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June 13, 2013

Postcards from Nowhere: Peoria to Panama - Day 24: Cañas to San Jose, Costa Rica

Above: Mural on the side of the PanAmerican Highway in Costa Rica.

Update: I am alive and well and resting quietly in the Best Western Hotel Irazu in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Wednesday June 12, 2013

Motorcycle Odometer (at start of day): 4,755
Motorcycle Odometer (at end of day): 4,884
Miles driven today: 129 miles

Local Currency: Costa Rican Colones

1 US Dollar = 500 Costa Rican Colones


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Last year, I lived on Telegraph Hill, and slept with the windows open every night. In the morning, a symphony of foghorns would wake me from sleep. And the bells of the cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. And the mad squawking of a rowdy flock of birds.

Now, at first, I didn't know what to make of this racket. I assumed it was sea gulls. But gradually, I realized that what I was hearing was the flock of wild parrots of Telegraph Hill. There's a book and a movie of the same name. I watched the movie. Read the book. It's about this homeless guy that studied the flock very closely over a number of years, when no one else in the world was interested in a flock of non-native escaped birds. Of course, I fell in love with the birds.
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And now....I'm a long way from San Francisco. But I'm hearing this same racket outside my window. And it's kinda funny, I think. Because, like...how many people wake up to parrots squawking outside their window, and then wake up in a third world country to the same sound? And recognize what it is?

I'm not one that's big on signs. But this could be a sign. Maybe this could be a sign. That I've run far enough away from home. Maybe this is a sign that everything is going to be OK. Maybe.

But then, a couple of things happen. I start getting text messages through my email from my last girlfriend...the one before Carrie.

I'm not clear why, but both of these women, if you can believe it, want nothing to do with me, but watch me from afar, ostensibly because they're concerned with my safety.

This strikes me as odd. Sad. Pathetic, even. Like...I'm not doing this trip for sympathy. That wasn't the goal at all. I'm doing this for me. And now, I feel like they're watching me, like a rat in a maze, wagering on whether or not I'm bright enough to find my way out, like Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter.

I don't need that. That's so not what this trip is about. It's so unhelpful to have people that want nothing to do with me, biting their nails, wagering on the outcome. Just stop. Please. Don't feel sorry for me. I don't want your empathy. I don't want to hear from you. Forget that I ever existed. Seriously. I don't need this. This is so far away from helpful. There just aren't words. And that goes for the previous girlfriend also. I should put you two in touch with each other.

Moving on.

My cameras are so screwed up there aren't words. I decide I'll try go to into San Jose and deal with my cameras. I've heard rumours there's a Canon service center there. I'm not clear if it's true or not, but I'm aiming to find out. And, keep in mind...I HATE going into these big cities. Despise this. But I also have to crack this nut of..."how to find things you need in a third world cesspool", otherwise, I think I'll have missed a big piece of what it means to travel abroad.

Now, I'm sure Doug and all his buddies are laughing and saying "well, you should have bought better lenses" or "you should have made sure it was all working before you left" or "Oh look, I'm crossing into Montana" or something stupid like that. The truth is, I own the most expensive lenses Canon sells. I have lenses worth more than my motorcycle. I'm a member of Canon Professional Services Group. I had all of my gear repaired and serviced before I left. Now, it's all broken. This is what happens when you take gear on the road. It breaks. If you don't know this, it's because you haven't tried it.

So, I'm going to go into San Jose. I'll try to get the cameras serviced. If I can't get them serviced, then I'll buy new ones. But I don't want to drive down the Pacific Coast of Coasta Rica and not be able to take pictures.

I'm also seriously concerned about the thought of this trip coming to an end. I mean, as much as I complain about customs, the heat, the traffic in the cities, etc. It's still easily the best adventure I've ever been on. And I'm not really clear why it has to end at Panama, aside from the Darien Gap. I'm reasonably sure I could make it through the jungle. I mean, everyone told me I couldn't make it to Panama, but I could drive into Panama tonight if I wanted to. So, I'd argue I've succeeded at that task, in my mind anyway. How hard could it be to cross the Darien Gap?

