Travels in Costa Rica – 2004

Travels in Costa Rica with Dave Osborne, Nigel Breeze, and Ben Wilson. 16th Feb. to 5th March 2004

We had been planning a trip to Costa Rica for about six months and finally the time came to book. Iberia had suitable flights from Manchester to Madrid, Madrid to Miami, and Miami to San Jose – Costa Rica’s capital city.

We arrived at San Jose at about 4.00am after 16 hours on the three flights, assembled the bikes and waited for it to get light. The first stop was in Alajeula for breakfast. There was no choice so we all had Gallo Pinto and we did not know it at the time but this would be our breakfast for the next 16 days. Gallo Pinto – literally ‘spotted rooster’ was rice and beans with a fried egg on top.

The temperature was now about 25 degrees Celsius so it was time to set off for Volcan Poas, a live volcano rising to 2704 metres. At about 2500metres the wind and rain started and we were driven into a bar where we decided to stay the afternoon and night. Looking in the guide book we found that this area had no dry season and it rained all day every day from 10.00pm until 6.00am. So a 6.00am start was made the next morning to the summit which was a well kept national park with wooden balconies so you could look down into the turquoise lake covering the volcano’s crater – a really spectacular sight.

A quick one hour descent took us to La Paz Jardin de las Cataratas (Waterfall Garden) where three large waterfalls of the La Paz river crashed down 20 metres at a time. Also there was a humming bird area where you could feed them from a bottle and a large butterfly farm. The night’s destination was Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, a pleasant town near the Carribean coast.

The daily life cycle of Costa Rica is rising at 6.00am and going to bed at 10.00pm and we soon adapted to this. We got up at 6.00am the next morning to find the town bustling with people going to work and school children catching the school buses. A quick Gallo Pinto and we were off to Siquirres along a flat hot main road route.

Siquirres was a nondescript town with one hotel that also functioned as the local house of ill repute. It was very noisy at night! Another 6.00am start with the obligatory Gallo Pinto and we were up into the hills heading for Paraiso. The first hill soon turned into a 3 mile 1/7. This coupled with a humid temperature of 33 degrees soon saw me walking and wondering what the rest of the day would be like. A steep descent followed and then a further climb the same as the first. Three hours later I arrived at Turrialba – our lunchtime stop. I sat on the pavement opposite the local bus station – the solution soon came to mind. The bus tickets to Paraiso were 300 colones (30 pence) for a 20 mile journey. The climb out of Turrialba seemed horrendous and as our bus grinded its way up we passed Dave and Nigel who was walking. WE did not see them again until midday the following day.

We failed to make contact with each other that night. The hotel in the Rough Guide called Linda Vista no longer existed so we stayed at a posh hotel and Dave and Nigel went to the local ‘travellers’ hostel in Orinto.

The next day was meant to be one of the highlights of the trip – the ascent of the Cerro de la Muerte on the Transamericano Highway. This was the highest road in Costa Rica rising to 3,500 metres. Ben and I set off at about 8.00am and started to climb steadily and after about three hours we met Dave and Nigel who had been taking a break. Another five hours climbing and we were at 3,000 metres and at the night’s destination of Mirador de Quetzales. These were log cabins set in the forest for walkers and birdwatchers; not many cyclists had been there before. The evening meal was trout. This turned out to be the smallest fish that I had ever seen on a plate and was cooked completely to a crisp due to its lack of meat. Off to bed at 9.00pm and up at 6.00am to have a guided forest walk to search for the Quetzal – a fairly rare bird with a long tail and coloured blue, green and red. The guide knew where to look and we soon spotted a male and female to all the birdwatchers’ delight.

