So, I left off a week ago just as we were about to board the Stahlratte for a five day sail to Cartagena, Colombia. The lot of us woke up early and headed out for Carti Pier around 6:30am. It was Johnny Alabama, Sheldon/Ewa (Ride For Smiles), and me. Just as we reached the turn off for the pier, the rest of the moto group who were coming from the city arrived as well. There were two local bikes, Jeffrey (Ride For Peace), Scott/Susan, and Bentley (Bentley's Big Adventure - the happy dog on the back of Scott's bike). We all enjoyed the ride up and over the twisty and beautiful road to the pier. We found Ludwig (the captain) and the Stahlratte waiting patiently for us when we arrived. It really was a magical moment as I'd been waiting to take the trip aboard the ship for years. Before we knew it, they asked us to park the bikes on the dock and remove all the bags. Then next thing I knew, they were hiking my bike up via wench up and over the side of the boat. It was a tense feeling watching my baby dangling from a small rope as it made it's way safely on deck. Shortly after loading the bikes, we motor sailed for approx three hours to a beautiful small island in San Blas (one of 360+) and made anchor for two nights. There was drinking, laughing, music, rope swinging/back flipping into the water, an amazing BBQ on the beach w/ massive amounts of rum punch, and beautiful views for 360 degrees. San Blas is paradise and I would recommend a visit there if at all possible. Shortly after boarding the boat I realized there were 14 others on the boat taking the sail w/out motorcycles. I immediately noticed and targeted in on Janina (Nina), a beautiful German girl, and we struck up a conversation. Fast forward a couple hours later and we found ourselves swimming together, searching for shells on the island, and enjoying the BBQ together. After knowing each other for only several hours it felt like we had been close for years... it just clicked. The combination of her, great friends, wind in the sails, dolphin sightings, and everything else made for an epic journey to Cartagena. If you find yourself in need of transport (with or without motorbike) to/from Colombia I would HIGHLY recommend using Ludwig and the Stahlratte's services. Zero complaints from me and it will go down as one of the most memorable five days of my life. Easily... We made it to Cartagena early in the morning three days ago and several of us made our way to Amber Hostel. I've been fortunate enough to have spent time in San Blas and Cartagena before, so I was able to show Nina around. We walked the streets of the old town, had amazing meals, enjoyed each other's company, and were even able to take the bike out of town to explore a couple of private beaches headed towards Baranquilla on 90A. We were also able to spend more time with Johnny Alabama, Sheldon/Ewa, Jeffrey, and Susan/Scott. Cartagena really is a special place. Upon arrival, everyone takes notice of the sweltering heat, which really is brutal. However, once acclimated the romance of the town really begins to show. The architecture, flowers, people, tranquil vibe, and parks/plazas are all spectacular. You can also find quite a party in the evening if you are searching for it. The city has everything a visitor can ask for, but at a price. When I first came here in 2004 I don't recall it being as expensive. Now it's mad pricey. Nina and I had two paletas (popsicles) today and the tab was $10! Of course you can get out of old town and into the heart of the city and find cheap eats and entertainment if needed. I had a LOT of time to think and reflect on the boat. I realized again how lucky I am to be taking a trip like this. Of course I knew it already, but it is very easy to forget. Especially when you are traveling with people like Jeffrey (Ride For Peace), who has been on the road for eight years, and visited over 90 countries. It's easy to get jealous and think, "man, I wish I could do that!". The thought/feeling was further solidified when we got to Cartagena and I saw the discrepancy between wealthy tourists and locals eking out a living selling handicrafts, arepas, fruit, etc. I feel so incredibly blessed to be able to have this experience. I've made a pact with myself to never forget that, however long it lasts. The first night we were in town a group headed to Cafe Del Mar, which is a beautiful bar nestled on top of the fortified wall of the old town. Almost exactly ten years ago my ex took me there. It was an amazing feeling sitting there with Nina, a fantastic group of new friends, the wind, and a realization that I'm happier now than I've ever been... ten