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Curvy Costa Rica
About 7 Pages. Photos can be found at: http://picasaweb.google.com/peacepedalers/CurvyCostaRica?feat=directlink
June 8, 2010
Costa Rica. Home to an estimated 650,000 residents from the United States alone and brining in millions of tourists a year. I knew it would be a drastically different experience than the rest of Latin America and I was prepared accept just about anything. And what an adventure it was indeed!
It seemed suiting that my first guest rider was an American woman living in Central America named Amethyst. Amethyst was born in Santa Cruz, California, my future nesting town, but she’s currently living and working in Panama. Turns out she was in Costa Rica the same time I was making a “visa run” (non-residents have to leave the country to renew their visas several times a year).
Amethyst showed up that morning as red as a tomato due to falling asleep in the sun back in Santa Clara. She also had a mean burn on her leg from the motorcycle ride over to Palmar Norte, the starting point of our ride together. But the crispy Californian was soon dressed up in Assos kit and a sun hat ready to hit the road. We got a bit o a late start due to incredibly heavy rain, long chats over yummy Costa Rican coffees and some administrative tasks. But our planned ride was only about 50km so it was all good.
We hit the lovely Highway 34 in the early afternoon mist and spirits were high. Amethyst is a cheery, bubbly soul who was a pleasure to pedal with. She’s a vegan raw food enthusiast who does colon hydrotherapy and alternative healing for a living. She’s also an actress hoping one day to break into the theater. We had plenty in common and I couldn’t ask for a better first guest rider to enjoy the truly stunning stretch of planet earth. Birds tweeted, bright green trees and color flowers blasted fresh oxygen into the air and the gentle rain kept us cool and comfortable (but sure made filming a challenge).
We did manage to get run the cameras for a delightful rolling interview around sundown and the rain came to just about a drizzle. We rolled into Uvita at sundown so finding a place with the locals was not really in the cards. The rain began to fall again as we rolled into a funky backpackers called Flutterbyhouse where a colorful pack of dreadlocked guests and crew from none other than the San Francisco Bay Area became our hosts. We traded our valuable peanut butter and bread for home cooked creations while sharing tales of adventure with the crew.
Amethyst was off early the next morning to head back to Panama and I waited for the pounding rain to stop falling. A massive tropical storm was hammering the country and I had not seen rain like this in a long time. By about 10AM it was still raining but not so bad. I had already lost one of my three cameras to the moisture so I was in no hurry to get out filming in more rain. I took a local spin with a dreadlocked gal Caitlin who, like many Central American backpackers, had found a temporary home in the warm arms of Costa Rica. She was also struggling to meet her objective of learning Spanish due to the overwhelming amount of North Americans in the region. I encouraged her to dive into other regions or other countries if she was serious about learning Spanish, which is what I recommend to countless 20-somethings trying to obtain this elusive goal.
I hit the road north about 10.30AM, destination unknown. I was ready to dive into the real Costa Rican culture but it was not going to be easy since the gringo invasion of this part of Costa Rica was far more intense than I had imagined. Every sign on the road was in English and advertised either a guest house, hotel, restaurant or real estate for sale. But I kept my hopes up and eyes open for potential guest riders to connect with. My perseverance paid off as I crossed the river in Platanillo where three high school students were trying to hitch a ride back home to Quepos.
Jesus Morales took me up on the offer for a more athletic and interesting ride home. He started off saying he was 25, which I knew was a lie. Then after some more discussion it went down to 21, then finally when he got on camera he told the truth that he was only 17. Why he felt it necessary to lie I still have no clue. He’s studying tourism with the same hopes that many Costa Ricans have—to land a job in the largest industry in the country, servicing tourists. Jesus was a very Christian man who had recently formed a relationship with God and was glowing through his colorful braces with a proud smile. He was loving the ride and we chatted about many topics ranging from girls to school to his dream to start an organic farm and bring tourists there. We had to hammer the pedals hard to get him into town in time for his church meeting so our farewell was a bit rushed. However I have no doubt we’ll forget our 30km ride together.
