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]
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.