Friday, July 29, 2011

Killing time, overlooking Bogota (in a restricted area)

This video is sort of a test of my replacement camera (use the 1080p setting on youtube) and holds an explanation of my prolonged stay in Colombia, the end is particularly fun. Israel in Classic form (there wasn't a sign).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A missing bike and an uncovered beer, trial and consolation in Bogota

I am stuck in Bogota without wheels and though this photo might indicate that I'm unconcerned, it's because last night I thought for sure that my BMW would be here this morning(shipping went from Saturday to Sunday and finally to Tuesday morning) , which it is not. Thus far, attempts to locate my missing friend have netted nothing and I'm becoming slightly ill. The phone is evidently a useless tool in Latin America and I may just have to go to the airport to get some answers, but it looks at the very least as if I will be here one more day.

  At least I know where to get ice cold Duff, which will offer some temporary comfort.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Panama, a country on the rise

  It's amazing what a break in transportation can do for growth, and Panama's economy, much like the buildings here in Panama city, is on it's way up. I found building and infrastructure projects to be widespread, from skyscraper and road construction to roadside garbage removal (something sorely needed in the rest of Central America). Though there were still pockets of poverty and the percentage living under the poverty line is still around %25 the past few years have seen a shrinking of income inequality, Panamas GINI index, which measures income distribution(0 being perfectly equal and 1 being perfectly unequal), has dropped from 56.1 in 2003 to a respectable,by Latin American standards, 51 in 2010. The real per capita GDP is $13,000 (the highest in central America)and the GDP has continued to grow even through the global economic downturn, at the moment it is about 8%, down a bit from the 10.1% of 2008 but still very robust. The outlook for the future here is bright indeed with the canal expansion project, started in 2007, due to be complete in just a couple of years, commerce will only be bolstered and it stands to reason that strong growth will continue.
  Oh by the way, their economy is Dollar based.
                                      The Canal, as seen from the seat of my BMW at 50MPH

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cheap accommodations and early morning fishermen

   Following a long, but good night of riding, I saw that the highway was close to the ocean so I kept a close eye for roads to my right which might lead me to a secluded beach. I was successful in my search and a treacherous access road led me here. After setting up camp and popping open a 60 cent beer (they must subsidize it here) I was mildly disturbed to see the bounding illumination of a flashlight and hear a multitude of voices approaching, it was 2 in the morning. As several men emerged from the thick overgrowth I noticed that one was pushing a wheelbarrow. They were as surprised to see me as I was to see them and one said camp followed by fish. This perplexed me, I was certainly camping but how the hell were they going to fish with a wheelbarrow? I watched as they walked down the beach a bit and then turn back towards the brush, it was here that they uncovered three canoes and carried each to the water and departed.
  I awoke this morning to find the boats in the distance and one guy on shore with a huge fire raging. As I curiously looked on something exploded in the fire and all the canoes began to make their way back to the rendezvous point. This is when I snapped the picture.
  It's going to a full day, I'm about 20 miles from the world largest break in transportation and I'm really looking forward to seeing the canal.
  Wish me luck with the shipping business, it's possible that the bike and I could be in Colombia tomorrow.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Escape from San Jose, Take Two

   I am officially out of Costa Rica! After another costly repair of a part due for replacement at about 100,000 miles(The bike had 99,350 on it) I departed San Jose yesterday in the early afternoon. The mountains in southern Costa Rica proved chilly and I was happy to reach flat ground and warmer temperatures.After a clear night under the stars, this morning I was stopped for speeding for the first time during the 4,500 miles thus far, the cops were on a massive straightaway hidden behind trees next to a sign with children on it and a 25kph speed limit. I was clocked at 115kph , the policeman shook his head as he said mucho , mucho and pointed out the sign which I hadn't even reached. He told me that the fine would be $600.00. After a while his buddy(riding a BMW too) spoke to him and he let me go with a warning. Aside from the close call with the hidden Federali's there was even further good fortune today, crossing the Panamanian border proved to be a breeze, I spent less than one hour there, which must surely be some kind of Central American record.
   The roads here are rather nice and I was able to manufacture some time(if you follow my meaning) this Afternoon, which is good, it's a long stretch to Panama City and I need to be there early in the morning to sort out the details of shipping my bike to Bogota. After the week long ordeal in San Jose I'm having to fly the motorcycle to South America, this more costly but far quicker than a boat ride.
   It's now time to blow this Mcdonalds and ride into the night. Panama city is about 120 miles ahead and it will be fun trying to use every drop of gas in getting there(they drain the tank before loading on the plane)

On a side note, but very much related to my adventure, I wish to publicly thank my cousin and friend,  Jimmy Burkhardt who threw down a passel of cash to help with the repairs to the BMW. The bike is now running perfectly and my journey to Argentina continues

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Just when I thought I was out.......San Jose pulled me back in.

