I’m sure it’s been mentioned before, but Aaron’s aftermarket exhaust is a monster. It’s caused a myriad of mechanical problems throughout the whole trip and was a constant cause for concern, to the point where Aaron was checking and tightening it daily. Riding from the border to Heredia, Costa Rica, near San Jose, it again started shaking things up.
By the time we got into Heredia, the exhaust had rattled so much that it disconnected his clutch. So we rode through the city looking for the McDonald’s we were meeting our friend, Jessica, and the whole time, Aaron didn’t have a clutch. So, basically, we ran some red lights and stop signs to prevent the DR from dying.
When we finally made it to the McDonald s, Aaron set up shop and tried to fix the problem while I tried to find some Wifi to contact Jessica so she would know to come and get us. It didn’t take long for Aaron to attract the attention of everyone in the parking lot and, as often seemed the case, they wanted to help. So Aaron was swarmed by McDonald’s eating Costa Ricans with flashlights and extra tools.
Jessica got into a taxi and asked to go to McDonald’s and, as Costa Rica is a very developed country, she was taken to the wrong McDonald’s. She was later told that she wasn’t even pronouncing the name “McDonald’s” correctly for a Costa Rican ear, which is why it was so difficult to get to us.When she did get to us, Aaron had just finished the work on his bike and he was thanking the parking lot loiterers for their help.
We rode to Jessica’s house with her sitting on top of Aaron’s luggage. It was around 11pm and everyone inside was sleeping, so we tried to stay as quiet as possible. She ran us through a myriad of overwhelming options for the night: couches, blow-up mattresses, snacks, a full meal, hot showers, beverages, etc. After the sort of traveling we’d become accustomed to, this just seemed unnatural. We settled on showers, drinks, chips, and talking, or, more accurately, whispering, for about an hour before falling asleep.
The next day Jessica made us a delicious breakfast and introduced us to her housemates. For the most part, it’s a house of teachers. They work at the American elementary school in Heredia, which is Northwest of San Jose.
As it was the weekend, Jessica and her housemate, Chrissy, made plans with us for their days off. We decided to go to Jaco, a vacation destination on the Pacific side. On the way there, we passed a bridge with crocodiles hanging out underneath it.
Not long after the bridge we arrived at Jaco and settled into an amazing condo that Chrissy had access to. We then went to the beach and played in some of the roughest waves I’ve ever experienced. The waves were so violent that, if they caught you just right, they’d whip you around under the surface for about a minute. When we first arrived on the beach, we saw someone being lifted into an ambulance on a stretcher. This, perhaps, should have been a warning to us, but we played out in the waves until it started getting dark and a lifeguard had to come over and make us leave.
We had a nice dinner on the main strip, but were too tired to stay out much longer, so we went back to the condo.
The next morning we ate at our hostesses’ favorite breakfast restaurant, which was an interesting little place. Everyone sits at a U shaped bar on swings connected to the ceiling. The food was great, the atmosphere was nice and chill, but the coffee was expensive and you had to pay for refills. We went from there to a nearby beach that’s known for being beautiful and calm . The one we went to the night before is known for being violent. It was a very relaxing morning.
We were on our way back to Heredia when we got stuck in some bad traffic. Aaron, with Jessica on the back of his bike, started weaving between the cars and trucks just past a toll zone. When I went to follow, the KLR made the telltale backfire noise and I knew the carburetor had come off again.
Chrissy and I lost sight of Aaron and Jessica at this point and had no choice but to bring the bike to the side of the road and reconnect it. I had a lot of trouble with it this time. The pressure of being a spectacle on the side of the road with very slow traffic didn’t help. Some of those passing by did offer tools and flashlights to help, though, as it was dark.
Aaron and Jessica finally got back to us and Aaron sternly suggested that I take it apart and try it that way instead of trying to muscle it in without removing anything.
Eventually, it was running again and we were off. Aaron probably wouldn’t have been as angry about the situation if it hadn’t been happening almost daily. Also, we were missing a Bears game. With the KLR put back together, we rode to the nearest likely-to-have-a-sports-package restaurant, Applebee’s, and were pleased to find they had it available along with our own private area to watch it.
We made it back to Jessica and Chrissy’s place safely and were set to wake up early and get our bikes to the mechanics to finally fix all the little problems that had been bothering us.
So the next morning, on the way to dropping Jessica off at her school in the morning, I stopped at a mechanic shop and waited for them to open. By the time Aaron returned they had opened and I’d already taken my bike apart and was doing my best to describe all the things I wanted fixed. They didn’t speak English and I still didn’t speak Spanish all that well, so “describing” was often just pointing at things and hand gesturing.