years later. I thought life was good then, but it truly is now. Funny thing is, I was staying at a proper five star boutique hotel, and eating lobster then. Now I'm staying in a dingy (not that bad) hostel, and eating street meat! I feel like I'm definitely collecting experiences and memories now, not things. Which in my opinion is much better. I'd be lying though if I said it was 100% positive emotions at present. Nina just hopped in a cab to jump a bus to Bogota where she is working for a month. We only knew each other for five days, but I really, really enjoyed my time with her. Normally I have an issue sitting around doing nothing. I mean, I can relax and read from time to time, or sit in a theater for a film, but doing absolutely nothing sometimes bothers me... a lot. I'm not sure if it's my personality, anxiety, or what. Regardless, I found myself incredibly relaxed when I was with her. We could sit in a park and talk for hours or walk around aimlessly, and it felt great. I'm looking forward to getting to Bogota sometime soon so we can continue our laziness together. Maybe I'm a bit smitten, but I miss her already. :) So that brings me to my plans. Tomorrow I'll wake up relatively early for a spot check of the bike (adjust/lube chain, check pressures, possibly change air filter, etc). Then I'll head northeast through Baranquilla to Santa Marta. I plan to spend a couple of nights there, and then possibly camp on a beach in Parque Tayrona for a bit. From there I'll make the trek south down to Medellin with a couple of nights somewhere in the middle (if anyone has recommendations feel free to send them along). After visiting friends in Medellin for several nights, I'll head south to Bogota to explore and figure 'things' out. After that, the plan is to head down to Ipiales for Santuario de las Lajas, then into Ecuador. Then there really is no plan, aside from meeting my buddy Sam in Lima on May 12th. Having no plan is new for me. Mexico was planned thoroughly, Central America somewhat, but South America is entirely open... and it feels great that way! I'm thinking maybe I'll find a nice beach in Ecuador and volunteer some time or find work at a bar or hostel. I'd like to set up shop somewhere and 'live' for a bit. Possibly a month, we'll see. I guess that's that for now... Sheldon met a guy from England today who has been traveling north through south america via Yamaha Tenere for 1 1/2 years. We're going to meet up with him to swap stories and get some advice/recommendations on routing. I've said it once and I'll say it again, if you are on the fence about a trip like this, F'ing DO IT! You will not regret it. Someday never comes... I'll be sure to post soon and often. For now I'll leave you with a $hitload of photos from the past week. Chat soon... ~ D
First off, I got some flak for my last post, sorry about that. I know the 'issues' I described were trivial in the grand scheme, but they were issues to me and piled on all around the same time. Regardless, the mood has flipped and my frown has certainly turned upside down... I enjoyed my last few days in Venao thanks to my buddy Paul who showed up and got me off my lazy ass, introduced me to a ton of people around town, took me on some epic rides, and provided an all around positive and funny vibe. I love that dude and can't wait to see him again someday soon. Whether it is in his home country of England, back Stateside, or somewhere on the road, I know we'll travel again together someday soon and will be friends from here on. Paul, if you are reading this I hope you have a great time in Venao with the old lady. Catch you on the flip! PS... Need to book a show for The Squits in the States someday as well. :) Yesterday I rode from Venao the 225 miles to Panama House B&B where several fellow ADV moto travelers were staying. Most of them are joining me on the Stahlratte for the five day sailing journey to Cartagena. There was Sheldon and Ewa who have been traveling for 2 1/2 years and have visited 66 countries thus far. Sheldon was in Prague and randomly met Uwa there and said "hey, you wanna hop on my bike and travel the world?". She said "yes" and they've been at it for a year together. There was also Johnny Alabama, who is on a beautiful Triumph Tiger on his way down to Argentina. And Jeffrey, who left Indonesia in 2006 and hasn't looked back. He has traveled over 300k km and visited almost 90 countries to date! And finally, my new French buddy Julian who has also traveled around 2 1/2 years all over the world. I met a really great girl last night within minutes of arrival named Kiko from Cali. She and I hung out last night