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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Granada, Nicaragua to Dominical, Costa Rica (by way of the Nicoya Peninsula)

Having watched Chris depart Granada and then entering into a week of Spanish classes left the two of us very anxious to get back on the road and start heading South. Our friends that ran into Chris on Ometepe were under the impression that we were “stuck in Granada.” Regardless, Granada is not a bad place to relax for a week and we were happy for the opportunity to improve our Spanish.
Before we knew it, we were pumping up our tires, ready to hit the road to San Jorge, Nicaragua in order to catch an afternoon ferry to the infamous Isla Ompete in the middle of Lago Nicaragua.

The majestic island is formed by twin volcanoes rising out of the lake. The island is remarkably unspoiled and we'd been warned for weeks of the horrible roads that connect the numerous small towns. Fellow cyclists told us to leave our bikes in Moyogalpa and take a small van out to the remote locations. Of course we didn't heed the warning. I mean how bad could the roads really be.

Well in sections they were “that bad.” The ride from Moyogalpa to the southern town of Magdalena was capitalized by a tug of war with our bikes through a football field of powdery, white, sand in blistering heat.

Our average speed dropped to a meek 5mph and the large sections of sand would literally eat our wheels. We loved it. Our hard work was rewarded with a 1k 23% grade climb up to the Finca Magdalena.

Having completed a great day on the bikes, Parker and I were anxious to celebrate. We met some fellow travelers who were equally ready to partake. We set out on a mission to locate some lewd libations. The second warning of the day that we chose to ignore was the advice to stay away from the local rum called “Joyita” (a little bit of joy). But seriously how do you turn down a liter of rum that costs $1.50? True to form, the Rum took off in flying colors. We had a great night! I vaguely remember the climax of the night that had us both dancing on chairs to the crackling of our blown out ipod speaker. I awoke the next morning and in a dehydrated breath of hot air, I muttered “joyita.” All the joy the rum provided had been destroyed by the headache it left us with the next day.

After recovering from our hangovers, we got back on our bikes, sweated out the last of the Joyita and made our way back to Moyogalpa where we stayed for the night in preparation to catch the first ferry back to San Jorge.

The windy 70 mile ride across the Nicaraguan Isthmus into Libera, Costa Rica was uneventful less a stressful, 2 hour border crossing. We experienced a culture shock going from the dry plains of Nicaragua into the westernizing disneyland of Costa Rica. Within miles of crossing the border we noticed nicer cars, houses and we found grocery stores that stock peanut butter. Most of the comforts of our westernized culture can be found in Costa Rica and as a result the prices reflect those changes. The economic and cultural alignment with the United States is startling.

During our first grocery store stop in Liberia we met a German cyclist named Ulla, riding from Tijuana to Panama City. We immediately clicked with Ulla and agreed to meet the following morning to travel down the Nicoya Peninsula together.

We rendezvoused early the next morning and headed west towards Playa Conchal in search of a road represented by a faint dotted line on my map. I knew there were more direct, paved roads that would taake us to this beach but we were both anxious to leave the pavement.

As the three of us approach the unmarked turnoff, we ask people for directions and everyone looked down at our bikes and told us to turn around.. “the hills are too steep and the road is too sandy and washed out to ride.” Well apparently the warnings struck a bad chord with Ulla because after the last warning he casually told us he would see us later, he turned his bike around and disappeared into the heat mirage.

Parker and I took a right where everyone warned us to take a left and we abandoned the predictability of the Panamaerican and the paved roads.

The scream of cars were quickly replaced by the screams of howler monkeys, the shuffle of neon colored crabs, exotic birds, iguanas, dirt, beaches and the sound of solitude.

When we first decided to ride the Nicoya we agreed that we would always opt for the road less traveled and avoid pavement at all costs. As a result of our decision to leave the pavement we found ourselves on some of the more challenging terrain of our trip. A fellow cyclist warned us.. “great riding along the dirt roads but the length between Tamarindo and Ostional is not to be underestimated.” This section was very mild compared to what we were able to locate further south.

Sections of the Nicoya Peninsula were very “Dalton Highway esk” (the haul road in Alaska). Our 2” slicks paired with the 20%+ grades did not make the riding any easier.

