Friday, March 19, 2010

Costa Rica : Santa Ana to Dominical...

 My bike had been performing wonderfully but I could tell that my clutch was wearing.  During high speed passes, I was really lacking the snap that I'd grown used to.  It wasn't slipping entirely, but I knew that it wouldn't be long.  My bike had surpassed the 30,000 mile mark so it wasn't too surprising that the clutch would be wearing out.  With a little research and a recommendation from Al VanDyke, who I'd ridden Baja with months before, I was able to locate a shop just outside of San Jose.  I left Arenal on a bright sunny day and really enjoyed the narrow country roads heading south in the middle of Costa Rica.

The views were exceptional and the weather was perfect.  Unfortunately with no shoulders on the roads stopping to take pictures was difficult.  I only managed to get a couple of shots on my way to San Jose.

I made the mistake of looking up Breyman Motor Sports KTM on Google Maps.  I found it and thought that I had a great idea of where it was located.  I followed the directions that I'd jotted down and found a day parking lot where the shop was supposed to be located.  After circling the block numerous times in busy city traffic with my KTM almost overheating, I finally stopped and asked the parking lot attendant for help.  He called the number I'd written down on my map.  Turns out Google Maps had pulled up a mailing address.  The shop was actually located 20 minutes out of the city in the suburb of Santa Ana.  With proper directions I found myself there shortly.  The next hurdle was that I was going to need to leave my bike there to get worked on and the closest hostels were back in the downtown area.  Unfortunately all of the hotels in Santa Ana catered to business travelers and were well over $100 per night.  This was going to blow my budget severely which had me in a bit of a funk.

The owner Herbert von Breymann arrived shortly after I had.  He knew who I was from my emails inquiring about service.  Fortunately he picked up on the financial situation I was in and totally saved the day.  He not only offered the use of the motorcycle delivery van as accommodations but told me that I'd be able to work with the mechanics to save some money on the repairs of my bike.  I was stoked.  My mood turned around immediately and I was really fired up to get to sleep in the motocross van.  Not only would this save me hundreds but it made for a great story much more fitting to the theme of this journey.

Herbert showing off the new Aprilia Caponord to some prospective buyers.

My home for two nights in Santa Ana.

I was given a key to the front gate and they turned the van around to give me privacy from the street and a nice view overlooking the Santa Ana nightscape. 

I found a little Chinese restaurant around the corner that had giant homemade shrimp wontons.  Which I ended up eating every night while I stayed.

I passed my time drinking beer and working on my journaling in the back of the van.  The temps were ideal so sleeping was really comfortable.  Everyone at the shop thought I was hilarious for camping out in the van.  I laughed along with them at the thought of what a low budget bum I was being.  But with months and tons of miles ahead, I was forced to be diligent with my budget and expensive hotels just weren't an option.  Plus I had everything I needed.  (On the second night I found out that if I sat on the loading dock, I could even get wireless internet.)

Bright and early the next morning I awoke to the traffic of the busy street, unloaded my gear from the truck and started disassembling my bike to be ready when the mechanics showed up to start their day.  Denis, the head mechanic, arrived and showed me a good spot on the loading dock to put my bike.  I figured that I would removed the engine guards and gas tanks and he would take it from there.  Instead he gave me instructions in Spanish and I did the work.

When I got the clutch cover removed, Denis noticed a white film that was covering the inside of the cover.  This was an indication that my water pump seal was leaking water into my oil.  This is a common problem with KTM LC8 motors and fortunately I was carrying the parts to make this repair.  It was amazing that I had gotten here to the shop without overheating the motor.  Only a day or two more riding with the bad seal and I could have found myself broken down on the side of the road.

Here the clutch and the water pump are opened up.

Denis installing new clutch friction plates.

Posing for a self portrait tightening the pressure plate bolts.

On Day 1 we replaced the friction plates and the water pump seal.  I would have been set to ride out this evening but as it was getting late and had the option to spend another night in the van, I decided to stay.  On Day 2, I replaced the spark plugs, cleaned my air prefilter and inspected the main filter, did a complete coolant flush and replacement, and a complete oil and filter change.

