Costa Rica is much more expensive than other countries in Central America, in fact, the prices of food are similar to those of the USA or Europe. And the Costa Rican government has installed many taxes that the other countries don’t have, for example on houses, hotels and restaurants, imported goods, and gasoline.
This makes living -and cycling- in Costa Rica very expensive, and other cyclists -including our Spanish cycle friends Alex and Ina- decided to cycle through as fast a possible.
We took our time anyway, living as cheap as possible;
Costa Rica has a large number of national parks, with an amazing biodiversity.
The first one we visited is called ‘Santa Rosa’ which is jut over the border with Nicaragua.
On the park’s well set up camp ground we met a group of tropical forestry students from the University of California who explained us lots on the flora and fauna of tropical dry forests. We went looking at baths in a dark cave, a ride to the sea front and took long walks at dusk. We saw many monkeys, deer and other inhabitants of the forest, and even a ‘crocodile slide’ where a crocodile had slid back into the salty water in between the mangroves!
The students had a team of cooks preparing their meals, and they generously shared their food with us! Yum!
The next park we visited was Rincon de la Vieja National Park, named after the impressive active volcano in the midst of the park. We cycled 25 kilometres up a dirt track to reach the entrance of the park, and were rewarded with amazing natural wonders; Bubbling mudpots and pools with steaming hot water, heated by the heat within the earth!
And some amazing natural thermal baths, where we soaked our cycle muscles and read books..
Cycling through Costa Rica (CR)
Costa Rican roads are the most dangerous for cycling in Central America! There is no shoulder, no space for cyclists on the road, which puts you on the same road as big trucks and buses that often overtake cyclists with too little space!
So, we avoided the Pan American highway as much as we could, and rode north, around the beautiful Lake Arenal.
On the way we saw some amazing volcanoes and beautiful tropical forest! We found many fruit trees along the road and foraged many mangoes, cherries and guavas, mmmm!
As we were riding towards San Jose rain overtook us and we ended up hitch hiking into the city, which was probably best considering the busy highways leading into town. Our ride was an amiable ‘Tico’ (Costa Rican guy in local language) with American parents who imports old US army trucks into CR and sells them to farmers. “It is a positive re-use for expensive, good quality army material”, he told us. : )
We ended up staying in San José longer than expected, as we enjoyed our time in the city a lot, and we stayed with Soledad through the cycling website www.warmshowers.org
This website connects cyclists all over the world, and local cyclists open their homes to touring cyclists.
We ended up staying a bit longer than a week in the city, and went on some nice rides in and around the city, even a beautiful full moon lit ride!
And we learned a lot about the environmental situation in Costa Rica, as Soledad works for an environmental NGO, and she explained for example that the Costa Rican pineapple industry uses a lot of pesticides and threatens drinking water access of many rural communities! As a result we do not eat pineapple any more, of course. We did however eat many delicious ‘typical foods’ in San José with Soledad, such as ‘ceviche’ which is fish ‘fried’ in lemon juice and ‘black soup’ made with black beans and a multitude of vegetables and spices. YuM!
After San Jose we went south to Orosi, where we spend a week in a community in the mountains, gardening, hiking, around the water fall and reading lots.
We rode around the central valley of San Jose to avoid busy traffic, and north east to Limón on the Caribbean coast. We came across some challenging up hills and part of our way consisted of dirt tracks, but it was worth the effort as the nature was beautiful and we avoided the busy highways completely!
We cycled along the Caribbean coast as far as possible, all the way to Manzanillo where the road ended. There we pushed the bicycles along the beach for another ½ kilometre and set up camp on the beach for a few days.
We hung out with the people of ‘Funky Manza Pizza’, a lovely small hostel and pizzeria in Manzanillo, where they are looking for care takers for September -it is a very nice place to spend time, right on the beach of the Caribbean coast, next to a big nature refuge, if any one’s interested?!
Then we went to the border where we stayed with Claire, a volunteer through the US Peace Corps in the border town of Sixaola. The US Peace Corps is a government service that offers recently graduated US youngsters a volunteer opportunity of 2 years in a rural community of a ‘developing country’. Claire, for example, supports a local women’s group to find a market for their cacao and teaches English. She cycled across Costa Rica earlier in the year, and we went on a ride together to the coast to visit a permaculture farm. Our way was cut off by a river that had swollen to an uncrossable stream, and as we were overtaken by rain the road floated so badly we had trouble getting back to her home again!
We crossed the border into Panama with rain, and our aim was to ride as soon as possible to Panama City, as the rainy season had really started, and cycling and camping in the rain is not much fun -well, not as much fun as in dry weather ; )
The landscape of Bocas del Torro, the north western province of Panama where the population is 80% indigenous peoples, is beautifully green and challenging hilly to cross.
We met a man that invited us to stay in the small indigenous village where he lives and help out to built a water tank with an engineer from ‘Engineers without Borders’, but we felt we’d better continue to Panama before we hit more rain.
When we did hit big rain after 3 days, and hitched a ride with a lovely woman named Maria who welcomed us to spend the night at her home in David.
From David we cycled big days, interrupted by taking shelter from the rain, with as much as 90+ kilometres on 1 day! Yihaaaahhh, super strong legs!
We spend a night on the beautiful beach of Santa Clara, where the local fishermen are in conflict with the government, who want them to relocate so the land can be ‘developed’ with more resorts. We were tempted to stay longer on this paradise beach and support their cause, but instead cycled on through rain and on May 22nd we arrived in Panama City, 5 ½ months after we left the USA in December!
We are presently camping on the canal in Panama City, which is the former American zone, which is being redeveloped as a waterfront with tourism, such a museum designed by Frank Gehry -the architect of the spectacular museum of modern art in Bilboa, Spain.
The crew constructing this museum is an international group of people from Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador, living in 2 houses of the dozen that were previously occupied by Americans. These days the neighbourhood is abandoned -an amazing squatters paradise, but no one here squats!- except for these 2 houses where there is a small friendly international community, that since this week also includes an Australian and a Dutchie, who put their tent up under one of the houses : )
Booktip: ‘Around the World on a Bicycle’ by Thomas Stevens
A personal account of his cycle journey in 1885-87 across the US, Europe, Persia and China. He rides one of those bicycles with one big wheel, and a smaller one, named a Penny Farthing. As the roads are bad in these days, and bridges mostly non existent, he ends up pushing and carrying his bicycle many times.
Reading this book made our journey seem super easy ; )