and then we grabbed the crew to check out the first night of Carnival, which was nuts! Today we packed up and mounted the bikes for a ride to Kuna country, near Darien. We had a killer ride and are staying at a place called Hotel Avicar, which is muy tranquilo w/ adequate secure parking for the bikes. If you make your way down here ask for Andres and he will hook you up. This is peaceful country living and much, much cooler (from a temperature perspective) than the city, which is blistering. Tomorrow we wake up super early and make the trek to the dock to board the Stahlratte. The boat will be sailing for two days through San Blas for some relaxation, beach exploration, spear fishing, etc, etc, etc. Then we'll sail three days (weather depending) and port in Cartagena on March 7th. I've been looking forward to this part of the trip since I started planning. I can't freaking wait... It is going to be stellar I'm sure. And it seems the lot of us (so far) all get on really well, so the group on the boat should provide really good energy and fun. I really can't believe chapter three of my journey is coming to a close. I'm filled with excitement and anticipation for the boat trip and the beginning of South America. I'm also filled with sadness that I'm leaving behind many memories, friends, experiences, new places, and cultures. There is also the anxiety about the unknown. I had planned Mexico thoroughly, Central America semi-thoroughly, but South America I intentionally left completely unplanned. I have a rough outline of where I'd like to go, but no real plans from here on out. I need to meet a great friend from Denver (Sam - fellow road racer and all around good bloke) on May 12th in Lima, but other than that there are no solid plans, which is nice, but a bit scary. In addition, I had perfect maps all through Mexico and Central America with BiciMapas on my Garmin Zumo, but have yet to source anything for South America, aside from paper maps and Google Maps on my phone. I do have Garmin South America, but hear that it blows more than a hooker on crack. If anyone wants to do me a solid, shoot me an e-mail with your GPS experience through S.A. Ok, I think that's all for now. It's 7:30pm here and I need to grab some dinner and get some rest (by rest I mean several beers w/ Johnny, Sheldon, and Uwa). Sorry for the short post, but I def wanted to get one in before I'm offline for a week starting tomorrow. Ciao for now... Lovin' life (again) on two wheels... ~ D PS... The road from Cacao to Las Tablas is new, and it is absolutely EPIC on a motorbike. Views for days, and the curves and fresh tarmac resemble a supermoto race course. Do it! Do it now!!!
Interesting how things change. In my last post I was high on life and travels, and in amazing/positive spirits. This post reflects a bit of the opposite. I'm currently doing just fine, lazily sitting in a hammock enjoying a nice breeze in Venao (Playa Venado). However, the past few days I wasn't doing so great. Let me start from the beginning...
I left David (Daveed) and made it to the city in Panama in record time. As referenced in the last post, I found a nice hostel called Siriri. It is located in Marbella, close to the Multicentro shopping mall, and in a safe area of the city. Pablo, the owner, and the staff were all nice enough, and they let me park the bike directly in the entrance hallway, which was nice. However, after a few days in the city things started to go slightly awry.
First, I ended up going out that first night with several people from the hostel, but forgot how expensive the city can be. The last time I was there was in 2012 during a trip with the ex. We stayed at Le Meridien, danced salsa at Havana Club, sailed through San Blas, and painted the town red together. Since I had a job waiting when I returned, money wasn't a concern. This trip is obviously different. I don't have a job waiting, and Hostel Siriri, while nice, is a far cry from Le Meridien. I ended up going way over my budget that night, which pissed me off, and everywhere I looked I was reminded of the trip w/ the ex. We kept driving by Le Meridien, the guys wanted me to take them to Havana Club, then we ended up at a lounge in Casco Viejo (old town) that the ex and I had been to. It wasn't the reminders of the relationship that bothered me, but reminders of my past life. While I'm immensely enjoying the ways things are currently, it is a bit of a struggle to travel with a completely different mindset and on a completely different monetary budget. Not a bad thing, but the city was a friendly reminder that I'm certainly on a budget and can't do everything I want.
