Recently in Panama Category

P1000681We got a relatively early start after a nice breakfast at the Hotel Aranjuez in San Jose. Both of us were anxious to get back on the road and out of downtown San Jose.

Costa Rica is an incredibly beautiful country but the city of San Jose isn’t all that nice and if you’re riding a bike there you feel like a steer in a stock yard – your time to be slaughtered will come. The taxi drivers are extremely aggressive combined with the busses who definitely own the road and then there are the trucks who occasionally have working brakes. Dan was bumped a couple times riding around the city and John doesn’t like riding in cities in the first place.

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We headed south out of town on CA2 the “main” road. This road snakes its way up along the ridge of mountains down the spine of the country. As we climbed up into the mountains there were clouds stuck on them and we both chatted back and forth that it was going to be cold and wet. We climbed and climbed – reaching over 10,000 feet and the moisture was getting “thick” and we were starting to freeze… We kept talking about how long this would last, is it rain, is it just foggy moisture, etc… When we got up to almost 11,000 feet and it was definitely raining we broke down and pulled over to put our rain gear on… on Feb 20 at about 11am we ended our no rain streak  of about 39 days of travel without rain came to an end… we rode on in our rain gear trying to warm up and in about 15 minutes as we descended down thru 8,000 feet the rain stopped and out came the sun. By the time we hit San Isidro we were riding in sunshine and mostly dry on the outside, but soaked on the inside due to our stubbornness of waiting too long to put our rain gear on. I think the point at which we decided was when John complained of water running down his leg into his boots getting his socks wet. Looking back thru the comments in the blog it appears the closest guesses are on Feb 14th –  by John’s wife Lynn!!! and by mtrcycllvr – so we will figure out a prize for you guys….

Gassing up in San Isidro we got to chatting with a guy about heading south – he suggested we go out to the coast to Dominical and ride along the ocean instead of down the inland route. It was a very good call – the coastline was spectacular and we had a great road almost all the way to Palmar Norte and enjoyed some nice riding without playing pinball with the trucks.

Working our way into the afternoon we debated whether to hit the border crossing today or not – it would be about 3pm when we got there and it looked like about 45 minutes to an hour ride to a town after the border. We decided to try it – as we pulled into the border a few of the “fixers” came swimming out of the urchin tanks to attack us. They wave you into a parking spot, but we have learned to just weave thru them and choose our own line/parking spot. Which establishes right away who is in charge.

Dan worked the border exit from Costa Rica while John watched the bikes. The exit from Costa Rica was not difficult – just took some time waiting in lines – get your immigration stamps and the exit for the bikes – took about an hour to get out. Entry into Panama was a little more mysterious – stand in line for your immigration stamp in the passport, then be told that you need a $1 sticker stamp from some dude walking around, then back into the immigration line – “oh, no Senor, you need the tourist card ok, go find the mysterious tourist card from some other office – only there is nobody there – wait for a while, wait some more, finally he comes back – $5 each for these papers and back to the immigration line… another 15 minutes waiting for the immigration guy and I’m thinking “ok, let’s see what he can find wrong now” – get up there and he looks it over and stamps our passports and says “Belcome to Panama!” – now, the bikes need to get their papers… over to the vehiculos “department” – more lines, more $5, etc… I start to head to the bikes when one of the fixers tells me that we need to go thru customs …. yea, i know that but where is it? – several of them point to yet another unmarked room – I go in there and there is a chubby little guy with a fancy hat, official shirt, picture id hung around his neck and a sign on the wall, in english and spanish, that says “All services in this public office are free”. He looks over the passports, the tourist cards, the vehicle papers, writes some notes on the vehicle stuff, and then says “$5 for each bike”. I point to the sign and say “gratis?” – he says in very good english “you want to have bikes “inspected” or you want to whiz right through?” – I pulled $10 out of my pocket and the customs machine resumed full speed operation spitting out 2 more gringos and motorcycles onward into Panama.