    This morning was fabulous, blue sky's hung overhead, scrambled eggs filled my breakfast plate, and great news made it to my email, the bike was ready. I hurriedly packed my luggage and took an excruciating, traffic jammed, cab ride over to the ritzy part of town (complete with a new national stadium, funded by China) and happily paid the silly $15 fare (there is only one cab company in town). My good humor grew even greater after I saw the my bimmer glimmering clean. Aside from the new clutch and starter work, the guys in the service department at Motocicletas Bavarian had really cleaned her up (from left to right, Adrian, Izzy, Adolfo, Alexander).
   After fully loading the bike and saying my goodby's, I hit the road. Not far into my ride I noticed a bit of vibration but thought that it was simply the knobby tires, or a side effect of the new clutch. Surely it was all in my head. I briefly considered turning around but thought that if there was indeed something wrong it would become more clear with time. Once I reached the mountains, about 25 miles away from the dealership, it became very apparent that the vibration was becoming worse, to the point of making noise. I pulled over and this is what I saw.
 Following a cathartic yawp (which was unsuitable for tender ears), I pulled a card from my passport and called Adolfo. After an hour or so, Alexander and another fellow arrived and helped me to load my injured BMW onto a trailer and we then returned to San Jose.
   The preliminary diagnosis is wheel bearing failure, however, the impetus of this is as of yet, unknown. Unfortunately they don't have the wheel bearing kit in stock, so my departure from San Jose is.... UNCERTAIN

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Time and Rain in San Jose: Dusting off old Memories

     This afternoon, as I sat overlooking a soggy central square in San Jose, Costa Rica I contemplated what to do for the next few days till my motorcycle is repaired (Wednesday at the earliest).Though I will likely devote at least one day to bus rides and a national park possessing monkeys and exotic birds, much of the down time will be spent searching for something cheap to do.
   I've taken up residence at a strange hippie commune of a hostel close to downtown (last night there was some sort of secretive "pacifists" meeting(?!!)), the rate was a rather steep $25 a night but my room and attached bathroom are private and the wireless internet connection while in the commons area is strong so computer use is rather easy.
   I have, for a while, been contemplating writing down some of the better stories from my ,shall we say colorful, past and perhaps this is the time to begin. The first of these I'll post has already been written. It transpired in sunny Jordan, the two years between then and now leave my mind ambivalently uncertain whether it is recent past or ancient history, however, there is no doubt that I am not the same today as I was on 9-9-9.

                                 A Straight Road, A Crooked Innkeeper, and A Crazy American:
                                                            Israel in the Middle East

9-9-9    6:20 P.M.
    I am in the ancient ruins of Petra’s Central Temple.  The searing sun has hidden itself behind a massive rock formation adorned with marvelous architecture.
    It has been a trying couple of days.  Monday after a tedious trip I was led to a hotel my travel guide warned was often rude to patrons (amongst other gripes), however, tired as I was it seemed prudent to at least examine the room.

    The proprietor of the Valentine Inn called for a petite Polynesian looking girl to show me the room.  As I followed her up a set of stairs then down a corridor, she made small talk, asking of my origins, travel plans and name.  We reached the door of the room I stepped inside, though it was reasonably clean I was a bit disheartened by the apparent lack of air-conditioning.  As I searched the walls for an A/C unit my guide hastily approached me and asked in a firm but conciliatory voice, “Please help me"

