A month & a day…spent in the country I planned to blaze through as I had explored 15 years ago on my first trip abroad. I’ve been sworn to secrecy by locals on some of my exact whereabouts which I must respect but words can’t describe how spectacular Costa Rica is by bike – enough to overlook the initial throngs of oversized tourist busses gunning to take my life. I had not been wearing my helmet religiously but when I became all too aware of the dangerously narrow roads and reckless drivers, I was in a panic that I had lost mine. As the universe would have it, I met a pineapple dealer and his family, who took me into their joyful home, gifted me a helmet and told me about a place that I later ended up riding to that was a remote paradise, a true escape from tourism – a wild place where I camped on the beach with encroaching jungle, undisturbed except for squawking macaws and falling coconuts.
The wildlife, abundantly lush flora and Ticos are so special, I was in awe of the vibrant light & serene feeling of impossibly picturesque surroundings. So many days I gasped aloud and made grand exclamations to the sky – I couldn’t resist. There were times I would pitch my tent and be in disbelief of the natural beauty I was seeing from my two wheels.
I crossed into Costa Rica on the Rio Frio to Los Chiles which served as an important supply route for the Contras in Nicaragua. At dusk when I arrived, without warning, I was given a mandatory hose down of my legs (?!) and bike with some poison to prevent Dengue. I had been kicked off the bustling morning boat just as it was departing, leaving my helmet behind in the commotion. A greasy military guy wanted to flex & said my bike was against cargo rules. Pigs and mattresses are a go, my bike no. “Que tengas un buen dia” I hissed at him, knowing this would get me nowhere. Had to wait an entire afternoon for the next boat to maybe let me on. A Belgian guy who may have been a dream appeared and fed me bread that he baked and chocolate spread he made with cacao from a farm on Ometepe. There was no road in San Carlos and I felt stuck, kicking myself for taking this route. I tried to wait next to the boats so I could take my chances at hopping onto another but was ushered outside a gate. A barefooted man who I honestly thought was sort of crazy gave me a sneaky pssssst and opened the gate, turns out he was captain of the boat. He practically rolled out a red carpet for my bike, go figure.
Passport stamped in under 5 min. I will later regret my posts on how easy border crossings have been when it took 4 1/2 hours to get into Panama. Same logic as when I boasted I had only gotten one flat & the next day I got my second. I rode around for a few blocks and asked an elderly couple on their porch where I could get a cheap room. Turns out they rented rooms, comfy and clean 2 mil colones ($4). Went for tamarind frescas & rolled fried tacos with cabbage with Marco who looked after the place. He was a real character..few teeth, a long pony tail and big medallions around his neck. His other career was as a tarot card reader & he knew everyone in town.
With plans to head to the Caribbean side, the road was calm with idyllic rolling hills that were fun to ride. I popped into a bakery during a rain storm and bought a giant loaf= big on savings and calories. Upon tasting I realized I basically bought a huge cake. I started offering pieces to old men on trailer bikes & ladies hanging laundry. Traveling solo, it can feel like such an important part of my day to share a bite with others. I always try and cook something for a family who hosts me or forget some food behind. Recently I was eating spoonfuls of peanut butter for dinner & a mom who hadn’t warmed up to me yet accepted my invite, grabbed a spoon & we chatted under a full moon. Often at the end of the day I am overwhelmed with exhaustion but am usually happy that I chose to hang out with the family instead of pass out in my tent.
My second day (sans map) I followed a sign up a rocky, winding road to some hot springs. Dodging holes, my panniers flapping like elephant ears I felt a little ashamed for thinking ‘this better be worth it’. I love riding solo for the exploratory freedom but there are times I end up biffing it on the road to nowhere. Early morn I had to pools to myself where I indulged in all sorts of hippie chants and daily affirmations.