The problem I have with the bike is that the acceleration and deceleration is not something I'm familiar with. The acceleration is nonlinear, as is the deceleration. So, it's very difficult when you're coming up behind a truck going 89 mph to figure out when to start braking. You want to maintain your momentum and go around him, but if there's an 18 wheeler coming the other way, then you've got to brake. And this is where I have a hard time. A few times I've almost run into the back of a truck because I was going too fast, and then couldn't pass.

This is tricky. Aside from slowing down, I'm not sure how to get around this issue. And I'm not slowing down.

Now, it's not like I'm driving that fast. Today, I'm on a 2-lane black-topped road. I generally try to stay under 90 mph, just because the road is pretty twisty. I can't really drive any faster, I don't think.

It's kind of odd to think about, but they really are not stopping people down here for traffic violations. I'll go so far as to say it doesn't happen. This morning, I passed a policia, just to see what he'd do. I passed him on a double yellow line going through town like he wasn't even there. He didn't do anything. So this is kind of fun. I mean, it's nothing like the U.S. But they won't stop you down here. And I should know. I've tried. Now, we did get stopped in Baja a time or two on our trip across Baja Mexico a few years back. But they haven't stopped me one time on this trip. By this, I mean...in a police car, chasing me down. They have pointed for me to pull over and whistled for me to stop, but these people were all on foot. I was stopped twice in Nicaragua this way. And also by a boy scout one night in Belize. Occasionally, the soldiers at the military checkpoints ask for some paperwork, but I've never been run down by a police car and stopped on this trip, and it's not like I haven't been trying to get stopped. They just don't care.

Of course, the corollary to that is that, you have to watch out for yourself down here. It means that people drive however they please, and you'd better be paying attention. Don't assume someone in your lane is going the same direction as you. If there are two 18 wheelers coming at you side by side, go ahead and plan on yielding your lane to them. Try the shoulder. If there's no shoulder, there's no shame and driving into the grass. It's much better than hitting an 18 wheeler head on.

When you see a road sign in a third world country, you need to pay attention to it. You need to translate it into English an figure out what it means. If you can't translate it, you'd better slow down. Because, they really don't care how fast you go. They're telling you for your own good. It's not like in the U.S. where they artificially lower the speed limit to 35 mph and sit there and write tickets all day to line their pockets. That's not going on down here. Trust me. If it was, I'd be broke.

Instead, they put up the signs to let you know that, if you're not careful, you're going to die. So, I've learned to watch the signs very closely, whereas I basically ignore them in the U.S.

Occasionally, cars coming at me will flash their lights at me. This is very disconcerting, because I have no clue why they're doing it. In the U.S., it might mean there's a cop ahead, deer or dogs in the road, etc. But here, I have no clue what it means. Just no idea.

It looks like it's about to rain again. At this point, I'd say that there are only three different weather patterns. Either it a) just finished raining or b) is about to rain or c) it is raining. That pretty much covers it, I think.

I stop for lunch in the smallest places I can find. I don't want a lot of people around me. The less people, the better. You can trust people. You can't trust a crowd. It doesn't work like that. So, I stop into the Restaurant el Mirador.

I order carne asada, but they don't have it. So I get a pollo asada instead. With rice, beans, potato, and plantains. Not bad. Outside, the parrots squawk, and I shoot a few. They aren't cherry-headed conures, but they are parrots.

After lunch, I wander up to the counter to see what they have hanging in clear plastic from the ceiling. You have to try new things when you're outside the country. Just to see what you like....it's hard to know, without just jumping in feet first. I pick up a bag of something...looks like little round balls of dough. I hold it up so she can see I got it. I'm a lot of things, but I'm not a thief. I pay my way. She grins and nods. The crazy americano. She's been amused by me since I got here. I'm ok with this. I'm just having a good time. Some people like me. Some laugh at me. It's all good.

