Crossing from Costa Rica to Panama

26 September – Day 66

Puerto Viaje, Costa Rica to Boquette, Panama
Distance: 286kms (time on bike = 8.5 hours including 3 hours at the border)

So… which way to go? The direct route, risking potentially getting stuck in a roadblock for an indefinite period and/or having to turn around and go back across the border (=bleh) into Costa Rica and then around the long way ie 600kms + through Costa Rica. Or – just go the long way, thus not risking having to get back across the border.

We asked around in the morning and one of the local travel agents phoned someone –no idea who – to ask if the road was open. Apparently, it had been blocked the day before due to a protest but was absolutely fine today and we’d be able to get through. So we decided to go the way we’d originally planned – ie directly across the border. Yay! At the border, I also asked the officials there and they said they didn’t know either way. Then I asked a guy who was crossing from Panama into Costa Rica and he said the road was fine. And it was!! So that was a relief… it was nice to know that we were going the shortest/most direct route.

Nevertheless… I’m sick of border crossings with the bike. Seriously – I’ve had nine now on the trip, and that’s enough!! It’s not even that I have to do all that much.. as per a previous post, because the bike is in Adrian’s name, he’s the one who has to do the back and forth with the import and export paperwork etc. Sometimes, I think that would be easier than just standing, for hours, in full sun and motorbike gear, waiting. Just waiting. At least doing the paperwork means I’d have a focus!! So yeah – suffice to say that this most recent border crossing, from Costa Rica into Panama, was long and hot. Three hours, in fact.

We’d heard from other travellers that Panama is a country where you just don’t speed, because there are radars everywhere and they take speeding very seriously. The evidence would suggest that there’s no problem with cars and trucks literally belching out thick black smoke, or cars so rusty I’m not sure what’s actually holding them together, or cars with no mufflers and so sound almost as loud as a plane taking off… however based on my limited time in the country (less than 24 hours!), speeding is definitely a massive focus. I’ve never seen so many motorbike police standing by the side of the road! Sure, many of them seemed to be playing a game on their phone or texting or something rather than actually using a radar, but that’s beside the point! We were pulled over by one policeman in a 60 zone. I think we we’re doing about 70-75kms.. he told us that we’d been doing 95kms. Eventually, he just waved us off and said “slow down.” I think the fact he didn’t actually have a radar probably worked in our favour.

Boquette seems to be a US retirement town… it’s so much like the US that you could blindfold someone and drop them here, and I don’t think they’d be able to tell that they were actually in Central America. Dinner at Mike’s Bar and Grill, where they served San Francisco garlic fries and were showing a NFL match on the big screens, certainly helped cement that picture.

A deadly sin – in the flesh!

A sloth hanging from a branch eating green beans

A sloth in the sloth sanctuary

25 September – Day 65

Puerto Viaje, Costa Rica
Distance: 0kms

Today I saw a sloth for the first time… both in a sanctuary, and in the wild! I also saw my first Costa Rican monkey.. so it was a very animal-y sort of day. The sloth sanctuary exceeded my expectations, and included getting up close and personal with a few ‘rescue’ sloths, seeing the sloth babies in the nursery and then going on a little canoe trip through some tropical jungle. I also learned that both two-toed and three-toed sloths have three toes, it’s just that the two-toed ones have two fingers and the three-toed ones have three fingers. Or something like that.. it was very confusing and somewhat counterintuitive.

We ended up spending a few hours at the sloth sanctuary, and spent the afternoon eating lunch and just relaxing… plus a late afternoon yoga class for me.

When I got back to the hotel after yoga, Adrian was looking somewhat stressed. Apparently, the hotel owner’s wife had just driven back from Panama (or destination for tomorrow) and was the last car through before locals blockaded the road in protest over something or other. Last time, the road stayed blocked for upwards of two weeks. Then again, sometimes it’s just for a couple of hours.

The owner’s wife had taken a few photos of tree branches across the road, and said that the locals weren’t letting anyone in or out – including a lady in labour. Somewhat suboptimal, given that was the road we wanted to be on in less than 24 hours!!

