Argentina and…

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Our Argentinian border crossing set us back a day and the border town itself was not the most pleasant place to spend some time so the next morning we were happy to hit the road and leave it behind. It was getting noticeably colder as we headed further south still at high altitude, after roughly four hours we began descending towards the town of Jujuy where we spent the night. Our original plan was to continue south to Salta but as we had been held back by illness and a long border crossing we decided to skip Salta and continue to ride east towards Brazil where we planned to visit Iguazu Falls and spend some time in southern Brazil where the weather should be far more comfortable than the Andes. Soon after leaving Jujuy we returned to a normal altitude of roughly 400m it was a fantastic feeling to breathe oxygen rich air again. It took us several days to cross Argentina from west to east. It reminded me of crossing Canada because in the west you have the Andes like the Rockies in Canada then you cross flat lands just like Saskatchewan and Manitoba after that rolling hills with a lot of greenery similar to Ontario although Ontario had many more small lakes. The cities we stopped at were becoming more and more westernised, brand named shops, fast food big names and the majority of people looked middle class driving relatively new cars. It was a far cry from Peru and Bolivia. We rode through Resistencia and Posadas before turning north towards Iguazu. We spent one night on the Argentinian side of Iguazu and crossed over to the Brazilian side the next day as apparently that is where the better view can be experienced. The Brazilian side of Iguazu looked even more like any other generic western city. We visited a bird sanctuary just before the waterfall which was well worth it even if we had already seen most of the different species while on the road in the wild. To visit Iguazu you have to jump through the tourist hoops, park your car in the carpark, go buy an entrance ticket and then take a bus to the lookout point. The views were spectacular it made Niagra Falls seem like a water feature found in a large mall. I definitely recommend visiting Iguazu if you ever get the chance.

 

That evening after visiting Iguazu our trip took an unexpected turn. We were discussing what we would do in Brazil over the next six weeks and we realised that neither of us were very enthusiastic about six more weeks on the road. Actually ever since we arrived in Argentina a sense of accomplishment begun to sink in as Argentina had always been our final goal since the beginning. Crossing Peru and Bolivia had taken it out of us and we found ourselves in the right mood to end the trip. I rang home that night as it was my birthday and spoke to my parents. During the conversation I learned that they would be going to Portugal on holiday in a few days for two weeks. When I hung up Franziska and I discussed it and decided to spontaneously change plans. We would skip southern Brazil and instead ride straight to Buenos Aires where we would attempt to ship the bike to Spain and then ride from Spain to Portugal and surprise my parents by just rolling up the driveway unannounced. Once there we would take it easy and recuperate a little. After all, I had to start trying to gain back some of the 8kg I had lost in South America.

