Sunday, 29 January 2017

Motorcycle Costa Rica, Day 2 and 3

December 29. 

The next day came with sun. After a good breakfast, I was back on the bike 9:30 am. I had studied the day’s route and I was a little skeptic about its length. The next stop was near the border to Panama and I was east of San Jose that is almost 2/3 north in Costa Rica. The email description of the day was as follows:

Ride south the Panamerican Highway crossing the “hill of death” into Perez Zeledon. From there you will continue to the Piedras Blancas National Park area, located near Golfito.
This area has become the perfect jungle retreat for visitors seeking adventure off the beaten track. In Costa Rica’s remote southern zone you can enjoy activities such as hiking, birdwatching, horseback riding as well as boat and kayak trips in nearby Golfo Dulce.
Overnight at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge.

That sounded good, but when should I get the time to hike, birdwatch, ride a horse or paddle a kayak? Again I have to tell you that one of the most important things about a travel blog is pictures. I have nearly none.  
easily found my way to Cartago using the Waze App on my fully charged mobile phone. Hitting south after the city I turned the phone off to save battery, knowing that the road would be easy to find over the mountain. Soon after Cartago, it started to climb on steep and winding roads. I had the camera in the back top box, but again, it take some time to first identify the best spot to take a picture and then stop, off with helmet and gloves, find the camera in the box, take a picture and then do everything in reverse. So instead of stopping and taking a picture when the view was good I always thought that it was probably a better spot further ahead. Until it was too late and I had no time to turn around and go back to the last spot. I soon discovered that my worries was true, I really had a long way in front of me and soon I just forgot about the camera and the view and just focused on the driving. And again I was happy for my last minute decision to bring the rain jacket, not because of rain that day, but because it is windproof. The “Cerro de la Muerte” is high and I was driving for hours in temperatures at 10 °C and below.
A little copy/paste from Wikipedia:

Cerro de la Muerte is the highest point in the Costa Rican section of the Inter-American Highway. Its name means "Mountain of Death" or "Summit of Death," since in the past crossing the mountains from the Valle Central meant a three- or four-day journey, on foot or on horseback, and many ill-prepared travelers succumbed to the cold and rain. However, the peak is now easily accessible since the highway runs close by. A sign marks the high point of the highway (Costa Rica 2) at 3,335 meters (10,942 feet), from where the vehicle track and hiking trail begin. At this altitude, overnight temperatures can dip below freezing, but the sun soon raises the temperatures in the morning, with a high risk of sunburn in the thin clear air. Record temperatures reach below -6 °C.

Driving above the clouds. 

Coming down from the mountain, I needed fuel for the bike and myself. It was four o'clock in the afternoon when I finished the burger and a little close to dinner at nine, but I was extremely hungry at that point. Half an hour later, I could see the Pacific Ocean between the palm trees and the temperature stabilized at 33 °C. I should have taken a little different route according to the guidance to avoid doing the same road two days in a row, but according to my navigation app it was faster to take the Pacific route and I wanted to reach the hotel before sunset at about quarter past five. Searching around in the rainforest in the dark is not my favorite activity.
I didn’t reach it. It was 6 o’clock when I checked into the hotel, eight and a half hour after I had started. I hated Lorena Amador from Costa Rican Trails deep and intensely. And that feeling never left me.
She wrote in her paper guide: 

Hidden in the jungle of remote Piedras Blancas National Park, in southern Costa Rica, Esquinas Rainforest Lodge is surrounded by thousands of acres of untouched wilderness. It is a retreat for nature lovers wishing to experience the sound and sights of a tropical rainforest in a tranquil, undisturbed atmosphere.

I wish I could have the time to experienced it. The woman in the reception was shocked when she heard where I came from that day and where I should drive to the next day. She actually asked me, why are you here? Most of the guests stayed in that lodge for 2-3 days to explore the surroundings. To send me down there for one night was absolutely pointless.
I asked her when it was dinner.

-7 o’clock. 
-That is too early, when does it stop? 
-7 o’clock. 

It was dinner at 7, period! Three hours after I had finished a hamburger, I was not hungry at all, and that was pure luck. There was no menu so I had to eat what everybody else did, and that was extremely well done, grey and chewy, pork chop with a sauce filled with bits of fruits. Fruit has nothing to do together with meat and people who likes “Hawaiian style” pizzas or hamburgers should have their tastebuds examined. The desert was leftover fruit from the sauce. I found this scientifically reliable picture online :)

After that, I went into the bar where bats were flying around. I ordered a Mojito, but they didn’t have the ingredients. I was not in Caribbean any more. "Maybe a Cuba Libre instead, sir?" How on earth would they think that rum and coke would be a satisfying replacement for a Mojito? I took a beer. Coke has nothing to do in a drink.

.When do you serve breakfast?
-7 o’clock sir.
-Until when?
-It is breakfast 7 o’clock sir.

I felt like I was back in the scout. We eat together, period! There was no telephone reception at all and their internet was down until the next day. There could have broken out a civil war back home and I wouldn’t have known about it. I was totally isolated. 

December 30. 

