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adventure travel

Costa Rican Birthday Surprise

The time finally arrived!

I knew something was up and Melanie had been keeping a secret from me. Most things we do aren’t planned other than a plane we must catch or someplace we need to be on a certain day. Day to day we just figure out where we are headed the following day. This time Melanie was asking how long would we be staying in Costa Rica, quite unusual. Then she had the idea to go to Tamarindo on the northern Pacific coast around my birthday. OK, she just wanted to go somewhere special, but no clues. My friends that were riding around Central America and Mexico had either stayed north or were already in South America, so that was out. The day came and we packed up with Gypsy in tow and headed off to the coast.

We pulled into town and she insisted on riding to a petrol station and finding fuel to top off the tank. Another flag as it was late afternoon and time for a bite for lunch. Searching out the perfect restaurant we park and get off the bike when I hear a familiar voice from behind with a question about where to get some good food around here. I turn around to see my son Rick, his wife Kelly and my little granddaughter Lucy Belle standing there. What a shock! They had flown down from Atlanta, GA to surprise me for my 60th birthday. I was just beside myself as this was probably the best surprise/gift I had ever received.

Enjoying lunch over a couple drinks the plans were told. This surprise had been in the works since the previous September with careful planning, condo renting, passport buying for Lucy (she’s only 13 months old) and airline ticket purchases. They are really a bunch of sneaky people.

We spent the next 5 days together playing on the beach and in the pool, driving up to Rincón de la Vieja Volcano in the Guanacaste Province, visiting and playing cards. On the visit to the volcano we passed a hot spring and decided we would return for a soak. After a walk through the jungle followed by a suspended bridge crossing we came to a great setting of cascading rock pools of clear thermally warmed water spilling over the edges to the stream below us. We all had a very relaxing 5 days that I will remember forever.

Special thanks to Melanie for helping in the planning of this surprise and being so out of character and not letting it slip. And another huge Thank You to Rick and Kelly for taking the time out of your busy schedules for making this trip down for my birthday. Seeing little Lucy Belle and you guys sure made the birthday a special one.

Cheers,

Greg, Dad and Grandpa

Melanie, Mom and Grandma

2WANDRRs

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Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Costa Rica, motorcycle travel, Volcanoes, VStrom | Leave a comment

New Zealand, Fantastic Glaciers

 

After a great day on the boat we woke up to another beautiful day for riding and headed south. We were turning inland on State Highway 7 to Hamner Springs and Lewis Pass. It’s the northernmost of the three main passes across the Southern Alps, it is higher than the Haast Pass, slightly lower than Arthur’s Pass and second in elevation at 864 meters.

Our stop for the night would be Hamner Springs, so we passed by the turnoff and headed for a ride over the pass where we would grab something to eat and then backtrack over the pass again. The ride was beautiful with lower pastureland progressing to vistas above the cloud levels.

Arriving to town later in the day and with a forecast for rain, we decided to spend a couple nights and go to Hamner Hot Springs the following day. The Hot Springs are a complex of pools, some rock and some concrete, with varying water temperatures from the mid 90’s to over 104 degrees. It was a wonderful time just relaxing and soaking in the therapeutic waters. The downtown area was charming reminiscent of a small New England town. As we were walking through town we were overcome with the desire to sample a coffee and wonderful homemade scone while sitting at a small table on the sidewalk.

It’s overcast and threatening rain in the morning as we pack up and head south toward an Airbnb in Timaru. Arriving to town it is pouring buckets and we are both drenched to the bone and having a difficult time finding our Airbnb. Finally, we locate it and our host shows us in not real concerned about the puddles that quickly form around us. Showing us to our room he says not to worry about paperwork right now, just to get dry and warm up with a cup of tea. A couple other guys are staying also, friends from Austria and Germany. We end up in a conversation about the world wars and we are amazed how little we know about this subject. As the discussion progresses our New Zealand host gets on his computer, which is connected to a big TV, and starts pulling up maps and border changes for the past several hundred years throughout Europe. The discussion is super interesting and we walk away amazed at how much wasn’t taught to us in school and how much we take away from this spirited 2-hour discussion.

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The night sees the rain end and our ride to Tekapo and Mount Cook promises to be fantastic. Riding into town the views from the south side of Lake Tekapo looking north are amazing and we find a campsite near the edge of the water on a little bluff looking down on the beach. Perfect!

