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June 14, 2013

Postcards from Nowhere: Peoria to Panama - Day 25: San Jose to Jacó, Costa Rica

Above: The Pacific Ocean at last. I haven't seen the Pacific Ocean since I left San Francisco on a 2004 Honda XR650L a month ago. This photo was shot on the playa just south of Camaronal, Costa Rica. This bay off of the Pacific Ocean is named the Golfo de Nicayo (Nicayo Gulf).

Update: I am alive and well and resting quietly in the Monte Carlo Hotel in the seaside villa of Jacó, Costa Rica. This is in the county of Garabito, in the Puntarenas province.

Thursday June 13, 2013

Motorcycle Odometer (at start of day): 4,884
Motorcycle Odometer (at end of day): 4,976
Miles driven today: 92 miles

Local Currency: Costa Rican Colones

1 US Dollar = 500 Costa Rican Colones


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This morning, I called and had a guy bring his camera to the hotel for me to buy. It's not what I wanted, but it was the best I could do on short notice. He brought me a Canon Digital Rebel. I thought I'd be able to share lenses, batteries, and CF cards between my EOS 50D's and the Digital Rebel. I was wrong. Lenses, yes. Batteries and CF cards, not so much. Hmmmm. Well, at least I have another working camera, at this point. So, that's a plus.

I think about shopping for more things I need in the city, but I just despise being in the city so much. There's so much wrong with it.

One thing you have working against you is time. Check-out time is always around noon or so, so you've got to check out. That means I've got all of my gear with me, which is a lot to lug around while shopping for odds and ends in an unfamiliar city.

The second thing is that you're not familiar with the city. So, learning a new city takes a bit. Yes, this would be easier with a GPS, but there's a huge problem with the GPS also. Namely, that what's really here in the 3rd world doesn't match what's on the internet, or in the GPS.

For instance, I tried for two days to find the Canon service center. I was able to find the American Embassy, with those idiotic cowards cowering behind a huge steel fence. The Canon service center is supposed to be across the street, about three streets down. But the road names don't match what's on Google maps. Where it should be Calle 3, instead is Calle 106. And so it goes.

So, there's a huge disconnect between what the internet/GPS thinks is in the 3rd world, and what's actually there. So, you're going to have to deal with this. And it sucks. In a big way.

I used Hotels.com to book a room one night, and the hotel wasn't even there. So, you learn very quickly not to trust a GPS or the internet. They both suffer from the same condition.

Finally, I think about what I'd like to buy and decide that really, San Jose is not the right time/place to be running a re-supply operation. I need to get to Panama City, and then I can hole up in a hotel downtown and plan my next move. San Jose isn't the right place.

Decide to blow out of town. But, before I leave, at the hotel, I plan my trip down the coast of Costa Rica. I bring up my route on the MacBook Air, and take screen shots of the trip with my iPhone, so I have a map of sorts for the day, anyway.

Somehow, I lost one of my motorcycle gloves. So, I only have one and I'm doing the Michael Jackson thing.

I follow signs for Highway 27. And then for Highway 34. I swore I wouldn't stop until I saw the ocean, but in San Jeronimo, I saw as sign that said "Roberto's Place" along with a hand-painted sign that says "Smoothies", I could't go any further.

Now, I don't know what "smoothie" means in Spanish, but I know what it means in English. And I want one. In a big way. A mango smoothie. Yess...

I'm hungry. Thirsty. Ready to eat. And, I'm not lost. I'm on track. I know where I am. I know where I'm going. I don't really know WHY necessarily, but I do know where.

This place is perfect. Open air. Only two other people in the little shack. And the owner makes three.

I order the house special and walk around the grounds, shooting at will. Flowers. Dog. Cat.

Roberto makes me a mango smoothie, and now he's busy grilling a pineapple and beef ribs for me. Grilled pineapples are delicious, it turns out. Who knew?

He has a little bowl of some sort of fruit. I'm not sure what it is.

"Que significance?" I ask. He replies that the fruit is named "Nancy", if you can believe it.

I take a bite of one...they're soaking in a bowl of water....it's yellow and about the size of an olive. It's horrible. Bitter. I spit it out on the ground. Apparently, sometimes they're ripe. Sometimes, not so much. They're all laughing at me. I'm laughing. It's all good. I came down here to try different things. You're going to get burned, at some point, obviously.

The other patrons leave, and Roberto and I start talking. I tell him about my trip. He says, we are both named Roberto, and in Costa Rica, there is a word for this. For when two people share the same name.

I tell him I have a daughter in the U.S., and he says "Ejas quiere mucho papa."

I think this means that kids (or girls?) need their fathers very much. Maybe this is a sign. Maybe it's important for me to go find my daughter. But she's so far away. She's all I have in this world. If it weren't for her, I probably wouldn't go back to the U.S. I'd probably just keep driving. I could blow through South America in a few weeks more. Then ship the bike to Bangkok, Thailand. That's where I'd like to go after South America, of course. That would be the next logical destination.

