What better place to come face to face with nature than stunning Costa Rica? Some of our meetings were intentional, while others required a breech of barrier. 🙂
Costa Rica! (Verse 3, Line 2)
Place 55 of 92 on my list. It is supposed to rhyme with “Ombabika,” but none of the singers of this song knew how to pronounce that place.
As I said in August:
It seemed like it had been a long time since our last song place. Indeed, it had been 45 days since we left Monterrey, Mexico, the last one that we crossed off. I was sort of spoiled for choice about what to do. There are so many things to see. I decided to focus on two attractions in Costa Rica: Beaches and biodiversity. Perhaps “babes” should have warranted some consideration to complete the triumvirate of alliteration, but I only have so much time.
This is the most un-Central American of Central American countries. Its last coup took place in the late 40’s, after which it completely abolished its military. Peaceful democracy has reigned ever since. The country has made huge investments in education and conservation. Over 25% of Costa Rica’s land is protected by its national park system, the highest percentage in the world. Despite only having .03% of the world’s land mass, it contains 5% of the worlds biodiversity. These numbers should blow your mind!
I decided to make the cloud forest of Monteverde my first stop.
The roads were in great condition and I soon had a unique experience: Getting passed by a motorcycle. Well…12 of them to be exact. Three quartets of riders on BMW R1200GS’s (a bike with nearly twice the displacement of Annie and nearly three times the price) blew by me like I was standing still. One of the groups had to have been doing 90mph. I guess that’s how you ride a rental bike.
Though I tried to fight it, I have to admit that I felt a twinge of disdain. I felt that I had really earned the right to ride in Costa Rica, unlike these guys who had flown in. But riders are a family. I’m sure we would be good friends. They just have more money, while I’m equipped with more time and stupidity.
My first gas station stop was a bit of a surprise. I got a medium sized gatorade and a little package of crackers which cost over $4. It was going to take me awhile to adjust to the prices here.
Upon leaving the Pan-American highway I began to climb. Monteverde sits at around 5,000 ft. of elevation. Initially it was well paved,…..
….but eventually it gave way to dusty, rocky terrain.
These kind of roads are tough for riding. You can never be sure whether a rock is loose, or whether it is buried so deep that it is going to push you around. The locals call the bus ride a “masaje gratis.” (free massage)
After an hour or so of punishment, I reached the town of Monteverde. This place was founded by pacifist Quakers from Alabama who left America to avoid the draft for the Korean War. This was shortly after Costa Rica abolished its military.
My original plan was to camp, but I made a final search of housing options and found a private room with breakfast included for $10 (Hostel Cattleya). No brainer. It was a family owned place and they made me feel very welcome. The owner warned me of the strong winds at night and made sure I had Annie parked in a good location. It was a calm, restful night.
Monday, February 12th
Time to visit the preserve!
I ate a good breakfast provided by the hostel and got on the road at a decent time. The entrance fee was $22, one of the most significant leisure expenses of the whole trip. As long as the fee is not used to help monkeys, I have no regrets about paying it. Unlike some places where a full platoon of guides offer their services at multiple locations, there almost seemed to be a glut of people requesting guides here.
I got a map and began my adventure. I tried to choose routes that looked less traveled. Picture time!
I hope I got enough pictures, since it is a bit difficult to describe this place. Here, a tree is not just a tree. It is a whole ecosystem.
I did not see a ton of wildlife, it is not the best time of year for bird-watching. Even though I detest monkeys, I’ll still take pictures of them.
Though I, myself, have been known to monkey around:
The thing below is called a White-faced Coati. It is kind of like a raccoon. It didn’t even acknowledge my presence.
My new friends Shelly (North Carolina) and Rob (Manchester, England) took this picture for me.
They also became Annie signers in the parking lot. Another couple from Manitoba signed as well, but I didn’t get their picture.
I enjoyed my visit here. It was maybe so foreign to me that I couldn’t quite comprehend all that I was seeing. I probably should have done a bit more research beforehand to augment the experience.
I was not really eager to bounce back down the mountain. I asked one of the guides which way down the mountain he recommended. He said the other way, that I had not taken up, was a little smoother.
I tried to admire the views a bit more on the way down.
It was still rough going.
About half of the way down, there were some cones in the road. I almost rolled right through, but then I saw a guy in a reflective vest lounging in the ditch. We initially had a little trouble communicating, but I eventually understood that the road was closed for construction, but would open back up at 3pm. It was 1:40pm
I tried to weigh my options and decided that waiting was the right move. The flagger, Jonathan, and I had a long time to talk. I also busted out my “standing desk” to get some work done.
I continued down the road, which was now choked with traffic due to the other vehicles that had been waiting. Ah the joys of motorcycling!
I stopped for gas once I was back to the main road and gave Annie’s chain a good cleaning. The construction had pushed back my schedule and I did not have as much time to make progress as I had planned.
The town of El Roble was reachable, but I did not find any good lodging options (read: any options under $30).
I went to the beach and began to scout potential camping options.
I was not too happy about what I found. This was definitely not a resort beach. There were abandoned structures, smoldering trash fires and lots of junk all over the place. There was actually a hospital along the beach, but half of it looked abandoned and made me feel uneasy.