    My petite guide went on to tell me of her misfortune.  She was Philippine, her name Abigail, her employment in Jordan, a modern form of indentured service.  The proprietor of the hotel held her passport, overworked her, assaulted her, and withheld her pay.  She pleaded for me to take her  to the Philippine Embassy in Amman.   I agreed, but first wanted to visit the ruins of Petra.  We walked back to the lobby and Abie whispered, “Please sir, please don’t tell them.”  I was convinced her story was true.
    Upon my asking the nightly rate of the room the proprietor responded, “Sit, sit and drink.  Bring him a coffee.” To this I asked to retrieve my travel guide from the car using its less than flattering review to bargain with.
    After striking a deal for two night’s room and board, I procured a bottle of Scotch and ventured out onto the balcony.  There was quite a diverse collection of folks lounging around the seating area.  A few Brits, an Asian lady, a brother and sister pair of Belgians, and there was even a fellow from Atlanta, Georgia.  I started pouring drinks and before I knew it everyone was around one table exchanging stories and laughing.  It was a great time.  But as the hours grew later, our group dwindled.  In the end a Belgian, Peter, and I remained.  Having emptied the first bottle of Scotch, I went in to retrieve another.
    Though most of the rooms were accessible from the exterior, my room required passing through the lobby which was locked.  After beating on the door for what seemed to be quite a long time, the innkeeper’s very rough looking henchman answered.  He informed me that the door was to remain locked and I need to go to my room for the evening.  I found this unacceptable.  The pesky Jordanian bellhop attempted in vain to argue with me as I marched upstairs to my room.  I hastily snatched the bottle of Glenlivet  and headed back outside.  As I reached the front door, I noticed Mr. Congeniality had walked away having left the key in the lock.  This was a tantalizing opportunity.  The devil on my left shoulder said, “ Go ahead take it.”
    The angel on my right shoulder then said, “Yeah, man.  Take it.”  And with that the deed was done.
    I showed my plunder to Peter and we had a good laugh followed by a drink.  It did not take our host long to appear searching for the missing key. 
    He matter of factly asked, “Where is the key?”
    To which I answered, “What key?”
    I saw the anti -American sentiment mounting in his eyes as he pointed and stated, “The key in the door.”
    I told him, “I only have the key needed to get in my room.”
    He asked again, and my answer was as redundant as his question.  Peter and I watched as he left in a tizzy.  After finding another key and locking the door, he produced a bedroll and laid down next to the door.  Another good laugh was had and we speculated on the future confrontation.
    The next couple of hours spent in conversation with Peter were some of the best I have ever had.  We covered it all, politics to religion.  Alas, all good things come to an end and though scotch remained, we were finished.
    Having said goodnight to Peter, I stashed the pilfered key and went to the locked front door.  Initially I knocked, but the door Nazi remained silent.  As my frustration increased so did the persistence and firmness of my knocks.  Nothing, my knocks changed to kicks and finally, a response, he sat up and looked at me as I kicked, telling him to open the door.  He shook his head as if he could not understand.  I went from lightly kicking the glass of the door to straining my thigh kicking its aluminum frame.  The entire assembly was shaking in the wall as I bluffed to my adversary intentions of breaking the door down.  Erring on the side of caution, he swiftly rose and unlocked the door.  By this time, there was a definite look of concern, if not outright fear, on my sand dwelling friend’s face and he was very non-confrontational as I entered.
    Feeling a tad haughty, rather than going to bed I remained in the lobby using the computer a while as I swilled upon my Scotch.  I stumbled up the stairs to my room around 4 or 4:30 am.
    I was awakened from a dreamless sleep by persistent knocking around 8:00 am.  I answered the door to find Abie going above and beyond to insure I did not miss breakfast and the first microbus ride to the ruins, or so I thought.
    As I walked down the corridor, somewhere between drunk and hung over,  I noticed my walking, talking indentured alarm clock looked stressed, however, she said nothing.  We reached the lobby and Abie retreated, informing me she was getting me a coffee.  I was then quickly accosted by the owner and quizzed over the missing key.  “Do you have the key?” he asked sternly, pointing at the door.
     I responded, “No.”  Which was true in a roundabout way.  Unsatisfied, the proprietor’s inquisition continued.
    I attempted to point out that I was locked out of my room to little avail.  Finally, I relented, fetching the key from the balcony.    I passed Peter and his sister who were in the middle of breakfast and offered up a woeful shake of the head.  Peter grinned and I continued on my way back inside to face the music.  I was intercepted by Abigail and handed a cup of thick Middle Eastern coffee.  She then quickly disappeared.
    While handing the key to the laird I was informed I must leave.  I had been there less than twelve hours.  It seemed my trip to the Philippine Embassy was to be moved forward.  Needing to buy some time, I complained I deserved a refund having paid for two nights.   The innkeeper gave a begrudging nod of the head dispatching his minion.  As his flying monkey collected my reimbursement, the owner continued with his condemnation, complaining, “You think you can do whatever you want?”  My frustration, having built to critical mass, I responded assertively as possible, “Fuckin’ A right, I paid for a room and  I’ll get into it when ever I please!”
    He then stated, “Get out, get out.!”  The lackey quickly reappeared bearing one fourth of what I originally paid.
    Possessing more persistence or math skill than they credited me with I asked in my most indignant voice, “ What the hell is this?  I’m not going anywhere until I get a full refund for at least one night’s rent.”
    The owner blasted back, “You owe me for the coffee!”
    I snickered and stated, “I didn’t ask for this, tastes like piss anyway.”
    I seldom lose when if comes to battles of will and soon received what I wanted.  The innkeeper followed out the door onto the balcony reiterating his contempt for me as we passed the breakfasting patrons.  I turned looking intently at him as he yelled, “Get out, get out!”
    My retort as I pointed was “You sir, you are a taker!”
    “It’s true.” This from a middle aged British lady as she covered her full mouth.  A more ringing affirmation I have never received.  Hastily I collected my things from the room and made a bee line for the car. Then pulling into a dead end alley beside the hotel I was approached by one of the maids and told that Abie was on her way.  I told her “I’ll slowly go to the end of the alley and turn around, tell Abigail to hurry.”  Hurry she did, carrying a bag nearly large as she.  I opened the passenger side doors from the inside.  She shoved her baggage in the back, shut the door and nimbly slid into the front seat.  As we pulled out of the alley I saw we weren’t the only ones in a car. The bastard had wheels.  This was going to be FUN!
    The chase is always my  favorite part of a story.  There are few things in life which I enjoy more than driving fast and I relished the opportunity to demonstrate my skills behind the wheel.  Initially the hotel owner in his Toyota having missed the chance to block our exit fell closely into line behind us.  We approached a series of down hill corners which grew increasingly steep and tight.  My Hyundai had a commendably gutsy V-6, however, suspension dynamics and handling must still be a bit of a black art in Korea and we found ourselves in slide after slide each one more lurid than the last.  I looked over at my passenger clasping tightly her oh shit bar as we drifted through a particularly long tight left hander, smiled broadly and said “don‘t worry, this is fun.”  She forced a  smile in return which was betrayed by the rest of her countenance.  Though I did not slow down, our pursuer had disappeared from the rear view mirror.  The direction of the roads in town made little sense and I found myself lost, Abie, having seldom left the hotel was of little help.  Delighting in the thought of my adversaries undoubted frustration over losing his chattel to the infidel, I neglected my inner compass, turning from  street to street.  Remembering I’d followed a cabby down the hill to the Inn the previous evening I knew to go back up.  The only problem was that the hotel was up hill as well, and as Murphy’s Law would have it, we turned up back at the Valentine Inn.  The owner. still in his car. once again gave chase.  Taking the same route descending as earlier, this time there was less sliding and more corner speed.  The second chase was over as quickly as the first, but this time I found my way out of town.  After about fifty kilometers of two lanes, we reached the four lane running north and south the expanse of the country.  Amman, here we come!


