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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dominical, Costa Rica to Panama City, Panama

Our 5 day rest in Dominical was exactly what we needed after some very tough riding on the Nicoya Peninsula and right before what was sure to be some even tougher riding in the Osa Peninsula. The hotel that Bill Walton hooked us up with owned by his friends and fellow Dead Heads, Walt and Ross Garrison, was incredible. Walt was out of town but Seth and I really enjoyed some late nights sharing stories with Ross over a few beers (Seth and I were sharing the beers and Ross was telling the stories). Ross is truly an inspiring individual who has been more places and surfed more breaks than anyone I have ever met. Some of my favorite stories were from the time he traveled the entire African coast surfing remote beaches in the early 70's. Over the next few days it became a little contest to name a place the guy had not been to. We are very stoked that both he and his brother will be joining us for the Panama to Cartagena sailing trip so we that we can continue to be enlightened by these two legendary souls.

Not only did the hotel have internet and hot water but we were blessed with AC which is a luxury that we have rarely been privileged to in the scorching lands of Central America. Actually, the temperature was quite moderate during our time at Montanas De Agua due to some intense rainstorms. Dominical boasts a beautiful shoreline with some excellent beach break surfing. Unfortunately the surf was blown out for the majority of the week except for the last day when the weather cleared and I had one of the best days of surfing I have had in a long long time. Thanks again to Ross for lending me a board.

Our time in Dominical was not only relaxing but also extremely safe as we were the only two people staying in the lodge that were not medical doctors. In addition to the hotel, Ross and Walt own a number of Spanish schools in Costa Rica and their Dominical school offers a medical Spanish course that med students can receive credit for completing. Ironically it was I who saved the life of a doctor one day while we were out swimming in the surf and not the other way around. Dominical has very strong rip tides and Ross told us many stories of saving people from drowning while surfing out in front of his hotel.

One of the med school students named Carolyn and I were swimming out in the surf about chest deep in water when she told me that the waves reminded her of a conversation she had the previous night with some of her fellow students. The conversation was about the hypothetical question of would you rather drown or burn to death. Just as she finished telling me this she also informed me that she could not swim very well and I realized that we had been pulled out past where we were standing and I could no longer touch the bottom. I suggested that we start heading back to shore and I could see her demeanor turn from calm to fear to panic as she tried to swim back toward the beach. The surf was big and coming in very close intervals which made it hard to catch a breath before being slammed by another wave. I swam over to her and grabbed her arm and started swimming towards shore but every few seconds she would get ripped away by another wave. Each time I would surface from the whitewash I would realize that she was still underwater being thrown about. When she surfaced it was evident that she had swallowed a lot of water and did not look ready to be hit by more waves. After what seemed like too long I finally was able to touch my feet to the bottom and pulled her into shallower water. Needless to say she did not have any strong urges to go swimming in the ocean for the remainder of her stay. While I may have had a hand in saving her from drowning I don't think she would have ever gone out as far as she did if I was not there leading the way. So I will settle with just fixing a problem that I created.

Seth's buddy Ty, his girlfriend and her associate, Barry met us in Dominical on our last day. Ty came down to ride with us for a few days while his girlfriend, Sevan and Barry planned to sample bees for the genetic studies that they do back in the US. They even gave us a net, some vials, and some sweet smelling liquid that attracts male bees within seconds so that we could collect some samples on our ride.

We took off the next morning fully loaded and looking forward to the dense and lush jungle of the Osa Peninsula. When I say fully loaded I mean that Seth and I were fully loaded while Ty had about 10 pounds of gear on a ultra light dual suspension mountain bike. Ty is quite a force to be reckoned with on the mountain bike and he had no lack of training before the trip as he was working at a camp in Arizona that trains pro cyclists.

Not only was he a master on the bike but also a master in the kitchen, or camp stove in our case.

We had about a 100km ride to the town where we would catch a water taxi to the Osa Peninsula and we experienced a full range of jungle weather ranging from crazy hot to torrential downpours. Just as the first drops of rain were starting to fall we saw this couple stopped on the side of the road putting a raincoat on their tiny dog.