Near Tekapo, the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory (UCMJO) has an astronomical research observatory. It is situated at 1,029 meters atop Mount John. In June 2012, an area of 1,700 sq. miles around the observatory was declared as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association, one of only four such reserves around the world. This is home to many telescopes, including HERCULES (High Efficiency and Resolution Canterbury University Large Echelle Spectrograph), and the observational wing of the Japanese/New Zealand MOA collaboration (Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics). Wow, this is quite a place and the views of the only small town around are incredible with views of the lake, snow caps peaks and glaciers, and the blue sky each commanding their own piece of the beauty. While we are at the observatory we hear an American accent. It happens to be an American doctor and his family. He is a ER physician, practicing in Australia, on vacation to New Zealand with his wife and three kids. We talk for a bit and his wife who is a nurse used to work at the very hospital I was born at in Cooperstown, New York.

Getting back to camp we see a car coming down the road and it’s our friends that were staying in Timaru the night before. They go and catch a soak at the nearby springs and come back, setting up their tents beside ours. Setting out our solar Lucy light as our campfire, we finish off a bottle of Scotch, talking into the night.

Before leaving in the morning we connect with FB and head out for a visit to Hooker Glacier on Mount Cook. Again, the views are incredible with blue skies and we ride along the west side of Lake Pukaki on Mount Cook Road with the views of the glaciers in front of us getting larger around every corner as we get closer and closer.

Finally, at the end of the lake the Hooker Glacier looms ahead of us, thrusting up into the clouds and down to where it finally meets the land. The road ends at the Aoraki Mount Cook Village and we stop in for a coffee on the deck of the Hermitage Hotel, with views of the glacier right in front of us.

Wanting to stay on the coast again we push on and start following the Waitaki River and decide that a short cut is in order to save some time. Turning at Duntroon we set off on a good road that soon turns to dirt and twists and turns, up and down over what I find out is Danseys Pass and one of the prettiest passes in all New Zealand. Our short cut turns out to be much more time, but the beauty and stopping to get pictures is the cause. Mid-way through we stop at the first place we have seen, the Danseys Pass Coach Inn, for a drink. They are getting ready for an event and are too busy to even get us a glass of water. Hmmm!

There was a nice campground in Moeraki on a hill overlooking the ocean and beach that we wanted to try. After setting up camp and cooking supper we wandered down to the beach for a stroll. As we walked down the beach with the setting sun, the wail of the pipes could be heard in the distance. A solo bagpiper was facing the sunset and playing “Amazing Grace”, one of my Dad’s favorites, on the pipes. As Melanie and I stood silently watching and listening, with a warm heart, I could feel the spirit of my Dad standing beside me. Such a great moment to enjoy.DSCF2333

The Pipes are Calling (click for video)

Stopping in Dunedin again we had decided to take the Taieri Gorge Railways from the historic Dunedin Railway Station. This station was built in 1906 to serve the railway that had already been in operation between Christchurch and Dunedin and, in 2006, was recognized by DK Eyewitness Travel as one of “The World’s 200 Must-See Places”. The building is Flemish renaissance style and is constructed of dark basalt from Kokonga in the Strath-Taieri with lighter Oamaru stone facings, giving it the distinctive light and dark pattern common to many of the grander buildings of Dunedin and Christchurch. The southern end is dominated by the 37-meter clock tower visible from much of central Dunedin.

The ride we were taking would leave Dunedin and pass through Taieri Gorge, negotiating this narrow and exhilarating river gorge and awesome landscapes and literally turning around in Pukerangi, making its way back to Dunedin. The carriages were all original, built around 1915, and had been restored to their previous elegance. It was a wonderful journey full of incredible vistas and surprises around every corner.

After the train ride, we headed north toward Oamaru where we would camp for the night and have an opportunity to see the small Blue-Eyed penguins come to shore in the dark after being at sea all day. We got to the road which they cross before dark, and soon there was one, then two until a several all stopped at the edge of the road, then waddled across, headed to their homes on the side of the hills.

 

Our trip was almost over so we took the bike back to Lindsey’s friend’s house and headed to Christchurch for a couple days, sightseeing and relaxing before our five days in Fiji.

The airline we flew, Fiji Air, offered first class service and a free stopover in Fiji. We found a great hostel on the beach for only $US25 per night.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, BMW, Horizons Unlimited, motocamping, motorcycle travel, New Zealand | Leave a comment

New Zealand, North Coast of the South Island

DSCN4203Leaving the glacier area of the South Island we continued our journey north up the coast to an attraction called Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. This area has unusual rock formations that look like huge stacks of grayish pancakes. The waves crash into the sides of the rocks exposed to the sea and there are connected pools of water on the interior where the water rises and falls with the wave action. On the exposed top of the formation a footpath leads you throughout the rocks giving wonderful views of the rocks and the water.

