Brundy Does Costa Rica – Part One

HFL, Travel -


Brundy Does Costa Rica - Part One

After we got our gear all loaded up on what would become our homes for the next 8 days (you lose 2 days of your 10-day trip flying in and out!) Thorsten got out his map and started quizzing us about where we were going, what routes we were going to take and what we hoped to see. My plan for our first day had us doing 160+ miles, 85% off road, heading north west through the Cordillera de Tilaran (Tilaran Range), up through Santa Elena over a notoriously bad road through Tilaran and then hooking South east around the south side of Lake Arenal, spending the first night in what sounded like a great town, El Castillo. I knew there were a lot of river crossings in Costa Rica, and I knew there was a good river crossing on the south side of Lake Arenal, but unfortunately Google Earth doesn’t tell you how deep the rivers are (Google, you listening?). Thorsten said this river is only passable 10-15% of the days out of the year, and even then requires 2-3 guys to cross. We hadn’t even pressed the ignition button before we had to change my meticulously planned route, something I was just going to have to get used to.

We thanked Thorsten for his help and set off on our new path, destination: La Fortuna! Our first bit of dirt came about 30 minutes outside of San Jose when the path I had tracked was blocked by a ubiquitous orange “trabajando (working)” sign, indicating that the furthering of paved roads into the remoteness of the country was underway. We were diverted off course and had to navigate up and over a few hills just outside the town of Alajuela before tackling a seriously steep, rutted, rocky hill climb with no less than 7 hairpin turns ascending higher and higher out of the Rio Alajeula Valley we’d found ourselves in. We were already in the throngs of the adventure we sought, and it was only 30 minutes outside of San Jose!

Something that never ceases to amaze me is how you are truly never alone in developing countries. No matter where you are, if you hang there long enough, someone inevitably pops up. Like the Berber that literally came out of nowhere when I had run out of gas in Morocco and offered me tea, help found us when we turned one of the hairpins and Mike lost his rear wheel in the turn and went down. It didn’t take more than 15 seconds for a guy in an orange fishnet shirt wielding a machete to pop around the corner and help us lift the bike up and push as we got it started in a rut, propped up on a rock.

Our adventurous sentiments returned and our concern about the country’s infrastructure subsided almost as soon as we climbed out of this valley. We found ourselves at the base of Poas Volcano, one of many semi-active volcanoes that looms over the beautiful country and is allegedly a spectacular site, although we wouldn’t know because, after navigating through lush canopies on twisty paved roads up to the entrance to the National Park, the nice lady confirmed when I asked “Es la vista muerto? (Is the view dead?)” A question I had to ask due to the cloud cover that rolls in like clockwork around noon every day and covers any hint of the park’s existence.

While we’re not big on site seeing on these trips, who can turn their nose up at a massive waterfall right off the side of the road? A couple of these beasts popped up seemingly out of nowhere and we had the good fortune of pulling right up to them and being the only people checking them out for a short time. At well over 100 feet, from the bottom looking straight up, these things are quite extraordinary, both in the sheer power that the falls produce and with how much the landscape looks straight out of Jurassic Park. Then, out of nowhere, the quintessential pink bus arrives and a small faction of the tourist clone army descends on our waterfall, all wearing similar shirts boasting which zip line they’d survived, and all longingly watching as we departed on our own time and at our own pace. I looked back over my shoulder and saw all of them lined up taking photos of not just the waterfall, but unavoidably of the waterfall and their 100 closest friends. Times like these make me feel giddy about our preferred mode of transportation.

Thorsten told us that it gets dark at 6 p.m. and that we should never, under any circumstance, ride after dark due to myriad of large potholes that would gladly swallow a DRZ whole. With that on our minds, we hurled ourselves north up and over hills, through small river crossings, and finally crossed the mighty Rio Burrito (surprisingly not sponsored by Chipotle) and pulled into the birder and nature hiker haven, La Fortuna, just as night fell.

[Day 1 Stats // 139 miles, 54 mph max. speed, 5h 47m moving time, 138.75 miles total]

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

David Brundage (Brundy) is a friend and motorcycle adventurer first featured on our site with his Failed Vegas Ride. Stay tuned for part 2 of his trip and more of his adventures.

  • TP

    REALLY enjoying these traveling features HFL… I mean RideApart…

    • 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:

      • 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.

    • 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!