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VStrom

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

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

Honduras

Time for another border crossing. I think we have all our papers and copies ready as this will be our first true Central American border crossing. We have spent the night a little over an hour away from the Guatemalan/Honduras border hoping to get across and into our destination for the day, Copan. We arrive at the border without any issues and get our paperwork painlessly processed and get stamped out of Guatemala and ride the short distance to the Honduras border. We are directed to a safe place to park our bike and get Gypsy out and start the process. I go first and get my passport stamped, bike registered and insurance purchased without any huge problems. They just don’t know what to do about my trailer, never had one come through being pulled by a motorbike before. They finally agree that is doesn’t require any additional paperwork. Then on to the agriculture side to get Gypsy processed.

Well, it was going smoothly. Seems like us and all the Veterinarians we have seen this past year getting ready for this trip overlooked one small detail, a vaccine needed for a few of these countries. After talking back and forth for quite a while we are at an impasse, Gypsy can’t get her paperwork without that vaccine. The guys are nice, trying to work with us on Google translate. The boss decides that if I leave my PASSPORT, which I never would do, Gypsy and I can ride into the next town, try to find a vet who has the vaccine and get Gypsy vaccinated. Melanie and I discuss this with them and it is decided that I can leave Melanie in lieu of my passport. Humm, never thought I would have to do this but I never expected to make Melanie hitchhike in Croatia either.img_20170201_150115026_hdr

Giving Melanie a kiss, Gypsy and I set off to Copan hoping that there is a vet in town with this particular vaccine. The road into town is lined with trucks queuing to leave the country leaving only one lane, sometimes less, for both directions of traffic. Between this, the rain, and large pieces of road gone due to washout, it is an interesting ride. As we arrive in the small town square I am approached by a man trying to sell me a tour and he is nice enough to direct me to the nearest vet. The tiny shop also has a nice older woman running the store. I show her Gypsy’s passport and the name of the vaccine she needs. As usual, she has no idea of what I am saying but a young man walking down the street sees my motorcycle and hears me speaking English and comes in to the store to give us a hand as a translator. Well it turns out that she does not have the vaccine but can get it at 3pm, it is now about 11am. She will order it for me and I go back out on a quest for the vaccine. Stopping at the other 3 places in town I discover that no one in town has this needed vaccine.

I head back to the border to find Melanie slumped up against the wall running a fever, she caught what I had in Lake Atitlan.  Back at the Ag building they agree to hold my passport as ransom for the vaccine.  Loading Melanie up, we head to town in search of a place to stay so she can rest. We find a nice hostel on the edge of town across from the cemetery for $US18 per night, with an older man and his wife running the place. Gypsy and I head back into town to see if her vaccine has arrived yet, I have little faith in it being there. We are greeted at the door by the lady running the store with the vile and a syringe in her hand. She indicates for me to pick Gypsy up and put her on the counter as she draws up the clear liquid from its container and, while I hold Gypsy still, injects the serum into her hind quarters. The total cost for this service, $US3. We ride back to the border, again, to show the sticker on her passport indicating her vaccine. The guys all gather around to look at it saying this is the first time that they have let anybody through to do this a with that person being successful. I gave them all the information of the vet used for future reference.

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Cemetery across from the hostel

Three days pass before Melanie feels like she isn’t dying and can walk around town and get something to eat. In the afternoon, we take a shuttle to the Jaguar Spa and hot springs. This is a neat little place in the jungle with water temperatures at the origin of the hot springs about 190°F.

This place has several pools, each with a different purpose and Melanie gets a much-needed massage high up on a platform above the rising steam of the springs. It is a relaxing afternoon chatting with a young traveler backpacking around Central America from Vancouver, Canada.