We hit the town of Westport after leaving the rocks and wandered through town looking for a bakery for some breakfast. Coming across a music store, I saw a yellow ukulele hanging in the window. I had just recently started playing a uke after going to a Horizons Unlimited meeting in California. A mate from Australia, Eddie, was playing one by his tent and carrying it around on his motorbike as he rode wherever he chose. Anyway, I bought it as I was missing practicing on mine at home.

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Further up the coast we knew of a spot which had seals and they had recently had their pups, so off we went to see them. Climbing over some rocks we came within several feet of several with their babies. Not wanting to disturb or upset them we settled in and snapped a few pictures. They were so cute and most were small enough to be still nursing.

We camped for the night at a great campsite near the water with a little green buffer separating us. After taking a nice walk of the beach we came back and cooked supper and settled in to the sound of the waves for the evening.

 

The next morning, we were meeting with a friend, Klaus, who was also friends of the guy who gave of the GS to ride. He happened to be staying at a house Lindsay had rented for the summer on the northwest section of the island near Motueka. Following him on his little bike was a challenge as he zipped up and down hills and around curves like a champ. Klaus cooked supper for us at the house inviting us to stay in the cottage with him and take a good ride in the morning up over Takaka Hill and around Abel Tasman National Park. Supper turned out great, the wine was excellent.  The conversation and camaraderie was interesting as we talked about overland travel and shared stories.

The next morning was perfect weather for a ride and the road didn’t disappoint. Starting out the ride in the small beach town of Kaiteriteri we stopped for a coffee with fantastic views of Kaka Island, Torlese Rock and Tasman Bay. Green trees covered the Island and the blue water and sky made for a beautiful contrast while people played in the water and tall-masted sailing ships floated by. Expensive homes hung off the edges of the hills as the mountain slanted sharply down to the water’s edge.

The road twisted and turned through the forest up to Takaka Hills to an elevation of 791 meters with fantastic views of the valley below. Continuing our ride and playing follow the leader, we crossed over to Upper and East Takaka following the Takaka River back down to the coast where the road ended at Collingwood.

Thanking Klaus and hoping to see him again in Florida next year, we went our separate ways, him back home and us trying to sort out a decent camping spot with view of the beach. We found a great campsite at the Golden Bay Kiwi Holiday Park, right at the water’s edge, looking out on the bay.

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It was time to cross over the top of the island and head back south on the eastern coast. We take the road to Nelson and Picton, where the ferry docks to head to the north island. We have been told to take a road about midway there over the mountain with fantastic views coming off the other side of Okiwi Bay and out into Cook Strait, the water between the North and the South Island. The view doesn’t disappoint as we twist and turn coming down to the bay with what appears to be a different view with every turn.

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Arriving at the bay we take some pictures before finding a campsite in a grove of trees just steps away from a narrow finger of shallow water that leads to the bay. We cook up some dinner, enjoy a beautiful evening before having a great night sleep.

In the morning, we pack up and head to Picton and then to the coast and to Kaikoura.

We find a cabin for the next couple nights because the next day we will be going out on a boat looking for a day with the Hector (Spinner) dolphins. When we arrive, we find that you can rent wet suits to swim with the dolphins.  All the tour groups have the wet suits booked for days, so we opt to just go out on the boat and watch them. Note to self, next time make reservations way in advance.

The day was chilly but with nice blue skies and puffy clouds. The water was cold and the wind gave the South Pacific a bit of a chop. The boat pulled out of the dock and headed out looking for the dolphin. It wasn’t long before one found us, then three and then there were many swimming alongside the boat, jumping the wake, jumping out of the water and spinning for our enjoyment and crisscrossing the bow just having fun.

What an amazing sight as we all crowded to the rails and hustled from side to side enjoying the antics of these small dolphin. When the people in the wetsuits got in the water it looked like they didn’t have as good a view as we had. Seems that being on the boat was for the best after all. I had my motorcycle jacket on while out on the boat and during the excitement my SPOT GPS locator came loose and an Albatross took it for a ride never to be seen again, at least that’s what I tell people happened to it.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Horizons Unlimited, motocamping, motorcycle travel, New Zealand | Leave a comment

Costa Rica

I was still fuming the first few miles of Costa Rica after feeling so violated from the Nicaragua border crossing.  I finally calmed down since it was in the past, and there wasn’t much that I could do about it, and made the turn out of Canas toward Laguna de Arenal.  The road ascends on a curvy road eventually reaching the lake and following the contours on a narrow road to our hotel high on a bluff, overlooking Laguna de Arenal.

