Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: Thu, 28 Nov 1996 07:43:47 -0800
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 961123.rpt
Sunday November 17
In the morning I rode north to Jinotega on an incredibly pot-holed road
which climbed further into the equally increrdible lush green mountains.
Here and there small stand lined the road selling produce making for a
colorful kaleidoscope of reds, greens, yellows, and oranges.
Jinotega is known for its cathedral, supposedly one of the most beautiful
in Central America, and noticably large for such a small town (population
14000). The outside itself is nothing exceptional, but inside it has much
beautiful art, statues and intricate architectural details.
Unfortunately, I arrived on a Sunday morning when services were going on
and I could only look at the splendor from the entrance at the rear of the
church. I was only going to be spenfing an hour or two in town, before
returning through Matagalpa and on to Leon.
The formwr jail during the Somoza regime, located on the south side of the
plaza, was now a youth center and discoteque. The front walls were
decorated with two large murals, one showing coffee pickers with rifles on
their backs, the other showing children at war.
While taking pictures of the murals, a man sitting nearby with his wife
and ki and another man struck up a conversation with me about the town,
the church and the murals. When I mentioned that I knew the building had
formerly been Somozas jail, that really pleased him that I knew that. I
didn't tell him I had just read that in my guidebook. Several times
during this trip when I described to a local, my guidebook, bought in the
US, which described things about all the Central American countries, they
expressed something akin to increduality. As i was leaving he asked me to
take a photo of him and his kkid, sitting there on the park bench. His
wife must have been more camera shy, as she shuffled off to the side
before I could take the photo.
In the center of the plaza itself was monument to Carlos Fonseca, the
father of the Sandinista revolution with a quote from him which says,
paraphrasing, "It is not enough to remove those in power, but we must also
change the system..."
While having a soda in the plaza I was approached by several shoeshine
boys asking if I wanted my boots shined. This is a common occurance when
I'm walking around with my heavy black leather motorcycle boots on and
they could clearly use something to improve their appearance after 3
months on the road. I give my usual answer in my lousy Spanish, "No es
necesario. Son para mi moto y manana mas sucio." They smile, maybe try to
convince me I should have them shined anyways, and eventually wander off
in search of another customer.
Back at the bike, as I was getting ready to leave, I strike up a
conversation with a noy in his late teens who was watching me. Eventually
the conversation turns to the bike and its size, and he says that you need
to be tall to ride this bike. What a setup line! I promptly say "No, un
momento", and dig into my bag for the photos I carry with me. I first
show them the photo of Noemi and standing together with the top of her
head coming up to my chin, saying "Es mi novia". Then I show them the
the photo of Noemi sitting on my black and yellow R100GS-PD in her black
leather jacket and say "Ella tiene motos tambien." By this time about 8
other people, including a couple in their 30s or 40s had gathered round
and the photos made the rounds. The photo of Noemi never fails to illicit
comments, big smiles and laughs, especially from the women. They see
there are a couple more photos and want to see them to. They are of my
family and another of Noemi.
Then the original boy I was talking with hands me a small 1"x2" laminated
card. On one side is a picture of a little angel and on the other side is
a prayer in Spanish asking for Gods protection and guidance. I read it
and begin to hand it back to him but he indicates that I should keep it.
I thank him, and in turn offer him a BMWMOA (that's the BMW Motorcycle
Owners of America for those uninformed masses who may be reading this)
sticker. Now, an angel for a motorcycle sticker, I'm not sure who got the
better end of the deal, but he seemed happy with the outcome. The crowd
could translate everything except "Owners", and I had to dig out my
dictionary to give them the translation: duenos. Now I'm not a
particularly religious or superstitious person, but I figured it can't
hurt, so I tucked the little angel in my wallet.
