It turns out noises in the night do wake me up, especially when it sounds like it’s someone on top of the roof removing things and then passing them down. A strange night’s sleep.
I was up pretty early with the plan of heading to the Nicoya peninsula. It’s a very pretty part of Costa Rica which sticks into the Pacific and would give me a chance to avoid being on the Interamericana. The alternative way of avoiding it was to head north towards a volcano and large lake, but I was feeling lazy and fancied the flat ride instead of the large climbing that the volcano would have involved.
Heading out of town I saw a couple more cyclists on their fancy bikes and took it upon myself to sit behind them and draft, which was fairly easy on the flat, but I had to push on any slight hill. They seemed confused that I was riding with them, but it was a nice draft for the best part of twenty minutes.
Although the road I was on wasn’t bad, when my GPS showed an alternative that was a little longer I decided to take it and found myself rolling through a little town and thinking it was all lovely, until it turned to dirt road and then about a kilometre later I went through a gate with a private property sign. I got slightly worried that I’d end up having to double back, but continued on, and was rewarded with my persistence with a lovely ride through the property of a sugar mill. I passed through a security gate, where the man assured me that I’d be fine, although I’d have to go over the bridge rather than along a road through the river because of the rainy season.
As I was down a small turn-off, admiring the entrance to the town of Filadelfia, which claimed to be an archeological town, I saw another touring cyclist going by. I shouted hola, but she had her earbuds in and couldn’t hear so I jumped on my bike and chased after her. She, Holly, was on her way back home to Alaska and travelling by herself. As it was cloudy, we stood by the side of the road and chatted for a good while, until the sun came out and so went to a nearby soda, a cheap eatery, where we spent another fair amount of time exchanging information and stories about the route. Most people head north to south, but she had been working for over a year in Antarctica and is from Alaska so she had gone with the ride-home option. She let me know so much about the route ahead, and other resources, including a Google group for people riding the PanAm which should be an invaluable resource, for example in helping me work out the best way to go to avoid the October-to-April rainy season in the Andes.
Saying my goodbyes I pushed on following the first useful piece of information, there was a Burger King in Nicoya. I hadn’t been sure on my goal for the day, but that cleared it up. Also, it’s a decent sized town and with fire fighters. Having had a poor experience with the police the night before I was interested to try my luck elsewhere. I hung out in Burger King for a good few hours, partly because of a ridiculous downpour, but also because that night Costa Rica were playing Mexico in a World Cup qualifier and apparently the done thing in town is to hang out in Burger King.
After the game I went to the fire station, explained my situation and was immediately welcomed in. Apparently a good amount of cyclists pass through, in fact a couple of Argentines are apparently only a few days ahead of me, and so I was pointed to where I could leave my bike and shown upstairs to the sleeping area with AC, a shower and two rows of beds. I didn’t even see the pool table until the next morning, luxury living!
Nicoya peninsula is famous for its beaches, but the main road goes nowhere near them. If I’d had more time, and a desire to go along dirt roads, I think there is a coastal option going through some of the best beaches Costa Rica has, but it wouldn’t really have worked. Instead I pushed on along the rather sedate main road as it continued going through green rolling hills no taller than a couple of hundred metres, and fields of cows, until it reached the end of the peninsula.
To get across the bay, I needed to take a ferry which cost $2 for passengers, and $4 for a bike. I tried to persuade them that my bike wouldn’t be a bike if it were in two pieces but apparently I’d have to talk to head office about that, head office being on the other side of the water. I’d hoped that I could put my bike in the back of a pickup, but there were few vehicles taking the crossing and none of them big enough for me to easily put my bike in. The water was smooth, at least for the part I was awake during, and we crossed in just over an hour to Puntarenas.
Being hungry I was looking for a place for lunch, and after an enjoyable time talking with the police, including them telling me I should be carrying a weapon and that if someone tried to steal my bike and then fell off it, I’d be within my rights to give them a good kicking, went to a nearby soda that they had recommended. It tasted OK, but I felt the beef looked a little off.
There are two main routes up to San José from Puntarenas, and the police had strongly recommended the new toll road. It was a fairly new road, and had cost $250,000,000 which meant even though it was generally only a lane in each way, it had full-sized shoulders – the perfect place to hide from the constant flow of traffic. I technically didn’t go past any no cyclist signs, although there were a bunch on the junctions I went past. I made it through one toll booth, by sticking to the side and no-one said anything, before it got dark and I stopped at Orotina. There was a fire station right by the exit, but unfortunately they told me that when they got a call they’d all have to leave and wouldn’t be able to have anyone in the building alone. They suggested the nearby Red Cross, but I got a similar rejection from them, so it was off to the police, who pointed to a place I could put up my tent and then seemed to ignore my presence as I wandered off to the supermarket to get some food.
I’d been feeling a little lethargic as I climbed earlier that day, but just assumed it was tiredness, but as I went to the supermarket it started to feel much worse as the food from the soda earlier seemed to be doing a number on my innards. I ended up having a litre of milk for dinner as I was pretty sure whatever I got was going to come straight back up, but thankfully it didn’t. Even though I was barely at altitude, I slept with my jacket on and in my sleeping bag and only with that stopped shivering.
I’d not had the energy to put my airmat out before I’d gone to sleep, so had spent most of the night slept straight on the concrete floor. It wasn’t until waking up at about 3am that I inflated it, as I was starting to feel a little better, and then stayed asleep until about 6am, as opposed to my normal 5am. I slowly packed up and wasn’t leaving until around 7, partly because I knew I needed to eat something with 50km between me and San Jose.
As I wasn’t feeling great, the ride seemed to go on for ages. I took a lot more breaks than normal as I stopped every few kilometres in whatever shade I could find and chomped away at the loaf of bread I got from the bakery. Thankfully, because my host wouldn’t be back from work until after 7pm, I wasn’t in much of a rush. When I got off the autopista, I felt like I was in a large US city – roads with no space for bike paths and endless malls popping up everywhere. On my way to find a McDonald’s I finally found a bike shop to get normal chainring screws attached instead of the bolts that I’d got put in in Guatemala. The rest of the afternoon was spent hanging out in an expensive looking shopping mall using the wifi until Thomas, my host, was back from work.
I spent most of the next day, the Friday, relaxing at the house to get things done before Jamie arrived on the Saturday. Part of that was because I had things to do, but also there was the sometime downside to Couchsurfing, the host only has a single key so you get to be out of the house until they get back. I’d have happily gone out for 2-4 hours, but 8-10 didn’t appeal so much.
On the Saturday, Jamie had organised us a hotel by the airport. Her flight arrived at 5:30am, but I gave her time to have a nap and turned up just before 10. That meant I arrived just in time for the buffet breakfast. Then it was like Christmas as I opened all the things I’d ordered that Jamie had brought across. That included new ninja shoes (Vibram KSO Trek), new backpack, Katadyn Pocket water filter, warranty service replacement air mattress, Kindle, GPS and pillow, grease for my S&S couplings, Leatherman Skeletool CX and a rechargeable battery.
Anyway, it’s time to travel with Jamie for 10 days or so! I’ll be back in San Jose on the 25th/26th, but before then I’ll be living the backpacker life and getting horrified by Costa Rica’s expensiveness, especially if I want to do any of the cool tours that will be $50+.