 There’s nothing quite like a desert highway, ribbons of asphalt narrowing as they stretch onto the horizon.  It’s with this setting that my story continues.  Amman lies some four hundred kilometers or two hundred fifty miles ahead.
    Now there is no shortage of police presence in Jordan.  On the four lane you pass a station every forty or fifty kilometers.  At each of these the cops would run radar and monitor traffic.  Upon deciding to stop a vehicle they would walk out onto the road wielding a stop sign resembling a giant lollypop and wave them over.
    At the first of these police stations Abie and I passed on our way north, we were stopped.  Realizing I had not been speeding, I had a good idea what was in store.  The two spindly Jordanian coppers peered inside as I rolled down the windows.  Immediately they asked for my passport.  They’d found their man.  “Out of the car, please,” one of them stated.
    After I emerged the other policeman then in an innocuous manner took me gently by the arm and said, “This way.”  He was leading me over to what must have been the only Crown Victoria in the entire Middle East.  I’d been somewhat lulled by these law dogs’ subdued natures, however, the sight of this Detroit behemoth gave pause and I looked back at my rental car to see the first police man placing his A K-47 in the back seat then begin to climb behind the wheel.
        “Fuck this!” I thought, jerking my arm from the grasp of the diminutive Jordanian officer.  As I ran to the Hyundai wagging my finger I said  “No, no, no.  You’re not leaving in my car.”  The policeman relented and rode in the back seat as I drove he and Abie to the police station across the highway.  I felt good about the fact that Abigail and I hadn’t been separated but pensively apprehensive over what was in store.  The architecture of the police station fit the stark desert scenery like a glove.  It was a white and tan concrete structure, having austere features which exposed  its soulless character.  “God, working here must suck,”  I contemplated as I entered, Abie and armed escort in tow.  Every eye in the house was trained on us as we walked by.
    Abigail and I were taken to an office with a sole occupant.  We sat on a couch along the right side wall, there was an empty desk to our right and on the other side of the room, in front of us there were two more couches.  One which was inhabited by an unusually tall local.  He was clad in a full white robe and topped with a flowing kaffiyah The years of sunlight had not been kind to the man, his leathery wrinkled skin likely making him look far older than he actually was.  One of his green eyes was locked upon me in an intent stare, while the other wandered eerily in no discernible pattern.  His expression was clinched and unwavering as if he were being assaulted by ulcers of which I was the cause.  This man did not like me.
    After a brief span of time the police captain arrived with a few officers and assumed his position behind the desk.  Initially speaking to Abigail in Arabic their conversation became increasingly aggressive.  I just shook my head and began talking to myself.  They switched to English and it became apparent that the police were accusing me of kidnapping.  Abie continually went over her story, always ending with “He is good man, he is helping me.  He is taking me to the embassy in Amman.”
    To which the captain would point at me and say, “This man, this man is a good man?”  This volley went on for a while and then finally they changed the story.  Telling Abigail she left the Valentine Inn with her American boyfriend.
    “This was unbelievable, just how deranged are these people?” I thought to myself as I laughed aloud.
    The phone rang.  The captain answered. The call was brief and one sided.   He replaced the receiver into its cradle and conversed with the mean old bastard in the kaffiyah prompting his exit from the room.  He appeared unhappy.  This was surely a good sign.  No American for lunch today!
    The captain then left the room as well.  One of the rank and file policemen sitting across from us took the opportunity to whisper “Is OK.” My head  throbbed as I thought of water.
    The captain returned.  There were further tales of Abigail and the American boyfriend.  Mercifully, the phone rang once again interrupting the senseless use of oxygen.  The phone was passed to Abie, she went over her story for the faceless visitor, said thank you, then passed the phone to me.
    “Hello?” I said.
    A voice questioned, “You are helping the girl?  Taking her to the Philippine Embassy in Amman?”
    “Yes,” I responded, “this is crazy!”
    The voice on the other end continued, “I am sorry.  Continue on.”
    I pulled the phone from my ear and the captain threw his hands up and out disgustingly shooing us from his sight.
    I quickly found myself back in my now beloved Hyundai and wasted no time putting the Justice Center in the rearview mirror.
    The remainder of the trip north was spent getting to know Abie and telling her about myself.  It was interesting, the music on Jordanian radio was good and I shared in Abie’s blissful optimism.  It was nice while it lasted.
