Costa Rica Where Central America got Awesome
One Year and one Week since Alaska. One year and one week on the road in North America. Landing in Alaska on the Summer Solstice last year I was a little wrong in my assumption of what lay ahead. I could have predicted the journey not going to plan, but I wouldn’t have thought that I’d have ended up spending quite this long getting down to here.
Writing this I’m sat on a beach in Puerto Viejo. A beautiful village just north of the border in southern Costa Rica. Looking out across the Caribbean Sea. Somewhere out there is Jamaica, somewhere beyond the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic drift flowing all the way back home. I’m 404mi from Panama City. Originally the end point for the North American continent with the plan to head further south from there.
A few weeks ago the plan took a bit of a U-turn with the decision to head back north for a lap of the continent of sorts. Though not without the desire to have continued south, it’s just being postponed for a short while. I’m keen as ever to keep on heading south but for the economy of repairing my bike and for the desire to visit my father who’s been a little unwell recently I made the decision to head back north. I’ve been so busy trying to make plans recently that the notion of writing a blog, or even keeping my journal, had gone out the window of late. But how could I not write anything about Costa Rica?! Costa Rica is where Central America got awesome!
Taking a well-earned rest in town before crossing into Panama it was time for a break. Six days on the road since Grenada in Nicaragua, five of which across northern Costa Rica from the Pacific coast. Probably a good part of enjoying Costa Rica so much has probably been camping again. Nights under canvas make all the difference, three out of five is all the better and some pretty spectacular spots all the same, like the secluded undeveloped hilltop housing plots near Lake Arenal with neat hedges, incredible mountain views and… Running water! There’s not a lot more that you need other than water to make a good camp spot into a great one. So much for staying on asphalt too. With a bike feeling a little worse for wear the plan was for some nice smooth tarmac. Sometimes the tarmac just runs out!
With some sterling advice from Tim who I’d met leaving the USA some months ago I was crossing the country via Lake Arenal. Actually the Lake is more a reservoir with a dam across an eastern valley. But Reservoir doesnt really cut it on the glamour front so lake it is. Given the stunning setting I think naming it a lake is justified too. Rolling along the somewhat hilly northern shore with a slightly annoying amount of climbing considering I was paralleling the shore of an inherently flat area to my right, I was riding beneath trees occupied by howler monkeys (though they might not have been howler monkeys they were howling), sloths and other unquestionably tropical fauna.
Lake Arenal was a sluggish day, the previous day started off well but then I started to drain. I was flagging by lunchtime and as I rolled down to the lake for a final time before departing in the direction of the Caribbean the gently rolling terrain towards the coast was a welcome change. Though I’d been planning to push on a little with the reward being time enough for a day or 2 off at the coast I rolled into the town of La Fortuna at about 4. Stopping for a snack in a convenient bus shelter I’d been sat, aware of an approaching downpour, for all of 5 minutes when the heavens opened as my mother would say, it was raining cats and dogs as my father would say. In short it p*ss*d it down for about 2 hours! I debated whether this was the heaviest rain I’d seen. Heaviest for this trip to Central America that was for sure. As the bus stop started to flood out we jumped up and sat on the seat backs to gain a little more shelter. After a couple of hours of failing to find the enthusiasm to roll on it was getting dark. Still raining, though less hard than before and with the failing light there was a convenient hostel in town maybe a 5 minute ride away. After the last 2 nights under canvas it was an easy decision.
Thankfully the next 2 days were easier rolling, pushing 90mi each I made it to the coast and the village of Puerto Viejo with ease. Helped without a doubt by the 20mi descent out of La Fortuna kicking the following day after the storm off to a fine start.
In truth the rain of the previous day was no surprise. I’d been contending with frequent downpours for weeks through Central America. It is the rainy season after all. What you get used to is spotting a downpour approaching and if possible finding shelter. The showers pass in a few minutes normally. Failing that you get wet. And then you dry out. The rain is often a welcomed break from the heat. And the overcast skies that come with it a similarly welcome break from the sun. The rain is warm, and if you’re soaked the worst that tends to come of it is having to adopt a wet kit/dry kit routine in the evenings which aside from a slightly unpleasant start pulling on wet biking gear is no big problem. Back in Mexico a late afternoon downpour after I’d found a secluded camp spot in a disused road maintenance yard actually, after a long hot day, made an ideal opportunity for a natural shower before bed!
Sat in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica had come to an end, just a few short miles to the Panamanian border, onward to country number 29 and to the finale of North America…