I leave him a tip of 2,000 Colones, (about $4.00 USD), and he comes out to my motorcycle offering me ripe mangos.

"You eat these for your breakfast tomorrow," he offers.

"Gracias. Mucho gracias, amigo." How can you possibly turn down a mangos for the road? Road mangoes. Delicioso.

Now, I roll south again on Highway 34, loosely following the Pacific coast now. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time I've seen the Pacific Ocean on this trip II'm assuming here that the trip started in Illinois, and not in SF when I rode my other bike from SF to Denver the week before I was in Illinois.)

So, I'm checking out the Pacific Ocean, only gradually, I realize that I'm looking at some sort of bay. Turns out, it's the called the Golfo de Nicoya (Nicoya Gulf).

In any event, I roll down the coast slowly, taking each little side road down to explore the playas at every opportunity. These roads are just little rutted dirt paths that pop up on the playa after a kilometer or so. I'm not really concerned with making good time, anymore. I'm starting to think I might like Costa Rica.

I realize slowly, that Costa Rica doesn't have military checkpoints all over the country. It doesn't have as much trash and pollution as the rest of central america. I'm starting to think that Coast Rica is the jewel of Central America, if such a thing exists.

I roll out onto the playa and park the bike on the beach for a few shots. A small truck rolls slowly down the beach from the other direction. People drive on the beach here! Sweet!

Now, I'm rolling south again, following the coast. Looking for an excuse to stop, essentially. I keep taking these little dead-end roads down to the coast to check out he playas, and at this one playa, I see several boats. And some young men standing around. I start talking to them, and they offer to take me out in their boat for 20,000 Colones (about $40 USD). And I'm like....hmmmm....should I go into a boat in the ocean with total strangers in a little boat with 10 grand worth of electronics and 10 grand in cash? Yeah. I'm all in.

"Vamos, agimos!"

But first, I have to go chase down an ATM. For some reason, gas stations in Central America don't have ATM machines. And they don't sell maps. Now, this is one of the hardest things about traveling, I think. I mean, sure, you start out being completely lost, not understanding the language, or the currency. Then, on top of that, you completely scramble where even the most fundamental objects are available for purchase. Why anyone would sign up for this plan is beyond me.

When I need an ATM machine...say "Donde esta banco card automatica?" I'm reasonably sure it's not right. I made it up. But about half the people get what I want from this. And pretty soon, I find a little ATM machine standing alone in the middle of a parking lot, of all places.

Now, the trick is to figure out how much cash to withdraw. You kinda have to guess...."How long will I be in this country? How much money will I need? And how much does that convert to in the local currency?"

I decide to withdraw 100,000 Colones, which seems like an insane amount of money, but it's only like...$200 USD.

Return to the playa, and hand a 20,000 Colones note to the capitan. The others are already down readying our little boat.

We're walking a short distance to the boat. All of the other boat anchors we sort of have to step over and walk around. Now, when I say boat anchor, it's not like any boat anchor you've ever seen before. These are home-made anchors, and they don't rely on weight so much to hold they boat. Instead, they're formed by heating steel rebar into curved shapes and welding sharpened steel points to the end. And, they're all carbon steel, so they're rusty. So, we're gingerly walking through this minefield of rusting steel anchors past the sorriest fleet of boats ever to grace a third world playa.

Now, as we're all walking down to the boat, I see that one of them is eating what appears to be small green limes. I've seen those before in Central America. Very common.

"Que significance?" I ask.

"Le MONs," he replies, or so I think. I dunno why they call limes "lemons" down here, but they do. I've heard it before. Only, I'm watching him eat one, and it doesn't look like a lime once he takes the skin off of the fruit. Inside, it looks like a jelly type of substance. Like a muscadine.

He hands me three of them. I bite a circle about the circumference, the way he did. And then tear the fruit neatly in half. It's clearly not a lime or a lemon. I take the fruit in my mouth, assuming it has a pit in the middle. Never bite down hard on an unknown fruit in the third world. It will burn you every time.

So, this does have a pit or two in the center, but the jelly-like substance is to die for. Closest thing I can think of is a ripe muscadine? Delicioso.

Minutes later, we're in the Nicoya Gulf, watching schools of sardines, sea turtles, pelicans, buzzards, etc. The coast is dramatic. Stunning. Not too far removed from the Hawaiian coast, IMHO.

Basically, we go out to the mouth of the gulf, where the real waves are coming in. It's too rough out there, so we turn back, which is fine with me. I just wanted to go for a little ride, not a cruise, per se.

I don't want to be one of those guys you see on CNN that drifted for four weeks in the pacific ocean because they ran out of gas or anything.

By the time we get back, the sun is getting low on the horizon. I roll south a bit. Find some crazy exclusive resort and I pull in and then I think...no...this is not what I'm here for. I don't want that. I want some small out of the way place...close to the water...close to the people. I keep driving, and end up at the Hotel Monte Carlo. A little dive with an open air cafe on one end.