On the ride back towards Matagalpa, it begins to rain, so I pull over to
put on my Aerostich pants. A man riding the other direction on a Yamaha
125 stops and walks back to where I was. He just wanted to look at the
bike and find out where I was from. The majority of time, if someone
ventures a guess as to where I'm from, they guess Germany. We chatted for
about 10 minutes, then said our "Mucho gustos" and headed our seperate
I retraced my route back to the Pan-American Highway, and headed back
north for several miles until I picked up the turnoff southwest towards
Leon, Nicaragua's 2nd largest city. Leon lies in the fertile agricultural
lowlands and as I proceeded southwest I could feel the heat and humidity
On the way I stopped at a small comedor for lunch. The comida corriente
(typical meal of local food and usually the cheapest item on the menu) was
fried chicken, gallo pinto, salad, cheese and tortillas. Price was C9
(about US$1) plus drink. A poster of Kathy Ireland in a bathing suit
adorned the dining area. I just love to see the finer aspects of American
culture making inroads here in Central America.
I arrived in Leon about 3pm and the first hotel, Hotel America, with a
room with a private bath for C70 (US$8.25), was not motorcycle-accessable
so I prceeded on to my next choice, Hotel Europa, a little farther from
the town plaza. They had an interior courtyard, part of which was devoted
to parking, the other part having numerous plants, tables and chairs. A
room with fan and shared bath was C60 (US$7) and I took one. This place
also had rooms with private bath and fan for C100, and rooms with
air-conditioning for I didn't ask how much. It also has a rerstaurant and
small bar on site. It's actually supposed to be one of Leon's nicer
hotels. The guidebooks had indicated that Leon didn't have a lot of
lodging geared to the budget traveller, and that the next step down was in
fact a dive, both figuratively and literally.
Outside the big cities, one can live incredibly cheap if one wants to.
Even with the inflated prices of Leon, today cost only about US$18.
Yesterday in Matagalpa cost about US$13, and that was with splurging for
breakfast and lunch, not ordering the plato typico, and not staying in the
I walked the seven blocks to the plaza and along the way a parade passed
by in the street. I'm not sure what the occasion was. Many people were
in costumes, including ghosts, devils, batman, and others. A marching band
brought up the rear, proceeded by cheerleaders and baton twirlers in
skimpy white outfits.
By the time I made it to the plaza it had started to rain, so I grabbed a
table under an awning at a plaza-side cafe and had dinner. The comida
corriente here was C44, for about the same things I had at lunch, plus
fried plantanos. Inflated city prices.
During dinner it began to dump rain, the heaviest of the trip I believe.
The rain was bouncing off the streets and sidewalks, and, if Leon has a
storm sewer system, it couldn't keep up as the street autfront began to
fill with water. A drunk stumbled in out of the rain, drenched and hovers
over the family at the table behind me. They get up and move inside.
Then he stumbles over to my table and is tottering, seemingly about ready
to fall onto my table. Fortunately by this time I had finished dinner and
only had my drink left, so I picked up my stuff and moved inside. The
drunk follows me in but sees the other family and goes over to them. The
lady has had it by this time and violently shoves him towards the door,
but he is persistent and returns. By this time the proprietor, a lady
sees what is going on and comes out carrying a 3 foot long metal pipe,
banging it on the tile floor as she approaches. This doesn't deter the
drunk and he persists in leaning over the chairs and table. The lady
diner then grabs the pipe from the proprietor and starts poking the drunk
in the chest and waving it at his face. I thought she was going to take a
swing at him. This deters him for a couple of minutes but soon he is
back. Finally the man takes the pipe and using it as a cattle prod,
drives the drunk back out into the street and the rain. The drunk finally
got the point and left.
The rain simply would not let up. I hung around for almost two hours but
there was no letup. By this time it was thundering and lightening, and
the lightening lit up the trees in the plaza and the cathedral's spires.
When the restaurant finally closed about 8pm, I decided to take a taxi
back to my hotel, but everyone else in the city had the same idea, as taxi
after taxi drove by full. Several others outside the restaurant were also
waiting for taxis. Finally about a half hour later I get a ride in a taxi
with 4 others. The fare was C8 back to my hotel.
