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.



4 comments:

Bones said...

Nice post Justin, I thought this one had a good flow to it...although I was disappointed over the complete lack of photos of your roommates.

zaguate tica said...

wow!! I´m so proud of you making progress on your blog, people is waiting for this!!! you are such a great writer! and your pic are inspiring beautiful... you didnt tell me about your crash when you were lost..i can imagine your face at that moment lol...
canela is the sweetiest dog, look at her face, can u imagine her walking with your stinky big boot? i will definetely look for her when i go there...
cant wait for more posts!!!
pura vida mae! tuanis

Beth said...

Pura Vida! I remember that saying when I visted Costa Rica almost 10 years ago and am glad that the culture still holds on to that to this day.
And to you Justin... Pura Vida! Enjoy this trip.

Beth said...

PS I have been to La Fortuna... loved it!