Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Report Summary #4

Date: Fri, 31 Jan 1997 07:20:11 -0800
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list 
Subject: Trip Report - December Summary

                          December Summary


December 31 found me in Medellin, Colombia


Dec  5 - Costa Rican/Panamanian border on the Pan American Highway
Dec 19 - Panamanian/Colombian border on flight to Bogota, Colombia


Dec 10-11 - 10K mile maintenance: changed all fluids, adjusted valves,
            new plugs, checked all fasteners.

Dec 14-15 - Replace steering head bearings.  They had developed a significan
            notch at center, and since I found a replacement set locally,
            and I had the clubhouse to work in I decided to replace them.


Dec  5 - Crossing the border from Costa Rica into Panama, ny spirits were
  buoyed, despite heavy rain, by the ease of the formalities, especially
  given my new passport.  However my mind was still preoccupied with many
  things, other than just concentrating on the road and riding the
  motorcycle.  Not a good situation.  I was still kicking myself for
  the pickpocket in Todos Santos to say nothing about the theft in San
  Jose.  I was also wondering how I was going to get the bike to Colombia.

  Next thing I knew I'm on top of a document check point, 10km or so from th
  border.  With my mind on things other than riding the bike I hadn't seen
  it.  I grab too much front brake, the front wheel locks up on the wet
  pavement, possibly augmented by oil on the pavement from other cars
  stopping at the checkpoint, and just like that the bike is down on it's
  right side sliding along the road past the guards.  I slid a while and cam
  to rest in time to watch the bike slide off the side of the road onto
  the shoulder, have the tires hook up enough to have the bike stand itself
  up, totter there for a long second or two, then fall over onto it's left
  side.  If I had been quicker onto my feet, I could have caught it as it
  tottered there, and then claimed the whole thing was a planned stunt.

  As it was, with the guards looking on and wondering what the hell this
  crazy gringo was doing, I stood up, took a deep bow, which got a laugh out
  of the guards, and rushed over to the bike and had it up on two wheels
  before the guards could even approach.  The guards were pointing to my arm
  and legs and asking if I was OK and a quick check showed I was.  The wet
  pavement provided a nice lubricated surface and I couldn't even find any
  damage to my Aerostich.  Fortunately because of the rain I was wearing the
  Aerostich pants as well, something I don't always do when the weather is
  nice.  On the other hand if it hadn't been raining I might not have locked
  up the front end.  Who knows.

  As for the bike, it too came out relatively unscathed. The right-side
  crash bar had a slight crimp in it where it had been bent back around
  the valve cover, but a few well-placed kicks got it back into a
  reasonable position.  Some scrapes on the bottom side of the valve cover
  but no structural damage to it.  The bottom beveled side of the right-side
  Jessie bag had a fist-size dent, about an inch deep, in it, I believe
  from when it slid over the edge of the pavement.  That was it.

  But I was fortunate.  It could have been worse, both for the bike and me,
  and I certainly can't expect to pull that kind of stunt again and get off
  that easy.  This time the main damage was to my pride and self-esteem.
  Now, in addition to the thefts, I had another reason for self-flagellation
  I hoped this wasn't the 3rd strike, as in 3 strikes and you're out.

  I showed the guards my papers, waved bye, and headed south.


Dec  6 - The night before, in David, Panama, Peter, an American truck driver
  had warned me about speed traps on the Pan-American Highway in Panama, and
  had told me where to expect them.  He also said that most of the radar gun
  didn't actually work.  However soon after leaving David, way before the
  anticipated location, I hit one and was waved over by 1 of 2 cops.

  The cop takes my papers, motions me to pull over to the side of the road
  then he holds my papers for 5 minutes while talking with the driver of a
  pickup truck he stopped going in the other direction.  Other vehicles goin
  in my direction were waved through.  This whole time he hasn't looked
  at my papers.

  Finally he hands them to his partner, who motions me to follow him over to
  his patrol car.   He says he has to write me a US$25 ticket for speeding
  and points to the radar gun lying on the hood of the car, which reads 75
  kph.  Now one, I knew I wasn't speeding because I had been very careful
  after what Peter had told me.  Two, when I was approaching this speed trap
  I had been following another car and there is no way he could have got a
  reading on me. Three, Peter had said that most of the radar guns don't eve
  work and from the time I pulled over till now, the radar gun had been lyin
  on the hood of the car and I suspected they just left the 75kph reading on
  it all the time.

  In my lousy Spanish but in as respectful a manner as I could muster I said
  I wasn't going that fast, and that another car had been in front of me and
  that that couldn't be my speed.  I didn't know if that was the right
  tactic, but there is never one approach for all situations and this seemed
  the right approach at the time.  He asked for my drivers license and I
  handed him my Inter-American Ddrivers License, since my California license
  had been stolen in San Jose.  For good measure, as I handed him the
  license, I repeated "Senor, por favor, no voy ese rapido,"  and let it go
  at that and waited to see what developed.  He handed my passport and bike
  documents back without even looking at them, but proceeded to write
  information from my license into a notebook.  Then we walked back to the
  bike, and he started asking questions about it and where I had been and
  where I was going.  That was  a good sign, as my experience is that once
  that happens you've crossed over from an official interaction to a more
  personal one.  After talking about 5 minutes, he handed my license back an
  said I was free to go.  I thanked him and was on my way.  Nothing more was
  said about the ticket after his first comment.  I think he knew I knew, by
  my comments, that he hadn't clocked me on his radar.

  Later that day, another two motorcycle cops, with 2 BMWs parked nearby,
  waved me over.  They didn't even make any attempts to make this look like
  an official stop, and didn't even ask for my papers.  They just wanted to
  look at the motorcycle and talk about it and my trip.  They suggested my
  valves needed adjustment, which was probably true since I was about a 100
  miles from my next scheduled maintenance interval.  After about 5 minutes
  they waved me on.


- Volcan Poas northwest of San Jose, Costa Rica.

- Gold and Jade Museums in San Jose, Costa Rica.

- Crossing the Bridge of the Americas, over the Panama Canal, into Panama

- Road Knights Motorcycle Club at Albrook Air Force Station in Panama City,
  Bill Collier the president, and Alex, his son.

- Crating up the G/S and getting the airweigh bill and my passport stamped
  by Panamanian Customs.

- Landing in Bogota, Colombia.

- Getting the Colombian Customs paperwork completed and riding the G/S out
  of the Challenge Air Cargo warehouse.

- Christmas Eve fiesta in Tunja, Colombia, in the Plaza Bolivar, packed with
  people, dancing to the music performed by the live bands on stage.

- The road north of Tunja, which crosses a high plateau at more than 10000

- The descent into, and then back out of, the dry, parched Rio Chicamocha
  canyon between San Gil and Bucaramanga, Colombia.  Switchbacks galore and
  great road surface!

- The road from Bucaramanga to Cucuta, Colombia, which climbs to more than
  11000 feet, and passes through spectacular mountain scenery.

- The hospitality of Carmenza Restrepo and her relatives in Medellin,

- New Years Eve celebrations in Medellin, Colombia.


The following is a brief summary of my route, naming the city/town I stayed
in that night.

1-4     San Jose, Costa Rica
5       David, Panama
6       La Chorrera, Panama
7-18    Panama City, Panama
19-23   Bogota, Colombia
24      Tunja, Colombia
25      Cucuta, Colombia
26      San Cristobal, Venezuela
27      Cucuta, Colombia
28      Puerto Boyaca, Colombia
29-31   Medellin, Colombia


Read next months summary and you'll know where I went.

Doug Ruth