Monday November 18 59088
Today was devoted to seeing sites around Leon. Leon founded in 1524, but
was moved 32km to its present site after being destroyed by an earthquake
in 1610. It was the capital of Nicaragua throughtout the colonial period
until the capital was moved to Managua in 1857. Leon has traditionally
been the most liberal of Nicaraguan cities, while its rival city Granada
has been very conservative. The capital was moved from Leon to Managua,
equidistant between the two rival cities, to quell their bickering and
Leon still is very liberal, and many of the founders of the Sandinista
movement studied in the University here. The presence of the University
and its students makes aleon a very vibrant city. During the revolution,
virtually the entire town fought against the Somoza regime and the city
was the site of fierce street battles between the Sandinistas and Somozas
National Guard. Somoza even had the city bombed. Many murals throughout
the city attest to this period in Nicaraguas history and the many town
people who lost their lives.
Leon's cathedral, occupying an entire city block just east of the main
plaza, is the largest in Central America. The inside is immaculate and
spectacular, containing a huge gold-leaf altar and numerous beautiful
paintings showing various scenes in Jesus' life. Many famous Nicaraguans
are buried inside, including Ruben Dario, the famous poet and Leon's
favorite son. A life-size statue of a sorrowful lion sits atop his tomb
and a statue of Saint Paul watches over it. Construction of the cathedral
took over 100 years beginning in 1746. Leon has many other churches and
cathedrals of which I visited a handful.
The Museo Ruben Dario, located in the house where the poet grew up, was
closed Mondays, so hopefully I can see it tomorrow before leaving Leon.
The Galeria de Heros y Matires displays photos of Leons residents who died
fighting for the FSLN during the 1978-79 revolution and a map showing how
the fighting developed around Leon. I counted more than 300 photos.
Nearby, commemorated by a plaque on it's outside wall, is the house where
Anastasio Somoza Garcia, father of dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, was
assasinated by poet Rigoberto Lopez Perez on September 21, 1956. Lopez
Perez was killed on the spot and became a national hero. The plaque reads
in part that his action marked the "beginning of the end" of the Somoza
Large murals devoted to the revolution are everywhere. One mural, a
backdrop to a basketball court full of guys shooting hoops, depicts an
army helmet labelled "CIA" with a large two-headed, red, white, and blue
snake emerging from it and blood dripping from the snake's fangs.
Fittingly, throughout Leon, especially in the main plaza, there are
numerous statues of lions. Leon is probably on of my favorite large
cities so far. It really doesn't feel like a large city, many streets are
paved with cobblestones, or paving stones, and the people are friendly.
Several times while walking through the streets people would stop me just
to talk. And the colonial architecture is beautiful.
Had a huge plate of chop suey at the Hong Kong Rrestaurant for C15
(US$1.75). I forgot the guidebooks advice to order it "sin salsa" and it
arrived with a huge dollup of ketchup and mustard in the middle. Other
than that it was great. They were playing various pop love songs, some in
English, others in Spanish to American tunes which I recognized. It kind
of depressed me, but in a reflective, positive sort of way. It was nice
hearing those song and thinking of Noemi, but sad because of the
uncertainty in our situation.
While having a coke in the plaza, later in the afternoon I ran into the 2
Danish women who are also staying at Hotel Europa. They are both studying
political science and have been travelling solely in Nicaragua for 2
months now. A very appropriate foe a political science major to travel.
They suggested not even stopping in Managua, that there was not much to
see and it was one of their least favorite cities. I had heard the same
from several other travellers and am probably going to skip it as well.
After they left, Henry, travelling solo from Germany, asked if he could
join me at my table. He hadn't heard about the Panama-Columbia Ferry so I
was able to give him some information and phone numbers regarding it.
It rained several times during the day and fairly heavily again this
evening. I wonder if the clothes I had washed today will be dry tomorrow
when I'm ready to leave?
Tuesday November 19 59088
I checked out the small Rueben Dario Museum, before packing up and leaving
town. Like I thought, the rain yesterday kept my clothes from drying so
they returned them in a plastic bag. Shortly after leaving Leon, headed
south towards Managua, it began to rain. It rained heavily for about 15
minutes but then the sun came out and it got hot and humid quickly.