Denis had the young shop hands give my bike a complete and thorough washing and waxing while I got my things organized to hit the road.  Herbert gave me a great route to ride through the mountains near Puriscal and also totally hooked me up on the parts costs and labor rates.  BMS is the best shop I could have hoped to find to get me back together and running.  The staff was top notch helping me with everything.  Kenneth, the do everything sales guy, even bought me lunch!  A huge thanks goes out to everyone that helped me out.  I didn't have much but I had a box of cigars from Nicaragua.  I brought one up to José the parts guy, Martin the salesman, Daniel the junior mechanic, Giovanni the delivery guy, of course Denis the master mechanic and I was lucky to be able to thank Herbert in person just before I left.  I can't say enough how awesome these guys treated me.  I felt like I was part of the BMS family and it was hard to leave them all.  Thanks guys!

The ride to Jacó was excellent and Herbert had picked a perfect twisty road for me to break in my fresh clutch.  I ripped through the twisties loving every corner.  The road took me high up into the mountains with great views before dropping continuously down to the little surf town.  I pulled in just after dark to Hotel Kangaroo and was stoked to find another bike there too.

The hotel wasn't much to speak of but at $12 the price was right and I ended up meeting Bridger, who is riding a KLR from the states down to Argentina.  We had fun hanging out and partying together in the bustling little psuedo Miami surf town.  The hotel owner was a drunkard and displayed some pretty nasty business skills.  I'll save the details but let's just say I'd be surprised if he's running the place much longer.
We all got some good laughs at his expense though.

I spent much of my time chilling at a little beachside restaurant owned by a woman from Argentina.  They had good wireless and tasty coffee.  I met Martin, the woman's brother, who was visiting from Buenos Aires.  He is a motorcycle fanatic as well and we spent lots of time chatting.  If I ever make it all the way to Buenos Aires, I can't wait to meet up with him and check out his vintage BMW.

I stayed in Jacó for a couple of days before pushing on to Dominical.  I met a local girl named Nathalie, who had studied in Colombia and was really excited about my trip.  She was staying at Casa Mafalda and saw my bike while I was there working on the internet and chatting with Martin.

We exchanged emails hoping to catch up again later...  

When I got to the little hippy surf hangout of Dominical, I was super surprised with instantly how chill it was.  The drive down the coast was pretty mellow.  Lots of coconut palm plantations and really nice road.  The new paved highway past Quepos was nearly finished so getting to Dominical was really a breeze.  I pulled up to the beach after a couple of hours in the saddle and chilled in the shade drinking fresh cold coconut water from a coconut that was hacked open just for me for the bargain price of 50 cents.

As I was sitting there surrounded by sarongs for sale swaying in the breeze, I saw a guy coming up looking closely at my bike.  He couldn't see me yet and I was preparing to tell my story yet again when I hear him exclaim, "No F'in Way!"
I turned and was shocked to see Curt from Vail, that I'd met back in Sayulita, Mexico.  We couldn't get over the fact that we'd just run into each other again.  He was down for another short vacation and as luck would have it here we were.  It was way too crazy for either of us to wrap our heads around so we went straight to the bar, got some ice cold beers and reveled in the coincidences that had evolved to leave us sitting here sharing beers in Dominical, Costa Rica.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the open air bar of Tortilla Flats drinking like good ole Colorado boys should.  Too funny...  I never met Curt in Vail when we live less than 5 miles apart but now I've met him by accident twice on this journey.  Uncanny.  Super fun.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Costa Rica : Nicoya Peninsula : Playa Avellanas to Santa Teresa & beyond...

I read in the Lonely Planet Costa Rica that if one was looking for a real adventure on the Nicoya Peninsula it would be to ride the coastal road from Tamarindo to Santa Teresa.  It said that there were numerous river crossings and lots and lots of dirt 4x4 road.  It sounded wonderful but I was a bit hesitant because I was alone.  I decided against it when I was backing the bike out of Casa Surf, but by the time I made it down the dirt road leaving Playa Avellanas I was having so much fun that I decided to go for it.  It was a typical beautiful Costa Rican day and adventure was calling my name.  So I checked the map, wrote down the towns and beaches that I would need to pass through and grabbed the throttle spewing gravel behind me in a cloud.

