Tag Archives: Latin America

ADVrider Mini-Motorcycle Diaries: Officer, am I being detained?

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“Officer, am I being detained?” I ask Gustavo, the green uniformed man with the DPFA badge of Panama. “Not detained, exactly”, he says in Spanish. “You just can’t leave. We can’t allow you to ride your motorbike.” I ponder this and finally ask, “What if I leave it here and pick it up tomorrow when the immigration office opens in David?” The beach is just 30 minutes away and I’m a sticky mess from the Panamanian heat and the long ride. I can almost hear the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. “No, you can’t leave your bike here either. What if something were to happen to it while you were gone?”

I see this is going to take a while, so I unlace my boots and prop my feet up near the fan an officer points in my direction. I take a swig of the sugary Big Roja “fruit” juice drink a tall cop silently hands me, and begin to read about the area in my guidebook. I arrange a hotel for the evening, and sit back while other men pop into the office or open the window from the outside to say hello to the gringa. I get the distinct impression girls don’t usually frequent this office building.

I’ve been in Panama for only 24 hours and I’ve already had my motorcycle impounded. When I landed at the Panama City airport yesterday, I apparently did not do the correct migration paperwork for my motorcycle at the nearby cargo airport, and have thus entered the country illegally. I remember the customs window clearly, the big bold words ADUANA DE PANAMA above, and the unhelpful ladies hidden back there. There was a frosted window with a small hole I had to crouch down to talk through. A hand came lazily out of the hole to retrieve whatever documents I had brought, but apparently I hadn’t made myself clear when I said I was bringing my motorcycle into the country and riding to Costa Rica. The police officers here tell me this happens all the time, and that the cargo airport Aduana causes them all sorts of trouble.

I sit and wait at the police checkpoint for some immigration official to come collect me and take me and my bike to the city of David, an hour away near the Costa Rica border, where I’ll spend the night waiting for the immigration office to open in the morning.

It could be much worse. I was exhausted anyway from the 350km ride from the city, it’s now pouring rain, and I have several officers bringing me food, coffee and sodas, rearranging the fan for maximum comfort…

Yup, things could definitely have been worse!

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The Wayward Roll 101: How to Adventure Motorcycle Travel in Latin America

 

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Step 1. With only 10 days to prepare and no planning whatsoever, fly to South America and buy a tiny motorcycle commonly referred to as a “pizza” bike. Ignore those who tell you a 125cc motorcycle will barely get you to the shops.

Step 2: Also ignore the fact that you have no knowledge of motorcycle mechanics and dad isn’t around to come pick you and your motorcycle up when stranded. You’ll learn on the road.

Step 3: When leaving the motorcycle shop where you just picked up your new pizza bike, try not to get crushed by semis, bus drivers on cellphones, or taxis. Use your horn liberally, at every intersection and while passing most other vehicles, especially those trying to merge into you even though they obviously see you.

Step 4: Cruise at top speed (45mph) and realize why people suggested a larger bike. Throw caution to the wind and proceed, racing fellow 125cc’ers up large hills in 1st gear. Earn bonus points by pretending to peddle a bicycle.

Step 5: When you see oncoming traffic in your lane, assume they’ll run you over. Why? Because they’ll run you over.

Step 6: At a four way intersection; remember that the larger car will always win. Or a taxi. Always give way to a taxi. Better yet, steer clear of taxis altogether.

Step 7: Upon getting chased by a pack of savage street dogs of all shapes and sizes, avoid riding into the ditch in fright. Aim for the jaw and give good sharp kicks. If sharp kicks don’t do the trick, stop moving. Unlike a zombie horde, once you stop, the dogs generally lose interest.

Step 8: Don’t assume the guy who asks if you can give him a ride on your tank is kidding. He’s not kidding.

Step 9: When approaching a police check-point, slow down slightly and then blow past with a smile and a wave. On the off-chance they actually stop you, say “oh, me?” and pretend you don’t speak the language. And if you really don’t speak the language, try to speak it, and it’ll be even funnier.

Step 10: When lost, avoid asking for directions unless you’re prepared for 20 minutes of “male explanation mode”, only to find out the man really doesn’t know the way and has no idea where you both are on the map he’s just taken out of your hands. Nod your head politely and keep going.

Step 11: If you must ride through a larger city, act like a Dakar rider, ignore street signs and one ways, pop curbs, and lane split. And most importantly, don’t stop for pedestrians unless you want to get rear ended and honked at! It’s all part of the daily grind. Just don’t forget Step 4.

Step 12: Welcome to Latin America. You’re now on Latin Time. Don’t stress if someone is an hour late, the poopy toilet won’t flush, the gas station is out of gas or the electricity is down. “In 20 minutes” means an hour, and “tomorrow” means next week.

Step 13: When choosing a hotel, don’t settle for anything with less than a couple of stairs at the main entrance, or you’ll take the fun out of the experience. Riding your bike up/down the stairs and through the lobby, livingroom or diningrom is no big deal in these parts.

Step 14: Never, ever go into a gas station bathroom (or any bathroom) expecting to find toilet paper, soap or an “automatic” toilet. 9 out of 10 times you will be very disappointed. When the toilet won’t flush, get a pitcher of water and dump it in. Or ride away quickly and never return.

Step 16: Relax! You’re not in Kansas anymore. Enjoy the ride (through fancy lobbies), the change of scenery, and your newfound respect for American bathrooms.

Living the Good Life on $10,000 a Year

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It seems that most people feel they have ‘money problems’. Unless you’re actually unable to work for some reason, you have serious medical expenses or several kids, chances are you could be either making more money, or spending less (or both), and still live the Good Life. It’s all about priorities. Continue reading Living the Good Life on $10,000 a Year