I pull in and say "Donde recepcion?" The woman behind the counter stops waving flies off of the frijoles and picks up a pen. Much more my style. So, she runs the kitchen and the recepcion. Classic. Perfect.

She makes me up a plate of frijoles, arroza, y maize tortillas. And brings me an Imperial beer with a cup of ice. I love that down here. They always bring your cervesa with a cup of ice, and you pour your beer over these large ice cubes. It keeps the beer cold longer, and if it waters it down a bit, so what? Beautiful. Classical.

There's a sort of slow-motion third-world discussion over whether the EEN-ter-net will work in room 16. If there's a discussion about it, you can be assured, it doesn't work. It didn't. But at least I have internet access in the common dining area.

My camera situation is not good. I don't have a charger for my Canon EOS 50D camera batteries. I have 3 batteries for the 50D's. 1 is completely dead. 2 are nearly dead. When they die, I won't be able to shoot the 50D frames any more. I might try to strip some wires and charge them with the chargers I have for the Digital Rebel. I have nothing to lose in this experiment, as I see it.

I really don't know what to do when I get to Panama. Part of me wants to go into South America. Part of me doesn't. I like the idea of just slowly going down the coast...not rushing it...Enjoying Costa Rica...not crossing any border....not going into any big towns...this, I think, is the plan.

Above: Lunch at Roberto's Place in San Jeronimo, Costa Rica.

Above: The grounds at Roberto's Place in San Jeronimo, Costa Rica.

Above: The grounds at Roberto's Place in San Jeronimo, Costa Rica.

Above: The grounds at Roberto's Place in San Jeronimo, Costa Rica.

Above: The grounds at Roberto's Place in San Jeronimo, Costa Rica.

Above: The grounds at Roberto's Place in San Jeronimo, Costa Rica.

Above: The grounds at Roberto's Place in San Jeronimo, Costa Rica. This is the bitter fruit I tasted that they called "Nancy".

Above: The grounds at Roberto's Place in San Jeronimo, Costa Rica.

Above: Looking for a waterfall on a dirt road off of the PanAmerican highway in Costa Rica.

Above: Looking for a waterfall on a dirt road off of the PanAmerican highway in Costa Rica.

Above: Looking for a waterfall on a dirt road off of the PanAmerican highway in Costa Rica.

Above: Looking for a waterfall on a dirt road off of the PanAmerican highway in Costa Rica.

Above: Looking for a waterfall on a dirt road off of the PanAmerican highway in Costa Rica.

Above: The Nicayo Gulf in Costa Rica off of the PanAmerican Highway.

Above: The Nicayo Gulf in Costa Rica off of the PanAmerican Highway.

Above: Some fishing boats on a small river leading in to the Nicayo Gulf. Some locals offered to take me for a ride. Sure...this seems legit...

Above: Some fishing boats on a small river leading in to the Nicayo Gulf. Some locals offered to take me for a ride. Sure...this seems legit...

Above: One of the three local fishermen that went out with me in the boat. Note the home-made steel-rebar anchor with sharpened steel points. Don't want to trip over that.

Above: The Gringo Pescadero. (The Gringo Fisherman). I didn't catch these fish. They were dead in the live-well when we got in the boat, for whatever reason.

Above: Looking for a waterfall on a dirt road off of the PanAmerican highway in Costa Rica.

Above: Looking for a waterfall on a dirt road off of the PanAmerican highway in Costa Rica.

Above: Looking for a waterfall on a dirt road off of the PanAmerican highway in Costa Rica.

Above: Fishing boats on the Nicoya Gulf.

Above: Local fisherman in the Nicoya Gulf.

Above: The Nicoya Gulf.

Above: I can't be sure, but this might be the yellow-bird I've almost hit countless times. This bird is yellow under it's wings, so he fits the general description.

Above: Heron in a small estuary off of the Gulf of Nicayo.

Above: Heron in a small estuary off of the Gulf of Nicayo.

Above: The fishermen prepare our boat for the outing into the Gulf of Nicayo.

Above: Heron in a small estuary off of the Gulf of Nicayo.

Above: Surfers at the Gulf of Nicayo.

Above: The coast of Costa Rica, as viewed from the Gulf of Nicayo.

Above: Local fishermen in the Gulf of Nicayo.

Above: Local fishermen in the Gulf of Nicayo.

Above: Some insanely nice developments in the hills above the Playa Herradura.

Above: A local fishermen hauls in his nets. We almost ran right over his line with the propeller. It had no floats or markers of any kind, of course.

Above: One of the local pescaderos that went on the boat with us into the gulf.

Above: Two of the local pescaderos that went on the boat with us into the gulf.

Above: The capitan that went on the boat with us into the gulf. He always spoke so fast I could never understand him. I kept pleading with him..."despacio, amigo. por favor."

Above: Costa Rica as viewed from the Gulf of Nicayo.

Posted by Rob Kiser on June 14, 2013 at 9:28 AM

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