    Finding the American Embassy was the first order of business.  Walking through the security in front of the consulate, I could feel my optimism begin to falter.  Politics is not a game with which I have much luck and the law of statistics weighed heavily on my mind. Upon entering I took a number and watched the others around me trying to discern how their days were going.  Most looked as if they were experiencing mild annoyance in what might be obtaining a replacement for a lost passport.  One lady looked particularly pleased, for what I can’t imagine.  And there was one man who appeared to be in complete misery, the kind reserved for the passing of a family member or beloved friend.  It was a reminder that things weren’t that bad, however, they could always get worse.
    After a few minutes of contemplation I was beckoned to a window.  The lady helping me was intelligent and well spoken.  My story was easily understood and all too familiar.  She asked the name of the hotel and when I told her, “ The Valentine Inn,” she replied, “Oh, yes, we know them.”  She went on to enlighten me as to the particulars of Abigail’s predicament.  Since Abie was there working in a business agreement she was bound to stay and finish said agreement, the terms of which were sketchy at best.  There existed a buyout of roughly $3000.00 but Abie was penniless and I wasn’t much better off.  I was told that with this hanging over her head, the Philippine government wouldn’t issue her a new passport.  There had for a while existed a moratorium on Philippine labor in Jordan but this had been lifted a few months previously.  And the trade of human capital was again in full force.  As I thought of the worthlessness of the Philippine government I asked aloud, “What sort of shit is this?”
    To which the envoy responded, “It’s the Middle East, man.” with an expression underlining her helplessness.   I expressed my thanks and salutations and walked away feeling rather impotent.  I returned to Abie in the car and told her the bad news.
    Ever the trooper, she held hope that someone at the Philippine Embassy would help her.  I was far less optimistic.
    Finding the Philippine Embassy was quite an ordeal.  There were multiple addresses and the real one was almost impossible to find, which was just as well, as they would prove to be as useless as a football bat.
    The Embassy was overrun with twentyish year old Philippine girls that possessed keen interest in our situation.  They followed us around wherever we went much to Abie’s chagrin.  The severity of her situation was becoming apparent.  She did not care for the prospect of joining this contingent of refugees living at the Philippine Embassy in Amman.
    We were shown to the diplomat’s office and our newly found friends followed.  The ambassador entered the room parting the sea of youthful Philippine girls.  He was bald, portly and possessed a slimy quality reminiscent of Jabba the Hut.  When he spoke, the girls hung on his every word.  It was evident he liked the attention.  He placed the blame for Abie’s situation on her employers and the Jordanian government  insinuating that his hands were tied when it came to issuing another passport.  To which I called B.S. citing that were I in a similar situation the U. S. government would quickly and easily issue me a replacement passport.
     With sluggish disregard the pustular bureaucrat continued on with his off base ramblings.  I tuned the Jerk out and thought of the food that, due to Ramadan, I could not have.  Mmm, two all beef patties, look at that waste of space, special sauce, how stupid does he think I am, lettuce, he smiles.  Cheese, and chuckles, pickles, looks at the girls, onion, Abie starts to cry. On a sesame seed bun, you fucker.
    I’d seen enough , got up and walked out.  What to do?  If I were to make it back to see Petra before departing Jordan, I needed to leave Amman the following morning.
    It’s difficult to not feel deflated when even your best is not good enough and I felt awful.  Another failure.  Poor Abigail.  I couldn’t do a thing for her and now I had to leave her.  What was I going to say?  What could I say?  She was about to be alone in a land of greedy blood thirsty wolves.
    Abie and I left the Embassy as the sun was setting, it had been a heck of a long day.  We found a grocery store followed by a hotel.  I gorged, flipped through the hundreds of Jordanian television stations, finding no shortage of Allah, half were religious, and finally fell into a deep sleep at about seven thirty p.m.,
    Sleep was great, I dreamed I was in another car chase and though it was far closer than the real ones I had had the previous day, I still got away in time to rise with the sun.
    During the night Abie had talked with a guy at the hotel who could supposedly get her work and a place to stay.  This made me feel a bit uneasy, but he seemed nice enough.  He asked if he could catch a ride with me to Petra where he would bargain with the innkeeper for the passport.  I agreed but thought it to be an exercise in futility.
    He got off work at eight a.m. I hugged Abigail, said goodbye, and departed south.  My new passenger talked incessantly and smoked nearly as much.
    During the three and a half hour trip I did quite a fine job disregarding the idle chatter.  Thinking of the past couple of days I was unsure whether the world was a better, or worse, place due to my actions.
    I reached the Valentine Inn, my passengers exited as I told him “good luck”  I then hastily departed.
    I found Petra to be an amazing place. I spent what was left of the day hiking around this marvelous city and as I hiked I pondered. Though debatable, on many fronts, the effect I’d had on the world over previous days, whatever my role, that of saint or sinner, an adventure it surely was.  One worth writing down.

