February 05, 2005

Costa Rica: Into Costa Rica

I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll see if I can still have the energy to stand up after cycling up to the base of a Volcano at 1400m. We started our morning nice and early thanking the firefighters, of Conception in Panama, for letting us camp out in their brigade. Our ascent to the town of Hato de Volcan was our first real climb of the new year. Midway up our ascent, at the Mirador, a lookout, Gwendal and Armel sat down to a well deserved coffee and oatmeal cookies. Twenty minutes later, I finally reached the Mirador where I burst out in tears of shear pain and exhaust. The steady climb had taken us almost three hours and we were only half way up.

I began to have doubts of my ability to continue cycling on my own two wheels. But, with a little consoling and switching of the configuration of our panniers and trailor, I sucked it up and we were able to reach the town of Hato de Volcan for lunch. After climbing 1400m, we thought we were in for a easy day to the border town of Rio Sereno considering it was at river crossing. Touché said the topographic gods, we ended up climbing and descending 800m before reaching Rio Sereno. We were however rewarded with an amazing view of the Panamanian coffee region.

A bumpy unpaved road and a policeman sending us up a hill the height of the Eiffel tower for an 8 km detour the wrong way!!!! Unbeknownst to us the two incidents were only a prelude to what was to come in Costa Rica.

Luckily, our first day in Costa Rica was a Sunday, a day when most trucks stay off the road and if there was a soccer game, the roads would have been silent. According to our National Geographic map of Costa Rica, this unique country sits at the crux of two continents effectively creating a biodiversity that it is most famously known for. A country that has had little political turmoil, compared to its neighbours Panama and Nicaragua, Costa Rica enjoys a very developed tourism industry. People from around the world come to explore its twelve ecological zones, taking in treetop tours in the rainforest, river rafting down one its numerous rivers or surfing its Caribean or Pacific Coast.


We cycled along the coast, searching for a spot to rest and maybe surf. As we stopped in Dominical for supplies, I felt like we had just road into page 453 of some travel guide book. The beach itself looked like it needed some TLC and the town was overun by backpackers. So, we moved on to a quieter beach along a 40km stretch of gravel road. There we found Matopalo beach our first free public camping area that had everything a cyclist needs: fresh water and waves to put you to sleep. Unfortunately, it also had everything we didn't need: noceums, ants and more unidentified biting insects. In the middle of the night we were surprised by a flash rain and were forced to get up in the rain and set us a makeshift tarp city.

For us, the development of Costa Rica is a bit of a shock. With development comes its own set of social problems. Over the years foreigners have bought up much the land not designated as parkland, reserve or protected area (27%). Few Costa Ricans live on the coast. For that reason, a new generation of Costa Ricans have grown accustomed to the onslaught of tourism and some have decided that working is just not.

After two days of insects we were ready for a rest from them and took refuge in a small hotel in the town of Parrita. There in the middle of the night, a few items we left drying outside (not one metre away from Armel's bed in the gated parkade) were stolen. Gone were my beloved bike gloves, Gwendal's Canadian flag bike socks, along with a toolkit attached to Gwendal's bike. We were left dumbfounded and descouraged. It was also small reminder that our belongings would have to stay a little closer to us, even if it is only our dirty laundry.

To my liking, Costa Rica has been for the most part very flat. Seven days has brought to within 75km of the Nicaraguan border. For the past two days we've been cycling on the Inter-American Highyway with a very strong side wind that has more than once blown my bike and me right of the road. To our dismay, this highway is innondated with 18 wheelers with one lane, no shoulder and ashphalt that also needs some TLC. But as always, rough roads never fail to introduce us to extremely friendly people. On our lunch break in Bagaces, we were treated to tortillas and marinated beef, a refreshing local drink called Chan, coffee cakes and chips by a local agronomist named Gabriel. Here in the region of Santa Rosa marks the southern reaches of the Aztec Empires tax collection and where in 1856 US military adventurer William Walker from Tennesse invaded Costa Rica with his army of newly aquired Nicaraguan slaves.

Today's goal is to reach the Nicaraguan border where we will be making our wayt to Lago Nicarugua, home to the world's only fresh water sharks.

Posted by tania at 06:45 PM | Comments (0)