuel Antonio on a pleasant note.

Routes taken: None

Miles ridden: None

 
 

Day 44 – On the Coast Again (Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica)

16 Nov

We got up early and left La Fortuna after a quick breakfast at the hotel.  The road headed south through mountainous terrain and the road conditions were excellent, until we hit a roadblock few miles west of San Ramon.  Recent rains made the road impassable and we had to make a half an hour detour through some unpaved, rocky, steep and muddy roads, where only 4WD vehicles were able to drive through.  It is not an easy exercise to balance a 600 lbs (270 kg) fully-loaded motorbike in such conditions, but we both survived unscathed.

Highway to the Pacific coast was fast, although we had to stop and ask for directions a couple of times, since the road signs were missing.  We decided to not stop for lunch and continued straight to Manuel Antonio, down the scenic coastal road, surrounded by palm plantations, most of which are still owned by Chiquita Brands (former United Fruit Company).

We reached Manuel Antonio in the afternoon and quickly found Byblos Hotel, where we were greeted by Davis, his wife Sari and the staff of the hotel.  It was a lovely place, next to the jungle and the ocean, with all kinds of animals and birds running and flying around: capuchin, titi and howler monkeys, sloths, agutis, toucans, even a crocodile (which we did not see, but joked quite a bit about).

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Mono Titi Monkey at Byblos Hotel

It was a nice and sunny day, so we went to see the beach and had late lunch at the restaurant there.  Red snapper and Imperial beer were exactly what we needed, after a half-a-day ride!  In the evening, Davis took us to Mariposa hotel to see the sunset and then to a wonderful seafood restaurant, where we tried tuna steak that simply melted in the mouth.  It was such a treat!

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Sunset from Mariposa Hotel

Routes taken: 141, CA1 (Pan-American Highway), 23, 34

Miles ridden: 164 miles (264 km)

 
 

Day 43 – Tarzan Swing (La Fortuna, Costa Rica)

15 Nov

Today we decided to try something different – a canopy gliding tour on the slopes of Arenal volcano.  Late morning the tour company took us and another half a dozen people to the station at the bottom of the volcano, where we were given harnesses, helmets, special gloves and had a chance to do some practice runs on a cable.

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Arenal Volcano from La Fortuna Hotel

Then an open truck took us uphill to the first of the 18 platforms and the fun began.  The whole exercise was rather simple and well supervised by the safety crew, but what a wonderful feeling was to zoom high above the ground from one huge tree to another!

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Vadim on the Ropes

There was one big surprise, however – the Tarzan Swing, that required jumping 30 feet (10 m) down the abrupt slope.  This was an exhilarating experience and several people came out with their hands and legs shaking from the adrenaline rush.

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Gintaras in His Natural Habitat

We came back to the hotel, where Gintaras went to work on the website and Vadim took a short ride to La Fortuna waterfall on his motorbike.  The stairs to the waterfall were very steep, high, narrow, uneven and slippery and it took Vadim about 15 min to get down.

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La Fortuna Waterfall

In the evening we wanted to see lava flowing down the western side of volcano Arenal and booked a tour for 45 USD.  The tour company took us to an observation platform, but lava was nowhere to be seen.  We sat down for five minutes staring at the darkness and then the tour guide offered everybody to leave and come back again tomorrow, if interested.  Only later we learned that the local people had not seen lava for more than a month.  Suddenly, all this tour seemed like a bad joke…

At night we went to Tabacon Hot Springs resort.  It was a very nice and upscale place, but the surprise factor was not there anymore, and the crowd was much older – mostly grim-looking new Russians and obnoxiously laud French.  After a quick splash and buffet dinner, we returned back to our hotel to get ready for the tomorrow’s trip to Byblos Hotel in Manuel Antonio.  This hotel is co-owned by Davis, also a motorcycling enthusiast, whom we briefly met at the Mexico – Guatemala border few weeks ago and who has kindly invited us to stay at his place.

Routes taken: None

Miles ridden: None

 
 

Day 42 – Hot Springs (La Fortuna, Costa Rica)

14 Nov

We left San Juan del Sur at 8:00 am and forty minutes later reached the border town with Costa Rica – Penas Blancas.  We saw a couple of windfarms on the way, where the Panamerican Highway meets Lake Nicaragua.

Long lines of trucks were waiting at the border; we passed them and rode straight to the migration / customs offices.  As usual, one guy offered to guide us through the Nicaraguan border for 100 cordobas (5 USD).  We followed him, got our passports stamped (Vadim had to pay few extra bucks to jump the queue, after an official refused to stamp the passport in his absence), and received all necessary motorcycle papers in less than an hour.

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At the Nicaragua – Costa Rica Border

Things were quite simple on the Costa Rican side as well, since one customs officer explained the procedure quite clearly.  Again, we got out passports stamped, purchased motorbike insurance, submitted copies of all necessary documents and promptly received entry permits for our motorbikes.  All in all, we crossed the border in less than two hours, which was a pleasant surprise.

We continued at a fast pace down the Panamerican highway and only stopped for a quick lunch in a food mall, that looked exactly like one in the US, near Liberia.  At Canas, we turned northeast towards Lake Arenal and continued for a couple of hours down beautiful twisty roads to La Fortuna – our destination for today.

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Arenal Lake and Volcano

After unloading all our stuff at the hotel room with a beautiful view of the Arenal Volcano, we took a cab to Baldi, one of several hot spring and spa resorts in the area.  What a relaxing time we had, while soaking our tired bodies in a dozen of pools with different water temperatures, from boiling hot to icy cold, and sipping cold beer!

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Standing Like a Rock (at Baldi Hot Springs in La Fortuna)

Few hours later, we called a cab and went to a nearby Mexican restaurant for a nice dinner of churrasco and BBQ pork ribs.  The cab driver told us about a bikini contest “from all over Central America” at El Establo – a place close to our hotel.  Unfortunately, our high expectations were crushed later that night.  The bus with the girls was leaving in an unknown direction, as we were entering the bar.  We returned back to our hotel after a couple of beers.

Routes taken: CA1, 142

Miles ridden: 164 miles (264 km)