Brundy Does Costa Rica – Part One

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Brundy Does Costa Rica - Part One

From luxury yoga-retreats that fetch upwards of $200/night to $10/night bug-infested cabinas (little, side-of-the-road hotels frequented by locals); from 3-week old freshly paved twisty mountain roads to endless stretches of riding right on the beach; from sweltering tropical rain at sea level to near freezing, 11,000 foot, crisp mountain air; Costa Rica has an exceptionally diverse range of literally everything and can find a way to accommodate literally everyone who visits.

The Full Adventure
Brundy Does Costa Rica:
Part One | Part Two | Part Three

Two years ago my good friend Mike and I visited Nicaragua, which is commonly referred to as “Costa Rica 20 years ago – before the gringos arrived,” and rented some sweet Yamaha AG200 agricultural motorbikes, did a 10 day loop of the beautiful country, and sufficiently had our minds blown by virtually everything about the trip. Riding a motorcycle around a country versus bussing it, or even renting and driving a car, is very much a visceral experience; it’s entirely consuming, it requires that you’re completely present at all times, you see far more of the country itself, rather than the specific places listed in Lonely Planet, and you get a greater amount of local interaction by orders of magnitude. People the world over seem to have a common and mutual respect for motorcycle travelers. There is a feeling that they accept you more quickly and have fewer reservations about opening up to you; and it has wholly changed the way I look at both travel and at the world itself.

When the opportunity arose for Mike and I to get away for another motorcycle adventure, I hit the interwebs, comparing and contrasting possible destinations. I considered cost, weather, flights, accommodation and, perhaps most importantly, compared the prospect of this new trip to our amazing trip to Nicaragua. India, Iceland, Ireland, Chile, Bolivia, New Zealand – they were all up for grabs, but no matter how many metrics I could come up with, ultimately I kept deferring back to “but will it be as good as Nica?” With our schedules aligning in mid-April, and that coinciding with the end of Costa Rica’s “dry (less-rainy) season”, and all other things taken into consideration, we chose Costa Rica for the simple fact that we enjoyed Nicaragua so much and feared a vast departure from that experience would leave us longing for the most Central of American countries.

This decision came with great trepidation – not just because I know how awesome a trip to Iceland would be, but because I have always had a bit of an aversion to traveling to Costa Rica. Having had the fortune of traveling to several other Latin American countries, I have spoken with other like-minded travelers only to get an eye roll at the mention of Costa Rica. With its idyllic beaches, thumping house music into the wee hours, tribal tattoos, and surf and yoga bums that I try to stay away from, the general lack of authenticity comes with the ability to cross the street and go to Walmart (no, I won’t include a proper link for them!). We like to eat at local restaurants, visit smaller rural villages, and see what life would be like without globalization, and feared that these things were no longer available given the gringo takeover of this bi-coastal gem in Central America. With that we resolved to just pass through the big towns, try as best we could to stay away from the throngs of tourists, and promise not to get our hair braided like all of the hippies who at one time were just passing through and then never left – and we booked our flights.

An avid reader of adventure motorcycling blogs and reports, I turned to ADVrider.com as a starting point to gather as much intel from a rider’s perspective as possible about the country; its people, climate, places to visit and stay away from, its roads, and most importantly, where we could come up with some good and reliable bikes. Enter Thorsten at Wild Rider, a German expat 13 years in the country with a 16-bike fleet and local knowledge that would make your head spin. In my research around ADVrider and from other people’s blogs and ride reports, Thorsten was resoundingly the man to go to for a fly-and-ride adventure to Costa Rica.

I ride a Honda CRF450X at home and have had a Kawasaki KLR650 for a long time. With some notions about what type of riding we would be in for, we settled on the Suzuki DRZ400; possibly the perfect all around bike for adventure travel as it’s big enough to get you around the omnipresent semi that you need to pass and small enough to get you through the technical rocky sections that haunt the mountainous single track throughout the country. I rode a Suzuki DR650 around Ecuador last year and was amazed at its ability to climb from sea level to a volcano at over 13,000 feet without the slightest indication that it wasn’t fuel injected. Facing similar changes in elevation and a need for general and overall reliability, we knew the DRZ was the bike for the trip.