I asked a couple of locals about safety of camping there and they both said that it was not safe. With my mind made up, I rode out of town looking for a gap in the trees. It kind of felt like old times. We haven’t had a clip like this in awhile:
I didn’t love the spot, but it was very out of the way. It was a real wrestling match to get Annie into position. I always prefer to back her in. It was getting dark, I was sweating profusely and a whole gaggle of mosquitoes were gathered on my skin. (At least they’re smaller than the North American kind)
My foot slipped and I dropped Annie onto her starboard side. My baby! I actually had a bit of a tough time getting her back up. I hadn’t lifter her on my own since I was in Georgia, about 3 months ago. Each day of this trip, I’m losing more of strength with which I began. As long as I can still lift Annie, I’m strong enough.
The only flat ground available, was down a steep hill and underneath an arch of bushes. My headlamp was the only light now and it showed that this portion of ground was covered in hundreds of spiders, the daddy-long-leg variety. I don’t have a phobia about spiders, but perhaps this is how one acquires it. I just got to work setting up and brushed them off as needed.
From the next morning:
When my set up process was finally complete, I had a hard time believing that this labor used to be part of my everyday routine. It was maybe a good thing to get most of North America done first. Sleep was hard to attain as there were so many animals and insects around. Specifically, I thought I heard a mouse a few times.
I fell into an uneasy sleep, waking up often.
Tuesday, February 13th
Sometimes you pay $22 to encounter nature. Sometimes you get it for free.
Something was in my tent.
I tried not to panic as my mind slowly gained clear consciousness. I knew it was probably that mouse. I slowly began to uncover the items where I heard the rustling. Suddenly, the mouse shot out. Which one of us was the more scared is still tough to say.
I found the hole where it had chewed in. If you want to mess with me, that’s fine, but you don’t mess with my maroon coccoon. (picture from the next morning)
There was still an issue that had to be dealt with: How do I get this mouse out of my tent? I decided that the most appropriate implement at my disposal was my cooking pot. All I had to do was trap it, slide something underneath and take it outside. Easy, right?
The next 15 minutes were not the most flattering of my life. I lunged around in an awkward squat, wearing nothing but my underwear, sweating and yelling. I told the mouse that I was about ready to begin using the pot as a blunt object rather than a trapping device. It would not be dissuaded to end its laps around the inner perimeter of my abode.
A few times it shot the gap, seeking shelter directly beneath me. There must have been some sort of exotic animal nearby, as some girlish yelps were definitely audible. I’m sure that wasn’t me making those sounds. 🙂
The rascally rodent eventually made a navigational error, burrowing into one of my bags of food. Gotcha!
I wrapped another plastic bag around it, marched a decent distance into the woods and hung the bag on a tree. I knew the mouse would just chew its way out, but I hoped this would at least delay its potential return.
Ughhhh. Back to sleep.
I awoke to possibly the worst sound that I have ever heard. It is really difficult to describe. At first I thought it sounded pig-like, a sort of lout, guttural grunting. It was a bit like the Dutch language, just a little less harsh. 🙂
I stuck my head out of the tent and the sound was coming from the sky. I decided that it was probably a bird of some sort. It was two days later when I realized that this was actually the sound of a Howler Monkey. Here’s a good example.
Had I known it was a monkey, I probably would have undertaken a valiant, rage-filled quest to slay the beast(s), armed only with a hatchet and an irrational sense of derision. As it were, they would just prevent me from achieving any more sleep this morning. Thankfully, I had secured enough fresh water to make a french press of coffee so I was able to get some work done.
I packed up my camp, probably bringing at least a couple of dozen spiders with me.
This morning would present me with one more adventure. There was a pretty significant hump that I had to get over to reach the road. Because of the arrangement of the trees, getting a running start at it was not possible. Instead, I attempted to walk Annie up and over slowly. The ground proved softer than it appeared and my rear wheel dug in, nearly leaving me high centered.
It just so happened that my timing coincided with a gentleman coming down the isolated road on a bike. He was pulling a trailer with a weed eater in it. Seeing my plight, he smiled, shook his head and came over to give me a push. All this happened before I was even able to request his help. I also pushed from Annie’s side, while slightly easing out the clutch. With his help, we were able to get dislodged.
His name was Fabio and he is originally from Nicaragua. I told him that I like to have people that help me sign my motorcycle. Given the number of signatures, he probably thought that I get stuck quite often. 🙂
Not all heroes wear capes:
I’ll leave it there for this time. My first two days in Costa Rica provided a true connection to nature, much like sticking a tweezers into an outlet provides a true connection to electricity. There is still much more more to come!
Stay natural, everybody.
Realtime update: This post is much better. It sounds more like me. I’m staying one more day in David, Panama, before making my way to Panama City. The decision on the Darien Gap must come in the next few days. Maybe I should just turn around and give up? 😉
A sad note: The state of Oaxaca, Mexico, one of my favorite places in the country, was hit hard by an earthquake yesterday. It seems like southern Mexico just can’t catch a break right now. 😦