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.
Motorcycle & Gear
2010 Honda XR250 Tornados
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.
The Road to the Coast
Up with the sun, we enjoy a breakfast of eggs, rice, beans, and plantains while talking with our host and his son. German (pronounced “Herman”) asks about our plans. We lay out our route to the rainforest and Pacific coast via the less-traveled backroads, and after a brief silence, German’s son asks in his best English (which is much better than my best Spanish), “Don’t you feel at danger?” We’re not sure if he means traveling via motorbike, or traveling in remote areas, or just in general. I quickly pipe up with my best Austin Powers: “Danger is our middle name!”
With our bikes loaded, we say our goodbyes and begin tracing a route around Lake Arenal toward our destination for today: Sámara, a small beach community. Engulfed in effervescent foliage, I half expect to see one of the characters from the film Avatar emerge from the cool, moist air. Instead we come upon a lone white-nosed coati, a relative of the raccoon, standing at the edge of the roadway as if on the lookout for a passerby. Rounding the lake, we stop in Tilarán to refuel and grab a bite to eat.
Heading south out of town we leave the pavement behind. In Costa Rica it’s said that “secondary roads are like rivers and can change overnight.” Keeping this in mind, we begin the gradual climb into lush, fog-shrouded mountains on our way to the Monteverde Cloud Forest.