Over 2 weeks spent basking in the sunny comforts of San Juan del Sur, it was time to keep moving. Not only because I longed for the road, but also to do the unthinkable: get on an airplane. Many months ago, I’d made a loose plan with my Sister and Brother-in-law to meet up along the road this Fall. Due to work and time constraints they needed to pick a destination before I could easily commit to arriving there in time to meet them. So we rolled the dice: Let’s try for Medellin, Colombia in early December! Well…. a lot of life occurred since August when that plan was set. Crazy routes, visiting friends, broken bike frame, and a powerful romance. Needless to say, Southern Nicaragua is a bit too far from Colombia to complete the journey by bike, so we decided I would leave the bike in Northern Costa Rica and fly to meet them for 10 days. It would work out perfectly as I’d recently discovered some cracks in the rims of both wheels, and would need to have replacements sent from the US to rebuild the wheels. Perfect. Send them to Liberia and be in Colombia while they’re in transit. Build them the second I get back. Hit the road immediately!
My flight would be in 4 days, leaving me 3 full riding days to get to Liberia. Had I taken the direct route from San Juan I could have easily done it in a day. But that’s just not my style…
I first found a dirt route that paralleled the Panamerican highway all the way to the Costa Rican border. This quiet, fast and wonderfully shaded road was a gentle return to having the bike bike fully loaded after such a long respite. I was also able to avoid that crazy upwind wind farm on the highway. Bonus.
7th international border by bike. For the second time in a week. I like the feeling of riding through borders. Very excited to do more of it soon…
Detour #2 — Bahia Salinas. Just after crossing the border I found another dirt route online that would hug the coastline, skipping the highway for a good 50km. Credit to Cass Lucas by way of Nick Gault for finding this route and testing it out.
Dropping down to Salinas Bay from the last town of La Cruz.
Along this rocky dirt road, I arrived to a long dusty section in the late afternoon. It was time to start considering a campground for the night, as the next day’s itinerary was pretty auspicious. Moments later, I encountered this sign. Bike house?? Sounds interesting. I followed the signage to a small house on a back road off of the dirt road. Nobody was home. Oh well, at least I tried. Riding away I was passed by a truck going the opposite direction. It had the same logo on it. Perfect! I chased the truck right back to the house and introduced myself. Carole Beaupret, owner and operator of The Bike House (in the driver’s seat), immediately invited me in for water and a place to camp within the same breath. Amazing.
She was hosting some good friends from various places — Jane, Gary, and Cathy (Left to right). They kindly fed me nummy food and offered my first taste of Costa Rican beer. Turns out Carole runs a small bed and breakfast here combined with mountain bike and kite-boarding tours. All her friends were helping her with construction and planning to develop her business. Salinas Bay is a kite-boarding mecca, drawing people from around the world with it’s fantastic and consistently strong winds. She’s building new single track trails to offer bike tours as well. Of course, I pulled the bags off the bike for a sunset ride of the single track they had built so far! Great potential for more trails, I hope she keeps it going!
I felt blessed to come across the group. They were all so incredibly nice, funny, kind, and insightful. Carole’s open hospitality is second to none.
Hard to ride away from this great group so quickly, but my flight South was beckoning. I hit the road early as I had plans to ride a dirt route around the back side of a big Volcano in Costa Rica’s Northern range, El Rincon de La Vieja.
One last look at the beautiful Salinas Bay before cutting inland.
Short section of highway riding on the Pan-American. So very glad this is a rare occurrence for me, as I was constantly on edge managing the barrage of tractor trailers roaring down the narrow highway. What little shoulder did exist was regularly overgrown by dense vegetation. At least there were some awesome street signs to keep me laughing!
Stop-off for a round of hamburgers at a local “soda”. Funny how each area has it’s own name for tiny eateries. Mexico had “comedores”, but in Costa Rica they’re called sodas. I saw a long rack of hanging award medals on the wall. Upon asking the small and portly cook about them, he shared that they were all his. He’s a marathon runner. He’s run in 143 marathons over his life and still does a few a year for fun. People are amazing.
And so began a long, long, long, windy, windy, wiiiiiiindy climb up the North slope of Rincon de la Vieja. As I have found in various areas to the North, it’s never a good sign to come upon a large gathering of windmills. They are located there for a reason and somehow they’re all pointed right in the direction I’m headed (meaning I’d be riding upwind for a while). This was no exception. Already significantly “winded” by the long climb after my hiatus from touring in Nicaragua, the winds were not helping. Ride for a bit, stop, catch breath, get blown off balance by powerful gusts, continue.
Anyone wanna buy some hot springs with me??
The entrance is just a windy trail through the jungle, but I’m sure worth the work to build it up… Let’s do it! I followed the trail in for a little while but the jungle had devoured it with increasing voracity the further in I “rode”. Eventually I gave up and got back on the main road.
A few huffs/puffs later led to a fun rocky two track through some dense jungle on the backside of the volcano, linking various small mountain hamlets.
No vehicles. No people. Just a lone road and dense jungle for a while. Yes!
The windy road eventually crossed a few rivers. With recent rain the water levels were a bit high so I elected to take this fancy new bridge. Many loose planks. Rotting wood. The whole thing listed slightly to the right. Didn’t show a whole lot of signs of regular travel. I didn’t know whether to ride really fast or really slow, so just gently coasted over it and hoped for the best. Surprisingly solid for how rickety looking it was.
After a long day of riding uphill and upwind, I arrived at the little town of Colonia Blanca, at the end of which was a small hospedaje with cabins for rent. Amazing: $10 got me my own cabin with bathroom and enough beds for a gaggle of bikers! The owner later shared that she raised cattle and made her own cheese. Alongside my heaping plate of recovery food, she included an enormous loaf of fresh cheese from that very day. Delicious!
Bombing down the well-packed white sand roads leading down the Southern slope of the Rincon de la Vieja, I was moments later in the busy urban streets of Liberia.
The town square was busy with vendors, bmx bike riders doing tricks in front of the church, families eating on the benches, and a large public Zumba class being taught via a huge crackly loudspeaker. Hilarious contrast to the silence I’d ridden through moments before. I headed straight to the bike shop, gathered my stuff for Colombia and left the rest, hoping to have some shiny new rims at the ready upon my return.
There was some sort of Pre-Christmas festival happening that night, with marching bands, floats, singing, and dancing. Great timing! It’s funny, however, to be alone and arriving to a scene like this. Dense crowds lining the city streets along the parade route. Tailgate parties. Families and friends drinking and laughing. And me. A lone, foreign traveller, watching it all. Situations like this magnify my sensation of awkwardness and loneliness without the help of others with which to share them. I always feel lonelier in cities than in nature. Perhaps it’s the contrast — seeing others being happy together highlights my being alone in that moment. The more I feel like an alien, on the outside of life and society, the harder it is to overcome it and just make friendly contacts with people. Eventually I retired to my hostel room with the excuse of needing an early bus to the airport the next morning. It’s funny though, how after all this time of traveling alone, I’m not much better at navigating situations like this gracefully. Is it just accepting this aspect of my introversion and letting go of wishing it were different? Or is there a technique, an approach, or some way of more easily “breaking in” to these environments. I truly want to feel more a part of situations like this. That’s the rub. Alas, a work in progress. Still.