We made to the water taxi with time to spare so we bought some groceries for the days to come as we knew we were heading into some remote territory. When the taxi arrived we knew we were in for an interesting ride as the boat was barely big enough to awkwardly fit our three bikes and luggage. I must say that this 20 minute ride was the most interesting taxi ride I have ever experienced. About 5 minutes into the trip the torrential downpour returned and we were speeding down a large river with massive rows of mangroves on both sides. All of a sudden the captain made a hard right directly into the mangrove and squeezed through a tiny opening which lead to a vast maze of narrow channels that were just inches wider than the boat. Our truly skilled captain was taking hairpin turns through the mangrove tunnels at incredible speeds and then as suddenly as we entered the maze we shot out the other side at the river mouth and into the Pacific Ocean.

Looking back at the river, lush jungle and picture perfect palm tree lined beach was one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen. While I absolutely hate making this comparison because it is thrown around in hostels to describe any place with a few palm trees and a humid climate I must say that the Osa Peninsula truly looks like something out of Jurassic Park.

We arrived at Drake's Bay and the water taxi backed up onto the sand and dumped us off on a beautiful and relatively remote beach. We made a half ass attempt at trying to find a good camp spot on the beach before heading up the hill to look for a hostel. What we found was a little spot that offered a covered camping area up on the hill overlooking the entire bay.

This turned out to be a great spot and we were very grateful for the roof as it poured for most of the night. In the morning we did a little bee sampling and decided to traverse the peninsula to the town of Rincon. Little did we know what we had in store for the ride ahead.

From the second we left our camping spot we started climbing and we didn't stop for the remainder of the day. At first the hills were gradual and rolling and the scenery was insane with the most tropical and lush rainforest I have ever seen.

We were told that 4% of the world's entire biodiversity is in the small area of the Osa Peninsula. I had no trouble believing this stat as everywhere we looked the jungle was simply crawling with life. Just the sound of all of the birds and insects was almost deafening at times. After a few river crossings the hills turned into mountains and quickly turned into the steepest climbing we have experienced on our trip thus far.

The biggest problem Seth and I faced was that we were still rockin our slick tires while the roads consisted of slippery mud with large rocks and gravel. The grades were easily 20% in some areas and our back tires would just spin out and refuse to grab the slippery terrain.

On two occasions I went down and spilled the contents of my handle bar bag all over the road. Ty, with his much lighter and far superior set-up, decided that he should get out of our site as quickly as possible so that we would not be demoralized by the ease in which he ascended the mountain. The only vehicle that passed us on this stretch was a dump truck that had to be towed up the mountain by an enormous tractor as could not make it on its own. Once we finally made it to the top we found Ty happily catching bees and filling up his sample vials.

We were met with even more climbing after the long descent and we realized that it was starting to get late. Soon thereafter the clouds opened up and dumped more rain than I have ever seen in such a short period of time. Between the rivers, mud, rocks, and rain our bikes and gear had taken a serious beating.

When we were still about 5KM short of our destination my bike was all but inoperable. My chain was doubling over and locking up every couple hundred yards and my front break was completely shot. When we finally made it to the one horse jungle town of Rincon we stopped in front of the first spot we saw and the owner came out of his house to unlock the gates to his lodge across the street. He gave us a large wood cabin for $10 each as we were the only ones staying in the large ocean front complex. The place was a jungle paradise complete with tropical private cabins and a huge tree house overlooking the beautiful Dulce Gulf.
We spent the next day completely dismantling our bikes and laying all of our gear out to clean and dry. After having nearly zero problems with our bikes and gear for the last 10 months it seemed as though the previous day's ride brought on a mess of issues.

 Luckily Ty was there to lend his expertise and I know that I would have been in big trouble without him. He also wowed us with his culinary skills and showed us how to add a few more tasty dishes to our currently 2 dish menu of:
1.Meat served with Vegetables and Rice

2.Meat served with Vegetables and Pasta
With our legs rested, stomachs full and gear repaired we made the push out of the Osa Peninsula and back to the mainland of Costa Rica. This day was once again full of climbing and rain showers but was much easier as the majority of the ride was paved.

Ty stayed with us for one last night and we waved him off as he headed South to reunite with his girlfriend and Barry. It was not long before we reached the Panama border and were blessed with a quick and painless crossing. We made it to David, Panama our first night and then continued on for another two or three eventless days of riding until we hit Panonome.

