Dissertation of an adventure

Click here to start from the Beginning

 

 

 

I had to wake up at 4:30am to ride a cab to the San Jose airport in Costa Rica. It was quite a busy airport that early in the morning but I arrived just early enough to make all the necessary checkouts and fly back to the USA.

 

 

I changed planes in Denver which meant I had 1 hour to clear customs with all my luggage. I had a little hang up when I presented my declaration paperwork with a paragraph of countries visited before returning section. I was sent to the level 2 baggage X-Ray checkpoint but since I was the only one in that line I made it through quickly.

 

A miserable overnight in LA and I was back on the plane to Alaska. The cold and snow was a bittersweet welcome home.

 

 

I am very thankful that you read this weblog, without knowing it many times I was very close to throwing in the towel but I didn’t want to let you down. I felt as if it was up to me to go deeper and farther into the forsaken third world and seek out the good and the bad. So if you can pay me one last favor and leave a comment with your favorite story of this saga I would be a better person for it and could more accurately speak to my audience in the future. You can be anonymous if you wish, but please just comment.

 

 

 

Now for the Q and A..

 

 

Was it dangerous? Were you ever scared along the way?

 

Yes it was dangerous, I put myself in several dangerous situations. I think that if anyone was looking to commit a crime against someone they would look past me. On the road most banditos probably didn’t know that I was packing a six pack of firebombs with an itch to use one, but I think that the confidence and purpose that I projected kept them looking for easier targets. On the street the machete muggers also never took a shot at me, because even in the dark 3:00 am night I was almost wishing that I could test my theory that throwing giant rocks will prevail over a simple machete.  

 

The scariest situation I encountered was in a dark slum in the depths of Managua Nicaragua. I was held up at a policia checkpoint for an hour and a half as darkness fell leaving me completely lost. After a 30 minute aimless drive I ended up on a dark dead end street with gang bangers partying in front of the huts on either side of the road. I drove the gringo machine past all of them only to find the dead end. On my return trip back down the chokepoint they were all out waiting for me. With the windows down I almost had to run over a guy to demonstrate that I wasn’t stopping for any reason and I got out of it alive.

 

 

 

Would you do it again? What would you do different?

 

Never Ever Ever drive to Centro America for any reason. Everywhere you go you are constantly burdened by your car, you have to find a guarded parquero every night and you always have to watch it or people will jimmy the locks to steal your stuff. For the amount of money it costs to bring an American vehicle down there you could pay for a plane ticket and buy a vehicle once you are in country. A car with CentroAmerican plates almost never gets messed with.

 

If I go back I would fly to San Jose Costa Rica and by a motorcycle for $800. On a motorbike you aren’t stabbed by the fuel costs and breeze through the borders and police checkpoints.

 

 

 

Did you learn to speak Spanish? Was it hard?

 

Sólo puedo decir lo que tengo que decir. I can say only what I need to say, my vocabulary is still very small but I am still working on it even now. I went into Mexico without even being able to count to ten. Now I can get by using a 4 year olds vocab and understand where to go and what to do. It was very hard and very frustrating, but necessity makes things happen at an incredible rate.

 

It seems the fastest vocab and grammar lessons are watching movies with Spanish subtitles and writing useful phrases on flash cards to memorize.

 

 

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Is it Time yet?

 

 

While riding around on a bus I met and talked to a couple guys that were on their way back to San Jose to fly out and go home. I started thinking about how it would feel if I was on my way back home and it felt very exciting, I tingled with anticipation to visit that remote place I call home. It had more allure than any other CentroAmerican destination I had seen on the map so I cashed in some mileage and got a ticket back to the great city of Anchorage Alaska.

 

It was good to relax in Tamarindo for bit. The good old dusty city with American prices and seemingly endless population of Gringos. In all of my travels I haven’t found a location that resembled an American town more than Tamarindo. For good reason though, it had a majestic beach that stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction, clean warm water and plenty of activities.

 

 

 

 

After a couple final days in the sun I headed off to the huge metro center now visited twice called San Jose.

 

San Jose is a city that could be anywhere, it is huge vast with everything from ancient history museums to Ferrari dealerships. One thing that was a little odd about the place was the amount of cows they had scattered around downtown all painted or sculpted from different artists in some type of art contest.

