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November 9th, 2010 - Reaching The Pacific

San José, the capital of Costa Rica, is a giant city which doesn’t resemble anything of the beautiful Costa Rica. Like any other metropolitan area in the world, San José is made out of very poor neighborhoods to high society mansions.  But they all have one thing in common: no street addresses of any kind. In our voyage to find bike parts and a lens cap for the camera, we learned that directions and addresses in Costa Rica generally run something like: go past the yellow house, turn left after the 2nd post, and right by the mango tree. In fact, the owner of the camera shop we visited assured us that if he were to visit his employee’s house, he would never find it based on the address alone, unless he were with her, or she drew him a detailed map. So needless to say, we had a bit of an adventure going around the city. The GPS was all but useless and good only for the coordinates. We finished off the errands with getting the oil changed on the bike and a much needed wash. Oil is like gold down here. A regular quart size bottle of oil runs about 8 USD, gas was almost $5 a gallon, and a regular meal in the range of 12 USD.

Just as we got back to the hotel, the headlight went out. That sealed the rest of my evening, as I then proceeded to try to figure out the problem and get the necessary parts. The lamp by itself was fine so I suspected the switch. It would come on and go off by itself after cycling between the high and low beam and suddenly not at all. I took the switch apart and that was a big mistake. Six little springs flew in every direction in the dark and complicated the matter. The switch was really corroded and I needed to clean it, but I had no electrical cleaner. I went inside and asked the bartender for a glass of coke. The coke was flat and didn’t do a very good job of cleaning the contacts so I asked the bartender for a few limes. The limes did a better job, but I wasn’t still satisfied. So again, I asked for baking soda and water and that did the trick. The doorman at the hotel was watching me silently the whole time and was amazed at the cleaning cocktail I was making. He couldn’t hold it anymore and came and asked what the hell I was doing as he couldn’t understand why I was feeding my bike coke, lime, and white watery stuff, glass after glass. After all that cleaning, it turned out that the switch was fine and actually the relay was going bad. I could read voltage at the light, but the second I turned it on, there was no amperage. I replaced the relay, and the life was good again, but now I had a broken switch.

The sun hadn’t yet made its appearance when the profane sound of the phone ringing roused me from my slumber. Painfully peeling my eyes open I answered the 4:20 a.m. wake-up call. We were meeting downstairs to load up at 5:00 a.m. for our 240 mile journey to David, Panama. The plan, an early start to make the border crossing in good time and (hopefully) miss the rain. The drive out of San Jose led us through layers of mountains peaking out through mist and clouds as the sun started to shine. We passed bottomless gorges and ravines, and the vegetation on both sides of the road grew more dense and lush as we went on. One river we stopped at yielded a little early morning excitement when we spotted a couple of fat alligators lazing in the muddy river banks, and for the first time, we caught a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. The rest of the way was just one mesmerizing scene after another until we reached a dead stop two kilometer before the border, literally 3-5 lanes of absolute gridlock in both directions.

The rain was coming down in sheets again and the road started to flood. I went ahead on the bike but even on the bike, I could only get about 1 km up the road before I, too, had to stop. After asking around, we were told that it would take about 4-5 hours just to get to the border and that traffic was backed up on both sides. Kevin Augello (the second British camera man who joined us in Guatemala City) was my passenger that day and we decided to pull over under a porch and wait to see what happens. Hours passed and the traffic didn’t move an inch. The rain, our hungry stomachs and the mosquitoes got me up and moving again. I had enough of waiting so there was only one more trick to do. I mounted the blue flashing police light on the bike, turned on the alarm siren and radio in hand, shouted at the cars and trucks to make room for the SRzero and the bike to pass. Truck after truck moved to the side to make a narrow passage for the SRzero and we reached the actual border before the sun went down.

We were regaled by tales of theft, murder and other sundry crimes by the locals who told us that Panama would send their vagrant drug and alcohol users over their border into the no-man’s zone between Panama and Costa Rica so the area we were waiting around in wasn’t particularly a savory one to be in. But we made it out without any incident. We ended up staying in David, Panama about 50 km from the border and promptly hit the hay as the next day was another early start.

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