There were multiple times where one of us would go into a balancing act where our rear tires would loose traction for 2 to 3 pedal strokes and we were forced to maintain our balance while we felt ourselves start to roll backwards. Always praying that our tires would engage again.

We found relief in our afternoon ocean swims.

The early evening would find us in our tents, exhausted from a hard days riding. As the wind would die and the humidity and heat would settle on us like a heavy blanket our tents would turn into small kiddy pools of our sweat. It was hot as hell, dirty, steep, remote, expensive and we absolutely, absolutely loved it. There is little doubt why Costa Rica has become such a popular destination. The scenery, the beaches and the wildlife are some of the best in Central America.

Our trip down the Nicoya wasn't all hardcore riding and camping. Thanks to some very generous friends it was punctuated by laps of luxury.

In Playa Guiones we met up with Christian, my long time friend and the best masseuse and acupuncturist in Seattle (if not the west coast) and her amazing sister Logan.

Christian quickly became a local celebrity and had Ticos chasing after her with marriage proposals. One night we went out to dinner and the waiter looks at Christian with a startling familiarity. When we questioned him he said... “of course I know Christian.” We're still not sure how an entire town could know someone that has never even visited the country. It is now apparent that Christian's reputation for legendary bodywork precedes her internationally.

Christian and Logan, operate on serious energy levels. Late night drinking and interpretive dance parties would not even prevent them from hitting the surf at sunrise. Our time off the bike, hanging out with these two was one of our trip highlights and we hope to see them again in South America.

We knew the ride from Playa Guiones to Punta Islita would be short but what we didn't know is that the faded dotted line on my map represented a one hour, 25% grade climb nor did we know that the temperature would soar to near 40 C / 100 F. Thanks to the heat, the grade, and the loose gravel it was one of those climbs where you can feel your heart beat in you head. One of those climbs where you start going through your packing list in your head and visualizing every unnecessary item in your drybags.

Anyone that knows Parker and I know that especially during athletic endeavors we operate with a certain level of stubbornness. A stubbornness to finish, to endure, to preserver. What this meant for the Nicoya is that we refused, refused to walk our bikes up any of the hills. The awkwardness and the weight of our bikes coupled with our pride does note lend itself to walking. What this means for our riding is that our lack of speed (sometimes less than 1mph), minimal traction, and 150lb bikes left us very unbalanced. I will be honest with you and tell you that Parker and I both tasted a little dirt on those Nicoya roads. The few times we came crashing to the ground in a cloud of dust we would both break into huge smiles, hoist the bike back up and go at it again. The slog up some of those hills reminded me why I love biking so much.

After our head pounding hill climb we were rewarded with a great downhill into Punta Islita and right to the front door of our long time friend Mckenzie.

Having not spoken to Mckenzie since middle school it was unbelievable generous for her and her family to hand over her awesome beach house at Lomas. Shortly after arriving at her house she called to inform us that she had spoken with the manager at Hotel Punta Islita (rated the #1 Resort in Central America by Conde Nast) and he said that he would like to provide us with all of our meals at his hotel. Our stay at Mckenzie's and the hospitality at Hotel Punta Islita was nothing short of amazing. I'm pretty sure my moustache and hair helped us to blend in perfectly with the wealthy tourists at the hotel. I'm just sayin...

From Punta Islita we made our way to Playa Coyote, which unbeknownst to us hosts a free campsite, next to a deserted beach.

This is definitely one of the few remaining undiscovered gems on the Nicoya. While Parker was walking the beach he met a Expat couple that invited us back to their home for a breakfast. We shared breakfast with the two and they introduced us to their Dutch neighbor and touring cyclist nut Michael. It was great to trade stories with him and plant some inspiration for future trips. Michael also gave us the directions for an epic route, through rivers and across miles of beach to our next stop at the southern tip of the peninsula.

Santa Teresa and Malapais, was the last stop of our Nicoyan adventure.

We expected to find desolate beaches conducive to camping; however, what we discovered were small boomtowns lined with new restaurants and funky hotels and hostels. We made a few trips up and down the stretch of establishments and settled on the hostel Costa Del Mar. The hostel is run by, Cesar, a Spanish ex-pro windsurfer and his crazy cast of employees. Cesar runs a great place and coined a phrase that we have been using non stop since our stay at his hostel. He told us that the hill south of Malpais “will be breaking our legs.” Well we didn't break our legs but our bottom brackets, chains, and wheels all groaned in agony as we delivered some serious torque in order to pull our load up that hill. Cesar you were right that mountain was a beast.

