Costa Rica: Call of the Wild

Text: Brian Shaney • Photography: Brian Shaney, Kris Shaney

Arriving in Costa Rica a day 
early, Kris and I decide to take a walking tour of San José, the 
small country’s bustling capital. 

A first, chance encounter with the legendary Pan-American Highway stops us in our tracks. Standing curbside at the busy roadway with no crosswalks or signals, navigating by foot doesn’t seem wise or possible. Before turning back, we notice a small group of pedestrians gathering nearby. It doesn’t take long to determine that they are crossing. We quickly make our way to them and join the group. After a few false starts, in short order we are all standing on the opposite side. This first lesson in navigating around this new and unfamiliar land will come in handy in the days to come.

Up, up, and Away

Under bright January sunny skies, Kris and I jump into early morning traffic. With temperatures already in the 80s, we head north out of the city and I quickly find myself questioning our choice in motorbikes. The small XR250 Honda Tornados seemed perfect for our planned “minimalist” tour of the country, but screaming up the Pan-American Highway amidst 18-wheelers, throttle wide open, I am feeling a bit like a fly on a horse’s rear side waiting to get swatted away. Thankfully before too long we are off the large thoroughfare and leave the traffic behind. Relaxing my death grip, I breathe easier as we move into the countryside. I imagine Kris must be feeling the same sense of relief. 

Passing through a few small villages, we are greeted with smiles and waves. Outside larger cities road signs are non-existent, and common practice is to use landmarks (natural and man-made) to find your way. Today’s navigational aids include: a small church, three large crosses, and a massive painted rock. After a few missteps, we arrive at our first stop of the day for lunch at a roadside “soda.” Not to be confused with “soda pop,” sodas are small, family-run diners serving home-cooked meals. 

As we enter, the patrons inside (all of whom appear to be native Costa Ricans, also known as “ticos”) give us a look as if to say, “Are you lost?” Using our best “we know what we are doing here” posturing, we take a seat at a small wooden table near the door before placing our order for dos casados y pollo. Casado, the country’s ubiquitous lunch special, generally consists of rice, beans, salad, and plantains. A choice of meat—chicken (pollo), beef (carne asada), or pork (cerdo asado)—is optional. Our first true Costa Rican meal is a winner and soon we are back in the saddle traveling twisty mountain roads to the small city of La Fortuna, arriving just before nightfall. 

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the July/August 2017 back issue.