This March I had the chance to visit Costa Rica for an “adventure” vacation. Located in Central America just north of Panama, Costa Rica is rich in geographic diversity with mountains, plains, and both gulf and pacific coasts. It has a great deal to offer the adventurous spirit, from rainforest canopy tours, river cruises through wildlife sanctuaries, or visits to one of the five active volcano’s were you can take a hot mud bath and bath in the hot springs. There are of course the more traditional getaway opportunities as well with miles of uncrowded beaches on both coasts and ample places to spend your money letting others show you how you should have a good time.
I, however, went on the cheap. I had found a place to stay in Flamingo Beach, located on the Pacific coast in the north of Costa Rica in Guanacaste Province. It was a B&B for just $30.00 a day (note: as in most areas of life, you get what you pay for). These economy accommodations afforded me the opportunity to do the adventure activities I had come for. I sailed in the Pacific, took a river cruise and did a canopy tour. These were all a great deal of fun but I can only take so much of someone else leading me around and showing me what I should look at, hence the object of this article, the motorcycle I rented.
MOTO TURISMO de COSTA RICA S.A. is located about three miles from where I was staying in a little beach town named. Brasilito. The proprietor, Jürgen Hüsges was a most accommodating individual and after a short conversation all was arranged for him to collect me where I was staying the following morning. He arrived on time at 8:00 am and soon I was filling out and signing the requisite paperwork and promissory notes. As is customary in these matters I had to pledge everything I have ever had or ever will have. The liability waiver I had to sign pretty much covered everything that had happened since the big bang started the whole creative process. I now know what old lawyers do when they go south for the winter; they get a head start on screwing up third world countries. Anyway, paperwork completed it was now time to meet the machine.
My ride for this adventure was a 1997 YAMAHA XL 250. Though it had 17,000 Costa Rican miles on it, it had been well maintained. I verified that everything was in working order and that it was full of fuel, and then set off. This bike was very well suited for what I was asking of it. Despite the fact that the rider poundage to engine cubic centimeter ratio was tipped in the favor of the rider, I found that power and acceleration were more than adequate. Since it had been about twenty years since I had spent any time on this type of machine I decided to ride the main roads awhile to get acquainted with the Yamaha’s handling and feel before venturing off to do some more aggressive riding. As it turned out this “getting acquainted” time was an adventure in itself. When driving in Costa Rica it seems all rules of the road are subordinate to the prime rule of avoiding anything in your lane. This will range from potholes to oxcarts and everything in between. Seriously, I though at first that this erratic driving with people zigzagging all over the road was some kind of insane Costa Rican game of chicken. I soon realized though that they were just willing to do about anything to avoid slowing down and yet not hit anything.
The roads are narrow and generally in less than ideal condition. To be fair to those who may be considering a Transamerica trek, the Pan-American Highway seemed to be maintained to a higher standard. As I moved from asphalt to unpaved roads I found myself desperately wishing I had a good pair of goggles to go with the helmet Jürgen had provided me with. I had failed to anticipate the dust one has to contend with at the end of the dry season in Central America. My eyes were gritty, my lungs complaining, and couldn’t see a thing. It took less than 20 miles of this to convince me that I was well enough acquainted with the machine to do what I had really rented it to do, see some backcountry.
I picked the next back road that looked like it was heading toward the beach and pulled off, stopping to clean my eyes and clear my head. As I proceeded down this ever shrinking road I was rewarded with just what I had been looking for, a solitary exploration of some beautiful countryside with a touch of wild and unpredictability. In short order I found myself on a beautiful expanse of deserted beach. I played in the sand with my rented toy and then dismounted to gather some shells. I know, I know, but they meant a lot to my wife and she let me go down there solo. This was a very beautiful spot worthy of some picture taking, yet I realized that a fresh perspective was just a hill climb away and so, set off for some high ground with a panoramic overlook. It was a blast. Soon I found myself looking down on where I had been. Like life, the getting there was as good or better than the being there.
I continued exploring while staying within a 50-mile radius of known sources of fuel with range estimated at around 100 miles. Everyone I encountered grumbled about the price of gas, which had recently risen dramatically just as I had back in the U.S. The going rate was 187.00 Colones per liter or about $2.25 US. I wasn’t fazed; it was just like being in a hot, dusty, mountainous, Spanish speaking Canada. So, gas tank topped off, I headed away from the ocean towards the mountains. Again I just kept going in a general direction without plan or particular interest in where I ended up. This took me through several interesting villages and a lot of county side that reflected the life and living of most Costa Ricans, far from the influence of those trying to capitalize on the tourists by Americanizing everything.
Heading deeper into the mountains, the road narrowed and climbed and eventually led to the most challenging of my riding. I ended up on a narrow track that was full of washouts, loose rocks and dirt and no tire tracks. I mean a major challenge for this gringo. Here I was blasting up this mountain where when I had to stop once, the grade was so steep the brakes could not keep me from sliding backward. This kind of back tracking I did not want to do so the only choice was to lean as far forward as I could while maintaining some weight on the rear wheel and power up the hill. I know the big boys, you know the Paris – Dakar guys, will probably be mailing me some “Depends” but you have to understand that through this all I was a little bit conflicted. Vying for attention within my psyche were the weekend adventurer out for his thrills and the keeper of my credit card incessantly reminding me that ” IT’S RENTED! IT’S RENTED!” In the end I made it, and was rewarded with a fantastic 360-degree view. I continued exploring until I knew that I was long past the point where anyone would find me, prior to my becoming an entrée for carrion, or that I could walk back unprovisioned if I had a mechanical failure. Upon reflection, I decided that a partner in this kind of madness would add to the fun and provide a prudent backup. In the end this was a great way to add to a good vacation. The rates were fair and opportunities for fun abounded. So, should you venture to Costa Rica or anywhere else for that matter, I would encourage you to check out the possibilities for renting a bike. There is simply nothing like breaking from the pack and finding your own way.
Should you be in Costa Rica and like to try your luck contact:
MOTO TURISMO de COSTA RICA S. A.
Santa Cruz / Guanacaste
Rates in US dollars:
Half day $30.00
Full day $45.00 (24 hours)
Weekly $200.00 – $250.00 (depending on how hard you negotiate)