We left the solitude of the Peninsula in Paquera and bordered a ferry back to Puntarenas where we made our way to Jaco, the undisputed drug and prostitution capital of Costa Rica. We behaved ourselves in Jaco and went to bed early in preparation for the next days 65 mile ride into Dominical.

Back in Novermber during our stay in San Diego, Bill and Lori Walton mentioned to us that we had to visit their favorite hotel in Dominical. Within days of leaving San Diego, Bill contacted the owner of the hotel and arranged for our stay at Montanas de Agua. At the time it seemed so far away we are. I am writing this blog update from the comforts of an air conditioned room (our first since El Salvador) at the best hotel in Dominical, Costa Rica. I know we must sound like broken records but we are so appreciative for the generosity and support of our sponsors, our friends and our family who have been doing everything in their power to make sure we realize our personal legends.

With just 14 days until our 16 friends arrive in Panama City and 24 hours until my buddy Ty shows up in Dominical, energy levels are high and we are both very excited for the next leg of the journey.

Side note:

Foreigners especially touring cyclists are starred at in Latin America. Plain and simple....starred at. Somewhere in history, the cultures decided to dispense with the casual, nonchalant glance. By the time we passed into Guatemala from Mexico the eye contact ranged from an ogling gaze to a gaping, google-eyed glare. Small children have been so startled by our appearance that we've even caused some to cry. When we speak in Spanish to some of the children their expressions will change to absolute astonishment and they will unconsciously ignore our questions. There is nothing malicious in the stare. It is such a frequent occurrence that I've actually grown to expect and like it. What is odd is that this phenomenon does not exist in most parts of Costa Rica. Perhaps the hundreds of thousands of expats or the 2 million gringos that visit this small country every year have something to do with it. I have a funny feeling that our novelty will soon return.

Post Script:
We recently received this email from a cyclist who chooses to remain anonymous that recently left us and headed back to the states. Sorry folks we aren't going to name names.

“ had my first rock!"

"It was Thursday, while I was visiting my parents in 'blank'....and the sad part was, upon exiting the bathroom, I wanted to share it....and there was just nobody around to tell who could appreciate the fact that I just dropped the first firm turd in months! It was, after all, monumental in its own design.

I thought hard about telling my mother, who had my brothers mother-in-law seated at the table for coffee.....but I decided against it at the last minute.

As much as I miss the hard cycling and the fast rides down steep hills with curves and the great company and the curious food, I have to say I equally miss the mutual discussions between us concerning body functions and the results.

Heading back to 'Blank' tomorrow”


Craig Lynn said...

Seth, This is absolutely an awesome blog and it is great to see that you are feelin better. I look forward to seeing you after your trip and hearing somemore amazing stories and about some of the different types of fish you have caught on you fly rod. God Speed to you all.

Martino said...

awesome ride dudes, we are looking forward to hooking up on the road to Panama and crossing south....

Martin y Nessa

tetonkid said...

Hi guys, you may or may not recall a family of "gringo's"(mom,dad,India 12,Evan 10, and Maia 10) that sauntered up to you in a golf cart just outside Punta Islita where we were staying ( and apparently you were eating). Anyway, just rummaging through our receipts from our trip and found your card. Enjoyed speaking to you and will follow your trip enthusiastically from here on. We all just did a ride in Ct where we live called the bloomin metric today. The little guys all did 25 miles. We are slowly turning them into bikers.

Ryan said...

Big UP! Was thinking of bringing my bike(road) to CR.. Now I am 4 sho! Paved from Jaco to Dominical.... And how about Paquera to Malpais? Blessings/ Get home safe!

Best Hotels in the Philippines said...

The island is remarkably unspoiled and we'd been warned for weeks of the horrible roads that connect the numerous small towns.

peter kenneth said...

Pictures are indeed so beautiful and amazingly clicked,,, brilliant work !! keep it up !!!

Luxury Hotel Costa Rica said...

Beautiful place that i would like explore !!! thank you for sharing it with us !!!!

Menorca yacht charter said...

I love this post very much.please keep sharing of knowledges with us.

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