Just outside Quepos I stopped in for soda and met a friendly man Jose Morales. Two Morales in a row. I told him I was planning to ride past Quepos in hopes of finding a home stay for the evening. His caring eyes showed doubt and concern about my plans. “Amigo, es peligroso en esta zona”. He said it was too dangerous since the sun was going down very soon and Quepos had some seedy areas he suggested I don’t wander into. His advice was genuine, and I was pretty spent from 65 kilometers of riding and filming. I nested up at a local backpackers, caught up with some work, and watched the heavy rain continue to fall.
The next morning I was optimistic the rain may be slowing down. There were glimpses of sun and the night before was non-stop. But just as I put on my cycling shoes the rain started again with vengeance. It was simply relentless. But I had a long way to go to San Jose so I pushed my steed into the puddle-filled, pothole infested roads of Quepos and off I went, destination unknown. I put on the Ipod and was feeling super strong and quite content. I’ve always sort of liked riding in the rain, and in Central America it’s nice to get out of the heat and into a truly ideal temperature for riding.
It was in the small town of Damas where I saw a young man at a bus stop. I stopped to see if he needed a lift and his eyes lit up. His name was Mauricio and he was 15 years old, with no money, trying to get back to his mom in San Jose. He had come down to find some work but it ended badly and he was trying all morning to hitch a ride to San Jose without any success. I was on a 2-day adventure to San Jose and felt sorry for him and offered to take him with me. But I did have my hesitations—for the first time in years I had some voice telling me to ride on, that he was not the person to ride with. But this was mixed with compassion and my super trusting nature. I did not really know what to make of it so opted to gear him up head to toe in Assos cycling clothes, gloves and even Peace Pedalers socks (he had no socks).
Off we pedaled, with the destination of somewhere around Jaco where I hoped to find a home stay for the night. As we left I filmed a departing shot and my camera locked up, which was a bad sign. From there we rode to Parrita for lunch. I treated him to a huge lunch and, for such a small boy, he ate a tremendous amount of food. At lunch he shared his story with me that his father died when he was young boy and how he was raised in a family of 5 with a single mother in a state of poverty. I could not imagine not having a father all my life, and his story touched me dearly. He also said he could not go to school due to lack of fees and his need to help work to support the family. I offered to help him weith school fees if he was serious as I have done with other riders but there was something quite disingenuous about his stories.
When we reached the town of Esterillos I realized I had left my favorite small tripod back at our lunch spot where I took some photos of the charming family and made some printouts. I met a nice guy Alex at a gas station who was heading back into town and offered me a ride on motorcycle to retrieve the tripod while Mauricio watched the bike and gear. Before I got on the motorcycle I told Mauricio “Te voy a confiar. Cuida bien las cosas”—I’m going to trust you. Watch the things well. “Tranquillo amigo” he told me.
So Alex and I charged back to Parrita, found the tripod, and were back in about ½ an hour. Mauricio was there, ready to continue our ride. But something was funny now, something just did not feel right at all. But everything seemed to be in tact, my video cameras were all there and we ran the cameras for a super rolling interview until we reached a cute village called Quebrada Amarilla. I saw a few cute Costa Rican woman sitting on the porch and decided to stop on in and see if they would not mind if me and Mauricio called their little house home for the night. I knew this would be a bit of a social experiment as normally I am invited in instantly being a solo traveler from the USA. It’s always been a bit more difficult to find home stays when I’ve got a local rider. I was curious to hear how they would react.
I had the cameras still rolling from our interview so I’m sure that was a bit intimidating for them. But they seemed to look at me and smile while looking at Mauricio with suspicion. I had a great connection with Irma and Laurena right away, and even with the man of the house Ricardo, Irma’s husband. But he was hesitant to let us stay there. But those who know me know that I am pretty persuasive and with a bit of prodding they finally gave in and we parked the bike on the side of the house. From there I offered to hit the market and buy some supplies for dinner, which is always appreciated by my hosts.