IMG_0758We got out of the border around 5:15 or so – a little over 2 hours total which wasn’t too bad. We headed down to Puerto Armuelles because it was the closest city and it was down on the ocean. About 35 kilometers (little over 20 miles) and the road was great. We got stopped about 5 miles out of town by some cops to look at our papers but otherwise just zoomed out there. Then we began circling and circling the town trying to find a hotel – it was surprisingly big and but we couldn’t find anything. While riding around a local guy on a played out Suzuki DR125 or DR175 pulled up next to Dan – revving his engine and popping the wheel off the ground a bit – he was excited to see us and checking the bikes out – Dan pulled a big wheelie for him and he lit up like he had fresh batteries installed in him. We stopped to talk to him for a second and Dan asked him where a hotel was – he signaled to follow him and he tore off like he was set on fire – weaving in and out of traffic, down one way streets the wrong way, thru stop signs, thru red lights, eventually taking us back out on the main road the way we had come and pulled into an unmarked and mostly unlit building that looked to be not that nice. His name was Franklin and he knew the owner who came out and gave us a nice welcome – $30 later we had a decent room with running water, A/C, 2 channels of staticy spanish TV, and a couple very nice beds. In the room a sign pointed to the pool and we thought sweet! Lets go for a dip in the morning…. P1000675The bikes went straight into the lobby for safety and we went walking up the road about 50 meters to an outdoor rotissarie chicken place… the food was incredible and John said it was the best rotissarie chicken he’d ever had – only problem was they didn’t have cold beer – they didn’t have ANY beer…. but it was $9 for both our dinners and drinks.

A few games of cribbage and we hit the sack early so we could hit the pool in the morning!! John barely hanging onto his lead now with only 15 points ahead.

Cheers….

Here is a shot of the pool in the morning – John still wanted to swim but I thought the green slime might leave a permanent mark … we decided to hit the road without a swim….

P1000421We hit the road early and the weather was nice. Cool and sunny to start but it got very hot later. We hit like 5 Policia check points and had to produce our documents in 4 of them. Stop the bikes take off the helmets and let the dude look at your passport, Bike docs and the like. Most were super nice, But it just takes time and you feel like your not getting anywhere. On top of that you are stopping in the hot sun and your mesh gear is not feeling very “meshy” when you’re sitting there stewing in your seat.

Over the entire trip we’ve had a lot of fun with our Scala intercom setups – almost every time one of us is talking to an official or a toll taker person or asking for directions – the other one of us is saying something in the intercom… While Dan is asking for directions John is saying in his ear something like: “Ask him if he knows where to find some ice cold beers” or worse… it’s very distracting but we both continue to do it. So, at one of these document stops we get stopped and John gets his docs checked and then the cop goes to Dan for his. He wants Dan to take his helmet off and once everything is ok – he cuts us loose. Dan gets his helmet back on and John says “$10 if you pull a wheelie out of here” – well, Dan pulls a big wheelie as he is rolling out of the police stop ahead of John – and John is surprised but disappointed that the cops apparently were looking elsewhere. I guess if Dan can’t beat John in cribbage he has to try some other way to earn his money back….

As we rolled down the CA1 PANAM hwy the cross winds were just wicked. The little V-strom is not a heavy bike so it would blow around pretty good. Thats ok really, But it takes a big time toll on your head and neck. your helmet gets buffeted badly. You feel like somebody is on the back wacking your helmet on each side and you just plain get worn out faster. We got about 80 clicks from Panama City and decided we would get a place on the beach and chill out. Find some internet and plan an attack on Panama City. Only one problem…We went up and down every friggin road around the beach and we could not find a place to stay. Also it is Carnival time here in Panama and you would not believe the traffic… I would say it was backed up for 30 plus miles (in the other direction) Also every cop in the country must have been on duty. We counted at least 40 cops in about 50 miles! Everyone had a radar gun. Most just waved at the Motobrothers though. We spent more time riding around than it would have taken to get to Panama City.

IMG_0750Finally we both got frustrated and in the end we said “screw it, lets just grind out the rest and get to P.City. Of course then we roll into a huge city with no plan, no place too stay and no idea of where to go. After riding around awhile looking for a cheap place or an internet cafe, we stumbled on a hostel. They had a room but no place to put the bikes except on the curb out front…. It was also a very dodgey area and we decided to pass. Plus the gal who was running it was kinda a grouch. So we got a couple of warm beers from them and stole some wifi. With the internet we locked into a place about a mile or two away. It turned out to be a little more than we wanted to pay but we were both shattered after a long day in the hot sun. We went for a dip in the rooftop pool, had a couple of drinks and crashed out.

Tomorrow we start the fun of trying to figure out how to get the bros and bikes to S.America

Cheers.

Not alot happend here today. We are in a holding pattern waiting to chat with the air cargo companies. We got up late and rode out to the airport to see if they were open. They weren’t, But we now know where they are and will cruise out there in the morning. We went back to the Hotel and chilled out, worked the internet for air cargo and tickets for us. Also we worked on catching you all up the blogs.