The reason why it particularly mattered – other than not wanting to get caught up in a protest – was because there was no way around if the road was blocked. Our choices were to take this road and risk it (50kms to the border, a border crossing and then 400kms)… or ride 600kms back through Costa Rica to the other side of the country, and then do the border crossing and 400kms in Panama. I was leaning towards risking it; Adrian was leaning towards going back through Costa Rica. In the end, we decided to see if we could find out somehow in the morning and make the final call then…

On the Caribbean coast now!

24 September – Day 64

Siquirres, Costa Rica to Puerto Viaje, Costa Rica
Distance: 119kms

Today I dipped my toes in the Caribbean.  It was lovely! You can tell we’re on the Caribbean and not the Pacific ocean side of the country, because all of a sudden there seem to be Rastafarians, reggae music and Bob Marley t-shirts everywhere. In no more than a couple of hundred kilometres – the country has changed! We got in early and took our time finding some accommodation…  although it’s low season, quite a few of the places aren’t prepared to negotiate on their prices at all. It’s strange really – we saw afterwards that one of the cabana places Adrian went to is offering a 30% discount for bookings over the internet… but wasn’t prepared to offer a real life, here right now potential guest any discount at all!! The plan is to have a couple of days here before heading into Panama and then shipping the bike across the Darien Gap to Columbia.

Puerto Viaje is mostly a ‘hippie tourist’ town with lots of yoga studios, retreat centres etc. Happily, that means they have yoga classes – and soy milk! It is very, very hot and they are low on water here… so low, that in the toilet cubicle at a cafe where we first stopped, the owner had put up a sign urging people to flush only when really, truly necessary.

Riding under a waterfall through fog around cows…

Truck driving through a waterfall

We went through just after this truck….

23 September – Day 63

Fortuna, Costa Rica to Siquirres, Costa Rica
Distance: 240kms

It was sunny today when we woke up, so we got going early(ish) and stopped along the way for breakfast, and then stopped again for coffee. We were making good progress so decided to detour past Poas volcano. To be honest, I wasn’t that hopeful… every other lookout we’ve stopped at in Central America has essentially been fogged out. As in all that we see is a sea of white, like we’re wearing goggles that have been covered with shaving cream.

Before that though, we had the hairiest riding experience of the trip so far. We’d been riding along quite happily for a while, past coffee plantations, on a smoothly tarred and curvy – albeit somewhat narrow – road. All of a sudden, we were stopped by red and yellow tape across the road… think a roadworks version of police tape… and a bunch of guys sitting around roadwork machines, not seeming to be doing all that much. We thought that road was closed and so were all set to turn around, but a guy unrolled the tape and waved us through, saying that a bridge had washed away but we’d be able to go around it and yup, on a motorbike was fine.

Ha. What he meant was that a rather large waterfall had washed away the bridge and part of the road, and had since effectively become the road, and that by riding ‘around’ it he meant riding ‘through’ it. The picture of the waterfall doesn’t really do it justice. The water was flowing very fast, and the pool was deep… with my feet on the pillion pegs, I had water up to my ankles at one stage… so I’d say it was at least 30cm, and rocky. And loud! On our right was the waterfall coming down the cliff face; on our left was the cliff going down into the valley. In between, the water was flowing quickly through the pool I mentioned. Suffice to say that when I first saw it, I thought ‘oh deary me, I’m not sure about this’ (or words to that effect).

One of the workmen (part of a second group who were standing around near the waterfall, also not working) got out his phone to take a picture of us going across – and actually fist pumped us after we safely made it. So even though beforehand he seemed to be gesturing casually ‘yeah yeah you’ll be fine,’ clearly he was pleased/surprised. As was I!!!

Anyway, we made it to the volcano, paid our $20 USD entry fee and saw… a total white out. Oh well. At least it was an interesting ride to get there! And on the way to our destination for the night, we experienced a new trip record for cheapest road toll: 10c!! Seriously…  you have to wonder whether it is really worth the cost of the infrastructure and staff when it’s only 10c a pop.

It took us a while to find accommodation for the night, with our two initial destinations being, well, undesirable… but we got there in the end (albeit after dark…breaking that golden rule for the second time this trip…).