So after my quick realization that the city would be challenging due to budget constraints, I actually became a bit bored. Since I'd been there before, there wasn't much left that I hadn't already explored. I did take some nice runs up and down the boardwalk, visited the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, explored several different/new areas of the city in search of cheap eats, and tried to find various other things to fill my time. The majority of the people at Siriri ended up just hanging at the hostel most of the day and night. While sitting around doing nothing on occasion is nice, I found myself bored and with a feeling that I was wasting days waiting for March 3rd, when the boat departs for Colombia. I'm not sure why, but a feeling of depression started to creep in. I know that not every stop during my journey will provide epic adventure and fun, but spending several days cooped up in a crowded hostel just didn't feel right. I finally slapped myself and decided that I'd leave to meet up with a friend in Venao/Playa Venado to spend a few days lounging on the beach, which is where I am now.
The third blow came after a few nights in Panama. I had booked a flight with miles for my new friend Sarah (the girl I met in Puerto Escondido) to come meet me in Cartagena. We were both looking forward to getting to know each other better, and spending time together in Cartagena and farther up the coast in Santa Marta. I had organized a nice hotel for a few nights and started planning the agenda for our week. However, Sarah informed me that unfortunately she wouldn't be able to make it. She had been interviewing for months for a dream job, and they offered it to her. She felt like it would be the wrong decision to delay the start date, thus couldn't make the trip to Colombia. She asked if I thought she should just scrap it and come to Colombia, but I said it was ultimately her decision, and that I'd hate to be the reason that she didn't get a job that meant so much to her. In the end, it kind of pissed me off since I'd put a lot of time, effort, and money into planning, and was really looking forward to seeing her, but you gotta do what'chu gotta do right?
Blow numero cuatro came after speaking to another friend, Dorothy from San Francisco. She and I have been communicating on and off about her potentially coming down to meet me in Ecuador. However, shortly after plans fell through with Sarah, Dorothy informed me that she wouldn't be able to make it to Ecuador either due to an already planned trip to Vietnam, and now a destination bachelorette party that has sprung up for one of her best friends. Again, I was really looking forward to spending time together to get to know her better, and it would have been great to explore the beaches and towns of Ecuador together on the motorbike, as I've never been. Alas, we'll have to make it happen some other time. It is lonely traveling alone at times, so I was looking forward to having two visitors along the way. The combination of both cancelations sent me further into a funk.
And the last thing that contributed to my melancholy... My father was going to help with my taxes, but due to some complex issues (divorce, sale of home, etc, etc, etc), we decided to file for an extension, which means that I'll need to be home and done with my taxes before October. He has helped tremendously while I've been away with a ton of things, but this task is just too much. After filing the extension, the realization that there is an end in sight for my adventure depressed me. I may end up finding a place along the way in the near future where I can safely leave the bike, which will give me an opportunity to fly home temporarily to knock out the taxes with an accountant, then fly back down to continue the adventure. We'll see about that option.
Ok sorry, there is one additional negative thing bothering me. I very rarely get sick, but I think all my time traveling, the vicious heat, burning the candle at both ends, and staying in crowded hostels has finally caught up with me. Somewhere along the way in the city, I started to feel a tickle in my throat. It kept getting worse and worse, and today I'm actually fully ill. The good news is that I wanted to chill for a few days in Venao and do absolutely nothing, so this gives me a good excuse to do just that. My only hope is that I'm 100% in a few days for the boat trip to Colombia. It would be a huge bummer if I was ill on a rocking boat laying out chum lines through what should be fun filled paradise. My plan is to chill here, get plenty of rest, drink a TON of water, and nurse myself back to health by the time I return to the city on the 1st. Cross your fingers for me that it passes quickly.
All that said, and sorry for the venting, I am doing well now. Even though I feel like garbage, I'm enjoying my time away from the city on a beautiful beach. My buddy Paul should be here shortly, so it will be good to hang with him. We're staying at a nice little spot called La Choza Playa Venao. You can set up a tent for $8, the dorms are $13, and they have privates for $40. I opted for the dorm, but may end up throwing up my tent the next couple of nights to save some money and get a bit more privacy. The dorm, although hot, isn't too shabby. Five out of the six beds are filled with beautiful girls from Argentina and Spain. :)
Regarding my melancholic mood, I feel like a right hypocrite since I'm the one that's been saying "you can't have the good without the bad". However, the combo of all those things did a number on me. Like I said, I'm doing much better now, and know that five days on the boat will surely cure what ails me. It is always interesting though when you travel to have any sort of negative feelings and/or emotions. When planning trips and adventures like this, it's all roses and adventures in theory. Turns out, it's still real life. It feels good to write about it though and get it out, so thanks for reading/listening.