Sleek spandexed cyclists bolted past me as I excitedly waved with non plussed response. Then I met a Alexander, a cyclist in the fruit biz, the helmet angel I mentioned in the beginning of this post. He knew the roads like the back of his hand & showed me photos of his travels all over the country. I changed my route based on these images which led me to some killer spots. He would get irked with my level of Spanish, seeming certain I could do better -this was good for me. I stayed the night on their living room floor and after home cookin and the golden gift of a replacement helmet I had a new family that would track my whereabouts. It really warms my heart to know people are following my journey and keepin tabs on me, these protective dads who sometimes send semi frantic messages in all caps or post mildly embarrassing comments on my facebook demanding to know where I am.
To San Ramon 65k, no shoulder & no room to breathe. The frequency and speed of tourist coaches really frayed my nerves. Why do they have to be the size of a Madonna tour bus? Giant bubbles, seemingly unaware of anyone else on the road. I actually trust the chicken busses of Guatemala more as there appears to be an inherent maniacal skill involved (though I did see texting whilst driving). I thought of the cut throat narrow Baja road, in the beginning before I knew any better I would just suck it up and tap into my zone. It mellowed on the massive climb to Zarcero.I liked to joke that this was la gran puta (the big bitch) an exclamation which peppers daily conversations and said melodically with a deep inhale and exhaled with a chuckle to express impressive enormity of a situation. It was a welcomed addition to my colorful palette. This climb was awesome & at some point on this trip I turned into a real cyclist & I really like these challenging gradients.
I ate an appalling amount of food to keep my energy up, I felt hunger to the core. Luckily there are many delicious roadside delicacies.
In Puntarenas I stayed with Warmshowers host Alexander. He blasted Metallica & then left for the night to his welding job at the port. Took an afternoon walk to the beach, back in his neighborhood in Robles every house seemed to have the same couple of bikes and chairs on the porch, and no address numbers. Soon it was dark and I had to laugh, I cycled 6 countries & got lost on my way back to this house. I asked a lady who asked a lady & soon a small army of women were insistent I not walk alone and were helping me find him. I was so embarrassed and his mom came to fetch me. She gave me a stern look and I gave her a big hug.
71k to Jaco Couchsurfing host Paolo. He lives in a hotel his family owns. It is beautiful and you wouldn’t even believe me if I told you they allowed a hungry cyclist hit up the breakfast buffet. He is a mountain biker & took me to a sweet spot near Jaco, amazing trail and view. Spent an awesome day jumping around in crystal clear streams with his daredevil nieces & nephew. His bro in law was frank and asked me why? why sleep in a tent? why put myself in danger? & a friend of his while holding her newborn said she is going to do the same thing I am doing someday. I have answers and at times I realize how it seems crazy, and it is a bit crazy but I am more afraid of seeing the world through what I have been told, not as it truly is.
Cherry & I met Brad & Alicia 7 months ago in Baja. They work on yachts & go on surf safaris. Had a reunion with Brad at Playa Hermosa! So many good stories & so cool to see a face from the very beginning of the journey.
Headed to Quepos to camp on a spice farm. Elena said her finca in Londres was on ‘the road from hell’ my definition of hell usually differs from other people. The greatest places are often the hardest to reach! I fell once but when I saw another cyclist who shouted ‘I love you!’ in solidarity I pushed on. It was ridiculously pretty; tropical flowered plants, a rainbow, one of the most intensely beautiful sunsets I have ever seen, then darkness. I crossed (I kid you not) the London Bridge. Such a warm welcome & farm grown cinnamon ice tea grown. Slept like a baby among the bamboo, just past the sacred dance circle. 17 years ago Elena, left in debt by an ex and has since built a beautiful B&B,farm and life. Her resourceful, inventive nature is so inspiring. I love the way Costa Rica has varied options in the same location. Often you’ll find nice cabanas in the same spot that offers space to pitch your tent. That is Jody on her bday, sleeping in her hammock-
In Palmar Norte I saw a dad & his son repairing the roof & asked if I could help, and camp. He went inside to ask his wife. Xinia welcomed me to a shower, laundry dinner and a soccer match with her sons. Her husband works nights at The Red Cross & he called later to make sure I slept inside the house where it was safe. When I left she gave me her number and asked me to call her in every country I ride to.