Cows walking on the road

Another example of some of the riding conditions… and this was taken in the middle of the day!!


22 September – Day 62

Fortuna, Costa Rica
Distance: 0kms

It was absolutely pouring when we woke up this morning, which was unusual… it does rain here quite a lot at this time of year; usually it happens in the afternoon and the mornings are sunny (or if not sunny, at least dry!).

Psychologically, there’s something much less enjoyable about setting out to ride in the rain than if it happens to start raining when you’re already on the road. When the latter occurs, it’s no big deal – we just stop and put our wet weather gear on. But the idea of starting in a torrential downpour… it’s just depressing. So – we didn’t!

Instead, we lounged around our rainforest retreat, reading books etc and listening to the rain on the roof and the parrots outside. It was lovely!

Toad Hall

View of Toad Hall Costa Rica including pool and house - and tropical jungle

This motorcycling caper ain’t half bad! Our accommodation at Toad Hall

21 September – Day 61

Samara, Costa Rica to Fortuna, Costa Rica
Distance: 200kms

It took us a looong time to get going this morning! We started our day with what was a fairly average breakfast and then a fantastic swim. The water was the perfect temperature, with lovely, glassy rolling waves big enough that it was fun to float over them and not so big that you thought you might get smashed. Sensational. It was hot early, so we procrastinated and just faffed about, delaying the inevitable. I’m not sure if you’ve ever worn heavy, baggy jeans in hot and humid weather? I can tell you that the jeans stick to your legs, making it hard to pull them on – the kind of stickiness that’s like a wet plastic bag. It can also be hard to even bend your leg at the knee, as the denim stuck to your skin acts as a sort of brace. So yes, we were putting off putting on our bike jeans for as long as possible.

Eventually, we got going and it was actually pretty nice riding. It wasn’t as hot on the bike as it was off the bike, there were some windy parts for Adrian and not much traffic. We stopped for lunch by a lake by a volcano which was pretty impressive… and we decided to find some accommodation nearby.

Enter Toad Hall. We’d been seeing signs for it for several kilometres, including “world’s best guacamole” (a VERY big call), “shoes”, “wine”, “great accommodation”, “pub”. After we decided against the first place we stopped at, we made the call to find this Toad Hall. And – it was excellent!! For many reasons, including that the moment we pulled up outside, it started to absolutely bucket down with rain. I think it was a sign.

In a role reversal, I did the room checking/price negotiating – and I did a fantastic job, if I do say so myself! We’re in the “Jungle Suite” which is actually more like an apartment than a suite and has an amazing, 180 degree view of the lake and surrounding tropical rainforest, from the floor to ceiling windows that form one wall of the suite. There are some rescue birds in aviaries just below our room, including parrots that whistle, cackle like Dr Claw at the end of an Inspector Gadget episode and also a wicked witch sort of a cackle, and call out ‘hola, hola’ on a regular basis. It’s hilarious. And so nice.

Oh and the guac? It was very good!


20 September – Day 60

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua to Samara, Costa Rica
Distance: 267kms

If ever there was a bureaucratic process in need of improvement, it’s the process to cross the border from Nicaragua into Costa Rica with a vehicle. And I’m saying this as someone who has experienced more than her fair share of bureaucratic processes in the past! Wow. Talk about long and convoluted…  to get the bike in, we (well, Adrian) had to go from immigration, to customs, then back to immigration and then back to customs. No biggie, as often there are different offices involved. It’s just that for some unknown reason, in Costa Rica these two offices are 400m away from each other – which means walking over 1km just to get in to the country! In hot, humid conditions. In full bike gear!

Anyway, we got through in the end and made our way to Samara. The roads were pretty good… fewer speed bumps and chickens than previous countries.. and more horses. We were stopped at one checkpoint not too far from the border and the police officer took down Adrian’s details and then waved us through. Not sure what it was about….maybe to cross reference with immigration that we’d entered the country legally?

Samara is a little beachy town with a relatively high proportion of westerners… which means it’s reasonably expensive for Central America; prices are pretty close to Australian prices. Still, the beach is lovely!