Saturday, January 3, 2009

Coastal CR and Panama

Where to begin? Last i left off the road ran south towards the ocean. The road from La Tigre towards San Ramon was very hard, about 30km uphill. The weather though was nice and cool, the perfect conditions for riding. On the road i met a cyclist named Roberto who invited me back to his house in San Ramon for the night. A really great guy with a great family, he spoke english really well and is very well travelled. In his house i noticed that the sceen saver for his computer was the album cover to the Dead's 'Live' album. Turns out that not only is he a huge deadhead, but also of really great music in general. We spent the night drinking red wine and listening to Neil Young and spanish flamenco music. His family treated me to great meals and a really nice time. They had the biggest dog i've ever seen in my entire life, a sheepdog named Pesita.

I took off in the morning with the goal of swimming in the pacific by nightfall. The road was really hard, and i tackled the hardest hills ive ever seen. Not in length, but in grades so steep you can barely peddal even using the granny gear. The weather was nice, but as i approached the coast and bombed down some massive hills out of the mountains, i quickly learned of the heat that the coastal zone holds. I did make the beach and found a nice camp spot right on the sand. The sunset was epic, but the souds of the road and the waves made sleep hard that night.

The road on the coast is mainly flat which makes cruising pretty easy, but the heat is almost unbearable. I passed through the tourist mecca of Jaco which is a pretty grim scene full of highrise hotels, atv rentals, prostitutes, and smog. From Jaco i passed the legendary surf beach of Hermosa which hosts an international surf competition every year. With no goal in mind other than to find a beach for the night and to move forward i pushed on in the blazing sun towards Quepos. The road south of there is not paved and it a giant washboard of a road, so in an attempt to save my body and bike the misery i hitched a ride. Within 5 minutes my bike was on the roof of a car driven by two gringos who own land down here. Nice guys i guess, they bought me lunch, but after a couple hours with them i realized that to costa ricans, most americans must look like complete assholes. On the ride to Dominical, where the pavement picks up again, they told me all about the escapades of buying up land here and building luxury houses and how they find themselves being robbed all the time... no shit i thought. There are parts of the coast here that have far more FOR SALE signs than there are people. The whole coast of this country is for sale.

I decided to stay in Dominical for a couple of days. It is definitely a tourist spot for both gringos and ticos (costa ricans) alike. The camping on the beach is free and i paid a small sum to a bar to hold my bags and bike for me. I was the only gringo camped on the beach, and i joined a really nice family for my first night there. We enjoyed dinner together and lots of good laughs. The surf at Dominical is huge and there are lots of really good surfers to watch from the beach. I swam constantly and enjoyed cold beer.

My new years was broken into two parts. The first involved beer and a redneck from north florida. You know you are in for a hell of a time when a shirtless sunburnt redneck throws his arm around you and in slurred speech full of spittle yells into your ear, "itth gonna be a longg night ma man, right!" He's a local down there actually and not a tourist. I ditched him as soon as possible and made a new friend somewhere at sometime. Andrew was an older guy, maybe 45, an artist who is living in San Jose, but is a world traveller. We spent the remainder of the night watching shooting stars on the beach using our bottle of rum as a micophone as we spat philosophy into the morning. It was a great night, and it made my departure the next morning a little slow.

I did make it out of Dominical alive though and i peddaled along a gorgeous stretch of coast line full of amazing ceviche stands and tropical beaches. I rode about 65km into the town of Palmares where i found a great spot to sleep at the house of a bike mechanic and his family. I have become really good at showing up at peoples door and using the line, "Hi, I'm travelling on my bicycle and it is getting late. Do you know of any good camp spots around here?" The gate opens up and there is usually a plate of food in front of me within ten minutes. This family was great, and I had a great time talking bikes, travels, the US, and a lot more and watching horror movies. I left that morning with about 100km to go until the border of Panama.

Border crossings can either be really easy or really hard. This one was a pain in the ass. It is in a large duty free zone so people from both sides of the border flock there to shop. It it hot, crowded and the lines to get through customs can be long. I made it through to Panama though and was surprised to find a four lane highway with huge smooth shoulders. The traffic however is heavier and faster and drivers seem to be less courteous. In fact, as soon as i crossed the border i felt imediately a different vibe from costa rica. The people seemed much less friendly. I tried to find a place to camp but the roadsides were basically all massive cattle farms. It was getting dark, i had already ridden about 120km, and nobody would let me camp at there place. I was getting a little desperate until finally, right before dark i met two people on the street and pulled my usual line, this time with a little more desperation. 10 seconds later one of the men named Edgar says oh i have a big house with an extra room you can come stay with me. Putting aside any worry that this guy was about the kill we walked down the dark dirt roads until we reached his concrete shack where he did infact have an extra room for me with a US army issue cot included! We had giant plates of rice and garlic and some tea with sugar cane for desert. He is a dairy farmer who owns three houses but lives in complete poverty. His hospitality was incredible and it came at the most crucial moment.

I rode the last 30km to the Panama's second largest city, David, through a really crazy stretch of road with no shoulder, lots of traffic, and just when i could not get any more flustered, my ipod flew off my bike t(sometimes in situations like that i need some pumping music to keep a raging pace, necessary in traffic like that). It landed in the middle of the lane and i saw the traffic coming. It was one of those -- oh no oh no oh no-- moments but i knew better than to run into traffic to get it. The big SUV just nicked it, only a little bit on the corner, and it still works! I couldnt believe it. Panama has me a little stressed out... Im staying now at a hostel in the suburbs of the city and tomorrow im going to leave my bike here and head north into the highlands to get away from traffic and the heat.

I have heard that the road to Panama City, about 500km from here, is more of the same which has me a little peeved. There's a possibilty that i might take my bike onto a bus and just get to the city. I plan on staying there for about a week, pending on finding a free place to stay, and finding a boat down to columbia. I am having a great time, better than i was, and am looking forward to the next legs of the journey, specifically Colombia. I'll be there before long and the trip should take on a different feel.

1 comment:

  1. I couldnt agree with you more on some of your comments about the Dominical area and the 'gringo' comment. I have a blog also if you are interested it is at