The next day I had breakfast and examined the route to the next location:

Start early riding via Manuel Antonio National Park to the Poas Volcano Lodge, alongside the active Poas Volcano National Park.
Poás National Park protects an epiphyte-laden cloud forest and elfin (small tree) forest, a blue crater lake (Laguna Botos) and the volcano´s active crater which is nearly 1 mile long and 1,000 ft deep (one of the largest active craters in the world).
Overnight at Poas Volcano Lodge.

The leg of the day was back up the coast to north of San Jose again. Had Lorena been drunk all the time when she calculated the route or was she just a sadist that liked to harass innocent Norwegians? Why send me down to the south and back up north again the next day with no time to do anything? Just hurry on to try to reach the next location before sunset. 

I spent an hour by their pond just to see some animal life and some birds that flew by. Everybody was talking about the Toucan bird and we got a glimpse of one in-between the trees and everybody tried to take a picture of it. It is a symbol of Costa Rica and I realized that I had seen three of them in the trees surrounding Villa Florencia Hotel last night. I didn’t know than that they were rare and that it was difficult to take photos of them so I didn’t. 
Here is a picture of one taken from a long distance. 

A Toucan bird in a tree

An unknown bird

Blue Heron

I had a plan. I had given up the GoPro on my helmet because of the cable, but I could use my laptop as a battery pack and charge the phone as I was driving. Waze is a tremendous navigation app if lots of people use it. And more people than I had ever seen before used it in Costa Rica. "17.346 Wazers around you" was the message I got turning it on. It is not only a navigation app, but it also gives you nearly, in real time, updates about the traffic. If there is a queue, it will show up on the screen one minute after the first wazer slows down. You can send messages about accidents, police controls and other traffic information. Using it driving south I suddenly got a message: "Fog 500 meters ahead." And sure, 500 meters later I drove into a blanket. I had heard about the numerous traffic controls and the enormous fees if you were speeding so I wanted to use it as much as possible.
I couldn’t keep the laptop in the top box when charging because the cable was not long enough, and if it had been, the lid would have snapped the cable clean off. These boxes are made to keep the content dry sailing down the Niagara Falls. Those Germans… So I took my fold-able backpack and placed the laptop in it. The cable was now long enough and I could charge the phone’s battery 8 times with the laptop’s battery. It would have been a brilliant plan if it hadn’t been for the fact that the cable stopped working. The phone didn’t charge anymore...

I headed north without Waze and with the phone in flight mode to save battery until I needed it. That meaning when I came closer to the destination, learning that following Lorena’s descriptions normally led me into a disaster.
And I drove. And drove. As fast as i could. To save time I had ordered lunch from the hotel so I didn’t have to go into a restaurant and wait. I took a pause for half an hour in the middle of the day. The temperature had passed 35 °C, I was sore in my ass and at the back of my thighs, and I had a pounding headache from the heat and the constant pressure of the helmet. The road was flat and boring and nothing special to see. And that was nice for I had no time to stop. I only stopped as I did the previous day, in villages that I passed, just to see if anybody had the standard USB to USB mini cable. Nope. Going out from one of them, I discovered that in the glass counter, there was a travel charger with USB mini and I asked for that. I couldn’t transfer data from GoPro to the computer with it, but I could maybe fill up the memory card with some footages. It cost 4 dollars and it turned out to be broken when I tried it at the hotel later. 

The most rare cable in Costa Rica
Broken charger
The last 45 minutes or so, the road started to climb. After a while, the temperature was comfortable, but ten minutes later, it was cold and wet. The last 20 minutes I was driving inside the clouds and it was raining constantly. It had become dark of course, and I could maybe see 100 meters, but not more because of the fog/cloud. The lodge was situated 1900 meters above the sea level beside a famous volcano I suppose. Why else should Lorena make me drive a whole f**king day if there was nothing to see? Check-in time this day was also at 6 pm. Poas Volcano Lodge is just a wonderful place, maybe the best hotel during the whole trip, beautifully made of stones, cozy and warm and with open fire in the restaurant/bar/library area. A typical thing to have in a country where you, according to Lorena, most likely will spend most of your time in shorts, casual shirts and sandals. I felt like I was in a high mountain ski lodge in Norway. Put on your warm jacket, hurry out for a cigarette and return back inside to the heat from the fire, but this lodge was 10° north of Equator; I live at 62° north. When the headwaiter heard where I had been driven from that morning, he felt so sorry for me that he gave me a glass of wine for free. He couldn’t understand why somebody would make a route like that. Neither could I.

For some reasons, Lorena did not write anything about Poas Volcano in the paper guide. At that point she was probably thinking: "He don't need anymore information because he don't have any time to see or do something anyway, so why bother".

Here is a map of the last two days driving:

And here is the ting: If Lorena had found me a hotel in the area around Uvita (on the map above you can find it a little south from the crossing point from the southern and northern route) I had saved nearly 2 hours both days. I could have relaxed dipping my feet in the Pacific Ocean in the afternoon and gone for a swim after breakfast in the morning. I could have experienced something. I would have had the time to stop and do something during the ride. I could have taken some pictures of the country. I wouldn't have seen Esquinas Rainforest Lodge though, but I wouldn't have missed it a second. 

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