The next morning was Monday, I called the shipping agent in Buenos Aires and they said it would be no problem to ship the bike on short notice. We set off for the border to cross back into Argentina, which unfortunately took a long time as the Argentinians we searching every vehicle crossing over. Because of this delay we didn’t make it as far as we wanted on Monday and had to put in a long day on Tuesday instead. In total on Tuesday we rode 950km, our longest distance covered in one day since the trip began. On Wednesday morning we only had to ride from the outskirts of Buenos Aires to the city centre to check in with the shipping agent dakarmotos.com, although it was a short distance it took us several hours due to traffic. We made arrangements at Dakar Motos to bring the bike to the airport cargo terminal the next day and pack it onto a pallet. We checked into a hostel downtown ate steak and slept like babies that night. The next morning (Thursday) we arrived at the airport cargo terminal and were waived in the right direction by all of the security staff and airport workers who saw us. I supposed that we were not the first lost looking bikers to have arrived there to ship their bike. Before long we were inside the right building and I was asked to ride the bike up onto a pallet. I had to disconnect the battery, remove the mirrors, let some air out of the tyres, and take off the windscreen. The boxes remained on the bike filled with riding gear, tools and spares, in addition we were able to pack our helmets into a dry bad with some other bits and pieces and lay it on the pallet next to the bike. The staff then started securing the bike to the pallet and wrapping it in plastic. Just before it was wrapped in plastic it was taken off to be inspected by customs. All they did was check the VIN number they weren’t bothered about looking on the boxes. By midday the whole process was over and we left to return to the city. The next step would be to pay for the shipping the next day at the company’s office downtown. That evening we booked our flight to Madrid from Buenos Aires, 600USD each with Boliviana Airlines leaving on Saturday afternoon. On Friday morning we went to the shipping company’s office to find out the final cost that would have to be paid. It came to roughly 1,800USD over all but we would be paying in pasos and that meant we could get the blue dollar rate if we changed dollars for pasos on Florida Street (the main tourist area in Buenos Aires). I had been aware of the blue dollar rate for most of the trip so I had accumulated about 1500USD in cash that I was carrying around in the side boxes since Ecuador. The normal exchange rate is something like 8-9 pasos for a dollar but if you change physical dollars on Florida Street with the exchange touts you get 12 pasos to the dollar. It was easy to find somewhere to exchange them, as you walk down Florida Street people are mumbling cambio cambio cambio in tourist’s direction all of the time. We just selected one that had good English and he brought us to a little office off the main street where we exchanged the dollars for pasos at the blue rate. In the end the shipping only actually cost around 1350USD because of the blue rate. Which is a very good price considering it was air freight and would be delivered immediately. Just under a year ago I had paid 1,200Euro to ship the bike from Germany to Canada by sea and that took two weeks! Something to also consider is that last July 1,200Euro was roughly 1,650USD so no matter what way you look at it we got a good deal for shipping back to Europe. Our contact at the shipping company gave us a bank account number and all we had to do was walk next door to the bank and lodge the payment. We went back to the shipping company showed them the receipt and we received the air waybill with which we could track the shipment online. The bike left for Madrid on a direct flight that night. We relaxed in Buenos Aires for the rest of Friday and celebrated the end of our trip in the Americas with a dinner. The final count was 38,000km traveled since leaving Halifax on the 5th of August last year. On Saturday we took a cab to the airport and started our 17 hour trip to Madrid via Santa Cruz in Bolivia.

We arrived in Madrid on Sunday afternoon and went to collect the bike on Monday morning. The cargo handling agent Swissport was very helpful but Spanish customs was a bit of a pain. Even though my bike is European registered they wanted to see a print out of my insurance policy from Germany. I had a credit card sized card with my details and insurance policy number on it but it wasn’t good enough for them they wanted to see the full policy. In the end my insurance company had to email a copy of the insurance policy to the lady at Spanish customs. Once that was done the rest was easy, they stamped the required paperwork and Swissport delivered the bike to us in the carpark at their warehouse. It took about an hour to unpack it and get it road worthy, by two o’clock we were on the road. At this time seven days ago we were in Brazil at the border crossing to Argentina now we were in Spain heading for Portugal. We stopped at KTM in Madrid to pick up a new air filter, oil filter, fuel filter and rear sprocket as I planned to do some much needed maintenance on the bike once we arrived at my parents place. It was too far to reach southern Portugal on Monday so we stayed one night in Trujillo in a hotel called Hotel Peru. Kind of funny because two months ago we were in Trujillo in Peru. On Tuesday we set off early and rode to the Algarve region of Portugal via Seville in Spain. At around two in the afternoon we arrived at my parents place, they heard the bike but didn’t think much of it so we were able to walk all the way to the rear and straight into the kitchen where they were sitting. Well needless to say, they got quite a shock.

We have been here now for a week and are thoroughly enjoying ourselves, we are especially enjoying the food. No more chicken and rice!! The plan for the moment is to stay here for another week or so then start making our way back to Germany through Spain and France hopefully arriving in Hamburg around the 26th of July. We also intend to make one or two more blog posts on the way but for now we’re having a break.

 

Costa Rica

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We never planned to stay here for so long especially as practically everyone we met between Canada and Nicaragua told us that Costa Rica is expensive! The basic reason that we have stayed here so long is that we both needed to replace some items such as a helmet, camera, phone and other accessories which have just worn out from usage on the trip so far. Central America is ludicrously expensive when it comes to electronics and any helmets I looked at were made in China and smelled strongly of chemicals when I put them on. The solution we found was a fellow biker named Greg who was traveling home to the States for a couple of weeks and returning at the end of February. He kindly offered to bring the things we wanted back down with him. We were a little worried about spending the whole time in Costa Rica because of the “it’s expensive there” statement we were so used to but we had no choice as the offer from Greg only came after we had entered the country.