However Nicaragua was turning out to be the rainy-est country so far on my
Up until Leon I had been able to use my Honduras map, but now I was off
that map, and I was a bit surprised to find that I didn't have a map
specifically of Nicaragua. I was relegated to using a map of Central
America which was at such a scale to be fairly useless except for gross
navigation. I wasn't planning to stop in Managua, but was headed to
Masaya, southeast of the capital. Fortunately there was a perifico, a
route which encircled the downtown part of Managua, and it was well
marked, so getting to the other side of Managua was painless.
4 miles northwest of Masaya is Nicaragua's only national park, Volcan
Masaya National Park. As I approached from Managua, the sky ahead was
dark gray, and it began sprinkling. The lady at the entrance booth said
the gasses may stop but it was unpredictable, that it had been venting all
day. It turned out that a good portion of the "clouds I saw were in fact
clouds of gasses being vented by the volcano! I paid the C20 entry fee and
began the ride to the top. There is a paved road which goes all the way
to the top, literally to the edge of the actively venting crater. The
summit actually has about four craters, two of them being concentric.
Only one crater is active at this time and it just vents large billowing
clouds of white-gray, sulphur-smelling smoke. Huge clouds would billow up
from the crater such that you really couldn't see down into the crater to
judge how deep it was. There was a strong wind blowing from the southwest
and it carried the smoke down the northeast slopes, over the highway and
towards Lake Nicaragua. As I approached the summit I had to pass through
the foul-smelling clouds several times, and when they obscured the sun
they created a glowing orange fireball. There was a peak towering above
the crater, but the clouds of steam billowing out of the crater were so
thick that only occasionally would you catch a glimpse of the summit and
the cross erected there. Supposedly the Spanish first erected a cross
there because they believed the volcano was an entrance to hell, inhabited
by devils. The road actually encircled the active crater, passing between
it and the San Feernando crater which has been inactive for more than 200
years and whose slopes are now forested,however that part of the road was
closed because it was in poor repair. I hiked to the rim of the San
Fernando crater for a spectacular view back down to the venting crater and
a view down inside the San Fernando crater. It is more 650m wide and 200m
deep. Unfortunately the heavy clouds of steam, blowing down the slopes to
the northeast prevented me from seeing the splendid vistas of Lake Masaya
and Lake Nicaragua and Grenada. As I rode down, I again had to pass
through the clouds of steam/smoke which were heavier and more foul
smelling than on the way up. It also began to rain. Up on the top it has
been clear and sunny. The volcano and its steam were ceating their own
I planned to stay in a cheap hospedaje in the nearby village of Masaya, on
Lake Masaya opposite the Volcano Masaya, however there was no way to get
my motorcycle inside. The proprietor, an elderly gentleman graciously
gave me directions to another hotel, out on the main highway, he said had
parking for my bike. When I got back out to my bike, it was surrounded by
a crowd of school boys and girls, dressed in their blue and white
uniforms. The girls asked if I could sing and dance and I said yes, but
Back out on the main highway, heading towards the other hotel, I passed
two bikes, obviously travelers not locals, going the other way. Such
occurances are so rare that you always pull over and check your mirror to
see if they are stopping. They did the same thing and we both turned
around, meeting halfway and pulling over to the side of the road.
They were German, Stephan riding a Honda V45 Sabre (like the one '92 I
used to own and totaled) and Mike riding a 20 year old Kawasaki 400. They
had bought them in San Francisco, CA and had left there at the end of
August, several weeks after me. They had just crossed the
Honduran/Nicaraguan border this morning and were blasting through in 2
days, stopping in Grenada tonight. After talking for a half hour, they
headed south to Granada and I headed up the street to find my hotel.
However when I got there I found that it was very expensive at C150
(US$17), something I should have expected since hotels right on the
highway are usually more expensive than those in the towns themselves. So
I remounted the bike and headed to Granada, where I
again ran into Stephan and Mike out front of the same hotel I was headed
A room with fan and shared bath was C25 plus C5 for parking the motorcycle
inside in the courtyard. Later we walked across the street to a small
comedor, where the meal was cooked outfront on tables set up on the
sidewalk. The comida corrienta was a huge plate of barbequed chicken,
gallo pinto, salad, and banana chips, for C14. Stephan was a industrial
mechanic, while Mike was in school studying literature and geography.