Last night we went to catch a cab down to a mall we saw on the way back from the airport. Let me preface this by telling you the cabbies are pretty agressive around here. There is always 4 or 5 trying to convince you to take thier cab and everytime you step out of any building a cabbie is standing there asking you if you need a cab. Before we got in we asked how much? the dude spoke no english and said “dos dollars” we thought sweet and jumped in. Quickly we realized he was heading in the wrong direction. I said to Dan he’s not going to the mall… we tried in vain to explain in our broken spanish where we wanted to go. He didn’t seem to get it. Dan sits back and says, “oh well, wherever we’re going its only 2 bucks!” We had a big laugh, and did finally point him in the right direction and we arrived at the mall. I stepped out of the cab on the curb and Dan was not even out of the cab. Some other cabbie comes ruunning up and says, Hey Senior Do you need a taxi?

Thats about all that happened to us today. Tomorrow we get up early and head down to the airport again.

Cheers.

We headed out to the airport today and went to every shipper we could locate. However the problem is its Carnival here in Panama and most places are either closed or have the juinor staff on. So getting any anwsers from some places was tough. 

IMG_0768We were told/read on the interrnet Copa Carga were “the” guys. We checked with them first and the dude was like 19. He made some calls, we think to his bosses (who were probably at the Carnaval … hammered) and then flatly said no. We had trouble comunicating with him about why. But we basically got that they have canceled cargo flights. We tried to ask when we could expect the filghts to start again, but all we got was stuff like “indeterminate”.

We then went to DHL and were informed that they do not deal with the public, only brokers. We went to FedEx they gave us a quote of $840 to Bogota thru Miami. Not possilbe to go to Quito or Cali – only Bogota. But we would have to have the bikes crated and someone would have to hadle the customs paperwork – again, we would need a broker.

Our “logistics” guy back home, Carlos, had done some of this legwork for us and he had gotten quotes from another broker called: Girag Cargo. Girag had quoted us about $1900 per bike to go to Quito via Bogota. We rolled into Girag to see what the story was. They were helpful and seem to know the story pretty well. Same numbers that Carlos got from them – $1900 per bike to Quito and $900 to Bogota.. Ouch! Not possible to go to Cali. They said they could do the bikes to Bogota any day. They also seemed to indicate that getting the bikes to Quito would be a challenge… they had to talk to some airlines and so forth. We’ve also read online that the Quito customs are a pain in the butt – on top of that we’ve seen people saying that it could take up to a week to get the bikes into Quito because they have to sit on the ground in Bogota for a while.

IMG_0769We headed back to the hotel to do a little more research on the internet. Dan had been having a dialog with Mike at Motolumbia (Extreme Bike Adventures) in Cali Columbia. Mike made a couple calls to Copa Carga in Cali and they thought that the Carnaval was the big problem and things would resume on Wednesday morning. They said because of Carnival nothing is moving from Panama till its over.

OK if you’re now confused thats OK because so are we. We decided to wait till Wensday when people go back to work. Then try to get Copa and Mike in Columbia to help us get the rigs to Cali. Mike seems super willing to help. He will help us get the bikes out of customs and has a biker hostel we can stay at till we’re ready to head out of Columbia. Hopefully it’ll all work out….Tomorrow we’re going to go for a ride and check out the Panama Canal.

Cheers

Ever heard of the movie groundhog day??? We awoke again in our little 8x10 room, 2 beds, tiny bathroom with a shower but no showerhead, and no windows. We took a dip in the pool last night in the dark and Dan hung is suit in front of the Air conditioner to dry. By morning the room had took on a smell that can only be described as panama sewage tainted swamp water. Later that day we saw the pool in the daylight and we understood where the smell originated….

We made some calls and followed up on some info we got yesterday about shipping companies. We were told by almost everyone that Carnaval would prevent anything or anyone from doing anything involving getting the Motobrothers out of Panama City.. Today is the last day of Carnaval and everyone was either not at work and drunk or at work and not working at work.

