Sunday, 23 January 2011

Last entry from Central America.

Way back in January or February I had managed to find as shipping company in Panama who would freight my bike to South Africa. Logistically this was obviously quite an important component to thedomwayround. If I couldn't find someone to ship to Africa I'd be a little stuck.

Most people, of course, ship or fly there bike and themselves from here to Colombia, but as I've spend 4 years in South America it wasn't really an option for me. I could have taken the Venezuela-Brazil route and would like to visit the three Guyanas, but I don't want to spend over a month travelling down through Brazil. And to be honest, shipping the bike to South Africa from here allows me to do other things. It should take about 50 days to get the bike to Cape Town. In that time I can fly back to the UK for a month and then head down to South Africa early. I plan on doing a couple of weeks voluntary teaching in Cape Town before the bike turns up. First thing first however, I need to get the bike shipped out of Panama.

I'd been in regular email contact with LMT-Corp shipping and the day after we arrived in Panama City they sent someone to our Hostal to take us to the packing company. I followed on my bike and rode my last 8 miles in Central America through the busy streets of the city. I knew I should have very little petrol left in my tank when shipping the bike and arrived at the packing company with my computer telling me I had 3 miles of petrol left. (I must remember that when I pick the bike up in Cape Town!) 

I took the wind shield and mirrors off to lower the height of the bike and disconnected the battery (even though the guy told me that wasn't necessary). I had my bike gear and a few other things stashed in my big grey bag which I left with the bike, to be tied down next to it in the crate. We then went to the office to start the paperwork. I thought this might take a while but within half an hour I was on my way. I would have to return after the weekend to sign a few things (and pay) but for now I had done all I was going to do. It all seemed too easy really.

I returned to the packing company the next day to see the bike all crated up. They'd done a good job with it and I was happy it was as secure as it needed to be. I just hope it turns up in Cape Town.

There was paperwork to be done but that had to wait until after the weekend so Tracy and I few off to Isla Contadora (part of the Pearl islands) to go diving for the (long) weekend. Isla Contadora is where the US series “Survivor” is filmed – might mean something to you, means nothing to me. Needless to say we had a great time. The weather was wonderful and when we weren't diving we were sunbathing on the deserted beaches. Whilst diving Tracy spotted a pair of Harlequin Shrimps. Impressive little critters who live off star fish. They eat a couple of legs and then let the starfish go. Our dive instructor had been here 10 years and never seen one. Good spot buddy!

Harlequin Shrimp eating a star fish.

Pearl Islands

Tracy in her element

Back in Panama City I phoned the freight company on the Thursday morning. They seem to have a very laid back attitude and I was starting to get worried. I got an email from them whilst on Isla Contadora saying the Police wanted to see the bike, even though it was already crated up. But I was not to worry. Last week they had suggested that we could do all the paperwork on Monday, perhaps Tuesday. It was now Thursday and we still weren't doing it. I have a stamp in my passport saying I imported a motorbike into the country. If I din't get customs to cancel that and say that the bike has gone I won't be able to fly which I had scheduled for Sunday (with Tracy). Bizarrely it was £50 cheaper for me to get a return ticket Panama-London-Panama than a single. It cost £850 which was a few hundred more than I had bargained for but there was nothing I could about it. At least I was on the same flight with Tracy which made it a lot easer at the other end to get home.

Back to the bike paperwork - We are now going to do it on Friday - I have a bad feeling about this!

Friday – well to keep it short I got the paperwork done but it took three hours waiting in a stuffy corridor for some jobs worth to stamp my passport. Very very frustrating. I've not been too pleased with Panamanian officialdom and the experiences I've had with their customs has left a bad taste in the mouth. It's funny how just one bad experience can taint ones whole opinion of a nation.

On that theme I'm going to go off on one about taxi's now. I haven't been very impressed with Panama City mainly because the taxi drivers are just so rude. At least half the taxi's we tried to use didn't know where it was that we wanted to go or just don't want to take us. They shake their heads and drive off. And when if they did you up you have to then negotiate a price. If they don't get the price they want they refused to take you. I've never come across this before anywhere in the world. We got into one taxi knowing that the price should have been $2 (at least they ARE cheap). I offered $3 and he wanted $5. He wouldn't budge and we got out. Really annoying and certainly not tourist friendly. This is something the Panamanian tourist board should look into!

Occasionally we had a few friendly taxi drivers. One went out of his way to help us. You may remember that Norman had forwarded a package to me in Panama City. He kindly emailed me the forwarding address. FedEx were forwarding my package to “Calle 40” That was it - that was the whole address. Our taxi driver found “Calle 40” but we couldn't find the company office. The taxi driver kept asking people on the street and eventually we found the office on Calle 34! So I finally got my AirHawk seat – the day after my bike had been crated up!

To be honest there's not a lot do in Panama City (except shop). The main touristy thing is to go and see the Panama Canal. So, we went to Miraflores locks to have a look. Obviously very impressive and rather shocking to find out that 20,000 people had died of Malaria and Yellow Fever building it. We watched a huge tanker pass through the lock. Panama Canal - box ticked. 

Miraflores locks - Panama Canal

So, having completed 6 months and 21,000 miles getting from Alaska to Panama what wise words of wisdom can I pass on...

Best country for riding a motorbike? It's hard to pass up on the good old US of A. Great roads and scenery and surprisingly civil drivers.

