Santiago, Panama 28 Nov 05
Odometer 11,115 m 17,888 km

As I rolled south through Costa Rica’s tropical rainforests and along the pounding surf, it was easy to see why so many gringos have invaded this once sleepy paradise. But the foreigners, erecting million-dollar homes on once virgin beaches, fail to connect their tax-free status to the miserable state of the country’s infrastructure.

Motor vehicles zigzag in and out of their lanes and onto the shoulders to avoid enormous potholes--large, numerous and deep--on Central America’s worst roads*. Though dual-sport motorcycles like El Viento can handle difficult terrain, nothing round will stay that way when forced into a crater with undercut edges at speed. And that’s exactly what happened.

The car in front of me swerved right to straddle a cavity while an oncoming bus veered into our lane to avoid another. By the time I saw what emerged from beneath the car’s rear bumper it was too late to avoid being sucked into the black hole.

KABOOM! My front suspension bottomed out. WHAM! My rear suspension seconded.
Umberto relaces the wheel
Miraculously, I didn’t go down. Still shuddering from the impact and the damage that must have been done, I maintained control long enough to safely stop. Both rims were bent. Worse, German parts are scarce here, so it was no surprise to learn that neither the BMW dealers in San Jose nor Panama City had replacements.

I was stranded!

Limping across the border and into David, Panama in the dark, I randomly chose one of many hotels when a gentleman rushed up to ask if I had come for the rally.
Rally? My luck knows no bounds. It happened to be Independence Day weekend and the Association of Panamanian Motorcyclists had converged to meet in this particular hotel--40 of their bikes sat out of sight in the basement.

The news of my predicament traveled fast and soon appeared a large and not-so-friendly-looking man they all called Pipo. They said he was a master metal worker and their club’s only BMW rider. He examined El Viento as I waited on bated breath, then decreed that yes, he believed he could repair my badly misshapen front rim.

“Good enough to ride it to Argentina,” I inquired?

“If not,” he stated without a grin, “you can take my bike.” Clearly, he was the guy for the job.
Following the rally, I wobbled east towards Pipo’s shop in Santiago while struggling to keep up with Honda Gold Wings, Harley Davidsons and an assortment of other big street bikes. I felt a bit out of place. One thing was certain, though; these folks weren’t about to leave a man behind.

When we arrived, Pipo went to work with Umberto, Herman and his son Herman, Jr. Even though it was a national holiday and everyone else was out partying, my rim took precedent. Herman cracked, in Spanish, “Had you rolled in here on four wheels we would have said come back tomorrow, maybe the next day, but you’re one of

Almost seven hours later the wheel was back on my bike, not perfect, but nearly so, and able to roll safely down the road. Pipo and his friends would accept no payment.

I departed for Colombia forever inspired by the kindness of strangers.

*UPDATE: Since 2005, Costa Rica has poured millions into upgrading its infrastructure. On a subsequent ride in 2009, I saw that many miles of their worst roads had mercifully been repaved.

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