IMG_0772We decided to get some fresh (but damp, humid, and stagnated) air so we went for a ride on the bikes. On our spin we were stopped by a Military Dude who was not happy to be working or just plain not happy. He was the equivalent of a Panama version of Barney Fife. He held us in the hot sun for what seemed like 45 minutes looking at our documents. He asked us the same questions over and over. He even called it in on the radio to check our passports. We both just smiled, acted stupid (which comes naturally for both of us), and smiled -answered his questions again and again. At one point he just put our passports in his pocket and started checking other folks in their cars…. While we waited and waited. He finally decided that we were no threat and we might actually outlast him… and he released us. We rode on down this road that followed the coastline. The road went about 20 miles and ended in this little crappy town. On the way down there we ran several guantlets of maybe 8 or 10 kids who were loaded with water buckets, water balloons, or hoses. They would dose the passing cars with water. At first they weren’t throwing water at us – but Dan egged them on because he was hot and inadvertently caused them to bomb John who was following… When we reached the crappy little town, we just turned around and headed back the way we came – only to run all the gauntlets again – only this time, they hit us both with everything they had... All this time we were wondering what the checkpoint was protecting?? and what Barney was busting our balls about….

IMG_0778After maybe 20 miles of riding past the Barney Fife checkpoint, we headed up to the canal and found this spot at one of the locks. We parked, got some Lemonade for a street vendor and watch this huge ship go through the locks. We were about 20 feet away from the locks and no checkpoint, no security, no military protecting the biggest asset in Panama…. Go figure!

Back in town we went out for dinner and met a gal named Michelle North. She is a Panama gal who spent quite allot of time in the states and spoke perfect English and Spanish. We decided to hire her for tomorrow to help us figure out the crazy maze of catch 22’s and carnaval dead ends we seem to continue to run into.  

Tomorrow we hope to catch some people working and who might be interested in doing their jobs….

Cheers

 

 

 

The day started early for us – we were up around 7am – we had packed our stuff last night so that we were ready to head out. Thinking positive and hoping for the best.

IMG_0781We met Michelle for breakfast and laid out our plan of attack. Dan had some email threads with Mike at Motolumbia.com – Mike called his contacts at Copa Cargo in Cali Columbia who confirmed somethings for us – and gave some other information that was contrary to what we had heard locally. The info we had heard locally however was also contrarary to what we had heard locally…

First off – let’s start out by saying that going into today we were about 150% confused and frustrated. It’s  really hard to adequately describe the amount of hassles and obfuscation we have gone thru trying to get these bikes shipped out. Our first choice was to ship the bikes to Quito, Ecuador for various reasons – but that has turned out to be all but impossible. While some of the shipping brokers say they will take the bikes to Quito – for $2000 EACH bike – what is really transpiring is that the bike goes first to Bogota and is unloaded – then if and when they figure out a flight from Bogota to Quito – then the bike gets shipped to Quito. We saw a couple threads on the Internet from people who have done this shipping and they all complained about it taking a week or more to ship the bike and then several days to get the bike out of Quito customs.

So … we made the decision to go to Columbia – with our first choice being into Cali. Why Cali? – because we had friendly help in Cali (Mike at Motolumbia) and because Cali is a full days ride closer to the border of Ecuador.

When we got started with Michelle – we started calling Copa Cargo in Panama – Copa is known to fly cargo from Panama to Cali and Bogota but when we were out at the air cargo terminal they indicated that the flights cancelled “indefinitely”. Well, Mike in Cali had called a friend of his (Gustavo) at Copa Cargo in Cali, Columbia and Gustavo indicated that there were flights going on Wednesday and Friday. When Michelle talked to the folks at Copa Cargo in Panama, they continued to tell us that there were no flights until maybe next week. We called Copa Cargo in Panama several times and each time tried to talk to a different person – which only resulted in us getting a different answer each time – yes we are flying to Cali and Bogota, no we are not flying to Columbia indefinitely, the flights will resume next week, or call us back tomorrow morning when the boss (El Jeffe) will be in… jeeze… after 7 or 8 calls we decided that maybe the Copa guys really were out for Carnaval and it was hopeless….

So we started working on a couple of brokers… Girag and ServiCarga. Servi was very helpful and had quotations for going to Bogota – $900 for the bikes, $75 more for hazardous cargo permit, $15 for this, $40 for that, etc… etc… probably about $1100 each bike – she wasn’t sure if the bike would go today, tomorrow, or next century – just leave it here and we will take care of it…. yea, right.