With a rental spot and destination locked down and flights booked, it was time to put together a game plan. I envy those that have the mental capacity to not have any idea where they’re going on a trip like this. The old “I opened up a map on the flight and circled some towns I’d heard of” idea would keep me awake for weeks leading up to the trip. Not because I need to know where I’m going to sleep, or what sites we’re going to see, but because I don’t want to miss out on any legendary rides that would be on the other side of a valley we might find ourselves in.

That said, I purchased the quintessential Costa Rica road map which shows everything from the Interamericana down to seasonal trails that I’m pretty sure have skipped a few seasons in their existence, along with the budget-travelers bible, Lonely Planet, Google Earth, my GPS, and Base Camp on my Mac and MapSource on my PC, and I set out to create the most technical, all-encompassing loop of Costa Rica ever done in 8 days on bikes – only to be told we were crazy by Thorsten when we arrived at Wild Rider. My research wasn’t without its upside though, we were able to stick about 60% to our plan, taking a couple of Thorsten’s recommendations into account and spending a lot of time asking hombres “Donde es la via a la [next town on my map] (Where is the way to blank)?” I spent no less than 2 nights trying to find a route that I was sure existed from the west coast to the east coast at the southern end of the country and reached out to several people with local knowledge only to be told, “you’re not getting through there without two weeks and a horse – not possible.” With many a late night spent matching a thin grey line on my map to the actual trail on Google Earth, we had a rough outline of a plan.

Toting just a small backpack and a small tank bag, I resolved to bring one pair of pants, two t-shirts, one pair of shorts, one pair of shoes, two pairs of socks and two underwear, flip flops, a fleece base layer, rain suit, toiletries and misc electronics. Less is definitely more when traveling on a bike and we both kept our packing to a minimum to keep things light, simple, and compact for the tight squeezes and bumpy rides.

We landed in San Jose, Costa Rica’s beloved metropolitan capital located dead in the heart of this mecca of adventure, and were blown away – not in a good way though, not in the way that we had been throughout Nicaragua, and definitely not the way we had hoped to be landing in a new country with a grand adventure about to unfold. What globalization has done to this town is atrocious. On one street by our hotel I spotted KFC, Wendy’s, Applebee’s, Walmart, strip malls galore, and the looming Golden Arches advertising El Mac Grande. We were skeptical of our choice, reconsidering our plan and second-guessing our ability to get away from all of this international commerce.

Continue Reading: Brundy Does Costa Rica >>

  • TP

    REALLY enjoying these traveling features HFL… I mean RideApart…

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      and they said we were gonna be boring…..

      • Isambard

        More of this, please!

        • David Brundage

          :) stand by for installments numbers 2 and 3!

  • Jay

    “What globalization has done to this town is atrocious. On one street by
    our hotel I spotted KFC, Wendy’s, Applebee’s, Walmart, strip malls
    galore, and the looming Golden Arches advertising El Mac Grande. We were
    skeptical of our choice, reconsidering our plan and second-guessing our
    ability to get away from all of this international commerce.” Gee, so sorry that other people around the world like franchises too. You should write a letter or something to the Costa Rican tourist minister and complain that Costa Ricans should conform more closely to your image of them. Fortunately, Costa Rica had just enough “globalization” to allow you to fly in on a global airline to an international airport and ride motorcycles from “global” manufacturers and fly back out again. Atrocious!

    • David Brundage

      If globalization is defined as a country’s having the infrastructure in place for me to fly there, rent an internationally manufactured bike and fly home, then the entire globe is already globalized, nullifying the very necessity for the word globalization.