    I have managed to keep up with Abigail and the unraveling of the rest of her story. After further complications involving the Jordanian judicial system she has been reunited with her family in the Philippines. (we are Facebook friends)

Friday, July 15, 2011

To the Pacific with a slipping clutch

Yesterday bestowed both happiness and concern as I reached the pacific for the first time but did so amid adversity. My day began with an ATM transaction which concluded, me with money and machine with card. After my card was returned three hours later the two lane road (pan American highway) was packed to the gills. While passing a laden Kenworth I noticed that my RPMs were shooting up, however, my speed was not. The problem persisted and I was forced to remain in the queue at speeds of around 30 to 40 MPH. This gave me plenty of time to contemplate my predicament. Fortunately the only BMW shop in Costa Rica was easily found shortly after arriving in San Jose, unfortunately the repairs will take time(till Wednesday)and are prohibitively expensive (in the ball park of $1500). Though I'm a bit disheartened by recent events I'm still in good spirits overall and feel as though this view of the Pacific won't be the last of my trip.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Impassable Roads and Impossible Borders.

I was taking the road less traveled on my way to a small border crossing when this photo was taken along the southern shore of Lake Nicaragua as the darkness, I was warned to avoid, descended. It all had a familiar ring, the road began in good repair but quickly fell to shambles. After about 20 miles of dirt, rock and watery bridges, traveled more by hoof than tire, I came to a muddy work site where there was no passing. The water was far too deep. So, I returned to the main road, parting the occasional herd of cattle and even a ceremony honoring St. Maria which had spilled into the street(?). Once arriving at the primary border crossing into Costa Rica I hired a fixer to arrange the mountains of paperwork entailed in bridging Central American countries, however, unlike previous times, this guy quit after getting me exit from Nicaragua, telling me he couldn't enter Costa Rica. It was 9 pm and the migration office was open but everything else on the Costa Rican side looked to be closed, I got my passport stamped and continued on. At the border exit I was asked for my motorcycle permit which I didn't have. The gentleman pointed me to an out of the way building where once arriving I was told of everything I needed to obtain my permit, I was instructed to return to the migration building to purchase insurance. I told the woman that everything in that building other than the migration office was closed to which she replied, "is open till ten". I returned to find that the insurance salesman had indeed left early. Back on the bike I once again searched out the permit dispensing lady. She informed me that I couldn't get the paperwork till I bought local insurance and I would have to wait till tomorrow. I posed the question of why exactly they were open if they couldn't perform their tasks do to the lack of available insurance, an answer wasn't forth coming. I told her to enjoy her night in bed and departed. After loading my motorcycle I headed for the border exit and as the police man approached to check the permit, I gassed it! The roads here are nice, reflectors on the lines and all, I made haste and blew by the first police checkpoint before they could aptly respond(about10 miles inside the border), at the second of these though they were lying in wait and federali's had canvased the road. I came to a complete stop and rather that shooting or beating me they told me to return to the border. On my way back I passed a gated hotel and took a room to rest my weary bones (far better than laying on asphalt next to overworked Macks and Kenworths).
        That was last night, once I finish this post, I'm back to the border to finish the pain that is a Central American border crossing and will hopefully spend the night in San Jose.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Honduras, a weekend of firsts.

   Following A painful shakedown at the Guatemalan/Honduran border I enjoyed a terrific stay at the Caserio Valuz, an amazing inn by any standard. Those of you that know me well are aware of my love for driving and machinery. So when Jorge E. Valle-Aguiluz, my couchsurfing host in Honduras, and proprietor of the inn, offered me use of his micobus this weekend, I jumped at the opportunity. Along with being my first time behind the wheel of this sort of VW , I also experienced my first Catholic mass(complete with deranged heckler and stray perros) and first meal in a mud hut(light provided by candle).
   My five day tourist visa is up today and I'll be making my way to Nicaragua and what may very well be another torturous border crossing. I hope the miles afterwards pass quickly though as I need to be at the Panama canal by the weekend to search for passage to Colombia. Hopefully I'll develop sea legs along the way.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The road to nowhere;part II

   I was awakened to the infernal sounds of dueling roosters at around 4:30 in the morning, the fowl were persistent in their calls and after an hour of attempting to ignore them I gave up and emerged from my room to welcome sunshine (the sun rises early here), the ground looking pretty dry considering the rain which had fallen the previous evening. I removed the tarp and repacked my bike while slowly surveying the damage incurred to the BMW from it's repeated meetings with terra firma. Though the Jesse panniers had gained a few scratches as well as the engine guards. I was happy to find that the bike itself was virtually unscathed.
  The owner of the house approached as I sat on the porch contemplating my next move and told me that a bus was was to pass at 6, strangely coming from the direction that he said was impassible the night before(I knew there was something fishy about that).A quick glance at my clock relieved that it was 5:58 and I hurriedly prepared to leave. At 5 minutes past six a brightly painted multicolored International school bus emerged from the Jungle. It was amazing, how the hell did they get that up here, I thought. Even equipped with aggressive tires, I couldn't fathom how the massive Detroit iron could pull the grades which were around 35 to 40 degrees in places.
   I quickly departed, shouting gracias and adios to my host as I tailed the bus out of the village.I kept plenty of space between myself and the giant leader. The big International did remarkably well in straight line ascents, however, when attempting to turn tightly and climb the rocky surface simultaneously it would often become stuck. When this happened a group of men would file off the bus and push till it had traction once again. During one of these instances, I was climbing a particularly steep grade and came across the stalled bus and was forced to stop. Upon coming to a halt the rocks gave way and and the bike and I slid backwards till we met the ground in what certainly the most violent spill yet. A couple of the guys helping push the bus came to help me lift the bike and then advised me with sign language to bypass the bus, which backed up to allow me to do so. After reaching the point I'd turned off the GPS recommended route the night before I stopped and awaited the arrival of the bus. It took a small road off to the right which mercifully intersected another wide and relatively smooth road that just happened to be heading in the direction I needed to go. Honduras here I come.
               After following the colorful bus down the mountain for around 30 kilometers, the tires of my steed once again met pavement and I quickly made my way to what was to be a painfully slow and frustrating border crossing into Honduras.                  
                                                                                     till later -Israel

