Crossing the boarder into Costa Rica was the longest boarder crossing ever, a whole 45 minutes! Overland boarder crossings have been a breeze so far, whether it’s our heavy bikes, winning smiles or more likely just that the staff have always been great we are crossing our fingers that things stay as simple as we continue forward.
That day we were headed to a very popular ioverlander campsite which was only 2.5km across the boarder, well it was until Herbie discovered he’s made a booboo on the navigation and it was actually 12.5km, however being nice and sunny plus the addition of howler monkeys and we didn’t mind one bit. We arrived at Finca Castilla which is run be a couple of Swiss expats, a gorgeous place full of monkeys, a great dane, scorpions, crocodiles and swimming holes for only $5. Winner! We ended up staying two nights so we could go crocodile hunting in the dingy, swim in the river, eat homemade swiss bread* and have lots of great dane cuddles.
The next day we had spotted another beaut on ioverlander which would take us 12.5km inland off the PanAm, we’re a bit rubbish at deviating off route but the reviews were all amazing. However all the reviews were from actual overlanders (the ones with camper vans) and on closer inspection the reviews were amazing because it’s on top of a mountain with pretty much vertical roads leading up to it. We were still with Michelle who assured us she was a pro at hitchhiking and if the gradient proved too much she’d flag us down a lift to haul our asses to the top. Normally I’m very anti ‘cheating’ and was initially dubious but after one look at the profile decided to agree with Michelle, we were backtracking the next day anyway so why not. We made it to the turnoff and started doing our best damsel in distress impression, the minutes ticked on by and we were having absolutely no luck at all. Eventually we flagged down the police who told us it was illegal to carry people in the back of your pick up. Well this was different, throughout the whole of central america it’s common to see half a village crammed into the back of a flatbed. This was going to be harder than we thought…..
After about an hour Herbie decided we’d have more luck being two damsels in distress rather than three so armed with his mega quads he took off up the mountain alone. As soon as Herbie stopped cramping our style we managed to flag down a minibus who agreed to take us part of the way to the next village. Expecting to fold some seats down and throw our bikes in the back I was slightly disappointed to be handed a ladder and found myself crawling around on top of the bus trying to tie our bikes down while two blokes watched with great amusement. Luckily during my decade of rowing I prided myself at being a bit of a trailer monkey and was often found on top of the trailer tying boats down on our way to and from regattas. Ha, in your face laughing men!
We were bundled out at the next village where we waited and waited and waited. We managed to flag down three pickups, all of whom were drunk and wanted a load of cash to take us up the mountain. Dad, you’ll be grateful to know we declined all offers from drunk drivers. For most of the time we were in the town trying to hitch lift, a local cyclist was trying to convince us that where we were going was only 3km up the road and would take no more than 15minutes by bike. We were dubious as our map still said 7.5km to go, all of it towards the moon. To save the details after nearly two hours the cyclist finally offers to take us up in his truck, in we hop relieved as its starting to get dark plus Herbie is probably worrying his ass off that we’d been abducted or something. Up we drive, up and up and up (cyclist mutters something about thinking we were going somewhere different…), more up, longer than 15 minutes, vertical mountains and 2nd gear. Feeling a bit like an astronaut heading towards space, boy was I glad we didn’t attempt to cycle! We made it to the top, Herbie had only made it 20 minutes before we did -12.5k had taken him over two hours!
On the plus side, it was kinda jaw droppingly beautiful.
Now 12.5km off route and remembering some advice from our friends Ryan & Bex (who also just happened to cycle UK – NZ back in 2013) we decided to take the road less travelled and stay in the mountains. The PanAm down this stretch of Costa Rica is notoriously bad for cyclists and we weren’t looking to find out for ourselves, deviating from the route and headed East was the plan for the day.
We were warned early on that the roads weren’t good, but we’re cycle tourers, adventurers, pioneers of the road less travelled, we all had bullet proof schwalbe marathon tour PLUS tyres. And we were naive as hell.
We started going up, it was horribly steep but the tarmac was good and we’d just eaten the obligatory kilogram of porridge which one must consume if you are travelling with Michelle. 2km, whoop it’s bloody beautiful up here and there are NO cars! Then gravel.
I am a complete wuss, I HATE cycling on gravel, especially the kind where you’re going so slow uphill you’re wrestling to stay upright and not entirely sure which bolder your front wheel might hit next. There was a lot of walking. It was here where I was eternally grateful to have Michelle with us, we were both massively struggling but Herbie, obviously, was cycling on some invisible tarmac and having no trouble whatsoever with the surface or gradient. He was constantly way ahead of us and had I been by myself I would have felt so disheartened, useless, pathetic. Who was I kidding trying to be an intrepid traveller anyway, I clearly suck at cycling and should just go home and stick to something less taxing, like knitting. Clearly I did think all of those things, and had I been by myself there would have been tears. However my angel Michelle was with me too, Michelle is the younger version of Dervla Murphy and has been doing this for 18 years and is a cycle touring queen. She was also having a shit time, so it’s not just me. This is actually just really frikin hard and don’t compare yourself to Herbie because he is not a real human. Instead of tears we pulled up our big girl pants, dragged our bikes uphill, cycled when we could, hauled our bikes through rivers and finally made it through 50km of unpaved mountain roads over 10hrs.
We were on our last few km into town when the heavens opened, it was already dark and now we were in a tropical downpour. Disaster happened coming into town, Herb and I stopped in the centre only to find Michelle was missing, she was behind me only minutes before but must have been enjoying the dark and rain so much she missed the turn off. Herb quickly sped off to try and find her while I headed up to the hostel we had planned on staying at. Of course it was up another hill, the tarmac quickly ceased to exist and I found myself once again hauling and not riding up a gravel track. It was raining so hard I was ankle deep in the water flowing down the mountain, my lights are run by dynamo and since I was going too slowly to generate power I was in complete darkness, tired, cold, hungry and not quick sure whether to laugh or cry. No lying, I really wanted to cry, maybe a tear did escape but it was all mixed in with rain and dirt anyway. Michelle was missing, I couldn’t find the hostel, Herb was out looking for her, none of us had phone signal, it was dark, cold, raining and nobody knew where we were.
No, big girl pants.
Michelle will realise she’s gone the wrong way and turn round. There IS a hostel here somewhere. Everywhere had wifi, as long as we independently find civilisation (there is a town down the hill you donut) we can contact each other again. The hostel will have a hot shower. In 30 minutes we’ll have found each other and will be laughing at this over a beer.
That’s exactly what happened.
The rest of Costa Rica seems to pass by in a much less stressful blur. We found roads with more tarmac, the caribbean coast, a lot of backpackers and American Express is accepted everywhere!
*In our experience central American bread is awful, processed, white and comes in a packet labelled Bimbo.