They also planned to blast through Costa Rica because of how expensive it
Wednesday November 20
Spent the day in Grenada, a beautiful old colonial city. The plaza is
exceptionally pretty, full of trees, a gazebo, and with colorfully painted
old buildings and an old cathedral surrounding it. Old, colonial-style
Horse drawn carriages clatter through the streets, taking locals about the
Markus, a Swiss guy staying also at the Hospedaje Vargas for over a week
now, took us over to the market where there were several cheap comedors to
choose from. We walked through aisle after of aisle of produce, hanging
meats, and ordinary household products, to a dark, smokefilled building
housing the eateries. Smoke from the cooking fires filled the upper
reaches of the room and over the years had turned the walls and ceilings
black. We settled on one that was serving pollo (chicken) that morning
and had a large plate of chicken, gallo pinto, salad and fried cheese for
C10. Yes, that's what I had for dinner last night as well, but it's good
food, filling and cheap. In fact this morning I couldn't finish all the
rice and tortillas, and when a young boy saw I was finished, asked if he
could have the leftovers. Only when I said yes, did he come over and,
while standing there, finish the food off my plate. Then he turned to me
and said "Muchos gracias".
Markus had been riding a '91 XR600R, but ran out of money and had to sell
it for US$600. He was going to be going back to Switzerland, via the
States, in several weeks.
After breakfast, Stephan and Mike loaded their bikes and headed south to
the border. I went and got a haircut. Ronaldo, the young guy who helped
run the hospedaje, recommended a barbershop just off the plaza which he
said charged C10. With the aid of the haircutting terminology cheatsheet
I had prepared several days before, and a photo of myself which must have
been taken shortly after a previous haircut, I ended up with a pretty good
cut. The charge was C15, not C10 lile Ronaldo had said, and I have a
feeling it was due to Gringo-inflation.
In the afternoon I walked to the Convent de San Francisco, formerly the
site of the University of Grenada until shutdown by the dictator Somoza in
1951, and now home to the Squire Collection, some 30 pieces of
pre-Columbian stone statuary from the Isla Zapatera in Lago de Nicaragua.
They are of black basalt, are dated feom 800-1200 AD, and depict human,
animal, and combined human-animal forms from the Chorotega culture.
Afterwards I walked down to the Malecon and park along the lakeshore.
Away in the distance to the south the conical cone of Volcan Concepcion,
one of two volcanos on Isla de Ometepa in Lake Nicaragua, was visable. I
wanted to check into boat schedules and whether I could take the bike on
one out to Isla de Ometepe. Unfortunately the boat offices were closed.
It rained on and off all day. The hospedaje had cable TV and so from CNN
I learned that this weather was from the fringes of Huricane Marcos in the
For dinner I walked across the street to the little comedor, and who
should I meet there but Tamil, one of the Israelis who I had met almost a
month earlier at Finca Ixobal in Poptun, Guatemala. He was now travelling
solo, having split up with his previous traveling partner.
Thursday November 21 59193
Markus, Christian, also staying at the hospedaje,, and I went to the
market for breakfast. Christian was from England, had earlier been
teaching English in Panama, and was returning there to retrieve a bicycle
he had stored their and begin his ride to South America.
After breakfast, I left in a light rain. It rained off and on the 60
miles to the border. During a construction zone, just after having passed
a whole line of vehicles waiting at a flagman, and then being waved
through by the flagman, the engine stutters and dies. I coast off onto
the shoulder and park the bike. Fortunateely its not raining at the
moment. I immediately think of the wet ignition systen problem I had had
almost 3 months ago (boy, it just seems like yesterday), but the rain
hadn't been that heavy, and it had stalled in a different manner, almost
like it had run out of gas, and I had just filled the tank this morning
when I left Granada. So instead of checking the plugs for spark, I pulled
the carb bowls off and both were dry. Despite both the petcocks being
open, no fuel was flowing. I jiggled the float and float valve, but still
no fuel. I took the cap off the tank to check the fuel, and I could here
a hiss as air was sucked into the tank, and fuel instantly began running
out of both carbs. I checked the cap and the vent line but both checked
out OK and with the cap back in place fuel still flowed OK. I think the
problem was the one-way check valve I have in the vent line to prevent
fuel from spilling if I drop the bike. My guess is that somehow the
little ball valve got stuck, maybe with dirt, sealing the air vent.