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Road to Nowhere

   After passing through Guatemala City with minimal trouble, I stopped to contemplate my route to the Honduran border. The Central American map on the GPS I'm using only marks main routes (primary and large secondary), but when used in conjunction with paper maps I have been able to get around rather well.  So, when I saw a very direct path to the border using one of the secondary roads I didn't think twice. After all, the roads in Guatemala had been a joy. To begin with everything was perfect, low traffic, smooth pavement, and terrific vistas. Eventually, though, as I continued to ascend some rather impressive mountains, the road turned to dirt. Checking both my map and GPS I looked to be right on track, so I pressed on. The dirt road morphed into one of large loose rocks as it wound from peak to peak and I continually checked the GPS which indicated I was where I was supposed to be. Passing ramshackle houses and locals with dumbfounded looks on their faces, I began to worry that I'd made a mistake. However, the direction was perfect and I continually told myself that the road was so rough due to the loftily obscure location and once I began my descent the road would improve.
  The above photo was taken following my first spill (it really doesn't convey exactly how steep the grade is). After hoisting my steed back up (no small feat) with the help of some wide eyed kids, I asked a local, who seemed to speak a bit of English, if I was heading in the right direction to reach Honduras. He replied, "Si". Reaffirmation in hand I maintained my course. The road did get a bit better but would occasionally lapse back into a surface of easily shifted rocks. After a few kilometers of snail paced progress, I found myself in steep descent and the GPS indicated that an intersecting road was just ahead. SUCCESS!  So I thought. 
    Now in a valley the road was a muddy mess and I was sliding about with only the slightest of control. As I reveled in my victory over the mountain, with light continuing to dwindle, ahead of me there appeared a brand new Caterpillar road grader sticking out of the undeveloped scenery like a sore thumb. I mused, confusedly, at the appearance of the big ticket item in the middle of nowhere. Clearly, the roads here were in need of some development, but this seemed strange. Given a bit more time, I might have considered the potential value of this difficult path for nefarious dealings. I was far too entrenched in search for asphalt to be bothered with such concerns though. Unfortunately (or, in hindsight,  perhaps fortunately), I noticed that the road had dwindled into nothing. The GPS indicated that I was where I was supposed to be there was nothing but a lightly worn foot path leading into the woods. I stopped next to the big yellow machine to contemplate my next move. Just as I decided to follow the path into the forest a perturbed man materialized to my right. Though slightly startled I initially dismissed his demeanor as harmless and tried to explain myself as best I could. The Hombre had no interest in my attempts at communication and moved around my motorcycle in a highly erratic fashion, flailing his arms and screaming. It was about this time that I noticed the pistol in his waistband which he was in the process of brandishing. I spun the bike around as quickly as I could. Without looking back I sped through the muddy tracks which had given me problems before, this time at a far higher speed. I climbed back up the mountain as rapidly as I dared, at times outside of my limits, finding that the darkness brought with it a thick fog which had transformed the atmosphere into an opaque haze. At these elevated speeds the large rocks, which were to be handled with the utmost care, often found their way to my wheels before I could react. I was tossed around as if in a rodeo. Struggling to maintain control, my muscles clenched and my mind raced in an adrenaline fueled frenzy. Though I managed to stay upright for longer than I should have, I eventually went down hard. The bike was positioned in such a way, amongst the loose rocks, that lifting it upright was impossible so I dragged it to a more suitable spot and jerked it back up on two wheels with strength I didn't know I possessed. In my rush to leave I immediately lost my footing and once again found myself on the ground. With much haste I repeated my previous technique of dragging the bike around, sideways in the road so the bottom of the wheels were pointing down the mountain, and pulled it upright.
    The hazy fog was clouding my mind as well as the air. I was hearing an engine, though I could see no light, and I was almost certain the gun wielding madman was going to emerge from the glum intent on making me pay for my trespass. Following the erection of my BMW for the second time in quick succession, I dismounted and calmed myself before proceeding. After traveling a few more kilometers the fog dissipated and I came upon a road to my left that looked to be in good repair and would take me back down. Though not on my GPS the road lead toward a primary route into El Salvidor. So, rather than backtracking the 70 kilometers to the last town I decided to try my luck and see what the outcome would be. As was becoming the norm, what was a decent road quickly turned to shit once the grade steepened. Following several close calls, my bike was once again on the ground. This time, however, my muscles were not up for the challenge and all my efforts to rite the fully loaded beast were in vein. I was drained. After a couple of failed attempts to lift my fallen steed I took a break and sat by the side of the road, looking at the bike and conversing with God. The two tiny bottles of water I had did little to quench my thirst, but they helped. Following a prolonged break I removed all the luggage I could from the bike and after a deep breath I jerked a much lighter R1150GS upright. I took my time reloading and walked down the road a bit as I tired to decide whether or not to continue on. Being the persistent sort I decided to continue moving in the same direction.
  After a short while I came upon a village and passed a church with open doors and loud music. Eventually, I came across a group of people congregating at the the edge of the rocky path. I stopped and asked them, "El Camino? kilometers?"  They were perplexed but answered that it was about 10 kilometers to the road. As I attempted to leave they said more, not that I could understand, but the group had grown and as church let out my motorcycle and I had become the center of attention. One of the new arrivals, an elderly man with a cowboy hat, beckoned for me to follow him. I crept along next to him while being followed by the rest of the group and within a few hundred meters I was told to stop. The leader and the rest of  the contingent approached a gated house that had JESUS spray painted crudely on one of the surrounding walls and the inhabitants emerged with some concerned dogs. After a rather long conversation the gate opened, I was approached and it was conveyed that the road I was on was impassible (no passa). I wasn't sure I believed them as I had already been told that the road I wanted was ten K ahead but I was beaten, battered, weary, and just put my head down on the tank bag. The owner of the house motioned for me to pull the bike behind the gate, which I did. I covered the bike with a tarp and sat on the the covered porch just as it began to rain in a torrent. I was brought water and the group of 15 or so conversed. The rain was very heavy for a brief period then subsided but continued on in a lighter fashion and the crowd dwindled. A new fellow joined and he spoke a bit of English. His questioning bordered an interrogation but of all the inquiries he made the most unusual was if I was here searching for a church. I simply shook my head and said, "No, Honduras". It was clear that there was much I didn't understand about this encounter and still the mystery of what this community was hiding further down the road invites conjecture. After the inquisition I was offered a bed with a straw mattress in a room with dirt floors and quickly fell into a deep sleep.                                       to be continued...  