Route 36 in California back in September

Worst? Well, the topes (speed bumps) in Mexico are annoying and dangerous. Honduras (and Panama if you are not on the Pan-American highway) has the worst road signs. Non in fact. But overall I've been pleasantly surprised by the road conditions and traffic in general. Obviously the RVs in Alaska and British Columbia take the “Not giving a shit about the environment, or other road users and we're going take our whole house on holiday plus trail the 4 wheel drive car behind us because we can” Award. And I can honestly say I didn't come across a corrupt cop the whole way.

Best place to spend a holiday? A tricky one. I think anyone coming to central America must visit at least one Mayan Ruin. Of the three we went to I'd say Palenque was the most structurally impressive; Tikal the most atmospheric and Copan the quietest. Teotihuacan in Mexico City was very impressive as well.

If however you are looking for a relaxing holiday with a bit of wildlife thrown in then controversially I would plump for Panama over Costa Rica. Sure CR has all the wildlife and does live up to it's billing but it is significantly more expensive than it's neighbours. It also, in my opinion, suffers a little from it's own success. Your early morning bird watching trip can easily be ruined when a couple of dozen (at least) loud Americans appear from the nearest cruise ship. Panama is cheaper, quieter and just as green. They seem to be waking up to idea of tourism in the country and I wouldn't be surprised if we here more about Panama in the future.

My favourite place? Impossible to say. I loved the Oregon coast and could live there.  Honduras and Nicaragua were friendly, quiet places, less touristy than Costa Rica. I was also pleasantly surprised with the whole of the USA. perhaps I had low expectations, but I really enjoyed it. And Canada, whilst expensive was awesome.

Worst place? Honestly I can't think of one. It would have been nice to have seen San Cristobel (Chiapas, Mexico) in more sun and less rain, same with the west coast of Vancouver Island and Jasper (The Rockies); I was slightly disappointed with Glacier National Park and “The going to the sun”road in Montana; Nicaragua side of the Nic/Costa Rica border and the Panamanian side of Panama/Costa Rica border; McCarthy campsite in Alaska. $30 PLUS $5 for a shower
Oh, now I've thought of one. Las Vegas. Sad depressing and superficial. I'm glad I went and I'm happy with the tattoo I got done whilst I was there but that was it.

People. I've met so many friendly and helpful people. Some I don't even know there names, some have become good friends. ALL have contributed to making my trip that much more memorable. I'm obviously tempting fate by trying to name them all (as I'm bound to miss a few out) but here goes.
Brendan, Ariel and Phil; Biker couple in Anchorage who came to Nakusp; Patrick; Nevil (always in your debt mate); Steve and Stephanie; Seb. and Natasha; Tony and Lisa; Grant and Susan; David and Jill;Oregon couple who shared their campsite with me in Spokane; Trent; Andrea; Jim; Canadian biker on a Triumph who gave us his Tikal ticket; Norman; BMW BigSky Missoula, Montana; BMW Chico, California; BMW Motorhaus Mexico City; BMW Motorrad Costa Rica; Chris and Alan; Milady; the numerous people who have answered my questions in Horizons Unlimited and ADV; and everyone else who knows me. And of course Tracy. First and foremost for supporting me in doing this and then coming out to Canada and Central America to join me.

Now, people I didn't like! …..... The person whole stole my AirHawk seat; Panamanian customs.

Cost. Including all costs; flights (£1700), shipping (£1500) insurance (£500), and the smaller day to day costs then it's around £16,000. This includes Tracy being here for half the trip. Average day to day cost work out at about £1,500 a month. Canada being the most expensive and Panama the cheapest. I certainly could have done it more cheaply ( spending nearly £4000 on unexpected bike repairs didn't help) but that wasn't my aim. My aim was to have a good time and do what I wanted to do and I'm really glad I waited to do this trip until I had enough money so I could really enjoy it. I don't think I wasted money or overspent, I just did what I wanted to do.

I expect Southern Africa to be cheaper. Not only because it is a cheaper region of the world but also most of the overheads are already covered. We'll see.

Well that's it for now. I'm flying back to the UK for February and, at the moment, plan to fly out to South Africa at the beginning of March. My bike should arrive in Cape Town around the 24th March. I'll update my blog sometime in February with all the exciting things I'm doing whilst back in the UK and then when I get to Cape Town.
Thanks for reading.


Final stats. for this part of my trip:

Alaska: 11 days 2500 miles
Canada: 34 days 4500 miles
Lower 48: 48 days 8500 miles
Mexico: 43 days 3500 miles
Guatemala: 4 days 500 miles
Honduras: 5 days 400 miles
Nicaragua: 6 days 250 miles
Costa Rica: 25 days 550 miles
Panama: 15 days 450 miles

Days: 185
Miles covered: 21, 182 (34,000 kms)
Borders crossed: 8
Bribes paid: 0 (at least not knowingly)
Flat tyres: 1
Crashes: 0
Falls/ drops: 0
Break downs: 0
Front tyres: 3 (2 Avon Distanzia, 1 Conti Attack)
Rear tyres: 4 ( 2 Avon Distanzia, 2 Conti Attack)
Oil changes: 4
Break pads: 2 sets
Spark plugs: 2 sets
BMW dealerships visited: 6
Best moment: (Almost) every single minute
Worst moment: Finding out I needed a new final drive and drive shaft ( $3500)
Words written on blog: 38,000 – so if you've read all that, well done!

Part one - successfully completed


  1. I read it all! Can't believe we didn't get a photo of the tattoo.
    PS - Well done.

  2. Been following your posts ever since I briefly met you in Nakusp. May every journey and adventure be a great one!
    ~Mark Kuzminski
    Vancouver Island