I sit down, pop one in my mouth, and I almost die. There aren't words. I've never had anything remotely close to it. It has shredded sweetened coconut in the center, and the outside is kinda like a beignet-type of dough, I guess. Insanely decadent. I let out some sound. It got her attention. She's grinning from ear to ear now.

They're called "Chavela Coquitos". Made in Costa Rica. The ingredients say it's milk, sugar, an coconuts. I dunno. Insanely good. OMG.

I stopped for lunch because I thought it might rain. Still, it thunders, but no rain comes.

It's so hard to know what to do in this world. It's so hard to know when to push on, and when to hold back. This is what I struggle with. Mein kamph.

Outside, the parrots mock me. Screaming insanely. I listen to their familiar bickering. It's a bit like Plato's Cave. I can recognize their babble in an instant, but I could never understand what it means. It's familiar. It sounds like the cherry-headed conures. And I keep looking outside, like someone is playing a trick on me. But there's no trick, of course. Only there is this world which we've somehow got to struggle through.

The storm clouds move in, very close now. Darker and darker. Thunder sounds louder and louder. Menacing. Rumbling. Clouds that were on the horizon, have now closed in all around me. Eariler, I saw a patch of light sky and thought maybe I could make it. But it's faded now. Smeared into the same charcoal gray colors of the clouds around it out. Maybe I could escape. I should have brought a submarine down here, not a dirt bike. Anything would be better. And I'm wondering where all the other motorcycles are. How stupid can one person be?

Every time an 18 wheeler kills a guy on a motorcycle, they paint a little motorcycle on his grill, the same way they did on fighter pilots for their kills in the war. So, you can tell how many people a truck has killed by the markings on his truck. This is not encouraging.

I came down here to play around for a bit. To push the limits for a while. To get away from an army of psychotic women, but I didn't really come down here to die. That was never the plan. Doug and his people say I have a death wish, but if that's true, then it's a fairly weak case. Because somehow, I'm still alive.

I think it's time to get back on the road to San Jose.

A few kilometers down the road, it's raining insanely hard, and I seek refuge in a different restaurant. It appears to be closed, for whatever reason. I'm not the only person seeking shelter from the rain. A few others also. I move around and try to shoot the aquarium through which I'm supposedly driving.

There just are no words to describe the rain. It's probably raining an inch a minute at this point. On a dull tin roof. The noise is deafening. If I wasn't already deaf from riding the motorcycle for the last 3 weeks, I'm pretty sure that I'd go deaf from this rain storm.

The buses roll slowly by. Suddenly, they don't seem so hot, stuffy, and cramped any more. Now, they seem like sheer genius.

Another motorcycle stops to get out of the weather. The restaurant is an open air restaurant, and you can drive right up under it from off the street. It's perfect. LIke it was designed to bring people in out of the rain.

But this storm seems different than the others. This one doesn't seem like it would ever stop, maybe. More like it's set in, and will rain forever more. This is a flood of biblical proportions. Probably, if I had outside communication with the world, someone would say "Oh...I saw Walt on tv last night and he said there was a Cat 5 hurricane and the eye was supposed to cross San Jose tomorrow in the afternoon sometime."

But I don't get that down here. I have Verizon as a my cell phone provider. So....so I don't know. My phone says "No Servicio", and I have it set to every type of "Roam" imaginable.

Eventually, the rain lets up somewhat, but I still don't trust the air. The skies. I don't trust much of anything any more.

What's left, when the rains pull back, is not a sky. There are no skies any more. Just a dull gray clay where the skies used to be. Now, just a swamp-thick-fog you could drive across if only you could get your front wheel on it and hit it dead on in first gear. Like trying to get back on the pavement after purchasing some fresh cut pineapple from a roadside vendor. Like that, kinda.