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Laguna de Arenal

In the late afternoon, Gypsy and I took a walk from the hotel and find a small trail leading to a peninsula jutting out into the lake. It is so very peaceful that all you can hear is the rustle of leaves and breaking twigs beneath our feet as we slowly make our way to the water’s edge. Gypsy froze as we hear a small twig break to our right and see a flurry of a moving animal through the branches about 10 meters off the side of the trail. Peering into the woods I see what appears to be a large racoon with a black and white striped tail, the tail pointed straight to the sky. I see one, then two, and as my eyes adjust and focus on the animals, about 12 appear. They look at us as startled to see us as we are to see them, and turn and silently disappear into the woods. I later find out they are the Costa Rican Coatimundi, a racoon like creature.

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Coatimundi

We spend the next few days enjoying the lake views, volcano views and hot springs. There is a stream running near the road that is heated thermally from the volcanoes in the area. You can go to a resort for $US65, or stop at the bridge down from the resorts and enjoy the babbling, terraced warm stream for free. Of course, we opt for the free stream and change into our swim suits at the edge of the water and lounge in the soothing waters for an hour or so.

While there we are told about a bridge outside of La Fortuna called Iguana Bridge. It seems that Iguanas just hang out at the bridge to have their pictures taken. We ride over to see if it’s true and find a few just waiting in the branches of trees, some close enough to reach out and touch.

While we are still at Lake Arenal, a friend of mine from Minnesota, Donna Kennedy, contacts us and offers us a place to stay at a place she owns north of San Ramon in a beautiful place called Angel Valley. Donna is a motorcycle traveler and LD rider and we are part of the same national and international communities. Angel Valley is at an elevation just meters below the Villa Blanca Cloud Forest.

She is not using it at the time, so we take her up on her generous offer and base ourselves for a couple of weeks of exploration out of her beautiful Inn. The Angel Valley Bed and Breakfast is opening again soon and will be a stopover place for overlanders to recharge and explore the area.

Riding down to Angel Valley from La Fortuna we follow a great road that twists and turns through many eco systems with views of Volcan Arenal for the first few miles. Donna had recommended a place partway down called Lands in Love Hotel and Resort. It is known for the chocolate cake and coffee they serve so we had to stop and see what all the fuss was about. I believe this is the richest dark chocolate cake I have ever eaten and the fresh ground Costa Rican coffee is the perfect combination.

The first area to be explored is an area around the Poás Volcano, north of San Ramon. We take off on some back roads and finally reach Parque Nacional Volcan Poás, and walk to an observation area above the duel crater and lake.

The views are fantastic and we just stand there and enjoy the cool breezes and views. Leaving the park, we head north on 126 to Cataratas Arallanes, a great waterfall that is right beside the road.IMG_20170217_111904889_HDR Deciding to let Mr. Garmin help us with a shortcut back was again a mistake as the road headed toward Volcan Poás and terrible gravel to a washout without a road and through what seemed to be a cow pasture. At this point I decided to use my compass and try to find a way to a road I knew ran north/south and back toward where we were staying. After an interesting couple of hours, we ended up about 5kms north of the gravel road to the Inn.

Donna let us know of a Tope happening in Punta Arenas on Saturday. We thought it was a festival but it turned out to be a night parade of Mexican/Pacifino horses all doing a high step. This is an important tradition in Costa Rica dating from colonial times. The horses are beautiful and we enjoy the festivities surrounding the entire event.

My rear tire was down to maybe 1000kms left when I noticed to screw in the tread. A quick plug fixed the problem, but I still needed a tire. Most of the shops you come across deal with small bikes, thus small size tires. A recommended shop in town carried the size rear tire I needed, but all the tires were all tied up in customs with new regulations, and had been for two weeks. Seems nobody has this common size tire. A post on FB saved the day as Sandy Borden from California knew the guys from Touratech Costa Rica and they had one tire of the size I needed. A little less dirt and more road than I wanted, but it’s still a good tire. Thanks Sandy and Touratech CR!IMG_20170224_085556157

Our next ride takes us through San Jose and over to a couple active volcanoes, Volcan Turrialba and Volcan Irazú. The ride and day were beautiful and mid-day we stop to get money out of our ATM. Well, neither of our Wells Fargo cards work.   A phone call to them reveals they think we have exceeded our limit for the day which was impossible.  I drew money out of the bank after my cards stopped working but why have an ATM card that doesn’t work?  Time for a new bank when we return.