We then called Mike at Motolumbia in Cali – what a great guy – he said give him 15 minutes and he would call Gustavo at Copa and confirm a few things… so we busied ourselves with yet more calls to yet more people who continued to tell us yet more reasons why it can’t be done… and after 15 minutes we called Mike back. Ok – Gustavo is happy to talk to us and he can do the paperwork from Cali and we can just drop the bikes at Copa – give him a call around 2pm…. wow… did we just get confirmation that the bikes were going to be heading out???? to Cali? – maybe…

At this point it was about noon – we’d been at the phone calls for 4 hours now – and I decided we should work on Girag a bit more because we had a quote from them and they have a decent reputation but we didn’t know all the details…. so we called them up one more time –

This time we got ahold of a gal named Luz Lopez – what a information machine!!! – she had all the answers and details – bish bash bosh, she just cranked it out – if you get the bikes out here today they will leave for Bogota tonight, the cost will be $900 each bike including all the permits etc…, she said the customs guys at the airport would stamp the bills of ladings, it can only be paid in CASH (Confirming what our buddy back home (Carlos) had said) blah blah blah… so we had a confirmed (as much as can be confirmed anyway) way of getting them to Bogota. Do you want to talk to the guy in charge? or the woman that knows whats going and really runs the joint.

IMG_0789We took off for the bank and lunch. The first bank we hit (Citi) would not do a cash advance on Visa or Debit cards – ok, next bank. We hit the HSBC – yes, we do cash advances but only for $1000 per card. Ok – drag out a couple cards to get $2000 and then hit the cash machine for another $500 and we figured we had enough cash to get things done.

While at lunch we called Gustova back in Cali to see what the story was from Copa in Cali….

Let me interrupt this little story to see if you’re as confused as we were… because by this time of the day we had made maybe 45 or 50 phone calls – talked to people in 3 countries – gotten just about every conflicting story you could imagine – been told that nobody is working today (even though it isn’t Carnaval anymore) – and John was literally to the point where he said “I can’t follow who is saying what they can do, what they can’t do, or what they might or might not do. Please just tell me where to drop the bikes and cash off.” 

Anyway – we got ahold of Gustova at Copa … in Cali – he had done some checking on flights and so forth – yes, they can ship the bikes from Panama to Cali – but they wouldn’t go until next Wednesday – a week away… so, any savings we would realize by shipping direct with Copa instead of a broker would be eaten up by us hanging out in hotels waiting and we would waste a week not moving… it made the decision easy for us to go with Girag and get things moving.

We made yet another call to Girag – talking to Luz with all the answers – yes, we can get them on the plane today if you get here by 3:30…. well, we cranked it up and got out there by around 3pm….

Dan got to work on the paperwork while John dug thru the bags – repacking things and getting stuff organized and ready to transport the bikes. About an hour of paperwork and a big wedge of cash and everything was ready to roll … except the bikes weren’t on a pallet and were just sitting there in the shade…waiting.

IMG_0805The Girag guys brought a big flat aluminum sheet out – we rolled the bikes on there and got things positioned for them. Then they began to tie they down with scraps of webbing and straps. And it looked like they had never tied a motorcycle down before – we watched for maybe 1/2 hour and then they sort of asked us what we thought –

<They're way

we went to test the tie downs and showed them the bikes would easily tip over. Great, maybe we shouldn’t watch this… but then we just starting untying and retying the bikes and got them tied down in such a way that they “maybe’ would do ok… what we wouldn’t have given for some proper tie down straps …

 

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<Our way

When we finished the tie down it was about 5:15 and we were worried that we wouldn’t make it to customs in time – rush over to customs and we got the proper stamps on the bills of lading and all that stuff –

Since the bikes were heading out tonight we decided to try to catch a flight to Bogota this evening and had Michelle/taxi drop us at the airport. We settled up with Michelle and said our thanks/goodbyes and headed in to buy a ticket to Bogota…. after searching for WiFi and researching tickets we eventually decided to just go to the Copa counter and buy a ticket… John’s wife Lynn had mentioned that we will probably need to buy a round trip ticket because Columbia Immigration would require proof of onward journey and she was right about that – the Copa guys made it clear that it would be hard to convince the immigration guys in Bogota that we were flying one way and riding out etc… So, the difference between one way and round trip was only about $20 a ticket – so we just paid the price — about $368 per ticket…

It was a decent flight to Bogota, we hit the ground, cleared immigration, cleared customs, grabbed a taxi and ended up in a decent (but overpriced) hotel – and we sit here now at a little after 1am typing this blog in –we’re hoping our bikes had a nice flight, got a little glass of oil or fuel and had a little bag of bolts and nuts. More importantly are actually here, in one piece and we can get them out of Girag and through customs in some reasonable time period…..

All toll, an expensive day – about $1800 to ship the bikes, $735 for flights, and another $150 in taxis, meals, copies, translator, misc fees, etc…OUCH! but we are in South America and onto the second leg of the journey.

Cheers…