Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Costa Rica Mountains

I'd been going back and forth on what I wanted to do for New Years. Well, I knew what I wanted - something small but not too small, a little bit of party but not a huge party town. But I wasn't sure how to find that. As it turned out, I ended up exactly where I wanted to be. But first I had to get there.

Leaving Tamarindo, I knew I was heading for the southern border crossing from Costa Rica into Panama, and it would probably be two stops overnight before I crossed. Since I'd already spent so much time on the horrible highway 1, I decided to head up into the mountains as soon as I could and take the high road towards the border, only coming down just before the border. That took me close to San Jose, so I decided to stop outside there the first night.

As I got close to the city and started looking up places to stay, I noticed a star on my map that was close to where I was - it was one of the movie theaters that the guys and I had been thinking about going to for Star Wars. Well, I'd wanted to see the movie again, so what better time than on a travel day when I was staying alone anyway. I picked up a last minute deal on a hotel nearby - cheaper than the private hostel room I'd gotten in Tamarindo, yet it was actually a suite with a kitchen and two bedrooms. Overkill for me, but one of the cheaper options nonetheless. I spent the evening wandering around the mall before catching Star Wars a second time, and then relaxing in my enormous hotel room.

I woke up in the morning and headed out of San Jose. It turns out the roads are somewhat difficult to follow there - even when the map shows something that looks like it will be an obvious turn, I'd sometimes cruise by it without even seeing it. But I didn't care too much because the weather was nice, the roads were curvy, and I had plenty of time. I cruised up what I'm pretty sure is one of the only dirt roads around San Jose, hitting switchbacks that had my steering getting squirrely if I throttled too hard (my bike has a lot of the weight in the back, so the front wheel was getting pretty light on the steep parts). Eventually I got a little ways up into the mountains and hit pavement again, and started cruising.

That's not to say I stopped going up. The road kept climbing, and climbing, and climbing, eventually hitting close to 11,000 feet. I cruised for a while with only a short break at a restaurant on the side of the road, enjoying every minute of the ride. I even stopped a few times for some pictures, something I don't do super often, because the views and cities were so interesting.

This was one of my favorite buildings I saw on the ride.

Hills like this all over. The road seems to ride the highest ridge in the area, so you can see everything around you.

More hills.

Riding through the clouds, saw this foggy pond. The white spots in the tree on the right are birds, and they were constantly flying around in swirling patterns and then all landing in the tree again.
As I got close to the place I was going to finally come out of the mountains, I noticed a road that went a little bit farther around which looked like a pretty sweet ride. It would take me a bit out of my way, but I decided to go for it, and hoped I wouldn't get delayed so I could still make it to my stop before dark.

That turned out to be an amazing decision. A beautiful curvy road with no traffic, and it led me to a ridge that had a gorgeous view of the plains below - right as the sun was starting to set. Unfortunately there wasn't a place to pull over and take a picture, but it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I've seen in a while, as I swung back and forth on the switchbacks down the mountain.

Of course, once I arrived at the bottom of the plains, the climate went back to the usual beach climate - hot and humid, despite the fact that night was falling.

I continued onward and a little out of my way to Golfito, where I'd found a hostel called Hostel del Mar with really good reviews (and which had availability, something that was harder and harder to find as New Years approached). It was located in a building referred to by the locals as "the castle," and it was clear to see why. It apparently had been someone's rather large mansion before, and was beautifully decorated, and had great views from the part of it that stretched out over the water. There was a kitchen, the hosts were super welcoming and fun to talk to, and they even had a guitar. It was nice enough I debated cancelling my reservation in Boquete and staying there for New Years, but the hostel wasn't very full - maybe 3 or 4 other people there. I'm not sure if it was the location, the timing, or if it's just a new hostel, because for the price and how nice it was, I would have expected it to be pretty full.

The hallway down the center of the building.

View out the side.
In the morning as I was getting ready to leave, I got a surprise - I saw a facebook post from Clement saying that he and Dan would be staying in the mountains for New Years, instead of heading to the beach like they originally planned - meaning they'd be in Boquete with me for New Years! With that good news, I headed for the border to cross into my last country in Central America.

The Panama crossing was no different from most, and a relief after how horrible crossing from Nicaragua to Costa Rica had been. A quick stamp and exit fee from Costa Rica (I still don't understand the concept of an exit fee - I'm not allowed to leave your country without paying you?), and then the usual paperwork in Panama, with the only difference being that I had to get the mandatory motorcycle insurance before anyone would talk to me at customs or immigration, when that's usually the last step.

It did take a little bit longer because it was almost lunch time, and the woman processing my customs form was perhaps rushing to get to her food and first spelled my name wrong (despite having my passport in her hand) and then got the VIN of my motorcycle wrong. Knowing I'd be shipping the bike out and they'd be checking every single letter of my forms, I made sure she corrected them before moving on.

And finally I was on my way to Boquete - it was a hot, humid ride at first, but once I turned north in David and started getting up into the mountains, it cooled off nicely. Arriving in Boquete early afternoon on the 31st, I settled in, and then went to meet Dan and Clement at their hostel to get ready for the evening's festivities.

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