Sure, Costa Rica knows how to charge for her unapologetic beauty but there are a myriad of workarounds in order to keep on budget while indulging the ‘rich coast’. For us, it was time to step up our camping game—iOverlander, S&M Boiler Works, Nomadic Matt, A Dull Roar and Horizons Unlimited are excellent sources of cost-saving accommodation and value-added information on Costa Rica—leaving the conscience no excuses but to remain on budget. The unforeseen bike costs, however, will get you every time!
Heck, we couldn’t wait to wild camp; undisturbed spots are ten a penny if you’re prepared to leave the tourist-beaten track and the retired American population. The Caribbean side is cheaper than the popular Pacific destinations yet just as stunning. As well, choosing to visit between April and November when it’s off peak may well have promoted a little more bargaining power. We’d been mostly cooking for ourselves, and when grabbing a bite didn’t result in a fiscal-induced stomach ache for three days, we’ve dined at either a musmanni, bakeries dotted all over Costa Rica or sodas, spit and sawdust type places that serve the menu del dia—menu of the day. All priced at a snip of the tourist menu tariffs destined to keep hunger locked up until dinner without unleashing too much of our hard earned cash.
Making camp at Adonis’ Crocodylus Power Inversiones campground in Puerto Jiménez on the Osa Peninsula was taken on a recommend, thanks to happy campers Mike and Shannon. Located on the Golfo Dulce (sweet gulf), according to the National Geographic Society the Osa Peninsula is considered “The final frontier on Earth and the most biologically intense place on the planet.” Hello! It wasn’t kidding: our beach campsite alone was home to a cute croc called Chita; a handful of hungry caimans, a resident bat living comfortably in a hole gouged in the dining room wall alongside the owner, Adonis; and an iguana called Changa. Among all the usual suspects of eagles, tree frogs, howler and capuchin monkeys and more lizards than people. Yep, think we’ll stake the inner-tent out here.
With my mind permanently wandering, I brought my mind back in the now when a pair of blue and yellow macaws burst into a tumult of chirps and took wing from atop a tree while a spiny green lizard scurried past my flip-flopped feet. His skin shone neon lime green. “Sometimes, you find yourself in the middle of nowhere; and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself” said by someone—hit the nail on the head.
A crimson twilight had flushed the world with colour. The odd evening beach dweller strolled over the sand in a halo of pink light, watching the kids stalling for time in a warm sea. Flecks of scarlet twinkled on the surface of the ocean, sunlight still glittering with blinding intensity. The gleam that had possessed the evening finally dimmed as colour drained from the land, shapes that had been distinct only moments before melted into each other. Far to the west, the crescent moon poked through a thin layer of clouds, and its light cast a milky veil over the beach. I’d thought Playa Venao in Panama was aesthetically up there but this place commanded a vista and feeling to behold. Yet I couldn’t put my finger on why.
An incline told me Jason was struggling with the heat when clocking his third cold shower, a pattern that fell on the hour, every hour. It seemed nigh on impossible for him not to exert himself, not even just a little. Impossible to resist smirking, just sit still man! It’s that easy. Even breathing was making him hot…poor lad. And dehydrating him with the occasional pounding headache on top. Keep drinking darlin’, there’s nothing else for it I’m afraid. By morning, sweat had glued Jason’s hair to his forehead; he peeled himself from the tent and left a sticky Spafford-shaped mark all over his mat. Nice.
Roaring both bikes into life, we’d organised for Adonis the campground owner to guide us through his uncle’s land, a dense pocket of virgin forest. Aside from being rather handy when it comes to: DIY minimalistic house building; an unofficial guide to the wealth of local wildlife; and a local healer using natural medicines—you wouldn’t realize how smart this guy was. Not unless you happened to overhear him give his dog orders in Japanese, eavesdrop him studying Hebrew or learn that he can also speak conversational French and German on top of being fluent in English. I struggled to grasp words and phrases spilling out like a tumbling river of gemstones. His mental agility was fascinating, he quietly spoke with erudition and I realized there was much in the world about which I’m naïve.