 

 

I took a couple pictures of the first dozen or so cows thinking it was a novel idea, later I realized that the number of these cows was infinite, they went on for miles in a kind of endless treasure hunt around the city. I finally forced myself to stop photographing this plague of painted cows when I found myself wandering in some dangerous barrio in the dark trying to get a shot of maybe the 70th display.

 

 

 

While trying to decide where to eat in San Jose there is just about every option available to a traveler including all the American restaurant chains. I couldn’t fathom having the opportunity to be in a foreign land such as this and eating at an American chain such as Outback steakhouse or Mcdonalds. As I was walking down the street I noticed a crowd around a small entrance to a brightly light restaurant with a sweet home cooked aroma emanating from it.

 

 

I pushed my way inside and wasn’t the least bit surprised to see that colonel Sanders had wooed this town with his delectable 11 secret spiced pollo frito. I had to wait in line for the better part of a half hour to get my hands on the precisely cooked chicken but it was a little slice of heaven in this far away land. I am pretty sure the staff at the KFC wanted to throw me some CentroAmerican curve ball so they included a tub of a mysterious white cream that I didn’t have the courage to try. I tried to ask some patrons what this substance was but I didn’t understand when they explained it to me, and they didn’t want it, so I was pretty sure it was dangerous.

 

 

 

I don’t know who’s idea it was to start making Capri pants for boys but I just can’t get onboard this train.

 

 

 

 

My flight out in the morning was at 6:30 am so I tucked in at the luxurious Presidente Hotel and enjoyed some 4 star comforts for the sweet low price of $55.

 

 

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Bus To Nowhere

 

The rain came to Bocas del Toro, pounding hard and relentless. I knew it was time to travel, I just wasn’t quite sure where. I felt like I should be heading toward Panama City but I didn’t quite have a real grasp on the distance and the suffering involved in completing the journey there.

 

 

I got on a boat out of Bocas in the morning made it back to Almirante and onto a shuttle bus to the city of David. I have had some really positive experiences on the Toyota Coaster shuttles up to this point. This bus driver seemed to have an agenda of rage and forced a very loud medley of accordion music on us. I was frightened at first that I might lose my mind, but after hours of mind numbing ear splitting music I moved inside my body and found my happy place.

 

 

 

Once you disembark the shuttle bus you are immediately bombarded by cab drivers trying to convince you of the necessity of their services. The only way I have found to combat this overwhelming pressure is to apply specific pressure right back.

 

First things first;

 

 “Is your cab the best?”

“Oh yes best.. very best..muy bien driver.. best yes yes”

“well do you have after market rims or a turbo or something, this guy over here says he is the best?”

“yes very nice tires good silver tires big good”

“not tires rims man, you have spinners on your cab or what?”

“yes reeems, and tires are very good, come on, vamos, hurry”

“What’s the hurry this guy says he has a pick up truck”

“No truck is muy carro, mi taxi is Buenos”

“What kind of car is it?”

“ yuanday, is a yuanday”

“Yuanday?? What the F is Yon-day?… Oh Hyundai?. Uh no thanks I am going with the truck, this guy promised to play Bachata music and he says he has lots of tassels whatever that means”

“No, he is peligro, no safe in truck, mi coche is muy bieno”

“lo ciento, bro try the other gringos they look like hyundai people”

 

If you weed through the mass you can really get into a nice ride. This truck did in fact have plenty of tassels and a brightly painted dashboard. Plus I alleviated the accordion poison in my brain with some sweet bachata music.

 

 

 

 

In the city of David there were no more buses leaving to Panama City that night and I was forced to hole up in the Purple House Hostel. Yeah its one of those places you walk into and say “Dear Barbara”. It had all purple walls purple dishes, purple beds, purple floors, and a purple dog to go with it.

 

 

 

A morning spent in the bus station with an half assed American breakfast got me ready for the long jaunt down the road on a sweet Mercedes Benz coach supposedly going direct to P City.

 

 

Just outside Santiago the sweet motor coach experienced a catastrophic failure. The driver and a few other mechanical individuals decided to get out and try to correct the problem.

I am not much of a mechanic, but when the captian explained to me that they would fix the bus here and continue on, I knew we were in for a long long possibly 2 day wait. The port side shackle had exploded letting the leaf springs swing like machetes ripping the air bag and the air brake (S Cam) . There was no possible way this thing was getting even the parts within the day. 