Eventually enough of a vacuum was drawn in the tank to prevent the ball
valve from opening. I was explaining my hypotheses and what I was doing
to two Nicaraguan men on bicycles who had stopped to see what was going
I stopped in the small town of Rivas, just shy of the border for a coke
and to let the border post open after lunch. At the border, procedures on
the Nicaraguan side took aver an hour. and the exit fee was C5 plus US$2.
There was a lot of running back and forth between offices,
very inefficient. In one office there were 2 desks, 8 feet apart, which I
had to visit. However in between I had to go to another office to have
photocopies made of my passport, drivers license, title, and the vehicle
document issued when I entered Nicaragua, then go to another office down
the street to turn in the copies and have the vehicle document stamped.
As seems to be the trend a young guide had approached me as I rode up to
the border crossing, offering his services. I told him it wasn't
necessary, to which he replied, yes it was necessary. I didn't
acknowledge that response one way or the other, since I had a feeling,
from what I read of Nicaraguan beaurocracy, that I might need him, and he
ran on ahead, motioning to me to follow. Another bigger, slightly older
boy tried to edge in on him, telling me he would be my guide, and leading
the way along with my original "guide." They almost came to blows over
it, and I finally tired of their bickering, and turned to the older boy
and said, "Amigo, tengo guia ya." He finally took the hint and left. The
whole process took over an hour.
At the final vehicle verification, I showed the location of the bike's
identification numbers, and the boy read them off, while the inspector
"checked" them against the document, looking up at me laughing and
shrugged, not actually checking them. While walking around I had heard
several other guides offering their services to others for C1, so I paid
my guide C2, about US$0.25. He seemed possibly a tad disappointed, but
I exchanged my remaining Cordobas, about US$21 worth, receiving 4680
Colones. There are about 215 Colones to the dollar, the largest rate yet.
I hoped that would be sufficient to get me through the border formalities
on the Costa Rican side. Then I rode the 4 km to the Costa Rican border
post. For the moment it was not raining. The Costa Rican border
procedures were incredibly straightforward and easy, except for having to
have copies made and then having the machine I was referred to be out of
order. I ended up having to walk down the street a couple of hundred
yards to another office to have the copies made. By this time it was
beginning to rain again. The fee for my passport was C75 (US$0.35), but
for the bike it was C4000 (US$18.60). That just about wiped out my supply
of Colones, so I exchanged a US$20 bill to get me through the day until I
could find a bank tomorrow.
The entire procedure took a little over a half hour, but by the time I was
ready to leave it was 3:45 and it was pouring down rain.
The first 20km from the border the road was terribly potholed, and areas
were big mudholes. It was the same on the other side of the border and in
the vicinity of about just every other border in Central America. Between
the border and the first large city or town the roads are always terrible.
I guess because there isn't as much domestic traffic in those areas, and
the few people who live in those areas don't have any clout to get the
It poured the entire 50 miles to Liberia, the first major town south of
the border, and twice along the way the motor started stuttering as it
again suffered fuel starvation. However I was ready for it, and at the
first indications, I simply pulled off the vent hose at the gas cap which
allowed air into the tank and gas to again flow to the carbs.
The Aerostich couldn't compete with the onslaught of rain, and by the time
I arrived in Liberia, my pants were soaked. The first hotel I stopped at
was full, one of the first times that had happened on this trip. A block
and a half away was the Posada de Tope which had a room for C1000
(US$4.65) and secure parking out back.
It rained on and off all evening. In between major downpours I managed to
get dinner and walk around downtown by the plaza for a bit.