Ok, I'm going to get off my complaining arse and figure out what to do next. On the ride down to Venao yesterday, I managed a few detours to check out some random beaches. Some were on the map, and some weren't. Aside from the last picture, which is of Venao, the beach photos above were from one I stumbled upon accidentally. A smooth winding road (resembled a supermoto course) led all the way down to Playa Destiladeros. The road ends and the desolate beach begins. There is only one hotel there called Villa Camilla Suites. It is one of the most isolated beautiful beaches I've ever seen, certainly the best I've seen on this trip. I may shoot back east today to go lounge on the beach there with my book. The bike always puts me in a good mood anyway, so a spirited ride to Destiladeros may be in order. I might, out of curiosity, look at a few properties for sale around the area. I find it hard to believe that the area won't be growing very soon, so it would be a nice investment IMO. Even if that takes time, it would be an amazing place to own property regardless.
That's all for now... I'll try to get a post up prior to our departure on the 3rd. If not, there will be a fairly long delay due to the five day trip on The Stahlratte (two days through San Blas, three days open water to Cartagena).
Ciao for now... ~ D
PS... One tip for people doing a similar trip. The Panamericana in Panama sucks! It is FILLED with moto cops radar-gunning everyone. I told you in a previous post about getting popped, but getting off with a warning. Since then, I've been diligent about looking out for them. Yesterday shortly after leaving the city, I noticed a car coming the opposite direction flash his lights at me. I immediately started looking out and sure enough, about a mile up, there was a guy on my side locked and loaded with his trusty radar gun. The posted speed limit was 80k, so I made sure to slow down to just under that. I know for a fact that I was slowed far enough in advance for him to have nothing on me. However, he came calmly walking out into the highway to wave me over. Now if I do something wrong, I have no problem taking my punishment. But, if he just wants to pull me over to be an ass or hassle me, then he can stuff it. His waves got more and more animated as I got closer. As I was passing him he looked pissed. I waved back at him and kept on going. After cruising a mile or so ahead, I rolled hard on the throttle and sped out of there. Nothing came of it, and about 15 miles or so I stopped for lunch. So for what it's worth, if you find yourself in a similar situation, maybe claim 'gringo stupidity' and run right through the checkpoints and traffic stops with the explanation if you get pulled over, "Lo siento, I thought you just liked motorcycles and were waving hello". :)
I woke up this morning in David, Panama after a brief stopover. I originally planned a couple of nights in David, but I wasn't a fan of the city, so decided to book it to Panama City today. And book it I did! The racer in me came out and I made it from David to Panama in 4 1/2 hours, which is a record (if you take into account the two gas stops and 30min police detour). Hence the name of this post... GO 78, GO!!! The "police detour" was totally my fault. I failed to realize that there are a $hitload of police radar points in Panama. I was cruising at 120k+ in an 80k zone and split between two cars directly in front of Manuel (my new friend - the police officer). He waved me over and I pulled to the side immediately. He came strolling over and immediately pulled out the infraction/ticket book. He told me that he was going to write two tickets. One for splitting between vehicles, and one for speeding. After chatting for awhile and pleading ignorance and gringo stupidity, he laughed and said he would drop it to just speeding. As he began to write, I started chatting more and joking with him to see if I could get him to let me off with a warning. He was a cheerful guy and seemed to be in a good mood. I also got it out of him that he is a lifelong moto fan. I showed him some photos of the racing days and from my trip. He looked at me and asked "are you sorry?". I said, "of course... lo siento! It won't happen again". He said, "ok amigo, be careful and slow down". So all-in-all, the 30min police detour could've been much worse. Thanks Manuel!!! In my last post I mentioned that I would be leaving Manuel Antonio and exploring more of Costa Rica and possibly Bocas in North Panama. But damned if it didn't happen again! I got stuck in Manuel Antonio for a week (originally planned two nights). There were two reasons for the delay. First, I was staying at Hostel Plinio, which is a killer spot. I talked briefly about it in my last post, but can't say enough good things about the place. If you are coming through Costa, and are looking for a nice room w/ secure parking for the bike, don't hesitate to stop. It is owned by a really nice guy named Corey, and all of the staff are amazing. I felt at home at Plinio straight away and could have spent a long, long time.