But there is this. This valley is gone now. Soft fog clings to the valley floor like cotton, rolling slowly up the mountain sides in Costa Rica. What color green is there where the fog pulls back enough to show what's left behind. Verdant manicured hillsides. Deepest green trees. Shattered banana plants. I look around, and everyone else has gone. Must be time to go drive through the cotton roads to San Jose.

The Pan American Highway goes through the north side of San Jose first, where the airport lies, and then down into the heart of San Jose.

Only, there is traffic, of course. Somehow, I get into San Jose at rush hour, if such a thing exists down here. A clutch of motorcycles comes by me, weaving and bobbing through traffic. "Lane-splitting" is what we call it in California. You drive "straight up the zipper" as my friend in Padre described it.

So, these guys are just weaving through traffic and I'm thinking...they're going to die, and I'm going to watch them die. This is going to suck. But, they don't die, so instead, I follow them. I stop at the Best Western Irazu and ask for directions to a Canon Repair Service center that I've read about on the internet.

Then I decide I'll try to drive on into downtown San Jose. When I get there, I realize I've made a huge mistake. It's just swarming with people and it's basically dark now. This is no place for me to be. I beat a hasty retreat back to the Best Western Irazu and check in for the night.

Above: Wild parrots at the Restaurant el Mirador.

Above: Oxen pulling a cart.

Above: Oxen pulling a cart.

Above: Flowers at the Restaurant el Mirador.

Above: Red beans and rice, plantains, y pollo asado at the Restaurant el Mirador.

Above: Plant at the Restaurant el Mirador.

Above: The mountains of Costa Rica after the rain.

Above: The mountains of Costa Rica after the rain.

Above: Business logo painted on wooden slats on a pickup at the Restaurant el Mirador.

Above: Girls waiting at bus stop near the Restaurant el Mirador.

Above: My new patented date/country-at-a-glance dashboard.

Above: Waiting out a rainstorm just south of the Restaurant el Mirador in Costa Rica.

Above: Waiting out a rainstorm just south of the Restaurant el Mirador in Costa Rica.

Above: Roadside murals along the PanAmerican highway in Costa Rica.

Above: Roadside murals along the PanAmerican highway in Costa Rica.

Above: Roadside murals along the PanAmerican highway in Costa Rica.

Above: Some type of flower for sale along the PanAmerican highway in Costa Rica. I'm not clear the flowers are for. He assured me that you eat them, but I find this hard to imagine.

Above: Some type of flower for sale along the PanAmerican highway in Costa Rica. I'm not clear the flowers are for. He assured me that you eat them, but I find this hard to imagine.

Posted by Rob Kiser on June 13, 2013 at 7:40 AM

Comments

I detect attitude here. It's coming across almost as if you're the only one here who has had an "adventure". Check back with us again in, say, 25 years to see if your perspective is still, how shall we say: self-absorbed?

So your lenses broke; get them fixed. We don't care. We're not second guessing you. And I certainly don't care how much they cost.

"Now, I'm sure Doug and all his buddies are laughing and saying "well, you should have bought better lenses" or "you should have made sure it was all working before you left" or "Oh look, I'm crossing into Montana" or something stupid like that. The truth is, I own the most expensive lenses Canon sells. I have lenses worth more than my motorcycle. I'm a member of Canon Professional Services Group. I had all of my gear repaired and serviced before I left. Now, it's all broken. This is what happens when you take gear on the road. It breaks. If you don't know this, it's because you haven't tried it."

Posted by: Doug on June 13, 2013 at 5:58 PM

Pardon the double post. I'm sitting here, resting peacefully in the third-world country of Ouray, Colorado, where the internet is notoriously unreliable.

After a wilting day of 95F+ heat, all the way from Craig, I might add.

Posted by: Doug on June 13, 2013 at 6:06 PM

Get back with me when you've gone through 8 countries and 5,000 miles in 3 weeks alone in a region the state department says you should avoid at all costs.

Posted by: Rob Kiser Author Profile Page on June 15, 2013 at 6:58 PM

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