Costa Rica...Part 1
With Costa Rica's (CR) reputation for being the most "North American" like country of all Latin America, I was off from Nicaragua with high hopes!
Not only is CR safe but it's also very friendly.
It's been a democracy since the 19 century and is now one of the most peaceful nations in the world. In fact the armed forces were abolished after the 1948 civil war, and CR has since avoided the despotic dictatorships, military coups, terrorism, and internal strife that has affected the other countries of Central America.
CR is also famous for it's enlightened approach to conservation and the enviornment, with over 25% of the country protected in one form or another.
That however changed as soon as I hit the border.
First of all the clerk said I had to wait because his computer was down...10 minutes, he said.....well 2 hours later after begging and pleading, he simply stuck a form in his typewriter, typed a few lines, stamped it ...and said good bye. I could have killed him. My plan was to hit the capital, San Jose, before dark, and losing 2 hours was going to make this run difficult.
At least the roads were great, as they were with Mexico and the rest of Central America....in fact in all the 18,000 kms I had put on my bike so far, I encountered a 10 km stretch of road in Nicaragua, and another soon to be found in CR, that was even close to the dismal roads we have in Quebec....sad, but true!!
After an hour or so as I gained a few thousand feet of altitude, it began to rain lightly as it typically did under these conditions since leaving Guatemala. I pulled into a small "soda", as little road side restos are called in CR, for some nice dark CR coffee. The owner said that CR is comprised of about 20 micro climates, and that while it was raining there, it could easily be sunny and hot 10 kms down the road. So after my coffee, I left and sure enough.......!
After another 2 hours of great riding on 2 lane CA1 (Pan American Highway) the traffic flow came to an abrupt stop. After waiting 10 minutes, I decided to pull into the oncoming lane and get by all this traffic, which after about 10 kms seemed to be all "semis" (18 wheelers) and other big trucks. I continued another 15 minutes, passing all this stopped wall of traffic until....I was face to face with an oncoming police car. His lights and siren immediatly came on and he stopped me. But all he did was inform me that this was a major "demonstration" by all the truckers of CR because of the governments policy on safety inspections. Their tactic was to totally shut down the CA1 about 20 kms farther down the road at San Ramon. He then took off saying I should not be using that lane and I should wait until the demonstration would be over...which could be hours !!
Once he disappeared behind me, I continued riding the oncoming lane of traffic...I wanted to be in San Jose before dark.
Finally arriving at San Ramon I spotted a huge demonstration of truckers - around a 1,000 of them in the highway shouting and waiving banners, with the road completely blocked by burning tires, and a barrier of cut down trees.
So there I was in the middle of the riot amongst the truckers, facing off with the police on the other side.
Even though there is a basic rule that foreigners should NOT under any circumstances get involved in any political demonstrations, I decided to use my sales skills to "sell" these guys on the idea that their cause would be better served if they could show the public that they had no fight with tourists, and especially since it was now raining again, they could show they had a heart, and let me past the barrier.
I wound my way through the crowd until I reached one of the leaders at the front who spoke some english. I pleaded my case and he bought the idea. He then yelled through his megaphone, and within minutes the crowd began to cheer me on, and dismantle the barrier to let me through.
Well this worked better than I thought, until at the other side, I was promptly arrested by the police for taking part in a demonstration as a foreigner. While in handcuffs I explained I had NO sympathies with either side, and that all I wanted to do was to get to San Jose before dark. Also the truckers who now saw their "new friend" beign arrested, began to become quite agitated and with the police being quite outnumbered, they decided to make their own "PR" show, and let me go.
Now it was a race against the sun which I lost. I rode into the outskirts of SJ in the dark. And like when I entered Managua, it was pretty scarry since I had no idea where to go in this city of almost 1,000,000 people.
Call it a sixth sense or what, but with a turn here and another there I found my self at a neat hostel in the middle of town. It was a converted mansion and even had a garage where they let me park my bike.
While touring San Jose the next day, I saw a poster showing a trip to the Carribeen side of the country to the Park National Tortuguero where in this highly protected area you can go to the beach at night with certified guides and see the leatherback turtles emerge from the ocean at night and lay their eggs.
Having seen this phenomen many times on TV, I jumped at the chance to see this first hand and promptly set up this 2 day adventure with a local outfitter.
I was told to be ready to be picked up from the hostel at 0530 in the morning. It was a long ride to Tortuguero by mini buss, then 4x4, and the final 90 minutes by speed boat.
After making arrangements with the hostel to leave my bike in the garage, I was off to T, a small town of 600 people and 10 hotels. The town is set up on a series of natural canals that parallel the ocean, ond here we see both howler and spyder monkeys, toucans, parrots, iguanas, alligators and many other jungle animals.
After checking in to the hotel and an early supper, I napped untill "Jungle Tom", the outfitter, woke me at 2130 to say it was time to head to the beach.
Well, what an experience it was!
To to watch 400 lb., 60 - 200 year old leatherback turtles measuring 4 feet by 3 feet come out of the ocean at midnight, dig a hole 6 feet deep and lay approx 125 baseball sized eggs, then cover them up and dissapear into the ocean for another 3 years...was amazing...WOW!
The next morning while touring the many canals we came across this encampment with a huge Canadian flag. It was a non profit organization out of Toronto doing research on the turtles. After a tour of the facility, it was a long ride back to the Hostel.
The next morning it was off to the coffee plantation, Finca Rivera, 100 kms south of San Jose, high up in the mountains. This plantation is owned by the family of the sister in law, Ginnette, of my good friends from Boston, Laurie and Glen.
I stayed in Ginnette's home and met her parents, sister and four brothers who run the plantation. The next day it was off to the fields with one of the brothers, and after a 1 hour hike up the hill side it was 5 hours of back breaking work with macheties, clearing the undergrowth from around the coffee plants.
After a day of rest I decided that this would be the most southern point of my adventure. Being already weeks longer than I had planned, there was simply no time for Panama....which combined with South America, will be part of my next adventure.
After saying goodby to Ginette's family it was off to Playa Tamarindo, on the Nicoya Peninsula on the north Pacific coast of CR.
......to be continued.....
Posted by Ness at August 27, 2004 10:16 PM GMT