San Jose, Costa Rica.
Central America seems to have a hold on me. I expected to pass through these countries within 2-3 months total. It’s been 4 and I’m still in Northern Costa Rica! Lots of bike technicals have not helped. But at long last, the rear hub is up and running again! I decided to hop on a section of a famed mountain bike race route, known as La Ruta de los Conquistadores. The race typically starts on the Pacific Coast in Jacó and crosses over the Continental Divide to the Caribbean coastal town of Limón. I decided to hop on it just East of San Jose and follow it backwards to the Pacific Coast, heading South from there…
Rolling out of any capital city takes time. Traffic, stop lights, etc. Little did I know I was sharing the road with all those travelers making the pilgrimage to Hooters, the only international restaurant chain that seems to have the funding to be allowed placement on public street signs. Get me out of here!
I followed a steep paved route up to the summit of the nearby Volcan Irazú, which towers over San Jose at 11,500’. As the elevation increased, the traffic thinned to local vehicles traveling between roadside villages.
Crossing the thick cloud layer gave way to a fantastic view of the textured bed of clouds in all directions. Climbing above 10,000’ to the fading sunlight was pure brilliance. I crept my way up the steep snaking street with 360 degrees of evolving billowy bliss.
Luckily I passed a closed restaurant just as the dusk faded to darkness. The kindly let me sleep on a perfect mantle of soft green grass behind the house, overlooking the final rays of light to the West.
I awoke early to climb the final 1500’ to Irazú’s summit the next morning. The vast crater was brilliant in the morning light. Sitting on it’s edge with snack in hand, I reflected on how lucky I was in that moment to have a working bike and working body after so much time on the road.
I have no idea what these signs are trying to convey. Do you? Something about angels and love? So odd…
Hopping on the Ruta led me all the way back down to the base of Irazú to cross a valley to the next mountains, South of San Jose. The road started paved, then smooth dirt, and eventually became an unbearably steep climb through loose, big rocks. It was hot. Like so soaking wet with sweat hot that you can barely grip the handlebars. I was certainly out of shape from my time off the bike, plus I was nervous about breaking my hub again. Certain sections thus afforded themselves to hike-a-bike.
Time to find another campsite. I somehow found myself in a wealthy sub development to the South of San Jose with huge houses, fancy cars, and high fences. At first sight of a large open field I hoisted my steed over a rusty barbed wire fence to find a stealth spot for the night. Unfortunately my bike shorts felt a strong attraction to the barbs and quickly fell victim to their clutches. a 10” tear in the bum could work well in a bathroom emergency but was far from socially becoming. Add shorts resupply list, I guess!
Still, it was well worth the loss. Watching the brilliant colors of the setting sun over the country’s capital with Volcan Irazu behind it was lovely and peaceful. I particularly love it when given the chance to peer back at the previous nights campsite, a full day’s ride laying between us. I watched the city’s glow unfold as day faded to night, the mountainous silhouettes giving way to urban flickers.
Back on the Ruta. More beautiful mountains, super steep rocky roads, and a river of sweat.
After two full days on the Ruta, I came to a literal and figurative fork in the road. I could stay on the race route all the way to the coast, suffering in the torturous heat and ludicrous climbs. Or I could take a different dirt road, shaving a day off of the Ruta and getting me South a bit sooner… Somehow in that moment the path that beckoned was that of less resistance. I struggled with not following through with riding the full Ruta de los Conquistadores as I’d originally planned. But after all the bike technicals and the fact that I truly wasn’t enjoying it all that much, I wanted to feel more steady progress South towards the magic of the Andes. Costa Rica had been amazing but it was time to continue South with a bit more continuity.
The rough dirt road wiggled through low mountains, eventually dropping me into a palm tree plantation for 10 kilometers, heading for the coast…
Yep, the road was this straight the whole way. Luckily it was shaded at least!
I hit the highway with just enough hours of light to jam my way South to Uvita, a small coastal town I’d visited by bus while waiting my bike parts. I’d been in contact with a Warm Showers host named Peter who offered me a place to stay as long as I liked.
Peter was a German man who appeared to be in his mid 60’s. Hard to tell. He was among the first foreigners to settle along this section of Costa Rican coast, some 30+ years ago. Upon his arrival, the large paved highway I had used was nothing but a small wagon trail with occasional tractor passage. But he committed to the place. Bought a small plot of land up in the thick jungly foothills above the coast and started building his dream. Over the years, he created a full permaculture farm including a 2 level, wall-free house (just a roof and support beams for rain protection) surrounded by a moat of water with floating lilly pads, all with the idea of hosting guests as a wellness retreat. He eats only raw food and invites all his guests to do the same. He hosts young travelers to work his land for food and lodging and leads daily morning meditation rituals.