Early in the ride I came upon this scene...  So I laid off the gas a little bit.  Luckily it had happened the night before so there weren't any gory details to stumble upon.

The scenery was instantly amazing.  When the road would get away from the coast, the land became agricultural and then it would wind back close to the ocean passing by beautiful beaches of all types.

My first interesting challenge came when I came upon this suspension bridge.  It was designed for pedestrians and bicycles but the river looked intimidating and it was early in the day.  So I went for it crossing the bridge.  When I was in the middle of it and it started swaying, I really started to wonder if it was going to hold the weight of me and my huge bike.  I could barely make it through without the sidecases rubbing on the cables.  It is hard to see in this picture but it is there...

When I came up to Playa Ostinal, a really famous surf beach, I stopped the bike and took a little walk out so see what was going on.  I met Nick, a surf photographer who was snapping some shots of the tubing barrels rolling in.

After Ostinal, the road started getting more demanding.  The river crossings came more frequently and there were no more suspension bridges.  It was time to get wet.  Riding through rivers with a fully loaded KTM is a real test of faith, balance and lots of holding my breath while I hoped to miss the big rocks lurking invisible beneath the surface of the water.

If you look close up river, you can see the road that I need to make it to.  And this is how I felt about that...

Luckily as I was preparing to cross.  (i.e. getting my guts in check)  A local guy came by with two passengers on his Suzuki 250 and crossed.  I watched closely to see the line that he took and was able to follow right after him.  Even though it was dry season the water was almost over my front tire when I was in the middle.  Needless to say I was soaked since I needed to keep some speed to keep 'Gigante' from getting bogged down or losing momentum.  Other than the slippery exit, it was pretty much a breeze though.

Another river...

There are lots of different roads breaking off in different directions and a huge part of this adventure is route finding.  Unfortunately when I missed my turn and came upon this sign, I failed to stop and ask directions...

I made the wrong call and headed in the direction of Altos de Mora.  Blackberry Highlands or something along those lines.  Well about ten minutes in the road started to get tough.  About twenty minutes in it became a two-track jeep road.  It was fun and I was having a blast riding the technical terrain.  Like a typical lost wanderer, I figured it would get better.  Thirty minutes in the jeep road turned into a singletrack trail and I knew I was in the wrong place.  The jungle was hot and steamy and there was no place to turn around my big pig of a motorcycle.  So I sweat and sweat and sweat and finally I got the beast heading back the other direction.  Adding to the intensity of this situation was the fact that there was no one out here.  And no one knew I was out here.  So being on my own the intensity of the situation was real and I was sweating profusely.  Literally and figuratively as well.  This is what it looked like when I finally decided I was going the wrong way.

On my way back out of the jungle, I was riding fast.  I knew I had a long way to go to get to Santa Teresa and it was getting late in the afternoon.  I had no idea how many more rivers lay ahead, and I'd heard there was a river that couldn't be crossed at high tide.  Of course I didn't know when high tide was but I knew that the later it got the worse off I'd be.  So I was hammering through the wet and slippery trails and when I launched through a creek this happened when I hit the mud on the other side.

Now, I really don't like crashing my moto.  I really like it less when the luggage gets ripped off by force. And I like it even less when there is no one around to help me pick it up.  Plus seeing as there were no recent tracks here, the chance of anyone coming by soon was slim to none.  So I set to removing my helmet, jacket and the remaining luggage and heaved and heaved.  I slipped several times in the mud before I finally managed to right the enormous monstrosity and then had to ride to dry level ground and lug all the luggage there and reload.  This is how I looked after that...

But once I got back on the right road.  And got cooled off again.  I was pleasantly surprised to come around a steep cliffy corner and get treated to this wonderful view.

I kept riding as fast as I could, hoping for town before sunset.