So Mauricio and I hit the market for some food and a few beers and when we returned the bike was well guarded and covered by the 72 year old Ricardo. We chilled out on the porch, sharing stories, bonding and life was good. That is, until I went to grab my camera to snap a shot. I went into my Ortlieb top bag and was shocked to find that my camera was missing! And as I dug deeper, I realized that my Ipod was gone too! Yikes! I knew that the 72 year old Ricardo would not steal it, and when I questioned Mauricio he did not seem the slightest bit concerned. He just said, “I don’t have it, you can check my bag”. This, of course, was an immediate killer to our happy vibe that was growing by the moment sitting on the porch at sunset. The light, cheery vibe became heavy, dark and suspicious. I felt horrible. My stomach was doing churning, my blood boiling, and I just wanted to scream.
Luckily I realized that I had just recently offloaded all the photos and that the Ipod was 7 years old and just about to die. I also have a backup of all my music. So I looked on the bright side as much as I could and was grateful to be healthy and still have all I need to work and play since my video cameras and mics were all in tact. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t just “shake” the feeling of being stolen from. I remember way back in Zambia in 2007 when a rider just stole my gloves how bad that felt. This felt just as bad, especially since I was with the guest rider most responsible for it. Whether it was him or his lack of watching the bike right at the gasoline station, he was responsible. But he did not say sorry or show one bit of resentment. He just sat there and eventually went to bed super early in the tent after our delicious homemade dinner that was so tasty and loaded with love.
At night I chatted with Irma about how Mauricio seemed so aloof about it all. She said he is either so sorry he does not know how to share it or he is guilty and just waiting it out to go back and get the stashed goods. To think I have to sleep next to this kid, yikes! But I did manage to get some sleep but woke up about 6 times that night, thinking it was morning, with funny dreams and uneasiness. In the morning I ran the cameras in the tent and we talked about the event more. If it was true he was raised without a father, I was going to teach him one lesson from his American father—that when you mess up, you say sorry right away. So he said sorry, but I knew he really did not mean it that much. You’ll see it one day when the show comes out.
I was beat that morning. We were planning to ride to Orotina that day but I have to admit the wind was taken out of my sails in a huge way from this event. I barely slept that night, waking up every hour or so with turbulent dreams. I could feel Mauricio’s energy and don’t think he slept that well either, right next to me in the tent. I had to confront him about why he did not apologize or show any remorse about the stolen items the next morning. Irma and I were talking the night before and she felt that he simply did not know how to respond and was young and scared. Either that or he did steal them. He told me his father died when he was a young boy so perhaps it was a case of being raised in the streets and with a single mom supporting five children. In the tent he finally apologized after I gave him a bit of a verbal butt whopping for not watching the bike. But the apology still felt empty, and I had my suspicions still, which made me hesitant to want to ride another day with him.
A torrential downpour made the decision an easy one. I was not going to ride with Mauricio today. Not to mention the home cooked breakfast prepared by Irma and Laurena on the porch with fresh mango and coconuts for desert. The highlight of this event was indeed meeting this lovely family who, in spite of the heavy energy, managed to make me feel special and warm. And if this was not enough, I was getting lots of sms messages and calls from the family of a fellow international cyclist Laura who we met in Peru who is from San Jose, Costa Rica. Her family was so sweet and felt terrible that I was robbed and invited me to stay with the that weekend to heal up and get some family nurturing. This was just what the doctor ordered so I changed my original plans to stay with a Couchsurfing host and made my way to San Jose with Mauricio about 1PM via a local bus.
When we made it to San Jose I was excited for the family to meet Mauricio, but when we arrived Mauricio was nowhere to be seen. He bolted. My heart sank. I still had faith that maybe he was not the thief, but when Irma (yes, Irma 2) was washing all my clothes I realized my cycling shorts were missing too. This confirmed my suspicion that Mauricio was officially the 2nd person in 8 years to ride with me and then steal from me. But the good news is that I made it to San Jose safe, healthy, with all my critical filming equipment. And, on top of this, I was immediately welcomed like family into the Avila house, including my own room, WIFI and a constant flow of happy, cheerful, loving and peaceful people.
