We inevitably spent two nights here in Volcan. The planned slow start this morning doomed any chance of getting back on the road today. That said, it was a productive day.
First we gathered all our dirty clothes together and dropped them off to be washed. I also left my riding gear there to be dried. I couldn’t bear the thought of slipping into the murky outfit again. Then I went to the supermarket (nicest I’ve seen since Guatemala City) and picked up some toiletries, ziplocs, garbage bags, and a bunch of snack food. I spent $20 cash on what would have cost $35 at home. Panama uses the U.S. dollar as currency. No joke, all of their bills are the exact same thing we toss around in the states. They make their own coins, but they are the exact same size and weight as ours. The one-to-one conversion makes things easy and the prices are far below Costa Rica’s. This will be a good place to stock up on emergency money. The dollar is accepted everywhere, so I plan to keep around $400 on me for border crossings, banditos, etc.
Then as I pulled away from the supermarket I noticed a thwacking sound coming from between my legs intermittently. It didn’t sound good. Back at the hostel I had Charlie hop on and he gave me two prognoses: I need a new sprocket or new rear wheel bearings. There is a third option which involves catastrophic engine work (fingers crossed). It was 2:00pm at this point and Alex came back from lunch with Patrick. Alex needed front wheel bearings already. So we Youtubed how to replace them and took off to the hardware store to buy replacements. Long story short, we got the right bearings on our second trip there and had a local mechanic replace them. No one could sell us a new set of bearing seals, so we used our old ones and will have to replace them when we get a chance (probably not for 10,000 miles).
I had brought my spare front sprocket down from the United States and pulled it out. I removed the casing to find that the current sprocket had been put on backwards by the previous owner. It also seemed to be missing a spacer which allowed it about 4mm of play sliding across the drive shaft leading from the engine. Fantastic. After at least 9,000 miles in this fashion, I can assume that it’s not the end of the world. Still, it was unnerving. I replaced it with my new sprocket put on correctly. Al randomly had a spare plate to fill the gap on the drive shaft and now the two are securely fastened together.
My chain was also dry as a bone. I waxed it up good back at the Hampton but it was all gone 200 miles later. Al pointed out that I may have let it sit in kerosene too long for the rubber O-rings. A lot of the joints squeaked when I tested them… time for a new chain. I thoroughly waxed it again today and will keep an eye on it as we push toward Panama City where I hope to replace it. We also need an oil change. Maintenance; I don’t know that we were putting it off before, but it seems to be piling up right now. Not a problem, I willingly signed up for this trip and then committed a small fortune to it. It’s still raining out. Tomorrow we set off for a tourist party zone known as Bocas del Toro. As five motorcyclists pulling in, we should stir quite a scene.
Finally arrived in Bocas del Toro today. Yesterday, Sunday, we were gearing up when a guy from Miami wandered by the hostel with his dog and started asking questions. Within twenty minutes he had called his buddy Julio who rides a Yamaha 250. Julio and his wife were career adventurers who rode all over Central America writing books documenting their adventures. Julio showed up, talked to us for a while, and then led the way as we took off towards our next destination Boquete.
Julio didn’t take us far, but he got us to the main intersection leading to Boquete and told us how to get the rest of the way. It was as we were saying goodbye to him that Paul and George pulled up. Paul is 67 years old from Ferndale, WA and he also rides a DR650. We got along well. George was born in Venezuela, attended high school in the states, and then college in Colombia. He rides a BMW Dakar 650. The two were going in the same direction as we were. Our gang climbed to seven motorcycles. Paul had mentioned that he had some angled fuel filters he could sell to Alex and me. We had been meaning to install them recently since fuel is becoming less reliable and seeing how Paul had already installed one on his DR sparked the idea.
Paul’s house was on the way to Boquete so off we went. Half an hour later we pulled into his driveway; he had a beautiful view stretching out past the Pacific Ocean, a two story house, and a huge garage. The view was absolutely spectacular. Everyone got off their bikes and started poking around and chatting. Charlie mentioned to Paul that he was having a lot of vibration in his handlebars; Paul pulled out a pair of bar risers with rubber spacers. Problem solved. He also sold Al and me our fuel filters and we installed them right there with his tools. Charlie pulled his bike into the garage and got to work dismantling his bars. After an hour or so of hanging out watching guys work on motorcycles, Andy and I decided to push on to Boquete and find a hostel for the group.
Boquete was a forty minute ride down the road. We stayed dry the entire day with the dark clouds looming overhead. It wasn’t until the last couple miles that we encountered some sprinkles. Nothing like the last couple hundred miles. Andy and I found a hostel, parked our bikes where the boys could see them, and promptly went out for drinks. At the local gringo bar we ran into a Brit named David who had offered us directions earlier when we pulled into town. He was an old motocross racer and took an interest in our trip. We stayed at the bar chatting with him well past sunset and parted ways with plans to meet at 10:00am Monday morning so he could guide us through the confusing roads leading to Bocas del Toro.
8:00am the alarm went off and I was on my feet. It would have been nice t hang around Boquete for a while longer; there is a trail leading up to the top of Volcano Baru that offers a view of both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. But this trip is all about sacrifices. Andy and Alex both sent some camping gear home via private parcel in the morning and with that we hit the road this time with David leading the pack. He hauled us about an hour on his Yamaha WR450 to the intersection that led directly to Bocas del Toro. We parted ways and the original five of us made good time moving towards the Caribbean. By 2:30pm we were at the port city Almirante which connects Bocas del Toro to the rest of the world.
Bocas is an island oasis, so we had to park our bikes in a secure lot and hop a water taxi out here. We’re paying $3/day to park the bikes; I left everything in the lot except the contents of a hiking backpack. We caught the first water taxi we could and by 4:00pm we arrived in Bocas. That’s where we’re at now; checked in at a clean hostel, resting up for a night out in a tourist town.
I really like Panama. There seems to be a lot of expatriates settled here and they have all carved out nice little lives. There is no income tax and only 7% sales tax. People drive respectfully. The stores here offer things that I actually want to buy. And the U.S. dollar currency makes me feel at home. Not since Guatemala has a country struck a chord with me like this. I’d like to come back one day.
Day 3 in Bocas and we’ve been enjoying the heat. We all hit it pretty hard the first night on the party strip but eventually the day of riding caught up with us and everyone but Al was snoring by 1:00am. Al managed to stay upright until 4:00am mingling with whoever would listen to him. Tuesday we had a great surprise as Anna turned up from Costa Rica. She had left CR early to escape the high prices and the passion developing between Kim and her new friend Roberto. Those two are catching up tonight and ready for the biggest party in town across the water at Aqualounge. It’s a $1 water taxi ride to the next island over where Aqualounge is built out over the lagoon on stilts. Very Caribbean. The plan is to have one more big night here and then head to Panama City over the next couple days so we can take care of some serious maintenance. On my agenda: oil change, new chain and rear sprocket, new tires, and any other spare parts I can find. Throw in an $800 boat ride for myself and my bike on the 27th and I intend to spend a significant portion of my budget in the next week here.