Adonis lived in the most modest and rustic of surroundings, with very little in terms of monetary wealth or material possessions. He’d adopted ten children over the years, and what he did have, he offered to us without a second thought. Nothing was wasted, clothes were deemed unimportant and shoes were simply not worn on the property’s five hectares. With zero narcissism attached to this unpretentious guy, the point was to treasure people, explore the basic good inside of us all and finding peace as the end destination. I wish more of us adopted such constructs as a barometer of success, rather than the accomplishment of the western world’s expectations…Pura vida, Adonis would say—pure life.
I was mesmerized by how full of peace Adonis was; he was a beautiful person who left an indelible mark upon me. As demi Greek Gods go, this guy was dangerously close to his namesake. Having arrived on his land as no more than a travelling camper but leaving as his friend, it’s only when you invest the full emotional spectrum in a place and its people, do you begin to know that place.
Jumping in the saddle of Pearl, Adonis and me bobbled over a gravelly road alongside Jason, whose bike still bore the up-down rhythm of a two-wheeled Cadillac. We happily got 10 kilometres into the destination’s 28 to Rio Piro when Pearl simply cut out. Again?! We’d just topped up her battery fluid, so that surely wasn’t the culprit. Fortunately, Puerto Jiménez is a small town—comprising one main street with a few unpaved side roads and is isolated from the rest of the country—so getting to know people quickly was easy and made a cinch as Adonis knew just about everyone within a population of around 2,500. It took minutes to hail down a friend in a 4×4 and borrow some tow rope, okay, webbing strap that would do the job. Más o menos—more or less.
As towee, I felt comfortable having previously been pulled bike-to-bike through slushy mud on hard ground and asphalt roads. The road back to camp however was undulating, a little loose and peppered with potholes where it wasn’t corrugated. Oh crap! Time for Pearl and I to ‘up our game’. Feeling smothered by the insufferable heat, I tried to establish some inner mental balance. Stood up on the foot pegs, it was tricky trying to avoid veering wildly left or maintain balance in and out of the rugged dips while dragged along by your marvellous other’s motorcycle. Not to mention keeping the connecting line taut going downward on the slidy stuff. Especially standing upright; the rear brake became unreachable by having to keep my right foot firmly rooted to the foot peg on which the tow strap was coiled. It made sand riding look like a day at the beach.
A certain artistry was required and one which I was still at the beginning of mastering. I accidentally let the strap release a few times requiring Jason to: turn around, realign his bike in front of mine and attempt to reinstate some patience without blowing a fuse. While the sun remained an executioner, we continued to cook inside our ready-made furnaces, courtesy of the three season motorcycle suit. “Lisa, stop letting the rope go!” Jason urged on more than a couple of occasions. I’m not doing it on purpose..! We glared at each other, waging a silent battle of wills. “When we’re going downhill, you’ve got to feather the front brake, controlling the speed at which I go, not me pulling you down faster. Got it?!” he shouted. “YES!” I hollered back. I looked away, rolled my eyes and tutted in heated exasperation.
In fact, I hadn’t been braking at all on the declines, in fear of skidding and suffering an ‘offy’. I’m amazed I didn’t witness a comedy moment of me overtaking Jason while still attached, “Hola mi amor!” Although over the helmet intercom, I’d tried to remain helpful by exclaiming “The rope’s slackening off” quickly followed by screeching “It’s gonna YANK ME then YOU! BRACE YOURSELF!”
My expression said I knew that Jason was right—and hated having to admit it. He made uncomfortable sense, telling me what I needed to hear rather than what I wanted. My need to surrender battled like a rabid wildcat with the understanding that Jason couldn’t ride my bike for me. We spent some time on terse territory. We exchanged only indispensable instructions between playing the roles of cause and effect.
CRASH, BANG, WALLOP!
Along came the first entanglement: I lost control and swerved left after Jason swung right. Before I could blink the sweat from my eyes, we’d become a tumbled set of dominoes—me the perpetrator, dragging Jason down with me. Sorry..! We were a sorry sight alright of fallen motorcycles, splayed arms and legs, snapped mirrors and shattered glass. Startled but unscathed, Pearl was the unlucky one that had taken the hit. I jumped back on her and without hesitation, started feathering my front brake and discovered the key to this towing-off-road-terrain-malarkey. The skidding shenanigans still surfaced but we exuded just enough joint-control and made it back to the small beach town as team players. Okay, at this point I hear you Jase, there’s no ‘i’ in tow. That is until my fears were realised a second time.