O.K. maybe just town before dark.  I rolled into the dusty one road town of Santa Teresa shortly after sunset.  I had no idea where to stay.  I stopped next to a little pizza joint called Pulpo, where an employee was hanging out having a smoke.  I asked him where I should stay and he pointed me up the hill to a little surf hostel called Wavetrotters.

A super friendly Italian guy named Julio was working at the front desk.  I asked him about a room and a place to park the moto.  He smiled and said he had just the right place for both.  But the smirk on his face made me wonder what he had in mind.  I was filthy and pretty soaked still from all the river crossings.  He pointed to a perfect area in the back yard for the moto and said, "I've got one bed left in a six-bed dorm room with five Argentine girls.  How's that sound?"  I laughed with him and said that'd be just fine with me provided there was a good shower and somewhere to put my stinky riding gear.  What luck!
Here's what my feet looked like when I peeled my wet boots and socks off...

The showers at Wavetrotters were the best showers I'd had since leaving the states.  Lots of water pressure and steaming hot.  Here's what I looked like after a hot shower, reminiscing about the sweet ride I'd just finished.

I was so thrilled with Santa Teresa's laid back surf vibe, I stayed for three days.  Julio and crew were super hostel hosts and the sun and the waves were spectacular.  The Argentine girls kept the dorm clean and smelling especially fresh.  I'm sure they wondered how they got stuck with the stinky American motorcycle guy.  The house dog at Wavetrotters was a 3 legged Doberman that had a fierce bark, which made me feel like my bike was very well protected.  I spent lots of time lounging in the hammocks and swimming in the surf.

I left my boots outside the first night in consideration of my roommates.  The next morning one of the surfers found one of my boots a block and a half away from the hostel in the middle of the road.  Fortunately he recognized it was mine and brought it back to the hostel.  Part of the velcro closure was chewed off, but fortunately the buckles were still intact and no real terrible damage was done.  I thought maybe the Doberman had got it but Julio assured me that he knew who the culprit was.  Later that afternoon he introduced me to Canela the boot stealer.

She sure was cute though.  So I just gave her a pet and decided to keep my boots on the balcony.

I felt like I needed to keep on moving so on the third day, I bid farewell to Julio and headed off for more rough road the back way to Cabuya and Montezuma.

The drive was technical and rocky but super super fun.  And the views were totally epic.

The beaches were really beautiful as well.  

But Montezuma was pretty crowded and I kept scratching out on finding a place to stay, so I just decided to ride the sweet section of road again and went back to Wavetrotters for another night.   Julio laughed when I pulled back up a couple hours after I'd left.  The next day I got up early continuing my circumnavigation of the Nicoya.  I rode out of Montezuma and decided against the ferry to the mainland opting for tons of high speed gravel road instead.  The weather was pretty steamy inland but the riding was fast and fun through lots of ranch land.  Saw some monkeys in a tree...

And soon found myself at the big bridge crossing to the mainland.

I fueled up and pushed on for Arenal, which is a big Volcano that often spews lava into the air.  On a clear night you can see it all the way down in the town of La Fortuna.  I came quite close to dying on the Panamerican Highway heading north towards the Arenal area.  I'd gotten so used to riding on the nearly empty roads on the Nicoya, that I found myself riding way too fast on the pavement.  As I came around a corner, I found several stopped trucks in my lane, no shoulder and cars and a box truck coming towards me in the other lane.  I tried braking with all the bike could manage.  My rear wheel started to skid.  And with less than 20 feet between me and the Land Rover ahead of me and still doing 45 mph, I made a split second decision, got on the yellow center line and throttled it between the oncoming cars and the stopped vehicles in my lane.  Truly, I couldn't even believe it when I shot out the other side unscathed.  My heart was beating about 200 bpm and my whole body was tingling from the adrenaline flowing through me.

I was happy to get off the highway and onto the winding roads heading towards Lago Arenal.  I hoped for a view of the volcano but unfortunately it was covered in clouds.  But the lake views made up for it.

The riding around the lake was nice and curvy and it cooled down significantly making it super enjoyable.  I was happy to find the Arenal Backpackers Hostel where I got a dorm bed for $11 and was able to unwind in the pool.

Not too shabby for $11 a night.