Leon to Granada

September 18, 2015

Leon is a big city. Too big for my tastes. So I decided to pack up and head for Granada, a smaller town on the shore of Lake Nicaragua.

Heading out of Leon, this caught my attention. My mind immediately went to Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Bring out your dead!”

In an attempt to make the ride between Leon and Granada a bit more interesting, rather than the short straight ride that it is, I headed to the coast first. The ride from Puerto Sandino down to El Transito was short but interesting. For most of it you would never know you were parallel to and just off of the Pacific Ocean.

If you look closely, you can see the ocean in the background. Notice that this is Nicaraguan Highway 52.

From El Transito, I took Highway 40 (another dirt road) back to Highway 12 and continued south towards San Marcos and eventually on into Granada.

Granada is a nice colonial town that has become quite a tourist spot. There are a lot of hostels here, and like many other places I’ve stopped recently, a lot of German backpackers. The town itself is fairly small, and easy to walk around. This morning I walked down to the lakeshore. It’s warm (more humid than hot really) so I chose not to take a boat to Las Isletas. There are a lot of tiny islands in the lake and a number of local boat operators that will take you there.

Cathedral in Granada

The Malecon along the lakeshore.

Heading back from the lakeshore I saw these three little pigs napping in a cart.

 

Guadalupe Church

Just next to the Guadalupe Church is La Calzada, a nice if touristy pedestrian street filled with restaurants. The prices are very touristy also, so I ducked into a brick-oven bread shop and bought some great focaccia bread for lunch, and saved my money for dinner on La Calzada.

Walking back from dinner I ran across this guy. I’m still not sure if he was stuck, or this was his normal method of viewing the action on the street. He seemed content.

Isla Ometepe, Monkies Island, and Breadcrumbs Along the Gringo Trail

September 20, 2015

At the hostel in Granada, I meet a German woman who is taking a one year sabbatical from teaching and traveling. She is wearing the same Volcano Boarding tank top that I have. It crosses my mind that this is a brilliant marketing tool by the Bigfoot Hostel in Leon. The shirt is included with the tour, and it’s great advertising all up and down the Gringo Trail. 

This t-shirt is a frequent sighting along the Gringo Trail.

It’s a short 45 minutes from Granada to San Jorge where the ferry will take me to Isla Ometepe. This island in Lake Nicaragua is actually two volcanoes joined by a small isthmus. The ferry is running a bit late, and although I have a booking on the 10:30am ferry, it doesn’t actually depart until around noon. When the ferry arrives in San Jorge, two young women backpackers get off the ferry, one wearing a Bigfoot Hostel Volcano Boarding tank top. Now I begin to think of this as the new way of leaving breadcrumbs up and down the Gringo Trail. 

As I’m lining the bike up against the side rail of the ferry so the workers can tie it to the rail with ropes, two guys from Vancouver ride on. They are on matching KLR650s, and are headed south as well, with the intent of selling the bikes and flying home once they get as far as they can go in the next three months.

Ometepe Ferry

Bikes lined up on the ferry.

The ferry ride is about an hour and a half, and it docks on the island at Moyogalpa (which literally means “place of the mosquitos”). Off the ferry and heading south, the first stop is food. There’s a great vegetarian restaurant on the water at the isthmus between the volcanoes, and the herb spaghetti here is one of the best meals I’ve had so far on the trip. 

Natural Food Restaurant on Ometepe

 

Some great spaghetti. I was hungry. Very hungry.

Continuing on, the road turns to dirt. It has been interlocking pavers for about six miles. I suppose it’s easier and cheaper than getting concrete or asphalt to the island, but the labor is incredible. Another five miles or so and the sign comes into view: Monkies Island. Yes, it’s supposed to be Monkey Island, but the Spanglish just adds to the character. This small family-run hostel has probably seen better days, but the price is right, and it has its’ own private beach down a short trail. 

Monkies Island Beach

Unfortunately, while the beach has a nice breeze to help cool things down a bit, it also has a tremendous cloud of sand flies. At times it’s hard to even breath without ingesting flies. So back to the hostel for an early night. 

In the morning, it’s time to finish the loop around the south island…

 then continue the dirt road around the north island and back to the ferry landing at Moyogalpa. It turns out that there is a boat leaving within minutes (not the ferry, but a smaller boat that can’t take cars but will take motorcycles), but the ferry will not arrive for four hours. The boat hands have the gate open on the second level for me to drive onto the boat, but they are shaking their heads and yelling that my bike is too wide to fit through the gate. I disagree. It turns out that if you remove the blue paint from the gate rails, the bike just fits. And my aluminum panniers are perfect paint removers. 