 

 

I felt as if this was a subliminal message to me not to go to the polluted city of Panama so I jumped the next overcrowded taxi back to Santiago. This city of Santiago is a banana boom town with few attractions save a child being attacked by birds and a girl bungee jumping from the side of a hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 From the bus station in Santiago, I purchased what I thought was a direct ticket to San Jose Costa Rica. It turned out to be directly to the border of Costa Rica where I was stranded once again. I rode a variety of old coaches dilapidated school buses called rojo diablos (red devils) to complete the 10 hour journey to San Jose.

 

San Jose back to Tamarindo was another never ending bus extravaganza which almost killed everyone onboard of heat exhaustion during a 30 minute wait in a construction zone. There is no way to move around the bus, all 60 seats are occupied and the aisle accomidates 20 standing passengers. I witnessed the bus attendant travel from bow to stern once but it looked very dangerous and I wasn’t about to risk life and limb to escape the heat, so I just sat and sweated it out.

 

 

 

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Lets go to Panama!

After a few days in Puerto Viejo a person can pretty much experience all the town has to offer. I left early in the morning to return my beach cruiser bike that I rented 3 miles out of town and made the long journey back on foot. I was lucky enough to see a sloth hanging around in a tree next to the road, but unlucky enough not to have a camera with me..

I packed up my tiny pack and hit the bus stop headed for the border of Costa rica and Panama at the city of Sixola. It was a pleasant enough bus ride at first, but the constant stopping got a little out of hand. After we managed to drop all 40 passengers off at their respective houses I was dropped off a Sixola.

The border crossing was pretty simple here, just show your passport get a stamp and head across the dodgey bridge that accomidated foot traffic and giant semi trucks. It is a little scary being passed by a 50,000 pound truck on a rickety old bridge with inches to spare.

The other side of the border had no formal bus stops just a couple school busses heading down the road. I tried to ask the buss attendant if this cruiser was heading for Bocas del Toro and he just gave me a strange look grabed the dollar out of my hand and pushed me in the door. Again we dropped all passengers off at their houses and ended up at a small bus station in a little bigger town.

 

I took another bus to the city of Almante where I heard rumors of water taxi service to the Isla de Colon which was home to the great city of Bocas Del Toro. As we entered the city I started frantically looking for boats, or water, or something that was condusive to maritime travel and came up short.. I took a deep breath, slung on the pack and headed off in the wrong direction into the heart of the gringoless town. The townies all watched me walk up and down the streets as if I was a circus bear riding a unicycle until finally a very nice person took me on a walk to the harbor.

$4 for a ride out to the island, the boats leave every 30 minutes. It was nice to travel by boat for a while. I saw a few dolphins, some delapitaed ferries and some extremely unsafe speeds for the skiff with 14 passengers on board.

Once in town I found the Mondo TaiTu, a somewhat legendary hostel with great people all around. I ended up hanging out with Raul the Romainian and drinking Cuba Libres to celebrate Raul Castro´s new regime. We also had some long winded discussions of the effect of the Borat movie on his peacefull country.

 

 

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Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Just at the end of the road on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica is the tiny conglomerate of towns summarized by Puerto Viejo. It’s the last few stops before the Panama border which is maybe 20 miles away.

This town is seriously so Slow paced that if there is someone in front of you at the store with more than 5 items.. its better just to come back later, you can wait but it is generally between 5-10 minutes to complete the transaction.

I felt the need to really speed up the tourism process in this place, the walking around could only scratch the surface of this intricate network of small towns. The best way to get around would have to be a dirt bike, I could take it in the cities and up the mountains it would be the perfect fit.

I tried both the motorbike places in town and no one would rent me a dirt bike, I needed a dirt bike because I want to ride in the dirt! cant these people get it. oh yeah were all a little slow here… sorry.. The only options were these silly city scooters and electric golf carts.. I was a little weary of the bike sized tires on the little 115cc hogs, but the girls at the shop promised that they were as sporty as anything I had ever been on before.