Friday November 22
I was raining again this morning, and that combined with some logistical
errands I had to do, was all it took to make the decision to stay another
night here. I found the local laundramat and dropped off a load of
laundry. I managed to find two bank ATM machines which displayed the PLUS
System symbol, but neither would work with my ATM card, and the bank
personnel said it had to be a VISA PLUS card. So I settled for cashing a
couple of travellers checks at the National Bank of Costa Rica. for a rate
slightly better than I got for cash at the border. The official rate was
217.4 Colones per dollar. I was out of film, but only found one place
with slide film and it was US$13 for 36 exposures. I bought a single
roll, hoping I could find a cheaper place in the next couple of days.
The local Tiko Times English-language paper had a front-page article about
how these rains associated with Hurricane Marcos had hit the northwest
part of Costa Rica, where I now was, particularly hard. Several bridges on
the Nicoya Penninsula, where I had been thinking of going, had been washed
out, and there had been numerous mudslides. Several towns on the
penninsula were cut off and others had their electricity and phone service
As I spent time reading up on Costa Rica I was still somewhat undecided as
to what to do, where to go, or how much time to spend in the country on
the way south. On the one hand it's an amazingly beautiful country, but
it is very expensive by Central American standards, and the weather was
making me think about blasting through in search of dryer climes. This
was supposed to be the beginning of their "summer" and the end of the
rainy season, but the paper was saying this weather might continue till
the end of November. The paper also said, that the Carribean coast,
surprisingly enough, and Puerto Limon, where I was thinking of going
enroute to Panama, was virtually unaffected by the recent rains.
The paper also said that the road which skirts Lake Arenal to the north, a
route I had been planning to take to Volcan Arenal, was passable only in
4-wheel drive vehicles.
What to do, what to do? Blast through Costa Rica now, and hope to catch
things on my way back north, or spend more time now, despite the weather.
I guess I'll sleep on it.
Saturday November 23 59311
In the morning I left Liberia for La Fortuna, near Volcan Arenal, taking
the Pan American Highway south to Canas. On the way I was stopped by the
Transit Police in a radar trap on the PanAm Highway. I'm not sure if I was
speeding or not. Generally I was keeping it to 55-60mph in the 90-100kph
zones, and I don't think this was a reduced speed zone.
He didn't motion me to stop until fairly late, so I think he just decided
at the last minute he wanted to take a look at the bike, since most other
bikes are not going 55-60 mph. I really had to haul on the brakes and
came to a stop about 10 feet past him. There were two cops, one in a car,
the other one, the one who had waved me over, on a motorcycle, a BMW R80
no less!. He asked for my drivers license, but only looked at it briefly,
then handed it back immediately. Then we talked bikes. Before I left I
asked if I could take a picture of him with his bike and he said sure.
At Canas I left the Pan American highway and headed east to Volcan Arenal,
Costa Ricas most active volcano. The road climbed up through green
rolling hills. It was a beautiful sunny day and the blue sky provided a
beautiful backdrop to the green mountains. After the town of Tilaran, the
road turned north and followed the shoreline of Lake Arenal around the
north side of the lake. This was the area where the paper had said was
damaged by the recent storms and was passable only by 4wd. There was one
6 mile unpaved stretch, but it wasn't too bad, only a couple of musholes.
Shortly after lunch in Arenal, on the north side of the lake, Volcan
Arenal came into view through the forest lining the lakeside. Some clouds
had moved in from the east and were obscuring its top, but its massive
near-perfect conical base rose above the surrounding landscape. As I
crossed the dam at the eastern end of the lake, the view east to the
volcano was unobstructed, and as if on cue, the clouds cleared, revealing
the entire mountain. Over the next 45 minutes the volcano erupted several
times, with a loud, deep rumble and smoke rising from the crater at the
Then more clouds moved in and it began to rain. Back at the bike, a guy
and a woman walked up. Ishay was an Israeli, riding a Honda XL650. She
was his girlfriend, originally from Berkeley, now living in NY City. She
had joined him for a couple of weeks in Costa Rica and was returning to
the States in a couple of days. They were staying in the same hotel I was
heading for in La Fortuna, 20 miles east of the volcano. We agreed to
talk later that evening at the hotel.