The next day we head to the Copan Ruinas, one of the great centers of the Mayan civilization over 1000 years ago. This beautiful site has some of the most impressive pre-Columbian art anywhere in the world.  When we got close to the entrance gate, we are welcomed with a fabulous display of dozens of Macaws.  They are a brilliant red with a mix of vibrant blue, yellow, and green feathers.  Spectacular to see them gliding overhead.  img_20170203_093835864We spend the better part of the day exploring this ancient site before heading back to town. There is a place on the map called ViaVia, which describes itself as a gathering place for travelers to meet, eat, sleep and hangout with locations around the world.

The owner happens to be there and comes over and joins us and when we start talking we discover we have a mutual friend, Pete Day, owner and designer of Mosko Moto, soft luggage for motorcycles. It seems that Gerardo ViaVia and Pete were riding around where there aren’t roads, typical for Pete, on the southern Honduras/Nicaragua border on the Costa de Mosquitos. Soon after Pete was in the design/testing phase of his new off-road soft luggage and the name, Mosko Moto, popped up from their ride. Cool, huh. If you ever get in this area pop in and have a beer with Gerardo, good times.  We were directed to a German brewery in town that was owned and run by a guy from a small town in northern Germany that we had never heard of.  His beer was amazing and the food was exactly like we had enjoyed while traveling Germany last summer.  The surprises you find in the jungles of Central America never cease to amaze.

The road out of Copan is rough with potholes and dirt and with the rain they turned to mud. Our route will take us north through San Pedro Sula before turning back south. San Pedro Sula is known as the murder capital of the world, hence given Honduras that similar title. We are told that most of the cocaine trade of Central and South America headed to the US and Canada comes through this city near the northern coast. As we near the city we are stopped at a military checkpoint, our bike searched, and we are warned to turn around as this is a dangerous area.  I think they really wanted to check out the bike because the search was just for show. Taking their advice seriously we continue to San Pedro as we want to explore the area south of the city, and the ride is beautiful through the mountains. Stopping for fuel a couple kms south of the city we are surrounded by a bunch of guys on motorcycles. They want to talk about all things bike and travel related and after about 30 minutes we continue to a real cool hostel called the D&D Brewery, serving the best beer in Central America.

We end up staying for a couple days hiking the surrounding area and drinking small batch craft beer.  There is a waterfall just before we come into town that was a great stop.

The first night at the hostel, we had a couple of guys on a mission to find the riders who came thru town that day pulling the trailer with a dog on the back. They were from Nebraska, in town doing volunteer work at a local orphanage. They saw the bike and had a good idea that we were at the Brewery. After a couple hours of getting to know each other, they headed back into town. They were back the next night with more conversation to be shared.   It is evident that we live on a very small planet because we found a mutual connection in Chattanooga, Tennessee. How does it happen in the middle of nowhere Honduras that you can these things happen?  We have heard these stories but when it happens to you….it is mind boggling.

On to Nicaragua and the toughest and most costly border crossing we have ever had, thanks to a dog and trailer, but that is for the next post.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Animals, Central America, Copan Ruinas, Honduras, Horizons Unlimited, Mayan, motorcycle travel, VStrom | Leave a comment

Guatemala, Home of the Mayan

Up early and close to the border as we head toward the Guatemala border our anticipation continues to grow, looking forward to discovering another new culture and country. The road starts to close in on us as people are set up on both sides selling fruits, vegetables and homemade goods. The chaos continues to build as tuk-tuks and scooters are going everywhere, switching sides of the road and passing where there is an inch to be held.

Add to this the massively loaded trucks, pickups loaded with people of all ages and colorful buses with goods and animals lashed to the roof and people hanging off every handhold. As we dodge the 2 kms of ever moving craziness including the potholes and tumulos, we arrive at the Guatemalan border, having missed entirely the Mexico exit point. Are you kidding me?? We never even saw it. Back we go to Mexico, through the chaos and after 30 minutes are stamped out, our bike bond returned to our credit card and are on our way back to the Guatemala border. Being directed to a parking space we start the procedure to get checked in. Everybody is helpful and after a couple hours in temps around 35°C everything is done and we are on our way.