Wow, I look back on my weekend in San Jose and all I can do is grin with gratitude. Carlos and Irma became my Costa Rican parents and shared their entire life with me. Friday night I was accompanied to my filming gig of the live concert of Perro Zampopo and Escafandra by their two delightful daughters Ana and Ligia and it was bliss. Then her grandson Daniel hoped on the bike the next day to help me source parts and tools for my kit before I hit my second filming gig of a private concert of Chubuzú up at the lovely Poas volcano!
Sunday was the day of all days, starting with a traditional breakfast cooked with love by the Avila family of Gallo Pinto (beans and rice), scrambled eggs, farm fresh cheeses, fresh juice, organic Costa Rican coffee and the ENTIRE family! I felt so special to be part of this special ritual. After breakfast we began a tandem riding marathon that included five riders, each happily agreeing to be interviewed as we rolled around Barrio Mexico’s colorful almost empty streets! Gotta love Sundays in Latin America!
If this was not enough, it was mothers day in Nicaragua so the next door neighbors were celebrating with gobs of excellent food, drinks, babies and more friendly people. The grand finale was a sunset ride with Escafandra’s lead singer and composer Miguel who is like a brother from another mother! He’s full of soul, progressive messages and has a grand vision that was a pleasure to hear and capture on film. We spent the rest of the evening sipping cold beers, laughing, sharing photos and it was truly a perfect day!
The next day was time for teleportation to surfing mode. In case you have not noticed, I’m a surf addict and Central America is going to have almost as much surfing as there is riding. My good buddy Dave Corredor left USA in 2002, the same year I left to travel the world, to live in Costa Rica with his wife Annie. 8 years later it was finally time for me to reconnect and ride with him! So I opted out of the highway riding and opted in for local rides on small, country roads of Guanacaste! I caught an early bus and was whisked out of San Jose to Huacas, just outside Playa Grande, the meeting point of our short yet so so sweet ride together to his hotel for our afternoon surf.
To my surprise I was greeted not only by Dave but also a wild Alabama native Andy and a cool cat Johnny for our afternoon ride. The sun was out, perfect riding weather, and we rode the most pristine country road I think I’ve ever been on through charming Tica neighborhoods with views to die for. Andy, or Bama for short, was the first guest rider. Then Dave came on for an unforgettable ride and rolling interview where he summarized the last 8 years of his life in about 20 minutes. The favorite prt of the ride was when I asked him his message to the world and his answer was “Thank you. Thank you for exactly what is in front of me now because it is necessary for me to get where I’m going”. Brilliant.
The surf had been horrible in Guanacaste due to the recent storms so nobody had been surfing for about 10 days. I told them there would be waves and they all warned me of filthy water and mixed up swell. But as we rolled into Playa Grande to take a look our eyes lit up as there was indeed some nice waves to be had. We quickly went from riding mode to surfing mode, wheeling my long steed into the bodega at Dave’s hotel the Rip Jack, grabbed boards, lubed up the sunscreen and hit the waves. The session was not perfect but it was enough to get everyone smiling as the sun was out, new and old friends connecting and fun waves about. Life was good!
Unfortunately the waves and weather were a treat for this day only and the planned excellent swell was soon replaced by an unseasonable tropical storm that settled in delivering massive amounts of wind and rain. We would get a break here and there, but it was mostly stormy days when I had planned to be surfing and filming for my surf documentary Ride the Tides. I decided to head out and surf one sunset by myself and on my last massive slopping wave I took a huge wipeout and one of my GoPro waterproof cameras was ripped off my board shorts! It was too late to look for it and I was gutted as it had the footage from my ride with Dave and Bama on it. Major buzz kill!
The next morning at 5AM I looked all over the beach for this missing camera but nothing showed up. It had a floating buoy so we had hope, but no luck. My mood soon changed to pretty dismals as I realized that had lost my camera, Ipod and now a top of the line HD water camera as well! After my afternoon search for the camera yielded no positive results I was really bumming. On the way back to my room I met a young Tico man Vidier. I told him I was offering a reward for anyone who could find my camera and to get the word out. I told him it had memories of me and Dave on there and I really wanted to find it. I sulked into my posh room Dave set me up with and began journaling on what the heck was going on with all this nonsense of losing my equipment.