The second reason for the delay was of course a chica. Donna is a lovely Peruvian that works at the hostel. She has been in Costa for a little under a year and plans to stay. We ended up having a LOT in common and had an amazing time exploring the town and surrounding beaches and areas. We zipped around on the bike together all week. We rode to Domenical, Uvita, waterfalls, random beaches, etc, etc, etc. She was my tour guide and we were pretty much together 24/7 when she wasn't working. We are in the process of planning some time together when I'm in Peru. She needs to visit family there anyway, so it works out perfectly. BellaDonna, my poisonous Peruvian wildflower, if you are reading this thank you for the amazing tour around Plinio and Costa Rica. Five stars! I can't wait to spend time with you in the future. ;) So now I'm in Panama... That means that I've clocked approx 7k miles on the bike since I left. I've been away from home for three months, and have visited eight different countries. A close friend Kat sent me a message last night asking, "how is your heart?", and I have to say that I'm happier than I've ever been in life. I know that sounds like a cheesy blanket statement, but it's entirely true. I'm incredibly relaxed and am completely immersed in this adventure/journey. Chloe (the bike) has done an amazing job thus far. Aside from one flat rear (not her fault), and a small battery issue, there have been no problems. I feel confident, happy, strong, and muy tranquilo. I've grown internally as a person a great deal, and know that it was the right decision to kick a leg over the bike and go. In fact, I'm a bit sad I didn't do it sooner. Alas, I'm loving it now, and there is no such thing as the past or future, so I'll live in and enjoy the present, and enjoy the ride.
I was planning to do a few things in the city while I'm here. First, my friend Estefania lives here, but she is lame (I hope you are reading this E!). She booked a boat tour through San Blas directly over my trip here, so I probably won't be able to hang with her. I also wanted to stop into the BMW dealership to source new tires and ask about the rear wheel bearing recall (anyone reading this - I would appreciate any insight you have into this). However, after doing some research it looks as if Ruta 40 in Medellin is a better option for service. Plus, my tires have some meat left, so I'll wait until Colombia. So, now I have three nights booked here at Hostel Siriri (nice place - they are letting me park the bike directly in the lobby) with no plans. I'm thinking of studying more Spanish here in the city for a few days. I leave Thursday the 27th to meet up with Paul, my friend and fellow moto traveler from England in a sleepy little beach town southwest of the city. We'll be there for a few days, then I'll return to the city for the beginning of Carnival on the 1st, then board the Stahlratte on the 2nd for the trip to Cartagena. I think that's it for now. I'm off for a shower and shave, then we're having a BBQ here at the hostel. Since I've been here to PC before, I've been nominated as nightlife tour guide this evening. We're going to kick it off on Calle Uruguay at the clubs/bars, then make our way over to Havana Club for some sweaty salsa. Wish us luck! Hasta pronto, ~ D PS... On yet another somber side note, Marco, the chef and manager of the restaurant at Plinio, was involved in a car accident last night. He was driving back to Manuel Antonio from Domenical and apparently had a single vehicle accident. I became close with Marco during my stay at Plinio. According to Donna, the current prognosis is not good and the doctors fear the worst. Marco is married with two small children. Even though the majority of you reading this don't know him, please keep Marco and his family in your thoughts and prayers. Rest well my friend, I hope to see you the next time I return to Manuel Antonio. Hang in there Marcito!
Travelin' ain't cheap!!! Feel free to donate if you want to ride along vicariously, or simply want to spot a hotel (or cold beverage) for a night. Don't forget to leave a note so I know where to send thanks...