I immediately took off on a long distance journey to the small town of Manzanillo at the end of the road.. As luck would have it, just 5 miles down the road and 3 sweet jumps later this metrosexual motorbike has a damn flat tire. I start walking back on the road like a looser and no one will pick me up. Thankfully enough capitalism has spawned its bastard child here and just about every property on the road is a Hotel/Tour/Restaurant/Scuba Rental/ Bike Rental/ Store/ massage/ pizzeria. So I stopped in and rented a sweet beach cruiser to make the journey back to the shop.

I told the shop the good news about their sweet scooter and decided to wait around at the beach while the mechanics put a new wheel on.

Maybe 2 hours later I was up and running again and determined to take this little scooter out to the forsaken city of Manzanillo. The road was good for the most part and I made it to the small town without incident. Feeling the need for some incident I tried to make the harrowing journey out to Punta Mona. It got a little scary halfway down the foot trail, and I decided to abandon the mission knowing full well that I would put the scooter in deep ravine with no hope of getting it back by 6pm.

The hostel I am staying at here called Rockin J’s is pretty laid back. Everyone is in tents in this giant upstairs called the refugee camp. There is a giant yard, beach access and a mandatory showering policy to keep the pachouli levels in check.

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Tamarindo Tony and the Negotiations

I strolled up to a nice hostel a couple blocks up the hill from town and happened into a group of guys shooting a bow and arrow across the road. I turned around and saw this nice secluded hostel behind me. I entered to meet Tamarindo Tony, the young urban entrepreneur who had the monopoly on the window washing business in town.

I decided to get a room at his place for a couple nights so I could get the full experience of the beach and the surfing. Tony and I would sit in the near empty hostel at night and chop it up while watching the passersby.

Tony became a believer in my cause and wanted to be at the top of the list when all my merchandise went on sale. He like many others fell in love with the cobra kayak at first sight. By day two we had negotiated $1200 for the lot, car with the kayak and some other miscellaneous items. He was willing to stand by while I finished the tour but after a lot of thought I realized that a bird in the hand is worth three in other countries.

I got up early in the morning and TamTony had a dang auction going on in the front of the place he worked the price up on the car to where most of his kayak costs were covered. The deal and paperwork was done by 10am. I unloaded all the essentials, packed a single backpack for a trip out on the road as a minimalist.

It is a little scary when the ATM is double checking that you actually want 50 grand.. It seems like a lot of money to be carrying around.

Before I left I had to make sure that this sign wasn´t false advertising. If you are an average sized human being it is in fact very true.. they are that big.

I caught the afternoon chicken bus to San Jose, it was about six hours careening down the road with at the mercy of a bus driver with a death wish.. This chicken bus was actually not a chicken bus at all. It had air con, plenty of room and service right to the hotels.

We stopped at a couple key spots on the way to view some domesticated wildlife.

I met a group on the bus that talked me out of the hostel I had in mind and ended up at this crazy live in discotheque that could easily house 100 travelers.

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Tamarindo

This city has so much development happening right now that there is no time to pave the main street. 5 cranes on the horizon one in town working day and night on megastructures. The only thing this place has going for it, is the smooth sand break for miles and miles of beach. The endless summer movies brought this place to life and now all the believers have made the pilgrimage here.

I pulled into town and parked the car in the city center and set out on foot to see if I even liked this place. It was still early and I could just skip it and go somewhere else. I met a few locs down by the beach talking about the life and the struggle. We decided to head up to the lifeguard tower to have a better look around. I don’t think that lifeguards are on duty here very often so the people in the tower have an obligation to be on the lookout for signs of distress. The appropriate uniform for the temps on duty is the shirt halfway over the head, a nice cool way to keep the sweat off.

I was really intrigued by the barren atoll out in the distance and decided that I should take a look. I saw a pickup truck on the beach that clearly wasn’t the police so I figured that the beach was OK to drive on. Sweating profusely and nervous I drove into the sand right in front of a beachfront resort and took the little subaroooo for a 4X4 low run in the deep stuff. A few minutes later I was headed down the packed sand beach waving to gawking tourists as I motored by. I found a nice parking spot a couple miles down and unloaded the kayak for the journey to the atoll.

Pretty much as the dudes described it.. A bunch of broken up conch shells and some sand. The sunset was pretty nice along with the fact that you are the only one on this barren island. If only I had a few cans of tuna and some water I could live here.

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