Aaron and I worked on our bikes in that shop alongside the mechanics and got a lot accomplished. I finally fixed the electric problems I was having, so the neutral light wasn’t turning on for no reason. They had a cylindrical rubber piece for my gas tank at the shop and they cut a rubber strip into a shape to take the place of the saddle-like piece that broke off.
They took Aaron’s muffler problem seriously and, after grinding it down and adding adhesive to it, they claimed he would never have the same problem again. Aaron mentioned that he was sad that they ground off the black on the muffler, so they gave him paint. He not only painted the muffler, but also painted tiger stripes on his one side panel. For some reason, the left side panel was lost at a Guatemalan shop and no one knew where it had gone.
The next day we felt very sick. We went to a McDonald’s, not the one we met Jessica at, and I sat and wrote the whole day. I was comforted by the familiar atmosphere of the international fast food world and the clean restroom within 8 meters of my seat, which due to sickness, was necessary.
Aaron was also feeling sick, but wasn’t content to just sit still. He overheard a man at a table nearby talking on the phone about a welder friend of his, though, and quickly asked if he could use his services. His baggage rack needed repair, as it always did. This welder decided it would be best to reinforce the problem area, and that worked for a while. But in the end it just meant that the problem area would move to a weaker spot.
We felt a good deal better the next day, so we made plans to leave. We did our laundry, packed up, and bought two small fishes for Jessica’s classroom fish tank.
We expected to get a bit wet heading for the Panama border, but we were not prepared for what happened whenwe ascended into the mountains of Costa Rica. There was a thick fog that made it nearly impossible to see anything at all. That fog slowly got colder and colder as we gained altitude. Then, just as we were realizing that we were soaked, the fog turned to rain and, realizing that we should have put rain gear on much earlier on in the fog and that there was really no point anymore, we rode on miserably.
Our hands were numb and it was the coldest we’d been since Colorado. We took shelter at a truck stop/diner. As we were pulling in, Aaron, whose whole body was stiff from clenching away the cold, simply toppled from his bike, creating a small spectacle for those in the parking lot.
They had good coffee, great food, and an automatic hand dryer that expelled very warm air at the diner. We stayed there as we built up the courage to face this unexpected unpleasantness. The rain never stopped while we were there, and we watched as sad, drenched dogs stared at us from just outside the open front door.
We did finally decide to go back out into the frigid rain. It wasn’t due to courage, though, but more from the realization that if we didn’t get on the road soon, we would get to the border too late to enter Panama.
Every mountainous turn that angled upwards and gained us altitude was grounds for muttering. When we finally began our descent, I almost couldn’t believe it. The winding was finally bringing us back down and I could feel the temperature change accordingly.
We stopped at a mechanic’s at the first city we came across and were relieved to find that it was dry and warm there. We’d compiled a list of parts we needed earlier and as we were trying to recall everything on that list we removed all our wet clothes and spent a few minutes wringing out our socks and shirts.
We accomplished a good few things at the shop. For five dollars I bought new rear brakes for the KLR, but the front break was nowhere to be found in that city. I know because they sent a guy out to check all the shops there were. It wasn’t that pressing an issue, though, so it wouldn’t be a big deal to pick new ones up in Panama City.
There’s what I at first thought was simply an interesting phenomenon in Costa Rican motorcycling. The vast majority of the bikers wear bright, fluorescent suspenders. They look like elementary school street crossing guards; even the mean looking biker gang folk. We learned later that this is because it’s law there. Day, night, whatever the weather, it’s the law that you wear this ridiculous piece of safety gear. A major irony here is that I saw countless cars driving at night without their lights on there, but that’s, apparently, just fine.
Anyways, Aaron and I decided that was stupid and that we would not waste our money on something so useless, as we would only wear them for a couple days. Well, just after leaving the shop, we were pulled over by police that conveyed to us that wearing the suspenders or not wasn’t really a choice we were legally allowed to make.
The younger guy was in the process of writing our tickets when his partner figured out that we were Americans on a long ride and were leaving the country that same day. He went from being strict and business-like with was to interested and somewhat casual. The younger guy took a while to follow suit.
They told us that there were other people out there who would give us tickets and that it would be better if we just bought the reflection vests. At the same time, they made it seem like we might be able to get out without needing them. We decided to walk to the store only a few meters away and buy the $4 safety sashes as a way of making peace and thanking them for being lenient.
While it was relatively warm the rest of the way through Costa Rica, we weren’t dry for long. We were rained on all the rest of the way to Panama and reached the border about an hour and a half before it closed.