So is it expensive here? Yes and no. You can pay 20 dollars a night for a hotel room or you can pay 220 dollars a night for a hotel room. You can pay 6 dollars for dinner or you can pay 60. Costa Rica has a layered tourist industry as far as price is concerned. Many North Americans come here on holidays and they’ve taken over a lot of the Pacific coast towns in the same way that British or German holiday makers have taken over Spanish resort towns. In these places prices are significantly higher than areas inland.

When we arrived on the first night we paid 30 dollars for a pretty nice hotel room with a view, for the next two weeks we never paid more than 20-25 dollars a night for the both of us. All you have to do is search a little off the main street if it’s a well-travelled town or stop in a normal town away from the tourist path. For comparison when we stayed in Nicaragua in Granada and San Juan del Sur we couldn’t find anything for less than 38 dollars a night. It is also possible to eat at normal prices in Costa Rica you just have to go to the Sodas they’re locally run small restaurants where you can usually have an evening meal for around 7 dollars unless you’re on the Pacific coast where they charge more just because the tourists will pay it.

We both really like Costa Rica especially for the bio diversity and wildlife. Finally some wildlife!! You would expect that you would see a lot of different types of wildlife in Central America but to be honest until you reach Costa Rica you don’t really see much at all, just stray dogs, horses, cats, and common birds. I’m sure there probably was more to see but but as a casual observer passing through it was all but invisible. That same casual observing in Costa Rica leads to seeing many different types of animals. You can see sloths and monkeys hanging from trees on the side of the road as you drive past, look in the other direction and you’ll see iguanas and toucans in another tree.

We had an eye opener yesterday regarding local wildlife when we were taking a walk on a road through some rain forest. Franziska spotted a red poison arrow frog which is very small only about 2cm long. She leaned in to take a close up picture of it when the weeds behind it shook and made an odd rattling sound. She jumped back and said oh look a snake! I was watching from a different angle and saw his head which was about a metre off to the right facing her and arching upwards, she hadn’t seen it’s head because she was concentrating on the tail making noise thinking that was the entire snake. I pointed out the head and she jumped back like a shocked cat. It was a green and black tropical rattle snake around 2 metres long. I looked it up later online and found out that the venom is pretty nasty, it’s a neurotoxin and can cause blindness and respiratory failure. It was definitely a lesson learned. As a westerner and growing up your whole life viewing these animals from behind glass or in cages it’s easy to forget how dangerous they really are, we were definitely walking around with a false sense of security up until that point.

Click here to see more of Franziska’s Costa Rican wildlife pictures.

When we entered Costa Rica we first rode to the highlands around Lake Arenal. It raind regularly there as it is covered in cloud and rain forests but the rain never lasted long. They say Ireland is the land of 40 shades of green well I think Costa Rica has at least 41. I was really impressed with the landscape up there, especially as it is all flanked by volcanoes and inhabited by cool animals like sloths. When you see a Sloth up close you can’t help but smile, they just seem to have no worries in the world at all and I’m pretty sure they must comb their hair when no one is looking.

Up in the Arenal area we hiked to the Rio Celeste River, which is a blue river made blue from some volcanic mineral deposit that it flows over. It was interesting to see it as we wanted to see a similar phenomenon in Mexico called the Agua Azul but because of bad weather we didn’t visit it at the time. Even though the Rio Celeste is located in a National Park the trail has a too much tourist traffic and the wildlife stays well back in the jungle. We talked to a guide after the hike and he recommended that we should take a boat ride in the Silvestre Caño Negro National Park if we wanted to see wildlife in abundance. We took his advice and did the trip which was very interesting. The Arenal Volcano is known for its hot springs and when we were staying in La Fortuna we priced them but were disappointed to find out the cheapest was 40 dollars for a one day pass. Then we heard that there is a place where the locals go to enjoy the hot water from the volcano so we gave it a shot. All we had to do was park the bike put on our swimming gear and walk down an embankment to the river below. Once there you’re able to relax in the same flowing hot spring water that the hotels are collecting and charging entry fees to bathe in. There were no showers or facilities but it was free!

After the highlands we rode to the Pacific coast to check it out. We stayed at a wonderful hostel in Samara for almost 7 days called Matilori. It was just the right size for everyone to know each other and hang around together, it didn’t have the anonymous feeling that most hostels we’ve stayed in have. The heat in Samara was incredible, around 37 degrees in the shade. Samara itself is teeming with North American tourists and some European backpackers but it is still small enough to have a community feeling to it. The beach was your standard wide black volcanic sand beach which looks exactly the same as every other Pacific beach we’ve seen since Zipolite in Mexico.