      In my experience, the onslaught of first-world corporations on developing countries does more harm than good in both hurting local businesses and doing away with local culture. Sure, Walmart showing up brought jobs along with it, but it also helped to significantly increase the cost of living and contributed to the pushing of native Costa Ricans further out of the city and into the lesser-developed suburbs.

      But my next article will be an open letter to the Minister of Tourism, in which I’ll make sure you get credit for the idea ;)

      • Stuki

        The efficiencies brought about by global corporations, are what allows people in the countries in which they are prevalent, to afford motorcycle trips to less blessed places, though. Which is why there are many more 1st worlders “exploring” the third world by bike, than vice versa.

    • ccman

      Agreed. As someone who grew up in a poor South American country, i say, let us natives have the same choices you have to eat bad American food or not. Not all local food is healthy. Not all paved roads are a bad thing. So enjoy the adventure while you may, but drop the attitude man. You don’t need it to be cool. Just flying in and doing what you did is way cool.

  • Tyler 250

    I did a 7 day, 1200 mile Costa Rica trip on a KLR last year. Very similar to what you’re doing, it appears. It’s not that hard to get away from the tourist spots. Most of the country isn’t a surfer beach.

  • Hooligan

    Very easy to avoid the uglysurfspots like Jaco. The Nicoya peninsular is amazing. San Jose is a place you fly into and out, nothing more. The Monte Verde Cloud Forest is a eyeopener and Arenal stunning. I loved Costa Rica. But then I like almost anywhere in Central America. Last trip I combined Cuba (my 7th visit) with Panama. Wish you could ride around Cuba, but it’s just not possible. No rental bikes and bikes from Havana cannot go into the other regions. No Mcdonalds in Cuba.

    • David Brundage

      I visited Cuba by way of Panama as well about 4 years ago and Cuba is by far my favorite place that I have travelled for so many reasons. A motorcycle would have only made it that much better, but as you mention it’s virtually impossible.

      Check out this guy’s report from lugging his bike over on a sailboat and trying to ride his way around the country. It picks up here where he is sailing out of Colombia to Cuba by way of Jamaica: http://advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=494866&highlight=cuba&page=41

      • Hooligan

        Thanks for that yes a great read. It is hard work travelling in Cuba. But
        worth it. I first went there in the early nineties when the Russans had
        dumped them. It was really dificult then, Hotel that I was staying in
        Havana did not have food for the resturant – a slice of toast for breakfast was a luxury. But never ran out of Bucanero beer or Havana Club.
        In the bar there was a Ukranian seaman who was making up for six months
        at sea with a series of prostitutes. I had spoken to him one day, next
        night some friends came by and met us before we went off dancing – one a American girl. He immediatly shouted out at me “Hey Englishman – how much for the girl” He was serious as well.

        Great to see pictures of those home made motorbikes.

  • Mykola

    Enjoyed the read, and looking forward to part two, but I find the Travel Snob overtones a bit off-putting

    • Hooligan

      Yes, but at least he was actually travelling outside of US borders. Doing it on his own not in a Bus with 50 others.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      If he had gone and done all the touristy stuff, you’d have been upset he wasn’t manly enough.

      • Mykola

        Nah, the touristy stuff can be a cultural hallmark or historically significant or gobsmackingly beautiful or simply delicious (see photo), or whatever else that impels tons of people to go experience it. The jabs he takes at elements of CR for being too mainstream don’t contribute to the essay on his own experience there.

        • David Brundage

          They contribute to the essay on my own experience there, because they are a big part of the experience I had there. If you disagree with my opinions about what is and isn’t worth your time while traveling, then that’s perfectly fine.

          I’ve always said that touristy stuff is touristy for a reason, (for instance the Eiffel Tower is inarguably beautiful, but JUST seeing the Eiffel Tower isn’t a good representation of Paris, or the Parisian way of life as a whole) I just happen to prefer to stay away from it and encourage others to find their own cool stuff as well, not just the Top 10 List in the guide book.

  • Paolo

    You should come ride in Honduras too! I’ll show you around!