Corrupt Cops, Cigars and the end of Central America

November 14, 2011

Sorry for the lack of updates, lack of internetwebs have conspired against me. We are now in Cartagena, Columbia, after sailing for 4 days across the Caribbean from Panama with our motorbikes, was an enjoyable journey even if I spent most of it with a bad fever, the San Blas islands in particular were most idyllic.

We stayed in Leon for a few more days as we wanted to climb a volcano and see lava, first we went down and to check out the local beaches:

Then off to climb a volcano, first boarding various forms of local transport, collectivo:

The infamous chicken bus:

And then off on our own, not long before we spotted our victim

Eventually making it:

In the evening, the bright red lava was great, the photos of it, not so much.
Sunrise was quite a delight as well

We left Leon in the direction of Estelli, taking the “scenic route”:

Estelli is the major tobacco growing area, producing cigars for the US market, we checked out a cigar factory in Cuba, but I hoped to see another. It was a world apart, the place in Cuba cost us $11US for a tour around an old building with a floor of around 400 people yelling at each other, as they roll cigars and steal them to sell to tourists, cigars were for sale at the front at a substantial premium. Estelli on the other hand had a dozen people rolling cigars in a relaxed environment, we got a free tour, and when asked about purchasing cigars, the rolled us 4 fresh ones and gave them to us!

On the way to Matagalpa, the main coffee growing district, we spot a couple of hundred guys digging optic fiber cable in by hand. An interesting dichotomy

And also wonder where the closest “County School” is.

Staying in Matagalpa for the evening, we then head to Granada, with hopes of catching some other bikers we know that are going to be there, but first a friendly visit from your local corrupt Central American police.
I would like to introduce you to Jose’ and Juan:

We were entering Managua, when while stopped at the lights amongst a group of other moto’s, one pulls up and taps me on the shoulder, I turn, it’s the police. He points straight ahead, I assume he is telling me which way to go, give him a thumbs up and we head off. Two lights further, red light again, again he pulls up, taps me (although much more furiously), and points over to the side of the road… ok…
We pull off, and so it begins, Jose’ speaks a little English, which doesn’t help our cause, as pleading complete ignorance won’t pass. First they want to book us for not following police orders, then it is for speeding, then for lane splitting (as motos do the latter 2 straight past us). They begin the good cop/bad cop routine, so I return the favor and have a mild tanty as Tim acts gentile to ensure we aren’t executed on the spot. We continue for almost an hour, which in hot sun in bike gear is not all that pleasant. They proceed to confiscate our licenses and want to book us at the police station 3 blocks down the road (apparently) and for us to follow them there. I decide to go on a movement strike. Eventually they decide it isn’t worth the hassle to book us but they still want money for their troubles, so when Tim isn’t being incredibly devious taking photos with his Go Pro, he waved US$4 in the air for everyone to see, and handed it to them.

We went to another volcano, which was cool as you could drive up to the top

In Granada, while unsupervised, Tim used all his talents to return both of our bikes to their preferred seating position

That evening, we managed to catch up with a bunch of bikers, including a French couple doing Alaska to Argentina on a bicycle (yes Mum, there are people crazier than me!).

We then went with Kerman on a short jaunt to a local lake inside a volcano crater

And then for a short boat ride, where we had monkeys invade our craft

Met an alcoholic Macau

And had a nice sunset

The next day, the usual fun of navigating the streets gave way,

We were headed to Ometepe island, set in Lake Nicaragua (the largest lake in Central America), it is the combination of 2 volcanoes that have emerged from the surface and is quite beautiful.

After my socialistic bike finished sharing my luggage with the locals

We dumped our gear, and decided to circumnavigate the island

The next day, we climbed another volcano on the island, which has a lake in the center, and seals my desire to not see another volcano again, ever.
We climbed up rocks for hours through rain, to get such a great view:

And that was it for Nicaragua… we enjoyed it here.

Costa Rica began, and instantly I found the place harder to love, gone were the colorful and charming chicken buses and overloaded mopeds used throughout the rest of Central America, and in their place the western world cocoons, cars and SUV’s. American chain fast food establishments lined the roads, the supermarkets were up market, expensive, and selling goods from all around the world. While Costa Rica is far better off than its neighbors by almost all western standards, the people appeared to smile less and came across with less genuine friendliness than their neighbors. I felt guilty that these people live a higher quality of life that other countries aspire to (and eventually will obtain), and here I was thinking less of them, this internal debate raged for a while and I couldn’t tell you what the scenery was like, and it wasn’t until that evening that the answer to this quandry came to me, I am lucky to be able to do the trip now.

Over the next few days day, we went for some nice rides

Saw some nice beaches

And eventually we made our way to Cahuita, a part of Costa Rica that appealed to me much more than anywhere else I had seen, less tourists, more beauty

Nick and Ivanka, a lovely British couple riding two-up from Alaska to Argentina joined us on the second day, and we hung out, swapped war stories and card games. There blog is located here:

We didn’t have a whole lot of time till our boat sailed from Panama, so south we go!
We encountered one of our preferred border crossings:

Note the yellow sticker on the customs window? Our sticker! I like the Panamanians already!

Some more scenic detours and we made our way to Boca del Toro

On the way to the boat, we met a local guy on the same bike as us,

We thought it would be a good idea to join forces and ride through all the road blocks together, the police would have less chance of stopping all of us

We needn’t have worried, on the other side the police would routinely give us a thumb up, and tell us to do a wheelie for them!
We made it to our boat, and loaded our bikes on for South America, SOUTH AMERICA people!!!


3 Responses to “Corrupt Cops, Cigars and the end of Central America”

  1. KevOK Says:

    good work buddy,

  2. Steph Says:

    Good to hear from you darling! Can’t wait to hear the corrupt cop story in full, must admit I have been very impressed with your jail dodging skills so far, especially since I know you don’t speak a word of Spanish..
    Loved this update.. Can’t wait forvthe next! Stay safe!

  3. Maggie Allenspach Says:

    What a great trip, you guys keep having fun, miss you already.
    Maggie xx

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