Monday, July 4, 2011

Diatribe on the Fourth of July

 Greetings from Guatemala.
       I spend this Fourth of July at the base of Mount Agua in the town of Antigua. Though I should probably be on the road I decided to do some hiking, and writing, in celebration of a holiday which always received plenty of attention at the Gillette household.
       Yesterday I checked into a hotel that I really couldn't afford, but they allowed me to pull my motorcycle into the lobby. This freed me to take to the surrounding mountains, getting some exercise which didn't involve wrestling a laden BMW R1150GS, and in doing so collect my thoughts for a special Independence Day journal entry. A much edited version I share, here, with you.

     On this day celebrating our American Independence, I contemplate our Constitution, its current interpretation, and of how corporations and unions have replaced the individual in its protection. I wonder if the supreme court justices ever stop to think whether it was corporations that the founding fathers had in mind as they drafted the First Amendment, or was it intended to shelter an obstinate fool such as myself from the reprisal of overbearing authority? To be quite honest I don't think they really care.
     The interests which currently drive our judicial and economic systems are not those of the average person but those of a tyranny of wealth that will use us or destroy us. It can only do so if we allow it, but our complacency in living the the good life has seen many Liberties lost, and freedom without Liberty is simply a word used to confuse.
     It has been said that the price of true Freedom is eternal vigilance, and there is a high cost associated with the maintenance of this freedom, from the loss of time and money to the loss of life. Those footing the bill are often portrayed as stupid, or evil, but I see them as my brethren, and I fight beside them for a brighter tomorrow.

     Happy Fourth of July and God bless America.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Forbidden Mayan Parking

    While it's not unusual for the bike to draw a crowd, these guys weren't so interested in where I was heading or where I was from. Rather, they were most critical of my choice of parking.
     I'd paid my last Peso (I was waiting to receive a pin # for my debit card) for the ticket to enter the Mayan ruins at Palenque and as I was entering asked at the front desk for them to put one important bag (which I couldn't carry, I was already carrying one) someplace safe. This was no problem at the ruins of El Tahin but the State employee here wanted 30 Pesos to put my bag behind the counter. After telling of my Pesoless plight, the lady looked up at me with her hands up, palms to the sky and shook her head.
    Being the persistent sort, I spied an access road to the ruins behind a fence which could be reached on a motorcycle, reloaded and mounted my bike and took to the trails. As I rode through the ruins I mused over thoughts of blasting by the blood thirsty assholes that used to run the joint (before the Spaniards showed them what true viciousness was) while aboard my trusty steed. After finding a good place to park, it didn't take too long for the assholes currently running things to arrive (they were the university variety of asshole). The exchange was one sided and it was very clear that a couple of them wanted to kick my ass. They called ahead to have all the exits blocked and I awaited the police.
    The Municipal police of Palenque are pretty nice guys, one of them rode my bike back to town as I was escorted in air conditioned comfort. Upon arriving at the police station on Palenque square every cop in town arrived to gawk at the crazy gringo and his BMW. Most of the officers were equipped with 350cc Yamaha motorcycles and the motorcyclist camaraderie was most apparent, I was a hit. As I checked out their bikes, which were nice by Mexican standards, one of the officers stated "is shit" and then pointed at my r1150gs his other hand balled in a fist, raised parallel with his eyes, pumping fore and aft, and said "muy bueno".
     After an hour or so hobnobbing with the coppers I was told that I was being charged with entering a forbidden zone and the fine was 200 Pesos (about $17). Someone allowed me to use their blackberry to check my e-mail and fortunately my brother had parleyed my pin #. I was escorted to the ATM, withdrew some cash, paid the fine, and I was off. As I left the police once again gathered around as I departed to see me off (I even got a giggle and a wink out of a particularly cute one). 
     I then rode my bike over to the cafe I'd been patronizing the previous couple of days to check my mail before blowing town. As I dismounted a guy I'd talked to the previous day intercepted me, he knew of the whole ordeal, giving details as he laughed. He concluded in saying, "Ju famous man!" To which I nodded my head, smiled, and thought more infamous than famous, dude, more infamous than famous.