Speaking of Mexico ever since we were there we have wanted to see the Caribbean side of Central America so while waiting for Greg to return we finally had our chance. After 7 days hiding from the sun in Samara we set off for Puerto Viejo via San Jose. There’s not much to say about San Jose, it wants to be an American city and looks like one. One night in an overpriced hostel and we we’re out of there.

The morning that we left San Jose for the Caribbean we never expected that we’d have our first close call of the trip later that day. It was a nice ride up through the cloud forest after San Jose and then a relatively straight non exciting road to Limon on the Caribbean coast. After Limon we rode along the coastal road towards Puerto Viejo. About 10km from our destination on a nice stretch of tarmacked road while traveling at 80km the bike suddenly lost all air from the rear tyre, the tyre dislodged from the rim and the bike started fishtailing all over the road and tipping over 45 degrees from left to right. Luckily I was able to keep it upright and brought it in slowly to a stop on the grass at the side of the road. Franziska had quite a shock because she was just a passenger during the ordeal she couldn’t do anything and was just waiting for the bike to go down. Once we were able to inspect the tyre it was obvious that we didn’t have a classic puncture. The valve had broken clean of the tube and also ripped through the rubber band protecting the tube from the spokes inside the wheel. I was quite annoyed because this was a Heidenau “heavy duty tube” which was not being used in any heavy duty sort of way. The tyre was inflated to a normal 39psi and the tube had only been in the wheel since Mexico City which was roughly 3500km ago! I wrote to Heidenau to let them know what happened with pictures but as of yet they haven’t replied. If anyone out there knows a better contact for them other than the standard info@ email address let me know.

It was almost dark so we had to get to work on replacing the tube. It wasn’t long before help emerged from nowhere as it usually does in these situations. The guy who appeared happened to be the local motorbike mechanic and was a great help. His father appeared too and brought coconuts for us. In less than an hour we were back on the road with the original bog standard tube back in the rear wheel.

 

 

We are still in Puerto Viejo and expect Greg to arrive today or tomorrow. The vibe here is far more relaxed than the Pacific coast and the weather slightly cooler which is nice. We’ve been up and down the coast to explore the beaches and I’ve also been on a ride with an American Ex-Pat named Chad who lives here, another motorbike traveler who calls himself Panam-Jimmy came along too. Chad knows the local roads quite well and led us through some nice scenery with one or two small rivers to ride across. I asked Jimmy to take some pictures of me as I crossed one of the rivers. It was quite funny because just after I entered the water the front wheel slapped off a huge rock which I didn’t see on the approach. It sent the bike off to the left which you can see in the pictures and I spent the rest of the time trying to correct the error and not end up in the rubble on the opposite bank. I just about made it much to the amusement of Chad and Jimmy.

For any non-motorbike travelers out there I can let you in on a little talked about fact. When “Adventure” motorbike travelers are taking pictures like this they usually have to wait for the locals to get out of frame otherwise it wouldn’t look so impressive. It was no different here while I was waiting for my turn a local guy drove through the river on a banged up old Chinese motorbike wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops, holding his shopping in one hand and steering with the other. In fairness he almost ended up on his face but he still made it. These roads which for us are adventurous are just their local roads that they travel every day. It’s quite often you think you’re tackling some impressive off road section so you stop to take a picture of yourself or the bike in this rugged environment only to have a man come around the corner on a 125cc motorbike with his wife sitting behind him, his daughter sitting in front of him and a toddler straddled over the fuel tank. All with massive smiles and no protective equipment. I often wonder what they must think of us.

It just goes to show that you don’t need a huge “Adventure” bike decked out with unnecessary German made accessories to ride from A to B somewhere in the world and meet its people but marketing and advertising sure has made us think that we need them. However I will admit that having a tyre tube which the valve stays connected to is useful.

 

Costa Rica has been a pleasant surprise. You can’t really compare it to its northern Central American neighbors, it’s far wealthier and has a broad middle class or so it appears. In the time we’ve been here we haven’t seen very much noticeable poverty, at least nothing like the scale you see in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. One guide told me it’s because they got rid of their military 50 years ago and the money once spent on that no goes into the infrastructure and social system. Was he telling the truth? I don’t know but I’m sure cousin Asa Cusack knows.

Next it’s Panama but only for a couple of days and then finally ColOmbia and South America.