December 11, 2006

Copan, Honduras

One thing I forgot to talk about in the last update was our experiences in Boquete, Panama. We had heard good things about this town so we decided to check it out and take a different route out of Panama. We drove into the highlands and it was the first time in a very long time that we were cool. A few thousand feet of altitude makes all the difference in the world. This town is a quaint little place in the highlands with an inactive volcano nearby. Beautiful lush mountains tucked away in valleys. As we were driving through Boquete, in the rain, Doug was flagged down by a passing car. Turns out it was a fellow American and more importantly a BMW GS rider. He took us back to his gated community for the afternoon and let us even stay the night. David and his Russian wife had just moved to fact, that very day their container from the states was delivered and so they were mid stride of unpacking into their new townhouse. None the less, they took us in and treated us really well with drinks, food, and a great dinner at a local Peruvian restaurant. That was followed by the best ice cream I've had in a long time, which only cost a quarter. The community they lived in, called Valle Escondido, was pretty amazing as well. It sat high up in a very scenic valley, and was pretty much an all inclusive place, complete with homes, condos, villas, golf course, horse stables, coffee shop, bar, restaurant, gym, amphitheater, hotel etc. There's a nice stream running through the entire complex, and everything is very well manicured. To say the least, this place was pretty surreal, and unexpected. The hospitality was well received.

From Boquete we drove fabulous mountain roads north to another spot we heard was a must see, Bocas del Tore. The drive was there was the highlight by far. To get to Bocas we had to store the bikes in a somewhat secure parking spot... basically in someone's fenced in front yard. Then get a water taxi for the half hour ride to the island of Bocas. Neither Doug or I were impressed with this island. It seemed dirty and nothing all that special. We both were expecting nice beaches and that was part of the problem, there aren't beaches. The island is mostly surrounded by mangroves. However, we spent the night and took in the place before taking the taxi back in the morning and retrieving our bikes. I believe Bocas has some really nice spots, but we were not interested in spending the money to stay at the really flashy resort hotels that certainly are there.

After Bocas, we were determined to get into Costa Rica. We had heard about some wild bridges en-route. These rumors did not disappoint at all. Both bridges are right near the border into Costa Rica. The first was worse than the second, but both were quite daunting and had my heart racing. I was more scared on both these bridges than I ever was on Mount Everest or on the Bering Strait. They both are old train bridges that trains don't travel on anymore. They left the train tracks in place, put down some 2x10 inch boards on each side of the rails and now it's a car and truck bridge. Absolutely crazy to see semis driving across these things. In many places there is no rail, so if you fall over or drive off, you are in the river. And in many, many places the boards are rotten or even missing. So, as you can imagine it can be quite daunting on a motorcycle.

We started out on the first one, Doug first and myself about 20 feet behind. After about 30 yards I almost laid my bike down. You keep your feet slightly dragging to keep your balance at such a slow speed, meanwhile trying not to look down through all the gaps. Well, I caught my foot in a gap and almost went down. Seems like a really easy way to break a foot, ankle, or leg. I maintained balance, and just when I looked ahead, Doug's bike was laying in the middle of the bridge on its side. He got a bit off balance and started swerving and the bike got away from him. Fortunately he laid it down in the middle of the bridge and not off the other side, or it would have been gone. I got stopped and put my kickstand down to go help him... but my kickstand only found air underneath it... a missing board. I maneuvered it to a good spot. By the time I got to Doug, two guys from the truck behind us, had got out and we all got his bike back upright and tires back on the 2x10's. No damage done, just some fast pumping blood.

We continued on and made it the rest of the way with only a few close calls. The next bridge was right on the border. We checked out of Panama on one side, had a wild ride across, fortunately without incident, and checked into Puerto Rico on the other side. Both these bridges were by far the most challenging riding we have had to date, and the biggest consequences if a mistake was made.

The east coast of Costa Rica is beautiful and unpopulated, and we had a great ride into San Jose, the big city there. We went straight to the BMW dealer and both of us had new rear tires put on our bikes. We have enough miles on that it was time. The dealer there is fabulous. Prompt, friendly service while we waited. Then they even gave us a spot to change our own oil.

The next day we drove the rest of Costa Rica and into Nicaragua. We chose a different, longer route back up through the center of the country, so we could experience some more of this place. Another very scenic and fun drive. Spent the night outside a small town called Sebaco. We hitched a ride into town and checked the place out. It was Friday night, so lots going on. Most notably Farmers Market. I was in awe at the radishes, carrots, onions, and watermelons. People were friendly, and we even explored some neighborhoods that looked a bit questionable, but we never had any problems.

We choose to cross at a small border station into Honduras, and on a Sunday. Well, they have a many step process to get into Honduras, that we have never understood. Part of what is involved is paying part of your entrance fees at a bank, before getting the appropriate stamps. No problem, but on Sunday, the banks are closed. For the first time, we had a woman border agent issuing our vehicle permits. And she was quite motherly, even though we had a bit of a language barrier. After a little confusion and long discussions, it seems she took care of all of our paperwork, collected our money, and was going to the bank for us on Monday, and file all the appropriate papers. We were extremely happy about that, as we thought we might be spending the afternoon and next day sitting at the border, or coming back to the border if we stayed elsewhere. And we didn't want to do that. After a few hours, she sent us on our way, with well wishes.

We drove until mid afternoon in rain, sun, mist, and fog, on some of the best roads we've been on, and most fascinating landscape. Honduras has really been a surprise and treat. Beautiful mountains, twisty roads, friendly people, and so many shades of green that it's hard to describe. We spent the night on the shores of Lake Yojoa. A pretty big lake tucked into a lush green landscape. It was good to be off the bikes for a few hours.

Today we had a short day and traveled way north, and then cut south to some ancient Mayan ruins called Copan. We spent several hours exploring the ruins, and we don't really know how all these blocks of stone were moved and piled up. Seems like it must have been an awful lot of work way back when. The town of Copas Ruinas is a quaint little village with cobblestone streets and great shops, with friendly locals. A real gem of a place. We may spend a few days here and take a rest, as we've been on the bikes for quite a few days running. Seems like a good spot to rest up before we head back into Guatemala.

Until next time,