We hiked to a waterfall and did some kamikaze climbing, poor Kazue got some rocks hurled at her head and Aileen at some point decided we shouldn’t die in the name of discovery. These girls are so tough and fun, we sat and ate lunch amidst the rustling of animals and the ever changing light of the primary forest canopy in the national park & on the way back we became almost hopelessly lost. Kazue was the trail whisperer, we would have spent the night in there if not for her. There were some landslide areas and I now have such an intense respect for the wilderness & the guides who grew up in it.
On my ride back I met a kindred spirit, Jeremy. He invited me to a Xmas potluck and I was beaming to be surrounded by so many great people. His friends Jim & Trish let me sleep on an amazingly comfortable bed in their gorgeous garden where monkeys had been swinging all day. I hiked a beach trail to meet up with an English cyclist who is riding the Southern most point to the Northern most point. I haven’t ran into many cyclists on tour and had a blast sharing road tales with someone who can relate to some of the stranger aspects of living on a bicycle. A local sharpened a branch so that we could open coconuts.That was reason enough to call the beach home for almost a week.
Nick has adventure in his veins and stellar philosophies. He loves tough back roads & traveling light. We had climbed a waterfall without thinking of a good way to get down. We agreed the most fun way would be to find our way back through the jungle. This isn’t as stupid as it sounds, he had gps but it was a little stupid. I had developed a fear of peccaries (skunk pigs that bite and you must climb a tree to get away from) so when we saw a pack of them we picked up a tree branches and marched on. I admire how he takes time to really explore places. I always think you only get to do this once and some of my favorite places have been detours I had never planned on. Was going to try & find him in Colombia but he will most likely be canoeing around the Darien Gap. You can follow check out his trip here http://nicholasgault.wordpress.com.
We did our best imitations of perezosos (sloths) and camped on the near empty beach with enveloped in jungle that felt like it was at the edge of the world. More good times with Aileen, Jana & Santi and met their sweet pal Pablo who has created a dream landscape. One night we saw a red light whizzing toward us and he was riding his bicycle through a jungley patch of his land.
A family let us grab on to the railing of their car to show the way to the falls and adopted us for a few days. That is how we met inspiring globe trotters Adriana & Chris. I had only planned to spend Christmas day here and had such an amazing time climbing stunning waterfalls with them. They took such good care of us, I loved their family (especially dad Ralph). We slept under a blanket of stars (I actually used my tent rain guard as a blanket) on their roof and awoke to, no joke, at least 30 white faced monkeys crossing the trees near where we were sleeping. One monkey who seemed to be the chief look out, approached my mat and grabbed the corner, doing a defensive dance back and forth to block the passage of the others. I wish I had a photo but honestly I was in shock & Nick had picked up a shoe in defense as the monkey got closer. One of the most memorable moments of my trip so far.
Oleman & Elba lived 23 years on the beach where we camped. I kept my bike safe in his home and fetched water from an always running hose that came from a stream near the falls. He had a tree with the hottest peppers known to man and when I was spotted eating 5 of them he gave me a giant hug and we were pretty tight after that. The beauty of this place is that it is so wild; the call of toucans, scarlet macaws dropping almond pods onto us from above, no stores and no showers. Waking up a few feet from the ocean to greet the sun, building a fire for coffee, being humbled by the power of the sea (you don’t even want to know how I crashed my face on the bottom) and spotting baby monkeys that could fit in the palm of my hand cannon ball out of a bush, shimmy up a tree and learn how to swing from branches in what looked like gym class, each day was such a feast for the eyes and spirit. It was a bit hard going back to mi vida sola after spending time with such incredible people but I’m so pumped (so are my tires!) for the next chapter: Cycling South America!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain