Monday, January 11, 2016

Slowdown (Costa Rica)

I came into Costa Rica a few days before Christmas with almost no plans, not even knowing where I was going to stay for Christmas. But I was still fully in slowdown mode, so it turned out I didn't need to have too many plans.

Unfortunately as I headed from the border to La Fortuna, I very quickly hit rain and had to put on all the rain gear, slowing me down. That was followed by an unexpected section of dirt road which, while it had gotten just enough rain to pack down the loose dirt without being muddy, still wasn't ideal terrain for making good time. After the long border crossing and the extra delays, it was just getting dark as I pulled into La Fortuna. That made the fact that my headlight had burned out during the day a little bit of a problem - the people in front of me weren't a big fan of my brights, I'm sure, but I wasn't about to go light-less at night.

La Fortuna was just a one night stop for me on the way to San Jose, but I'd picked it because I was trying to find a nice quiet place to spend Christmas, and it seemed like a good candidate. The hostel I picked was on the edge of town (but still walkable) and was pretty much a resort - tons of rooms, a good (but slightly expensive) restaurant, and a huge pool with a slackline over it and lounge chairs all around it. Most importantly, it had fast internet, which I wanted so that I could Skype with family for Christmas. I decided on my first night there that it would suffice, and booked it for three days.

This guy did try to steal my bed while I was there though.
But first I had one last meeting with the guys. We were meeting up in San Jose one last time for a very important plan: seeing Star Wars in the theaters. I woke up in La Fortuna and looked up a bike shop, headed over there and picked up a new headlight, and spent a little bit discovering how to change the headlights on this bike for the first time. Then I plotted a route through what looked like a curvy mountain road, and hoped the clouds looming overhead would hold off.

As it turns out I didn't have to worry. As soon as I got a little ways away from La Fortuna, the clouds cleared and I had a gorgeous mountain ride. Curvy roads next to a lush green canyon, flowers and plants lining the roads, and a couple of waterfalls that I pulled over for made the ride one of the best I'd had in a while. Combine that with smooth pavement and sunny skies (but cool temperatures from the elevation) and I was one happy rider. Even with the delay for the headlight and the stops on the way, I still arrived in San Jose nice and early, and relaxed at the hostel for a while until the others arrived.

Gorgeous roads like this. I'm actually parked in the driveway of some humongous mansion.

This was the view the other way, and for most of the ride. The road followed the edge of this valley for quite a while.

Coming around one curve I saw this off to the side and stopped for a pic.

This one had a bridge just off to the left going over the river. Absolutely gorgeous.
The night was a fun guys' night. Chinese food and beers followed by a Star Wars showing in a gorgeous theater. But Dan and Clement were headed off super early in the morning to catch a bus to Panama, so we called it a pretty early night and said some goodbyes. In the morning, David and I said our goodbyes since he was meeting up with his parents that day to travel with them, and I made my way back to La Fortuna.

Yay for original audio and subtitles.
There's a number of curvy-looking roads on the map between La Fortuna and San Jose, so I picked a different one than I'd taken the day before and headed out. The road was amazing again, but this time the weather didn't cooperate so much and I had to ride most of it in the rain. I settled in to La Fortuna on the 23rd, and basically reserved myself a spot on the couch in the common area for the next three days.

First he tries to take my bed, then he tries to take my spot on the couch when I get up for five minutes.
To be fair, I did a little bit. I walked to town a few times, had a Christmas Eve dinner with a couple other hostel residents (followed by some Christmas Eve rum), and spent some time swimming. But while most of the hostel residents were off every morning on some hike or adventure, I really didn't leave the hostel much at all. There were tons of things to do around La Fortuna, but every time I planned something or thought about going to some activity, I just wasn't feeling it. So I read a lot, I did some blog posts, I watched some movies, and just all around relaxed. I really needed that, too.

Christmas dinner with a group from the hostel.
 The weather was perfect for it as well - I'm pretty sure I saw the sun for a total of 20 minutes in the entire three days that I was in La Fortuna, and it was otherwise completely covered in clouds. It was often drizzling, and from time to time the skies would just open up and pour. It made for fun swimming in the pool, but otherwise lent itself to exactly what I was doing: sitting under the roof and listening to the rain while reading a book. It did mean that the humidity was 100% pretty much all the time, so that when I left every piece of clothing I had was damp, whether I'd worn it or not.

Relaxing poolside in the cloudy weather.
Christmas came and went, and other than talking to family, it wasn't all that eventful, and didn't feel much like Christmas. This marked the first one in my life that I wasn't in Rockford for the holiday, so it was a bit strange, but I didn't do anything special.

Eventually, it was time to move on. The only problem was, I didn't know where. Lots of people had given me things to see in Costa Rica, but the combination of high costs and traveling alone for the first time in six weeks had me a little apathetic about many of them. But eventually I decided to make the ride to Manuel Antonio park.

I packed up in the rain and headed out, plotting a route along the north side of Laguna Arenal, giving me a fourth curvy, scenic road in or out of La Fortuna. After enjoying the curves for a while, I stopped at a German bakery I'd seen signs for and got some delicious (though expensive) schnitzel, and talked with the owner a bit as he asked questions about my bike and my travels. He ended up giving me a 5% discount for being a rider, which I thought was strange until I went to use the bathroom and saw his bike parked back there as well.

Mmm... Pretty.
I continued onward which led me down to the main highway in the south. It turned out to be a busy, two-lane road that often ended up with 15 or 20 cars stuck behind a truck, in stifling heat and humidity. It wasn't a great ride, especially compared to the gorgeous mountain roads around La Fortuna, but I arrived that night near Manuel Antonio and picked out a hostel as I was heading down the road.

As I pulled in, I saw a familiar looking bike... not quite as packed down, but sure enough it was the guy from the border with the huge bike. It turns out his brother owns a hostel, and that's where I'd ended up! The place was nice, though no AC in the room made for pretty warm sleeping, but it was worth it to get to spend a while talking with another rider. I found out that he had so much trouble at the border because his passport was due to expire in less than six months - even though it was a Costa Rican passport and he was trying to enter Costa Rica.

But even after arriving, I was still feeling a bit lost as far as what I was going to do, or even what direction I wanted to go. Fortunately, that was about to change.

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