This time, I reacted to the foregone control; released my foot off the peg to avoid another ensnaring scenario but the damned webbing held fast to the teeth protruding out of my foot pegs. Pearl rapidly buckled, going down hard and the offending strap resolutely attached sent me skidding down the road before a somewhat unsuspecting audience.
At least I’d learned to crash in style that time round—even if my body had become the enemy. I’d no sooner been flung furiously onto the road like a losing WWF wrestler—Pearl somewhere in my periphery—when two strapping Costa Rican men sprung me to my feet again. Round three. Oh muchas gracias fellas but timeout—spine and neck both appear intact so I suppose we’re all good here…! Unlike Pearl, poor old love. She’d suffered severely but I had no idea how and where to readmit her into intensive care. Double crap.
Pulling Pearl up in a sad and pitiful state, scathed in scratches, Jason opened her up to start assessing the internal wounds. Unbeknown to us, word of a gringo motorcyclist towing another spread like wildfire in parched prairie grass. Ishmael, a young moto-mechanic of Yamaha received a call about the local spectacle we’d created; he rocked up within minutes of Jason’s hesitant diagnosis and enquired if we needed any assistance. He pretty much jumped at the chance of purging Pearl of her ailments since he’d accepted a job with BMW the following year.
Relishing the repair of my wheels as much as we needed his expertise of bigger bikes, I could’ve kissed Ishmael right there and then. He examined Pearl beneath the cosmetic damage and realized her spark plug had worn out. Hah! Great spot Ishmael, time to remunerate this man with some greenbacks and beers. Looking at my battery, air filter and right mirror, there were some other bits we’d have to source in San José too, such as how the heck did I break my horn?—“Oh no!” Jason bleated as he broke my mental shopping list for Pearl. “Come and look at this, Lisa” he said with a tired heaviness.
What else had penetrated my bulletproof Beemer? Since repairing my snapped rear suspension linkage post conquering the Cordillera Blanca in the glacial mountains of Peru, I’d now gone and broken t’other one. Clean in two. A phone call later revealed word of a local chap who’d offered to carry my bike to San José for $450, a hundred smackers knocked off for our association with Adonis. I was going to elevate our new friend on a pedestal if he carried on like that. Thank you but no to the offer because there was the labour and repair on top plus all the other parts that needed replacing. That’s $450 before even fixing the problem.
In a town this tiny, where the flyspeck would we find an aluminium welder? “Oh that’s easy” remarked Adonis’ friend, relaying “We are less than one kilometre from the landing strip, where there is a welding workshop.” Marvelling more, even Adonis’ close acquaintances were heaven-sent. Of course! Those planes sporadically soaring above were largely aluminium, perfecto. Relax and the universe will intervene, help will materialise in the unlikeliest of ways like she always seems to. Oh but it’s Sunday, they’ll be closed. “No no, the workshop is open seven days a week,” they helpfully added. Well alrighty then…happiness leaching into my soul.
Bike blunders mostly mended, relationships atoned and towing-induced stress levels assuaged, Adonis took us to where we’d miserably failed two days previous. Rio Piro. Take two: his uncle’s 50 hectares of unadulterated wilderness. Revealing a playful side, Adonis had made me jump out of my skin a couple of times, feathered a vine on Jason’s neck from behind or hid behind a tree to scare us silly. Just to see our reactions. There was nothing not to like about this pure-hearted man who wore his skin so easily, I just grinned like a Cheshire cat at him constantly.
After a forest trek guided by the dear Adonis—who had us crawling between the super-sized roots into the underside of an ancient tree to see a habitat full of bats, as well as listening to poison dart frogs somewhere ‘out there’—we emerged half melted from the enveloping foliage onto a picture-postcard beach. But one that erred on the wild and prehistoric than the people-friendly and holiday-tropical.
Its aquamarine waters shimmered in ten-foot breaking rolls—pounding the ears—before stringers of brilliant white foam unfurled across a huge expanse of beach. A flood of light drenched the beach in a deluge of pink against thick jungle that lined the coastline, which felt untouched and primal all at once. The spines on trunks protracted like pointed claws, clustered and spread across the beach. Scarlet macaws soared in synchronisation over the shore on silent wings; in search of berries that had secreted themselves in dense patches of vegetation. All that was missing were the mastodons and mammoths.