We found a cheap and clean place to stay in Panonome and decided that instead of heading straight to Panama City we would detour to the mountain town of El Valle which we heard to be a very cool place. As we were a couple of days ahead of schedule this worked out perfectly still leaving us plenty of time to reach the city and meet our friends for the boat trip. Instead of taking the route that the guidebook, the map, and about 5 people we asked suggested that we take, we decided to take a little shortcut that would save us about 40KM. Never mind that the road was displayed on the map as a barely visible dotted line going through the highlands of Panama. For the first 10 miles we could not have been happier as we were cruising down newly paved roads with next to no traffic and absolutely spectacular mountain scenery. As we only had about 20KM remaining before arriving in El Valle we decided to take our time stopping every few miles and eating Mangoes and Cashew Fruit from trees on the side of the road and admiring ourselves for being true masters of navigation. With about 18KM to go the road stopped and the mud began.

We were still not concerned as we knew there is no way it could be worse than what we just experienced in the Osa Peninsula.

What we thought was going to be a short ride to El Valle turned out to be the most difficult day of our trip.

The road that we ran into made the Osa Peninsula seem like a cake walk.

Riding was not even an option and we were forced to drag our bikes through ankle and shin deep mud for the remaining 18KM.

At one point we came to a washed out river crossing with a 20% grade climb on the other side and the only way we were able to ascend the hill was with the help of a group of locals sporting some very thick boots.

After shedding some serious blood, sweat and tears, we made it to the top of the climb and were rewarded by some awesome views of the surrounding mountains and Pacific.

By the time we got to El Valle there was only a few minutes of daylight remaining and we once again dismantled our bikes and gear for a thorough cleaning. We took the flowing day off in El Valle and checked out a 60 meter waterfall in the jungle.

 However, the highlight of our time in this mountain town was the temperature. At night it actually dropped low enough that we were able to take out our sleeping bags and sleep on top of them.

From El Valle the plan was to ride the remaining 80 miles to Panama City in two short days. After about 40 miles we started looking for a place to stay and did not find anywhere to our liking so we continued onward. Before we knew it we were in the last town before the Panama Canal so we settled on a fine looking brothel/hotel that we negotiated the price of a night's stay in hours. However, when the owner saw our bikes she refused to let us in the front door. She had no problem with the five hookers that were standing in the lobby but there was no way she was letting a couple of cyclists into her high class establishment.

So with only about one hour left of daylight we were forced to attempt the crossing over the canal during rush hour. As we approached the bridge we were stopped by the national police who would not allow us to cross the bridge without a police escort. They also informed us that it would be too dangerous to traverse the city at night so we received an escort all the way across the bridge and through the city to our hotel. Much love for the Panama National Police Force.

As I sit here in Luna's Castle hostel finishing this blog my good friend Mr. Marco Chavira just arrived and we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of our other 16 friends coming in from the states tomorrow morning. A full update of what is sure to be an epic adventure from San Blas, Panama to Cartagena, Columbia will be posted shortly.

A huge, huge thanks goes out to our friends and family and especially Chris at Roaring Mouse Cycles and our Mother and Father, who went above and beyond to make sure that we received everything for a complete bicycle and wardrobe overhaul.


Dominica Costa Rica said...

Those are some rad photos you've got there so kudos on the photographer. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this experience you had while in Dominical. I've got a blog about life here in Dominical

Ben said...

Seth and Parker, Congratulations on finishing the first half of your trip. it's been great looking at your photos and reading your blog. Every batch of photos is better than the last. Have an epic sailboat and fishing trip. And I look forward with riding with you in the future.

Seth Berling said...

Ben...thanks brother. So glad you posted so I know that you have a blog. Love your photos!

Scott said...

Seth and Parker, I can't wait for the movie you guys produce after your trip, the only problem is you'll have to ride all over with a film crew.
It looks like you guys are more like riding a dream with the wind to your back. I think I cried a little bit living through your pictures. Can't wait for the next compilation.

Rob Evans said...

Keep crushing, thanks for all the updates, you guys are my heros! If I get fired from work for spending too much time on your blog I am heading straight down to South America to join you guys.

Luis Mendez (El Salvador) said...

The book is developing nicely. Congratulations for the great adventures and excelent story recounts. Keep on Bikin! Alaska 2011.

Seth Berling said...

Rob I double dog dare you! And Luis we have not forgotten about Alaska.

Mallorca boat hire said...

Nice infomation here.

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