Another Gallo Pinto (I was secretly hoping for ‘Quetzales Fritos con patatas’) and we were off to do the final 500metres of the Cerro de la Muerte. There was no sign at the top and it was only when we had been descending for about one mile that we realised we really were on the way down. This took about one hour through the clouds and we dropped into San Isidrio de General where the temperature was now about 33 degrees Celsius having risen from about 10 degrees at the top of La Muerte. One two mile bonk and we then had a 1000metre descent to the Pacificat Domincal where we camped for 30 pence. The facilities were very basic and we had to watch for coconuts falling from overhead trees. However, the bar was very pleasant and did a good banana split.

We were now going to head north to Manuel Antonio national park at Quepos. There are only two routes north in Costa Rica one over the Cerro de la Muerte and the other along the Pacific coast along a rough road. The rough road was 25 miles long and took us 7 hours to cycle. It was very rocky, dusty, extremely hot. Ben came off and had to go to the local hospital for some stitches in his arm – $40 worth.

An early morning start was necessary to beat the American crowds to the park. On view were wild white faced monkeys, sloth’s, iguanas, lizards, and pelicans swooping into the sea. The afternoon was spent sunbathing and watching the Pacific sunset.

Another Gallo Pinto and we were off to Jaco – the surfing town of the Pacific Coast. The ride was gently undulating and we took our time stopping for lunch on a deserted beach (apart from a bar of course) with sand as far as you could see in both directions. Swarms (is this the right word?) of pelicans were skimming the sea and diving into it. However, there was no swimming due to strong rip tides. Several people per year are drowned in Costa Rica due to these. Jaco turned out to be a fairly large, busy town with not too much to offer although the night’s restaurant was fairly posh.

Jaco was the last time we saw the Pacific as the next day we headed inland to Orotina and left civilisation behind. The night was spent in the one bar that did food but it was not bad.

San Ramon was the next destination where the ‘cloud forest’ began. This was the day which three of us spent as much time walking as cycling. Gradients of 15% to 20% are not much fun with camping gear. The hills descended as much as they climbed so no height was ever gained and there was one after the other. This was when I realised that the cycling sandals that Dave, Nigel and Ben were wearing were a great idea. This will be my next modernisation project. San Ramon was designed on the American block system so there was no square and no town features – it all looked the same. The hotel was grotty but according to the Rough Guide there was one that was worse. This was Saturday night and apparently it is the custom for the local cowboys and their women to get incredibly drunk. The night time bar was packed with drunken cowboys and cowgirls with us ‘gringos’ sat in the middle.

The next morning there was one restaurant open and it had one thing on the menu – Gallo Pinto. So, off into the cloud forest where the sun never shines. We were cycling through cloud and wet mist for most of the day on our way to Fortuna. There were many aerial walkways on the tops of the trees, which seemed to be a speciality of this area. Fortuna was fairly touristy due to an active volcano which was about five miles from the town and rose to 1300metres, which was what we had come to see. However, we were still in the cloud forest and it continued to rain all afternoon and night – all we saw was cloud.

The next day we set off for Zarcero which was about sixty miles away at a height of 1900m. The climb was quite spectacular and very long since Fortuna was only at about 300metres. Zarcero was a pleasant town that was famous for its topiary gardens. Its one restaurant did a good pizza and we were off to bed at 9.00pm to make an early start for the final day’s cycling to Alajuela where the airport was situated. We had the afternoon there and the following day, which allowed a visit to the local zoo which mainly housed tropical birds.

The flight from San Jose to Miami was especially interesting as we flew over Cuba, the Florida Keys, and the Everglades. The flight from Miami to Madrid was as boring as expected and the flight from Madrid to Manchester was lit up by a hostess who was rather attractive and actually remembered us from our original flight from Manchester to Madrid.

Overall we covered about 600 miles and saw the main parts of the country. The best bits were the scenery and volcanoes together with the wildlife, especially the birds.

Next destination – Greece in October.

Terry Crosswell

  • 2018 Hill Climb Championship

    The Hill Climb Championships were held on Sunday 7th October on Long Hill.

    Fastest Chesh rider was Rob Bailey.

    See the result here.