We have reservations for the night not far from the border and the next day head to Lake Atitlan, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America with an average depth of 220m. It is shaped by three volcanoes on the southern edge and a steep mountain on the north side. The lake is volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera formed by an eruption 84,000 years ago.

As we arrive in Panajachel, I start to feel sick and it turns into a case of the “Mans Flu” or so I’ve been told. With advice from my good friend who diagnosed this terrible disease, Dr. Lorraine, Melanie is able to care for me and nurses me back to health from this dreadful disease. The town we stay in is largely a tourist town, complete with pushy vendors and nightly street walkers, so after a few days visit we are ready to move on and discover the real Guatemala. Next time through we will head to the other side of the lake.

Now the most direct way out of town, following the map and GPS, is a little road to Semuc Champey. I wrote about that in a previous blog, so we will fast forward to the Mayan Ruin of Tikal. This ancient Mayan ruin was a flourishing civilization dating from 4th century BC and at its peak from 400-900 AD which saw a systemic collapse of the Mayan civilization in the region. This site was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.

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You need to always be on your toes

Finding a little hostel in the town of El Ramate we were about 30kms to the Tikal Ruins. El Ramate is at the edge of Lago Petén Itzá which is a clear, coolish and cleanish lake suitable for swimming.

There is a dock at the end of the street terminating in a meeting place for travelers and locals from where you can jump into the refreshing water which is about 3 meters deep. Let me tell you, this is so nice after a day of hiking about the ruins. The next day we are up at 0240am for the shuttle ride to the ruins for sunrise above the jungle mist on the top of pyramid #4. The one hour hike into and through the surrounding jungle is pitch black as we maneuver our way over rocks and above ground roots with just a couple head lamps to illuminate the path. Finally reaching the pyramid we climb through he darkness further and further to a very exposed ledge and steep stairs on the eastern side of the rock structure.

The sliver of the moon rising in the eastern sky along with the many stars of the clear but chilly morning helped provide us with shadows of other pyramids waiting in stoic silence to be backlit by the orange and reds of the impending sunrise. We silently wait as the jungle starts to wake up. Toucans and other birds start a symphony echoing through the treetops, then an isolated growl from the left as a howler monkey states his dominance followed shortly by another howler monkey from the right side, until the jungle is totally alive as a full spectrum of colors start to light up the morning sky. As the sky come to life the jungle mist seems to have an independent life of its own. The mist builds covering the structures on the hills in front of us, then, in continual movement, recedes into the valley revealing the mysteries it seems to want to hide as the next cycle moves into place. Finally, the sun makes peaks over the horizon signaling another day in the jungle, repeated over and over throughout history.

We spend the rest of the morning with a guide exploring the ruins of Tikal. As we arrive at one of the temples our guide takes a long piece of grass and starts twirling it around in a 2-inch hole in the ground. We stand around and watch as a large TARANTULA crawls out of this hole. Our guide grabs it from behind and places it upon his bare arm and it just starts to crawl, not seeming concerned at all. OK, Melanie and I are game and we put our hands in harm’s way and let this beautiful creature onto our hand and arm. The featherlight touch of its legs as it crawls over and around my hand wins out over fear and the tarantula must feel this as it stops moving and just sits there looking at me while I enjoy the bonding. Melanie follows me and is just as amazed.

A couple days later we visit the ruins Yaxha, on Laguna Yaxha and the site of the reality American TV show Survivor, season 11. Different, but just as nice and with less tourists, we are there for a sunset that we will be viewing from atop a temple overlooking the lagoon and river.

Soon it’s time to turn our wheels toward Honduras, with a brief stop in Rio Dulce, at the mouth of a jungle river that leads to the Caribbean coast. We take an afternoon walk to Castillo de San Felipe de Lara, a Spanish fort from 1644 that defends the entrance of Lake Izabel in eastern Guatemala. This has also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and is surrounded by a beautiful park on the edge of the lake.

