Thursday, July 29, 2010

Diverse Costa Rica

July 17th to 20th


Leaving La Fortuna, the road meanders up and over and around some vivid green rolling hills. It's easy riding; cool under cloudy skies, and Costa Rica in the rainy season is becoming a lovely contrast to the more featureless hot, flat lands of Nicaragua in the dry season.


This area was 'discovered' by Columbus around 1506 who named it Costa Rica (Rich Coast) after seeing the amount of gold jewelry worn by the natives. He then tried, and failed to obtain the governorship of the country when he fell out of favour in the Spanish Royal court. Queen Isabella, his former patron was growing ill and King Ferdinand had other favourites besides Columbus. Later Spanish conquests found the claims of riches to be exaggerated and the country was largely disregarded by Conquistadors who set about enslaving the rest of Central America instead. This all worked in favour of the modern Costa Rica which consequently managed to retain much of it's primary forest. Today the country is replete with exotic habitats and strange wildlife.


As we ride on the cloud lifts and, looking back, we finally get some fine views of Volcan Arenal - puffing smoke as it broods and patiently waits. This is Central America's most active volcano erupting almost continuously - you can even see the red lava glow at night...



Also patient, the hawks scan the long grass for tell-tale movements which could signal an early lunch....



Not only is the wildlife exotic, but the land provides great varieties of fruits as well. There are the usual pineapples, bananas, passion fruits, papayas and melons, but we pull over to stock up on a mid morning snack of 'Pejibayes' and 'Momones'. Pejibayes are a small yellow/red fruit, the size of a ping pong ball that grow in clusters on gnarly wooded stems – like an oversized bunch of grapes. Boiled for an hour, they taste like a cross between a chestnut and a sweet potato and are totally delicious. Momones just look odd! Peeled they are like a sticky gumball of chewy grape-ness and are quite addictive....



All very pleasant; but then we pass 'Florencia' and find that Costa Rica is also famous for it's disregard of steep gradients. Road builders will often take the snaky, meandering route when it suits them, but sometimes they just get an evil glint in their eye and just plough straight on with no allowances for sanity. Florencia to San Carlos is lung bustingly steep and really sorts the men from the boys. Hitting it in the heat of mid afternoon really tests a cycle tourist's metal. We take a well earned breather to catch our breath and let our racing hearts be still when suddenly an odd thing happens....


A man is calmly toiling up the hill carrying a tree trunk, maybe 15 feet long. It looks like hard work! A police car passes us by and stops at the roadside maybe 100m away. The man with the tree sees the police, drops his log, walks on past us and then stops. He seems to consider for a minute, then turns and sprints full pelt directly towards us....

I'm just beginning to get tense....

but he races on past us, down the hill and disappears.

The police car slowly drives off in the opposite direction.

It just all seemed a bit odd at the time.


I don't think anyone really considered how the tree trunk was affected.


Anyway just as we reach the top of the climb, the heavens open again and we are drenched in cool rain. Funny how in Central America, the best views always seem to be taken by shanty huts or wooden shacks with tin roofs. This one just seems to be throwing down a gauntlet and challenging the powers of gravity on it's spindly stilts....



We finally make it to the top of what must approach 20 percent gradients in places, and take a rest day in San Carlos.


Checking the map reveals the reason for the extreme road - it was heading directly up the side of Volcan Porvenir which, in about 10 kilometres, climbs from 250m (800ft) up to 2183m (7200ft). Fortunately for us, after San Carlos, the road dog legs by 90 degrees and we skirt the base of this huge volcano.


These are the back roads now, miles away from the carnage of the Pan-American Highway and it's more gorgeous riding in this emerald land past fan palms looking back to the volcano and the 3000m (10,000ft) peaks of he Cordillera Central....



Like I said before, you're never far away from other diners on a lunch break and today is no exception....



I'd rather have my tuna fish sandwiches than what this guy is eating, but he's a nasty looking fellow with a big red spike on his back....


Not all the wild life looks so deadly though. Bright crimson flashes in the trees draw your attention to the beautiful plumage of the birds....



This is a variety of 'Tanager' and when he takes to the wing, the whole area across his back is that bright scarlet colour.


We stop for a water break, which just happens to be outside a locked gateway and a few minutes later a woman and a young boy appear to ask if we were waiting to come in. We're a bit bemused, but also curious so we follow them in as they swing the large gates aside. What follows is a short tour conducted by Joseph and his sister Amelia. Joseph is about ten years old going on forty and has grandiose, adult mannerisms as he walks us to the river past his lemon trees and painted animal statues of deer and zebra. He even puts his hands behind his back as he strolls! There is the ancient butterfly house, now sadly empty plus secret gardens hidden away behind dense foliage. This place must have been amazing in it's heyday; now it is slowly being reclaimed by the jungle, but there is still an old basketball court with seating for many, plus a covered BBQ area with lawns and flower gardens of fabulous orchids....



It's the kind of thing that just seems to happen occasionally – small, totally unexpected diversions. Joseph and Amelia treat us like old friends and we can't leave until we have met the rest of the family consisting of several generations and Joseph has thoroughly embarrassed me at one-on-one football.


We hole up near La Virgen in our best accommodation bargain so far in CR – a private cabin for just $8. Normally rooms here have been quite expensive by Central American standards, up to $20 for a basic place....



The day dawns sunny and bright and it's already sweltering when we hit the road. Fortunately we are heading back towards the coast and away from the central mountain chains, so the land here is flat. Originally we had planned to ride through the mountains for the spectacular scenery, but that was before we lost so much time. Now, deep in the wet season, those scenic views are no more as the world is hidden under dense fog and cloud, and the storms are even more ferocious than here. So, after a change of plans we're taking the road along the Caribbean coast and that means crossing a series of huge river bridges as we traverse the huge drainage basin for all those mountain storms.


It's amazing after the amount of rain we have seen that these rivers are not even close to full yet....



But when you consider just how dense the rain forest is, and how many thirsty roots there are slurping away at the wet ground, it just takes months for the ground to get sodden enough for the bigger watercourses to fill up again.


At the small village of Flores we find another bargain - $12 for a very private riverside cabin directly overlooking the River Chirripo. I'm just jokingly telling Sue how disappointed I am that I haven't seen a Toucan yet and that we're not leaving Costa Rica until we do - when one suddenly appears in the tree directly opposite our balcony - just as I am picking up my camera and long lens....


ANOTHER GOTCHA.... A 'Keel Billed Toucan'



The timing is even better as he takes flight ahead of the storm clouds that roll in once more and the river gains another little inch or two....



14 comments:

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Sween in SAmerica said...

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