But everything that goes down must eventually come up! I got a knock on my door just 45 minutes later and it was Vidier and he had my camera in his hand! Yep, he found it on the beach and brought it back to me! And the clincher is that when I reviewed the footage I realized someone had recorded a personal message on it. A strange man had found the camera that morning and recorded a greeting! Check this video of this friendly stranger here: http://vimeo.com/12273514. He found it and left it there so it could be found! Needless to say, this immediately put me in SUCH a great mood! My faith in humanity was restored!
I had planned to head to Nicaragua on Friday the 4th of June but I had lucked out by filming a Nicaraguan artist while in Costa Rica so I no longer needed to spend the 2-3 days in Managua looking for music. So, between this fact and the fact that another perfect swell was coming, I decided to extend my stay in Playa Grande. Dave agreed to still host me at Rip Jack and even offered to give Vidial a day off on Sunday to come surf the epic waves with us! It just keeps getting better!
So when Sunday rolled around Vidial was so so stoked to have a free day to take us out surfing and to meet his family. My bro Andy and his guest Susana in from Hawaii all went out on a mission with Vidial to score epic waves. We had two lovely sessions in the morning and then Vidial rode with me on the tandem to his house where his mom was cooking up a delicious traditional Guanacaste feast of home cooked Arroz de Maiz with chicken that was to die for. Vidial and I ran the cameras and he shared so much goodness with the world you’ll have to wait for the show to get the treat. But the summary we got out of it was that his parents played such a huge role in shaping his values of integrity since he was a young boy. And when I met his charming mother I could see her passion for positivity—which was injected into her lovely cooking!
At Vidier’s house we also met his super cool brother Ishmael who also LOVES to surf. So we invited him to our evening session at Pirates Bay where we literally scored so many waves it was like a dream. And we had the place to ourselves. Just five happy surfers lapping up a point break. Pinch me! Just when we were saying the day could not get any better we were invited to join a birthday celebration after a perfect sunset with home cooked food, cold beers and strong shots of whiskey. We were soon dancing, laughing and chanting traditional Guanacaste howls with smiles so big our faces hurt the next day!
And boy what an epic next day it was! With the perfect waves and weather in town finally we decided to book a trip to Witches Rock and Ollie’s Point. We were up at 4AM to reach the boat by 5AM with hopes to hit Ollies early. The boat ran out of gas but we ended up scoring great rides at Witches and had Ollie’s Point to ourselves with PERFECT waves. It just does not get better than this—I’m still pinching myself! You could not remove the smiles from our faces if you tried. The only challenge was the fact that after 48 hours of riding, surfing and filming I was totally exhausted. And I had to get up the next day at 4AM to take advantage of Susana’s departure back to Hawaii and a free lift up to Liberia with Andy. I was already 3 days behind schedule so I had to b-line it to Nicaragua to get some riding and filming in on Omotepe and get back on track. So that brings me to right here, right now.
Some folks have asked me about this “schedule” and this fast pace that involves so much public transport and far less days on the bike. Honestly, I love riding. But it’s just one of many things I dearly enjoy. I love surfing. I love building relationships. I love live music. I love food. And I like public transport. And, most importantly, I love the idea of being in Spain to watch my boy Luca be born next month so I have to keep a schedule in order for me to experience all the countries I want to experience and share up to Mexico and still make it happen. S if you put all these loves together you get Jamie’s expedition of Central America.
Looking back on my adventures in Costa Rica I can honestly say I would not change a thing. Like Dave said so perfectly, “Thank you”. It all happened in divine order, and now I’m chillin’ with a fully belly after a delicious meal in between two volcanoes on the island of Omotepe! And I already met my first locals Larry and Pedro Jose who will be riding with me tomorrow as I explore this fairy tale little slice of paradise I first discovered 4 years ago and fell I love with. I’ve been looking forward to this expedition for years and here it is! And, I’m going to get my first real night’s sleep in many days so VERY pumped about that!
Big love from Nicaragua!
Live Big. Give Big. Love Big.
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