We are riding through lush green, tropical rainforest terrain, through small villages and enjoying the afternoon when the blue skies turn dark and the rain starts. Seems like this is needed to keep things lush and green. After about an hour of medium to light rain we arrive at the beautiful valley of Orosi, and find our hostel, the House of Coffee. We are the only ones there and, as it is still raining and now dark, we unpack and I head out to find some food to cook. Looks like chicken, noodles and fresh veggies are on the menu for tonight. Our host gets home from her job later and we sit and chat and realize, again, how lucky we are.

The next day the skies are bright blue, the air is cool and everything is green, such beautiful contrasts in this little valley. Riding toward town and crossing a little one-lane suspension bridge we find a little bakery to have our morning meal while standing beside the bike on such a beautiful morning. We hop on Pan-American Highway 2 for a twisting ride through Parque Nacional Los Quetzales on the way to the Pacific coast, and our destination for the night, the Wide Mouth Frog Hostel in Quepos. Neat little hostel near downtown with great secure parking for the bike. Quepos is near the Manuel Antonio Nacional Parque, a fabulous area boosting sloths and turtles. We see neither as you must be lucky to see them, so we hear.

Heading back to San Miguel we stop at Crocodile Bridge to see the famous crocodiles. These huge beasts just hang out under the bridge, some at least 4 meters in length.

You must wonder why they stay here, stationary in the water and on the banks. What kind of critters are being dropped off the bridge for them to feast on…

Cheers

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Central America, Costa Rica, Horizons Unlimited, Volcanoes, VStrom | Leave a comment

Nicaragua

The Nicaraguan border is complex, to say the least.  As we near the border we see the “helpers” milling about watching our arrival, then circling in for the kill.  It all starts off innocent enough.  They start helping you figure where to stop first.  We are trying to politely tell them “no gracias”, but they just continue to help, even if it’s not necessary.  This border between Honduras and Nicaragua is the most unorganized crossing I have ever been through.  Nothing is marked or in any kind of order.  One of the policeman needed for Gypsy’s paperwork was sitting in a chair in the parking lot.  The helpers work quickly trying to help you through the maze of places to visit and deal with each step, and helping you to part with your money.  Having a trailer being pulled by a motorcycle without a tag or registration, it’s homemade and has never been tagged or registered, threw a wrench into the system, something you don’t want to do at this crossing.  The day was clear with blue skies overhead and a gentle breeze moving the 40°C air and diesel exhaust fumes throughout the area and the buildings.  We had arrived by 8am and we finally left the area after 4 ½ hours of this running from building to building, handing over fistfuls of money for the “business”.  At one point as we were discussing Gypsy I said it the officials, “Just f%@k it, I’m going back to Honduras”.  Melanie calmed me down and kept me focused, as she has ulterior motives, which will be in the next chapter.

Our Nico stamp was for 30 days but we zipped through the country.  We stayed a night in Leon then headed for Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya, an active volcano southwest of Managua.  We rode to the top of the crater on our motorcycle and were told to back into the parking space to enable us to make a hasty escape if the need arose.  Hummm, OK.

The smell of sulfur filled the air as we neared the edge of the crater. Looking over the edge you could see smoke billowing out as the fiery molten lava below bubbled and crackled noisily below us.  The clouds of steam cleared occasionally giving us views of the lava which was quite the site.  To the left of us was a trial that would go to the upper observation area, but it was closed due to the increased activity of the volcano.

The next day we headed toward the island of Ometepe, in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. We wanted to spend a couple days there as the views are dominated by two large volcanoes. The island is the combination of two volcanoes, one on each of two connected land masses.  The winds are quite strong when we arrive forcing the ferries to stop running with a full schedule for a couple days.  We find a hostel near the water for the night and head to the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border the next day.  Same confusion and frustration at this border also but not as expensive. All total it cost me almost US$400 to get through Nicaragua with my motorcycle, pulling a trailer and with our dog, and 7 hours of my life. Not worth it, but had to get through it.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Horizons Unlimited, motorcycle travel, Nicaragua, Triumph, Volcanoes | Leave a comment

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