Hotel Fortuna was also the place to arrange volcano tours. I signed up
for an evening tour for later that night. It was US$20 and included a hike
to within 500 meters of the "flow", a barbeque, and a soak in the nearby
hotsprings of the Rio Tabacon. A bit pricey, but worth it according to
several others staying at the hotel. Usually the tour left about 6pm, but
if the clouds were obscuring the volcano, the guide would wait until
later, to give the best chance of seeing the nighttime fireworks. Last
night they hadn't left until 11:30pm.
After the rain, the skies had again cleared and at 5pm the volcanoe was
again unobscured, but by 6pm clouds had again moved in to obscure the
peak. At 6:45 they started to clear and we left for the drive back to the
volcano. In addition to the guide, there 4 of us on the tour, Tamara, an
Israeli woman, a Miguel from Spain, and Gregory born in the US and now
living in Denver whose parents were Mexican and now living in Mexico
again. By the time we drove to the base and began the 45 minute hike up
the mountain, the clouds were moving in again. Eventually we reached the
foot of the flow which rose some 20 feet above us. This flow was only 4
months old. We circled around the foot of the flow and climbed up onto
it from the side. The flow had wiped out anything in its path and was as
tall as the trees in the forest on each side of the flow. Volcan Arenal
does not have liquid Magma lava flows. Rather it spews large volcanic
rocks which avalance down the mountainside. So climbing up the flow was
really rock hopping over large volcanic boulders.. At places you could
still feel the heat rising from the rocks, and if you dug down through the
dirt at several places you got to earth which was almost too hot to hold.
By the timw we got to the highest safe viewing point, the clouds had moved
in to completely obscure the peak looming above us. When it would errupt
with a deep rumble and roar, we would see the fiery orange rocks that
managed to tumble fairly far down the mountainside, but the most
spectacular sights higher up the mountainside and at the crater at the
summit were largely hidden from us by the clouds. We waited over an hour
hoping the clouds would clear but they only seemed to be getting thicker.
The guide suggested going back down, having the barbeque, and going to the
hotspring, then returning later if it cleared. Back down at the base, we
had the barbeque and over the next hour the skies began to clear slowly
and by 11:30 we had an unobscured view of the whole mountain and its grand
display of fireworks. When it would errupt orange rocks would cascade
down the sides looking like a web of orange rivulets from this distance.
We were treated to several large erruptions which shot into the air,
looking like a roman candle firework. Very spectacular. I hope at least
a couple of my photos turn out. We watched the spectacle for almost an
hour before the guide said we had to go. Normally the entire tour,
including the hotsprings, which we still had to go to, was 3 hours, We
had already been out almost 6 hours.
The hot springs was a pool in the river, the temperature of a nice warm
bath. It felt great in the cool mountain air. When we got there there
was another Tico (Costa Rican) couple already there. The water cascaded
out of the pool over a 2 foot falls into a much smaller pool. Several of
our group climbed down into the smaller pool where you could sit with the
water flowing over your back, almost like a jacuzi. The Tico woman had
followed me into the smaller pool and had sat down beside me. Much to my
surprise I felt a hand in my crotch, and there was no one on my other
side, and it sure as hell wasn't my hand. Just then her companion joined
the crowd in the smaller pool, and either she thought better of continuing
her explorations or she didn't like what she had found, as the phantom
hand disappeared, never to reappear. I just hate it when women view me
only as a sex object! Why is it that most women would be extremely
offended if the tables were turned and for most men its a fantasy come
true? I won't say if it's my fantasy, but it didn't hurt that she was
very attractive. I know Noemi, men are slime. After about an hour in the
hotsprings we left, getting back to the hotel about 1:30am.
There was a note on my door from Ishay, saying to knock on his door no
matter how late I got in. He hadn't returned yet when I left for the
volcano and we had wanted to exchange notes. So after waking him up, we
talked in the restaurant downstairs for almost an hour, exchanging some
addresses in Panama where we could contact each other and pass on info
regarding the upcoming Panama-Colombia crossing. I had just that night,
from Miguel the Spaniard, heard some unwelcome news. He had told me that
the auto ferry from Colon Panama to Cartagena, Colombia was no longer in
Business, but didn't have any more details than that. If true, it
definitely was going to complicate things. Ishay was traveling with two
other Israelis and wasn't planning to cross to Colombia until late