Volcano Concepcion with the airstrip to the right. The main road on the island crosses the middle of the airstrip.

On the mainland side, I’m nicer and not in a rush, so I remove one of my panniers and let the dock hands roll the bike off the boat. They still act like it’s a big hassle (I think they wanted a tip), but if I could ride it on, it shouldn’t be that hard to push it off minus one box. 

After watching my paint removal technique applied to their boat in Moyogalpa, the crew insisted on offloading the bike for me.

Then it’s off to San Juan Del Sur and Playa Maderas.

Playa Maderas

September 21, 2015

It’s another short ride from the ferry dock at San Jorge, Nicaragua to San Juan Del Sur on the Pacific Coast. San Juan is just north of the Costa Rica border, and it is catching the overflow of ex-pats that perhaps got in late on the Costa Rica beach life. 

The hills facing the beach in San Juan Del Sur look like Malibu, with million dollar homes built in a California-looking style. The stark contrast between these mansions and high-end condos, and the typical Nica house is startling. Going from sitting at a table at a restaurant in Granada and having young children approach me, point at my food or water, then point to their mouths, to seeing the excesses just a couple of hours away but in the same country, is also a bit disturbing. 

I’m not staying in San Juan Del Sur. It’s not in my price range. About 11 km up a dirt road is Playa Maderas, a small beach with a serious surf attraction. The waves here are not large, but they are consistent, and smooth, and perfect for learning and or just enjoying. The surf hostel is right on the beach, and in fact, aside from the Tacos Loco restaurant next door, is the only thing here. I walked up the beach a bit less than a kilometer to the next beach, and Camping Matilda. I considered staying here, but it’s a bit hard to reach due to the closing of the coast road north of Playa Maderas to suit some new homeowners. 

View from my room at the surf hostel.

 

Playa Maderas

 

The beach is so nice I’d like to stay here several nights, but it’s on the edge of my budget and I have to keep moving towards Costa Rica and Panama.

Costa Rica: Is It Finally Really Rainy Season??

September 22, 2015

From Playa Maderas, it was only about an hour to the Costa Rica border crossing. The border crossing was a relatively straightforward affair, aside from the rain and a certain customs official who was apparently having a bad day. Total time spent at both the Nicaraguan and Costa Rican immigration and customs offices: approximately two and half to three hours. With all of the rain, I’ve been taking very few photos.

Not far from the border in Costa Rica is Santa Rosa National Park. Once again, the plan was to camp here, and try to amortize my lodging budget. The sign at the entrance to the park said the entry fee was $10 and the camping fee was another $2. That put it well within my budget. But better yet, it’s the off-season and mid-week here, so there was nobody present and no way to pay the fees. I figured perhaps on the way out in the morning I would meet the park ranger and pay, but again there was nobody, aside from one couple camping and a classroom of grade school students and their teacher that showed up early in the morning. 

Early in the evening of my first day in Costa Rica, I had two thoughts:

  1. Where does a snake that big go at night? and
  2. How does a frog that large hide under the rim of the toilet bowl until you flush it?

It rained a bit during the night so I had to put the rain fly on the tent, making it a bit more humid. By morning it had stopped and cooled off a bit, but remained very cloudy. After breakfast and packing up, I headed towards Lake Arenal and Volcan Arenal. Highway 142 goes around the east side of the lake, and provides some great views and a fun ride. 

Lake Arenal, Costa Rica. The low clouds and rain prevented a clear view of Volcano Arenal, but even the rain couldn’t keep me from smiling at the great road and scenery.

The abundance of ex-pats is obvious as all of the signs are in english, from real estate signs to store signs. 

Unfortunately, the rain continued and the clouds stayed just above the lake, shrouding the volcano and making photos difficult.

The rain stopped for about ten minutes in Nuevo Arenal, so I decided to stop for groceries. Just coming into town I met another loaded bike heading in the opposite direction. Ignacio, from Chile, has been traveling for a year on his Suzuki DR650, and is headed to Alaska. 

Ignacio, Chilean adventurer.

While in town for just a few minutes, I also met a Canadian who has lived here for ten years, another gentleman from Europe who clearly has been here quite a while, and a couple from North Carolina who spend six months a year here and mentioned they have several neighbors here from Texas. The area around the lake is gorgeous. I can understand why so many people would move here. 

