Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day 29 - Buenos Aires, Costa Rica, to Volcan, Panama

RobC:  We forgot to mention yesterday that we are in Del Monte pineapple country here. We saw some huge packing plants and fields and fields of pineapples, as well as truckloads of fragrant,  ripe pineapples. I saw so many of them that after awhile I could not get the smell of pineapples out of my head. The other crops in the area are palm oil and coffee. The verdant rolling hills remind me a lot of the eastern slopes of the Andes in Peru.

RobT:  We got up late today thinking the road would be closed until noon, or that's what we were told.  We decided to pack up and head to the restaurant beside the highway where we were last night and see if we could find out any updated info.  We had breakfast, did some e-mails and around 10am we noticed trucks starting to come from the San Vito direction (the way we were headed).  As they drove past they honked their horns.  I suppose they were telling us the road was open.  We finished up what we were doing and headed toward the landslide area.

Side note: this roadside restaurant had a security guard (nice guy) who was armed.  Seems like any place has these guards.  The place we stayed at in Honduras had an armed guard with a shotgun patrolling the parking lot.  We have noticed this to be common practice in Central America.

We got to the landslide area and as usual passed the long line of trucks, buses and cars, as motorcycles typically do here, and parked at the front.  I think we waited about half hour before the engineer allowed us to pass.  We had to follow the police pick-up truck.  Once we got to the site of the landslide, there was mud and heavy equipment everywhere.  It was a substantial slide with at least 4 large components to it, worst one we have seen and most of the hillside had slid across the road and down the mountain.  The construction crew had to build a new rock/gravel road, the left side was sheer cliff to the river and the right was mud ... the "new road"  was partially covered by a foot and a half of water.  Fortunately, we made it through with very little sliding around.

We had about an hour of riding to get to the remote border crossing and were warned about the last 50km of road being horrible ... potholes, potholes, potholes.  Can't remember who had warned us but they didn't exaggerate.  The road followed a mountain ridge with steep slopes on either side and no guard rails.  The scenery was stunning. All lush green fields and trees.

RobC:  In time of disaster, such as the rains, floods and landslides in Costa Rica, it is amazing how quickly you make friends with people going through the same ordeal of waiting and hoping for the road to open, so that everyone can go on with their travel plans.  Along these lines we made friends with motorcyclist Ben, who is heading for Tierra del Fuego on a KLR 650, and who we will undoubtedly see again on the way down, as well as Jaime and Betina, delightful people from Spain, and Michael and Anneke from Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, who are working with Operation Mobilization in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Jaime and RobT in the long wait for the road to open after landslide repair.

We saw many indigenous Guaymi women in colorful dresses in southern Costa Rica. Apparently, Guaymi families come from their native Panama to CR to pick coffee beans, not unlike migrant workers from Mexico and Central America who help harvest crops in the US.

RobT:  We made it into San Vito, stopped for a quick regrouping and headed to the border.  The road was "gravel".  Actually, more rocks than gravel.  It took about 2 hours to complete all our paper work and the only money we had to pay was for bike insurance in Panama, 15USD. Also, it is quite handy that Panama uses US Dollars. They used to use Balboas, which were on the par with USD, but now they just use dollars.

Road to the border.

At the border. Notice the absence of large trucks at this minor crossing.

This blue shack is the Panama customs office.

The border

A typical shop along the border. Tax-free shopping for Costa Ricans and Panamanians.

Other colorful Guaymi Indian women.

The border into Panama, just past the stop sign where we both had our stuff checked.  RobC made the comment to the customs people that this was the first time our stuff had been inspected.  The reply, "You're in Panama now."

FINALLY!!  In Panama.  The road from the border to Volcan was spectacular.  Beautiful winding roads through lush vegetation, coffee fields and deep valleys.  Wow.


  1. Rob x2,

    Landslides are always interesting. Said you had to go thru water flowing across the road.. the worst are the landslides where you have to go thru 2 ft deep of "mud soup" !

    All this rain and mud slides you will greatly miss when you get to the Peruvian coastal desert! Hope you plan to at least do the Canyon del Pato to Huaraz and get away from the !@#$%^&* Panamericana !

    Cheers, Toby

  2. Is the coffee better?

  3. RobC, my machutonim, Matthew's parent-in-law, are in Buenos Aires - the big one south of you - and they posted a picture of a bandoneon player. That made me flash back to Willem-Alexander and Maxima's wedding. Did you see the bandoneon then and the tears it brought to Maxima's eyes?

    Click on "Adios Nonino."


  4. Hi Toby,

    We had the mud soup as well, but the worst is the half-dry mud. I have seen pictures from a motorcyclist in the Cañón del Pato, and I don't think we will have knobbies at that point, so we will probably take the Casma road to the Callejón. Do you think the road to Huánuco can be done without knobs?


  5. Hi Dick,

    I will have a look when we have a better connection. Greetings from Panama, 100 km from Panama City. We'll be looking for transport to Colombia tomorrow.


  6. Rob T, no, the coffee is not better. More like Nescafe most of the time which in Spanish is, no es cafe.

  7. Rob,

    The road to Canyon del pato is paved from the coast to the turn off to Pallasca (at Chuquicara),then crushed rock and some talcom powder as far as Huallanca. It really is an AMAZING road not to be missed. It would be best with knobs, but do-able with what you have if you go slower. I would over night in Chimbote then only shoot for Caraz. I know a great inexpensive place in Caraz... a little hacienda turned into a hotel with security, hot water, it's own little bar/restaurant, etc we stayed in this summer.. "Albergue Los Pinos".

    Yes, the road is paved all the way from Huaraz to Huanuco now. Just be careful as from La Union to Huanuco it is only one lane to go both ways! Moral of the story: Hug your lane and still expect anything coming around each corner!


  8. Excellent info, Toby, as usual! Crushed rock and talcum powder sounds wonder for my 250 kg bike and 150 kg of !@#$%^&*() on the back, plus a substantial body in the seat. RobT and RobC are now 6-5 in being on the ground.

    I saw some recent pix of the Cañón del Pato and it looked ominous. We'll see.