Cheers, from 2WANDRRs.

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Animals, Horizons Unlimited, Mayan, Mexico, motorcycle travel, Tikal, VStrom | Leave a comment

Mexico, First Two Weeks

Well the weather finally cleared enough for us to get going toward Mexico. The skies have cleared, the temperature is above freezing and the wind has diminished to about 20 knots out of the Northwest. Gypsy is in her fleece sweater and her cover is on keeping her protected from the wind. We are full of anticipation as the miles left in Texas tick down to zero as the Mexico border appears at the Brownsville crossing.img_20161220_134637472

I hop of the VStrom and head in to immigration to get my Tourist visa while Melanie stays with Gypsy and the bike. I let too much information out about where are headed, south through Central America, leading the official to only get us a 30 day via for Mexico. No matter what I say he doesn’t budge. Oh well. The rest goes smoothly, the bikes visa/bond, Gypsy and Melanie. After about an hour and a quick check by border officials, we are on our way. img_20161222_095258227

Our route takes us down through Ciudad Victoria to a small place called La Florida, about 400kms away. We will be spending the night here in a little bungalow with horses walking around freely. A friend of mine, Marco Almaraz, has put out the word to the local IBA Rat Riders that we are traveling through so they are watching is on our SPOT to make sure all is good.

Continuing on we pass many small villages and the going is easy, except for the many huge topes, like a speed bump on steroids. We are loaded down pretty good so some of the topes have us bottoming out, no matter how slow we go over them. We knew of a waterfall that we wanted to see and headed towards it through massive sugar cane fields. As we got closer the road was getting worse by the kilometer and we finally aborted the attempt when I was bouncing off of baby heads, rocks the size of babies heads. Taking a turn south as a short cut seemed like a good idea until after about 30 kms void of people and vehicles, Melanie said, “What is that up ahead”. About a half a km ahead we saw two people in the middle of the road. My American propaganda fears came to the surface and I stopped the bike on the side of the road. Pulling a pair of binoculars out of my tank panniers I stared down the road at two young men at the roadside with shovels, and no obvious transportation.  We sat for a bit watching them and taking about what to do. We decided to follow what we knew from other travelers, that they meant us no harm. We had a plan of we were wrong and proceed cautiously in second gear ready to go. Closer and closer we got to the boys, we were ready, and when I waved they…smiled and waved back, just as we had hoped for. We stopped for a bit in the Magical town of Jalpan, checked out the cathedral and the square set up for the Christmas celebrations. Melanie gave out some stickers to the children playing and chasing each other.

Traveling by motorcycle with a dog gives a new set of problems, inexpensive hotels that accept pets. We booked ahead of time using booking.com in the Magical town of Bernal. This town has a large monolith, Peña de Bernal which is the tallest in the world and a UNESCO site, that overlooks the town. The town of Bernal has been designated a Pueblo Mágico town. We arrived at the Hotel Feregrino and were told that pets weren’t welcome at their hotel. Melanie argued and showed them their ad on booking.com and they finally agreed to let us stay. The hotel had a great view from the top of the downtown and the monolith.img_20161222_153633869

We got settled in and walked downtown and wandered around watching all the families milling about as Christmas music played through loudspeakers in the downtown area. We sat and drank Sangria and microbrewed beer while munching on a delicious wood fired oven pizza. It was so much fun to sit and watch kids playing in the square in anticipation of Christmas.

The next day we ride to our friends house in Aguascalientes, Marco Almaraz and Abby Beüger, who run the Iron Butt Association of Mexico. They welcomed us into their home with fantastic hospitality for the Christmas holiday. On Christmas, Abby put together a fantastic turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Our days there went to quickly and soon we were on our way again with the memories of spending time with our new friends.

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Horizons Unlimited, Mexico, motorcycle travel, Uncategorized, VStrom | Leave a comment

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