Just past the dam at the entrance to the Volcan Arenal National Park the road splits. The road along the other side of the lake is dirt. Fortunately it’s fairly well maintained, so the rain wasn’t too much of a problem. A little further down the dirt road is the small village of El Castillo. It was getting late, so I stopped at Cabinas Orquidias for the night. On the way up the hill to El Castillo I had to stop and gawk at the dozens of howler monkeys in a few trees at one turn on the road. 

Bad photo, but that is a howler monkey sitting on top of the utility pole.

The family at Cabinas Orquidias was incredibly nice. Besides renting me a beautiful, brand new one bedroom house with covered carport and one of the nicest bathrooms I’ve seen in a month for $30, they brought me a coffee maker and coffee from their house, offered me bread and even offered to let me come use their computer in their house since they didn’t have wi-fi in the rental yet. I politely declined. Sometimes the lack of internet access can be a very peaceful thing. 

The kids were in school when I left in the morning, but Mom and Dad were happy to pose for me before heading out. This place is worth the stop, and I would recommend a couple of days here to explore the area. So much to see.

In the one-street town of El Castillo is the Eco-Zoo, which is really more of a snake farm with frogs and turtles and a few other local critters thrown in. I probably should have passed, but the hour long tour was extremely informative and will no doubt make it hard to camp from now on. Or at least I’ll think twice before stepping out of the tent in the dark.

I can’t remember the names of all the different snakes I saw at the eco-zoo in El Castillo. About half of them were venemous, and some were very large. This was one of the smaller examples.

 

Much larger examples. The albino python on the left was climbing up the window. The other python in the lower right is actually larger than the albino. These two were huge.

 

We were allowed to hold these red-eyed tree frogs.

 

Large selection of lizards at the zoo also.

 

These are the biggest butterflies I’ve ever seen. Just huge.

 

Blue jeans poison dart frog. Very small. Very cool looking.

Of course it was raining the entire time I was looking at the critters. I think maybe I finally found the rain in Central America’s rainy season. They’ve been in drought conditions, but around Lake Arenal, it seems to be less so. This was day two of real rain.

Ruta 32: The Panama Canal of Highways

September 24, 2015

Another day of rain. It is rainy season here, after all.

This being the third straight day of rain, I decided to change my plan. I had originally intended to head west to the Nicoya Peninsula, as there is a small dirt road/trail that I’d heard about that I really wanted to ride. Unfortunately I had also read that the Nicoya Peninsula can become impassable during September and October due to heavy rains. It seemed like a waste to ride all the way over there just to find out I couldn’t do the 60 miles I really wanted to do.

So, instead, I heard that the Caribbean coast was much drier and had some good snorkeling reefs around Cahuita, which is about 30 miles north of the Panama border. I spent another couple of hours riding in the rain, but eventually broke out into nice weather. And the weather was the best I could say about most of today’s ride.

It turns out Highway 32, or Ruta 32 as it’s called here, is the main highway to and from the huge shipping port of Limon. The road is only two lanes, and winds up and down hills and through small villages. This creates some very long bottlenecks of 18-wheelers heading to and from the port. There are huge banana plantations all around this area, mostly operated by Del Monte and Chiquita, and this adds to the truck traffic as well. I had to think for a while, but I’m fairly certain that Ruta 32 in Costa Rica is the first road I have ridden on this trip that I would recommend people NOT take.

So as not to infect my next very positive post with this negative one. I’ll stop whining here.

Cahuita

September 25, 2015

Just south of the major port city of Limon, Costa Rica, and just north of the Panama border is the sleepy Caribbean village of Cahuita. All along this coast you can see, hear, and feel the Caribbean influence. The people here are more Jamaican than Hispanic. They tend to speak Spanish but otherwise the place feels more like the other side of the Caribbean. And of course there is Reggae music and Bob Marley posters everywhere.

The Cahuita National Park is a 2700 acre preserve on a peninsula. It is mostly dense jungle, with some wetlands and a couple of rivers. It also includes a 600 acre coral reef. It is also the only National Park in Costa Rica that does not charge an admission fee.

The beach inside Cahuita National Park. The jungle comes right down to the beach.

 

At one point you have to wade across this small river to continue up the trail. Caimans live here — somewhat smaller cousins of the alligator.

Despite the snake education I received a couple of days ago in El Castillo, I walked from the hostel into the village and then down the trail through the jungle alongside the beach this morning. I was captivated by all of the wildlife. It only takes standing still for a few moments to see something new moving in the jungle.

Love this shack on the beach on the way to the park.