Most interesting was the peculiar combination of his rigid German background with his free and open philosophy. I could feel he struggled between these parts of himself in how he tried to both control his guests and set them free simultaneously. It was as if he was trying to control HOW he was setting them free. I loved his intention. I loved his deep commitment to his beliefs. But it was not the place for me. All part of the journey.
I continued South toward the famed Osa Peninsula, claimed by National Geographic at one point to be the most biologically diverse place on Earth. I’d heard rumors that it was both an amazing place but dangerous. Poisonous plants and insects and reptiles, dense jungle and extreme heat. I’d hoped to spend a few days hiking inside before progressing to visit a friend just to the South.
My route required a couple of river crossings, one of which was unbikeable. Where’s that damn packraft when I need it??
I climbed up and down the steep rocky road in the Northern Osa, hoping to find a good campsite with a bit of breeze. Manifestation. At the perfect hour for rest, I found just that. An abandoned shack on a hilltop overlooking the whole peninsula to the South with soft grass and palm trees.
Incidentally it’s for sale should anyone be interested…. I actually spent some time considering it. But then thought about what it would actually be like to live in a place that far away from the nearest town. Stunning beauty for sure. But no community. I’d be a hermit on a hill. Perhaps if I were rich and were looking for a fantastic vacation home, but… well… I’m not.
Sunrise over the Osa with fallen flowers from the night’s gusts.
The ride South eventually transitioned back to pavement, arriving at the Southern town of Puerto Jimenez. This was basecamp for all things Osa. Endless hostels and advertisements for guided tours into Corcovado National Park. I figured I’d just forego the guide and hike in on my own as I always do. Sadly there were guards at all the trailheads that turned me away, saying guides were required for entrance. Evidently someone had died in the park a few years back and they changed the rules accordingly. After brief consideration I determined that the extreme prices and touristly-ness of the whole thing was just too off-putting to stay.
I hopped on a high speed water taxi back to the mainland, across Bahia Dulce to a friend in the nearby surfing mecca of Pavones. We’d met up on the Nicoya Peninsula a month back as she was among the friends staying with Carole the kite-surfing mountain bike guide. Having had some great conversations during our time together up North, She invited me to share the house she was caretaking for a friend. I had no idea how amazing her offer turned out to be!
The owner was an ex-pro surfer and had built this open-air home in the hills above town. Beautiful stone work, a gentle breeze, electrifying sunset. Plus I had the coolest host I could imagine. I expected to spend 1-2 nights there, but ended up staying for 5. We had fantastic and connected conversation for hours every day, ate fabulous food together, swam in the tepid pacific waves. It was paradise.
I slept each night out on the open deck, staring at the setting sun and rising moon. Believe it or not, that is actually the setting moon during the middle of the night. It was a brilliant orange-yellow, deepening in color as it approached the horizon. Fantastic.
I felt nothing but welcome from her. To this day I still don’t exactly know why I left when I did. Perhaps it was the unbearable draw to finally cross into South America. Perhaps it was the internal itch to just get back to the motion of bike touring. Perhaps it was not wanting to overstay my welcome.
Then there was the question about unspoken energy. I felt a growing struggle between seeing her as a kindred sibling spirit and considering more intimate levels of connection. But something held me back. It made no sense. She was highly intelligent, curious, open-minded, beautiful, and it was the perfect situation to explore a romantic connection. But an inexplicable tightness in my chest prevented me from even talking about it with her. Perhaps the chemistry just wasn’t there. Either way, I feel pretty strongly that ambivalence about whether to proceed with someone romantically should be treated as something important, certainly not to be ignored. Causing yet another woman pain due to my own ambivalence is the last thing I want. It’d be odd to start a conversation with someone about feeling ambivalent about the romantic connection, no? Like kind of offensive? But somehow it feels strange in retrospect that I didn’t just ask about it since it was on my mind.
I ended up sharing all this with her recently before posting it, which led to some important communications. It was the right thing to do. Nothing to lose and everything to gain being vulnerable in direct communication with honor and respect.
I did choose to leave. In part, I believe the anxiety of not understanding my feelings at the time overcame me and I needed to escape. Sigh. That’s hard to acknowledge. Regardless, I feel deeply grateful for my time with her. She is a fantastic listener, a deep and whimsical thinker, and her excitement for life is intoxicating. I truly hope our paths cross again and our friendship continues to grow.
Where I Rode:
Day 1: San Jose –> Cartago –> Volcan Irazu
Day 2: Summit Volcan Irazu –> Cartago –> Quebradilla –> Copalchi
Day 3: Copalchi –> Pacaya –> San Ignacio –> Sabanillas –> Quepos
Day 4: Quepos –> La Uvita
Day 5: La Uvita –> Palmar Norte –> Sierpe –> Somewhere on the Osa
Day 6: Campsite –> Rincon –> Puerto Jimenez –> Golfito –> Zancudo –> Pavones