I had heard from quite a few travelers that the border crossing into Costa Rica was a bureaucratic mess. This however was not my experience. I was through in about 10 minutes. I exchanged my Nicaraguan Cordobas for Costa Rican Colones, which have too many zeroes on them in my opinion. I was on my way in the early afternoon and was impressed by the freshly paved road, which was also well shaded by large trees, somewhat of a rarity in Central America. Costa Ricans are called Ticas and use the expression ‘Pura Vida’ to let you know that it’s all good. I was amazed by the lack of honking from cars. There seemed to be quite a few police checkpoints but only a couple troubled me to look at my passport, really just to have me stop so they could ask me questions like where I started and how long I’ve been on the road. To the east was a large volcano whose peak was covered by clouds. The land was pretty flat and I had a nice tailwind pushing me along. My first night in Costa Rica was spent camping under the roof of a restaurant in the small town of Potrerillos. I stopped and washed off in the nearby river as the sun set and ate a nice dinner. The owners were happy to accommodate me when I asked if I could camp. Pura Vida.
The next day was New Year’s Eve. I had a short day of cycling to get into Liberia, a decent sized city and the capital of the region of Guanecaste. I settled into a $5 a night backpacker’s place and started working on my updates from Granada and Isla Ometepe. I roamed around town to find a hardware shop where I could buy some drill bits for making holes in seeds for jewelry. I had good luck and was able to make a new hand drill using a pen, a lighter, some super glue and electrical tape. I also had excellent luck by coming upon a jewelry shop that could fix my broken glasses. When I asked them if they could help me fix it my way, they said “no. no. no, that won’t work, let’s to it this way”. So I figured what the hell and let them mess with it. They ended up fixing them perfectly and it only cost me 3 bucks. Pura Vida.
More good news came in the form of email. I heard from my friend Heather who is sailing down the Pacific from El Salvador. She and her captain, John, invited me to sail with them. The plan is for me to get my butt down to Panama City and wrap up this part of the cycling trip, and then meet up with them somewhere on the Costa Rican the coast. From Panama, they will be sailing down to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. I see this as a great way to put a cap on my Central American journey with some great people. Pura Vida.
By 10 pm, I could hear loud music from Liberia’s main plaza. Fireworks and bombs were blasting until the final climax at midnight. I decided to lay low and make some gear preparations. The next day the city was a ghost town, everything was closed. I cycled out and had a nice easy ride to Cañas through the flatlands before turning northeast for the mountains. Not only was I faced with some climbing, but I also experienced the strongest headwinds of the trip. Just before reaching Cañas, I ran into 3 touring cyclists, all from the Netherlands. One was going my direction and the other two had just come from the mountains and told us of the hurricane force winds and rain. They said it was a waste of time but I had my mind set on trying to get to Volcan Arenal to catch a glimpse of the extremely active volcano. Their description turned out to be pretty accurate, but I ended up reaching the town of Tilaran in one piece. I settled into a $3 a night hotel with a view and rested up for the next day’s ride.
From Tilaran I descended to Lago Arenal, a man-made lake created in the early 70’s to provide hydroelectric energy for Costa Rica. The winds were still strong and the road around the lake had some challenging ups and downs. During one bad section of dirt road, I slipped on some loose gravel and crashed. It is strange how the first thing I worry about is the bike and not my body after a crash. Luckily I wasn’t going too fast. I rolled out and ended up with a bruise on the hip. I met a cycling tour group, mostly Americans, led by a local Tico. He told me I could use the company’s shop in La Fortuna, the next town, to do some work on my bike. I arrived in La Fortuna in the afternoon and settled into a cheap hotel. I asked about getting up to catch a view of the nearby Volcan Arenal. The hotel owner recommended a tour which would take me to a lookout point and then on the way back to a hot springs. I decided to bite. The volcano ended up being a waste of time and money. I had better views when I came into town from the lake. During this time of year, the volcano is covered by clouds preventing a good view of the live lava flow and rock spray. The hot springs were pretty nice and I had good talks with another American traveler named Ed. The next day, I turned the bike upside down, trued up my wheels and replaced my brakes at the Bike Arenal shop. Thanks to the cool tour operator, Pura Vida.
I had a late start out of La Fortuna and had some flat farmland to ride on, but not for long. I went from practically sea level, to over 4000 ft elevation into the clouds. Because of my late start, I had to cycle an hour or so in the dark to get to the town of San Ramon, near the Interamerican Highway. The sites were great, but cycling in the dark and cold in a tired and delirious state wasn’t much fun. I had another decent day of riding from San Ramon to the capital city, San Jose. I settled into a popular backpacker’s hostel but quickly arranged a visit with a local Servas host. I met up with Nelly Castro, a retired teacher who lives outside of San Jose in the neighborhood of Guadalupe with her architect daughter, and painter/astrologer son. We had some nice chats about Central American culture, racism, and education. I checked out the city and picked up some new jewelry making supplies and made a tasty black bean and pork soup for my kind hosts.
I decided to leave my tent and camping supplies with Nelly to lighten my load for the big mountains ahead, the Cordillera de Talamanca, also known as Cerro de Muertos (Hill of the Dead), which will take me close to 10,000 ft.
I probably have about 4 days of cycling to get to the Panamanian border and then another week to get through Panama to Panama City.