 

On the way through Cahuita, this fisherman was returning home for the day, with his supplies from his boat, including the motor, in his cart.

 

Three-toed sloth, moving very slowly through the trees.

 

White faced Capuchin monkey with baby on her back.

 

Howler monkey.

 

These guys were hunting crabs on the beach.

 

These lizards were everywhere. They would walk down the trail in front of me like a dog on a leash.

 

Leaf cutter ants. It was fun to watch the long trails of leaves walking through the forest.

 

A Basiliicus, also commonly called a Jesus lizard. These guys can run really fast on their back legs, across water.

 

 

This guy was about four feet long, including his tail. He was calmly sitting in a plant, eating. Check out the spikes on his back.

 

Gratuitous advert….

 

There are a lot of species in the Cahuita area. Two of them that are in no danger of extinction are German and American tourists. There seems to be a large population of German ex-pats here as well. I heard more German than English or Spanish over the last couple of days. But then again, I spent a lot of time in the jungle listening to nothing. That was the best sound. On several occasions, I had flashes of thought: “Where am I?” “How did I get here?”

It’s still hard to grasp sometimes.

Panama: Plans Change (Again), or “Don’t Believe Everything You Read on the Internet”

September 26, 2015

Obvious statement in the title of this post, but today was an example of how using the internet to plan can get you in trouble. Fortunately, I hadn’t made many plans.

Last night in Cahuita, Costa Rica, I decided to cross into Panama this morning and try to get to Isla Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro. This requires crossing the border, taking a ferry to Isla Colón, finding a place to store the bike on that island, then arranging a boat to Isla Bastimentos and getting there before dark. I intended to just “wing” most of this. The one thing I had to plan for was the ferry crossing.

According to the ferry’s website, they sail twice a day between Almirante and Isla Colón: at 7am and at 12:30pm. It’s about an hour and a half ride from Cahuita to Almirante, and another two hours dealing with border paperwork. So it was clear I wasn’t going to make the 7am ferry. I felt I definitely had a shot at the 12:30pm ferry though, so that was the plan.

Judith (from Switzerland) and I teamed up again for the border crossing. This crossing at Sixaola is a very small crossing and an easy one. So easy and slow that there are no “helpers” hanging out here. The only problem is there is a regular shuttle service between Costa Rica and Bocas del Toro for the backpacker crowd, and as luck would have it, two shuttles full of Australian backpackers showed up just as we arrived at Immigration. The backpackers don’t have to do the vehicle paperwork, but we all have to go through Immigration first, both leaving Costa Rica and entering Panama. So this slowed us down a bit. Still, it was nice to have one person watching the bikes while the other person did the paperwork.

The old “Banana Bridge” at the Costa Rica – Panama border crossing at Sixaola. It’s now been replaced with a new one-lane bridge.

 

BananaHauler

Through the border and back on the road. Still looks like we can make it. A few blocks south of the border, the real highway jogs a couple of blocks to the east. My GPS was telling me to go straight ahead, and it showed the road we were on meeting back up with the highway in a couple of miles. So, as usual, I followed the GPS. The two lane paved road turned to gravel. Then it turned to dirt. Then it turned to an overgrown two-track with tall weeds dragging the panniers. Then came the first wooden bridge, with wood planks on each side for car tires. No problem.

Judith crossing the first bridge. It’s hard to tell from this angle that there is a drop into a creek there. It’s also hard to tell why Garmin routed me down this instead of the highway. But hey, that’s why it’s called an adventure…

Shortly after that, the second wooden bridge: missing a few planks, a few loose boards, but still not bad. Another 300 meters or so, the third bridge: big holes where there used to be planks, very loose boards, no side rails. Things were definitely getting interesting. I was beginning to think this road was going to end before we got to the highway. But sure enough, a mile later, we were back on the main road heading towards Almirante.

Just a few kilometers later, we ran into our first military checkpoint. This was the first time in the past two months that I was stopped and asked for paperwork. First, my driver’s license. Then my passport. Then the vehicle import papers. Then my vehicle title.

As all of this was beginning, the military official who spoke a little English asked Judith, “Where are you from?”

“Switzerland”, she replied.

“Switzerland! Oh, it’s beautiful there!” the officer said. Then he looked at me: “Where are you from?”

“United States”, I answered.

Crickets. Total silence. Not even a hint of a smile. Hmmmm. Okay. I’ll just keep my mouth shut rather than offer a snappy retort about how beautiful my country is also.

Of course everything checked out fine and we were free to go. According to the GPS, it looked like I might make it to the 12:30 ferry by a few minutes after noon. That should give me time to buy a ticket and get the bike on board.

Pulling into Almirante, it was clear this was not a luxury resort by the sea. This was a shipping port. Scrappy, dirty, with no hotels, restaurants, or other amenities for the tourist.

I pulled up to the ferry. No cars. No tourists. No one else going to Isla Colón. A couple of workers looked back at me. I looked at the sign painted on the back of the ferry: “Almirante – Isla Colón, Tuesday – Sunday, 7am”. Not a mention of a 12:30pm ferry. Because there isn’t one. Regardless of what their website says, there is only one ferry a day, and it was five hours before I got there. I was very thankful that I had decided to “wing it” and not book a hotel on the island for tonight.

I pondered my options. I could try to find some place to stay in Almirante, though it didn’t have a nice, safe vibe to it. I could go somewhere else and come back in the morning, but I couldn’t go far because the ferry leaves at 7am.

I finally decided that I was going to spend three days in the San Blas islands in two weeks, so there was no real need to spend all of the time, money and effort required to get to Isla Bastimentos. Looking at the map, I was still a few hours away from Boquete, but there wasn’t much between here and there, and I knew Boquete was in the highlands and would be cool and a good place to relax for a few days. So on I went.

The road between Almirante and Boquete is a bit rough with potholes and sections that have been repaired with gravel but not yet paved. But the scenery is great, including views of the Caribbean and multiple waterfalls as you climb higher.

Climbing into the hills just after the rains. Low clouds, lots of green.

 

Lots of these waterfalls along the road.

 

Heading to Boquete

Just past El Letrero I turned off of Highway 10 onto a small side road that looked like a shortcut over to the David-Boquete highway. This turned out to be a great road, with beautiful views and several bridges over a nice river. It had rained very recently and the clouds were low on the hills.

Pulling into Boquete I ran into the same two Canadians on KLR650s that I had met on the ferry to Ometepe. It sounds like they might be on the same boat to Colombia that I’m booked on.

The temperatures here are in the 60s at night and 70s in the daytime. I’m nearly a week ahead of schedule. So I’m planning to enjoy the cool weather, change the oil and adjust the valves on the bike, give it a wash and get ready for Panama (City).

 

 

The Fallacies of The Five Year Plan

My brother sent me this link to a great article not long ago. I found myself reading along thinking, “Yes! Exactly! That was me!” It really sums up what was going through my head when I finally pulled the plug and left on this trip. If you’ve ever thought you wanted to do something similar but thought “It will be five years from now before I can do that”, you should really read this article. It’s written by a woman who has been traveling via sailboat for a long time, but regardless of your method of travel, the pieces to the puzzle are still the same.

The Dangers of the 5-Year Plan

The decision I made to take this journey was never an easy one. But it was a journey I had dreamed about and talked about all of my life. My concerns over my future health and ability to do this trip later finally got to the point that, well, as the blog title says, “If Not Now, When?”

Since leaving two months ago, I have met dozens of people — probably more — that have come to this same conclusion but much earlier in life. Many of the travelers I’ve met who are traveling for a month, six months, maybe even a year, have said they wished they could do what I am doing. I’ve always replied “You can. Just don’t wait until you’re my age to do it.”

I am sure that to many people who have dedicated their lives to work, this seems like an irresponsible statement. I could go on for a long time about how my view of what’s important has changed tremendously due to the people I’ve met, and the conditions I’ve adjusted to in order to make this trip possible. I don’t miss my big house, all my “toys”, all of the “stuff” I had acquired. Now I look at the simplicity of how houses are built in other places, and how functional and comfortable they can be for a lot less money. I continue to jot down notes about building ideas for whenever this trip is over. I don’t know where that will be, or even when, but there is no question that my lifestyle, views, and most importantly my stress level, have all changed for the better.

And I feel like I’m still just getting started.

Boquete

September 26, 2015

Boquete is a nice town in the Chiriqui Highlands, at about 4,000 feet elevation. There isn’t a lot going on in the town itself, but the area around Boquete is very scenic and has a nice feel to it. Because of the elevation, the temperatures tend to stay constant year-round, with an average high around 80 and a low in the mid 60s. The climate is not only great for growing coffee, but for growing an ex-pat population as well. It seems that of the 25,000 or so residents of Boquete, nearly 25 percent are from North America or Europe.

I walked down to the Sugar & Spice Bakery for breakfast, and the place was packed, And I think all but one family was from the United States originally, although most were now locals.

The hostel here is very nice, very clean and well organized. As with most hostels I’ve stayed at, it offers both dormitory and private rooms, some with private baths and some with shared baths.

My cabanita overlooking the river.

 

Overlooking the river from my deck.

I spent the afternoon adjusting the valves on my bike under the covered patio area while it poured rain. I’m sure I could have gone longer without checking them, and only the intake was slightly loose, but I had the time and figured this was a good place to do it.

Couldn’t ask for a nicer place to do some maintenance.

 

I liked the yard furniture, made from pallets.

I could stay here in the cool temperatures for several more days, but I have a few things on my “list” that I want to get done before heading for South America in another 10 days.

David, Panama

September 28, 2015

This morning I walked into Boquete and bought some oil, then stopped at a small car repair shop a block from where I was staying, and asked the owner if I could change my oil in his lot and leave my used oil with him. He not only said yes, but cut a one gallon plastic jug into a drain pan for me and showed me where I could pour my used oil into his recycle drum. Another very nice, helpful local that didn’t hesitate to help out a complete stranger. That seems to be a theme on this trip. While changing my oil, we got to talking a bit, and he asked where I had been.

“Mexico? Guatemala? Very dangerous!” he said.

I smiled and told him how friendly and beautiful those countries had been. It’s still funny to hear how the countries on either side of where I am presently are always dangerous, but not where I am. Now that I think about it, I’ve been hearing that since I was standing in Texas.

It’s also interesting to hear the same theme from the owner of this auto repair business in small town Panama compared to another in Texas. Aside from the language difference, the story was the same: in slow economic times, people either extend their maintenance or do without. They try to go longer between oil changes, but don’t want to spend the extra money on quality oils that can survive the extended use, setting themselves up for trouble and greater expense all because they are trying to “save” money. This of course has affected his business and he is somewhat thankful for the ex-pats that have moved to town and add to his business.

 

I came down from the Chiriqui Highlands of Boquete to David (pronounced Dah-Veed) to try to find tires for my bike before heading to Panama City. David is Panama’s second largest city, and is primarily in an agricultural lowland area. Many things were immediately noticeable: first, the humidity. Phew. Automatic diet plan: just sit and sweat it off.

Second, within a block, I saw KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and even a Dairy Queen. This is generally not a good indicator of where I want to be.

Third, I was quickly reminded of what I don’t like about Americans (okay, just certain ones), and hostels. The hostel shall remain nameless (but let’s just say, if you ever find yourself in David, don’t stay in any hostel named after a color). The American woman who owns and runs the hostel (I shall also leave her nameless) immediately began asking very inquisitive and I felt rather personal questions before I was even inside the gate. Then she warned me not to walk away from my motorcycle while it was outside of the gate, and once it was inside the gate, told me that my locked aluminum boxes on the bike were not safe and I needed to take anything of value out. (So, let’s see…it’s okay to walk four blocks to the grocery store and restaurant, but my stuff isn’t safe locked up inside your walled compound. Okay….).

As with most places in Central America, if air conditioning is offered, it is at an extra price and only for certain hours. In this case, it was an extra $5 beginning at 8pm. By 7pm I was still sweating profusely and the room was stifling, so around 9pm, I decided to spend the extra money and “rent” the A/C remote controller. I walked in and asked if I could pay for the A/C. “Sure, but that room is so small, it will cool off fast, so you don’t need it yet. Check back with my night clerk after 10pm.”

Uh, let’s see….the rental rate begins at 8pm. I can’t go into the room at 9pm because it’s still too hot. But I am told I don’t need it until after 10pm. Rather than respond and run the risk of more personal questions and observations about my sleeping habits, etc, I went back outside and continued to sweat in the driveway, wondering why I didn’t just ride the 25 miles back up the hill to Boquete where it was 69 degrees already.

So, lesson learned. No more room rentals from American ex-pat former Peace Corps workers with attitude.

Oh, and I never found tires either. But I have a good lead in Panama City now, so that’s at the top of my list.

In the “Very Small World” category, as I was walking across a busy street in David this afternoon, way off the beaten tourist path, a guy on a motorcycle stopped to let me cross, and as I walked in front of him, he said “Hey, stranger”. It was a guy from Oregon on a Kawasaki Ninja that I had met at the Nicaragua – Costa Rica border crossing. I’ve probably passed a couple of million people since then, criss-crossing from the Pacific to the Caribbean and back through two countries, and if I had been five seconds sooner or later, our paths would not have crossed again in David, Panama. Even off the Gringo Trail, it’s a small world.