Pura Vida! A Costa Rican expression.. kinda like Calidad… It means “Pure Life” and in any positive circumstance, greeting and farewell.
The four cyclist arrived in San Carlos by river taxi after their adventures in El Castillo, but only 3 left to cross the Costa Rican border that morning. Karen, Mike and Paul picked up their stored bikes from the Leyko Hotel. I decided to stay behind to rest an extra day before I entered Costa Rica. Karen and Mike would be traveling at their pace through Costa Rica visiting National parks and will fly back to Canada for winter. Paul would be zipping down the Atlantic coast in time to meet his brother in Peru by Christmas. I hugged them goodbye as it may of been the last. I do hope we will see each other again on the road. That evening, I was looking at optional routes when an enormous bug, more like a lobster with wings, flew into the hallway and freaked me out.
I hid in my bedroom away from beastly jungle bugs and called it a night.
The next morning, I boarded a river boat from the exit port of San Carlos, Nicaragua, that took me to the entry of Costa Rica. Taking river boats through the jungle were getting me excited for seeing more wildlife in Costa Rica. There were monkeys and many birds in the trees hanging over the river. Mid afternoon the boat arrived to the cleanest border towns I have seen, Los Chiles. I hopped on my bike and got on the highway for southbound, for first day riding solo.
Costa Rica is a contrast to her northers neighbors. There is no litter, all the grass it cut from the conventional homes to the edge of the highway. Quite a change. The sky was sunny, the weather was comfortable and I was cruising though hilly countryside, delighted in the sounds of wild parrots chirping in the trees. I was enjoying the ride alone and reflecting back on the last year.
It was nearing the end of the day, so I stopped to ask for camping in a small village. I asked the women preparing lunch in a quaint, little restaurant where they recommended I could camp. Bewildered, they were, but willing to find the little “Grigna” an area in the front yard to pitch a tent. Their neighbor, Rosie, gave me the permission to camp in her yard. Before pitching, I brought out my stove to cook dinner. Rosie looked at me dumbfounded like I was really going to eat outside. She snatched my stove and told me to follow her. I was invited into the kitchen and welcomed to use anything I needed to prepare my pasta.
None of them spoke English. A communication test on my first-day riding alone. I worked my best Spanish. They understood what I was trying to ask, yet, as soon as they gave me a long fast answer, I had to ask for the conversation to pause. At times it was a bit frustrating and awkward, but for the most part, they understood me.
I joined their family at the table sharing my pot of pasta and they offered me to try their milk and cheese from their farm. There were a lot of younger teens around. Some were Rosie’s and the others were the daughters next door. The three families run the restaurant next door, and they all live in close proximity to another. Two daughters, Kristel and Marie Jose, were asking me questions about my travels. Due to my lack of words, I thought showing them pictures would tell my stories better. I went to grab for my computer only to find it was not in the trailer! I knew I had forgot it back in Nicaragua. Rosie helped me call the hotel back in Nicaragua, and sure enough it was there. The family helped me plan a route to get to get the computer back. Rosie wrote a note that explained my situation to show in case I would not be understood. I was to give the border officers the note, if it could convince them to allow me to take a round-trip boat without getting passport stamps and without paying for exit and entry fees.
I got up early to catch the 7 am bus back to Los Chiles. I wasn’t convince that I could go between borders without stamps or without paying. I approached a restaurant seeking a cell hone to borrow. I had mimed to make a phone call to the owner at the restaurant, and handed her the note for further explanation. She was willing to make the call and she said her friend was to arrive to Costa Rica that afternoon. She made the calls and arranged to have her friend Berta bring my computer. I took a tea and waited for 2 o’clock boat to arrive.
I met an Italian girl, Elisa, who had been traveling Central America, waiting for a boat to Nicaragua. We killed time chatting and exchanging contacts in countries we had visited. When Berta arrived with my computer, I bought her a tea to thank her.
I returned to Los Lorios and spent one more night with the family. Next door, the ladies offered me lunch and dinner on the house. The three families were all gathered at the restaurant looking at my photos from my computer, that I was so hay to have back in my hands. I asked to take a family photo to add to my collection. At first they were shy and they said they were not camera ready. Yet after the first photo, they all wanted to take more. We were laughing at each others awkward faces while looking back at the photos.
Rosie and her family welcomed me back to their home, shared coffee and some conversation. They welcomed me to stay longer, and asked when I would be back. Before bed, Kristel brought out her macramé bracelets that she made in school and asked me to pick one out. I slept in the bottom bunk for that night. Next morning, I hugged the whole family good bye, and rolled the bike back the road.
It was another beautiful day on the road, and I estimated I could arrive to Fortuna, a jumping point to visit volcanoes and hot springs. At lunch time, I had bought chips, and though a good cream cheese tuna dip would complete the snack. I go to open what I thought was a cream cheese packet.. Damn! To my discovery, it was a stick of butter. (It happens when you can’t read Spanish) I hate to waste food, and I had little cash left until I would reach Fortuna in 3O kilometers. So, I made do with what I had. I can’t recommend anyone to try this dip. I keep convincing myself it was a big reload of calories.
I stopped to check out what this sorting gear store had to offer in the middle of the countryside. The owner, Willy, store owner was a bit impressed with my tour. He asked why I do it, and to give the short answer, “Because I enjoy it”. “Pura Vida, no?” He asked. (Absolutely.) He gave directions to the most scenic routes ahead. I was checking the sunglass selection and he asked what air I liked, but I was only window shopping, because if I did, I would have been broke for the day. He insist to pick out a pair because he wanted to gift them to me. Pura Vida!
In the late afternoon I reached Fortuna. The towns streets stretch to the lovely views of Volcano Arenal. Soon, I saw backpackers zipping between the adventure tour offices and restaurants. I located a restaurant to check on the internet world and plan a route for the next day. I chatted with a couple deadlocked artesian that were making and selling their jewelery in front of the Lava lounge restaurant. They pointed me to the Fireman station as an option to camp.
I arrived at the station and asked the firemen, Jose and Gabriel, for a lawn to cam on.. They welcomed me in and I wasn’t the first cyclist they had hosted; 3 guys who cycled from Argentina stayed there the year before. I was welcomed to cook my good ‘ol pasta and they gave me a comfortable sofa bed. I enjoyed their company in the kitchen, talking about politics and learning a bit about Costa Rica. I couldn’t stop adoring their mascot, Cooper. He is the first fire station Dalmatian I met in Central America.
I went back to Lava Lounge to hang out with the artesian and check my emails. A guy in a baseball cap changed tables to ask how I was enjoying my stay in Fortuna. His name was Armando, and turns out he is a professional kayaker. We shared a good conversation and he invited me to go out for a river rafting tour with his company crew. Well, I never rafted before, so why not?! It has been on my mind since my friend, Kirsti, recommended a famous river raft tour in Costa Rica. Pura vida! I was going on a river raft tour!
Next morning, Jose and Gabriel let me store my bike and the “Bob” at the station. I waited to meet Armando at the Costa Rica Descents office across from the Lava Lounge. I was not picked up by Armando, but a van full Gringoes.. o great. I hopped on the van with small doubts of I was getting myself into. Alberto, Our day guide, was hilarious and getting the whole crew excited for the rafting, including me. We arrived to the Upper Balsa River and the team of Costa Rica Descents guides got us geared up, and gave detailed instructions on rafting safety. I was really impressed with the whole team. They were very professional, very intelligent, and super fun!
The ride was wild! There were three rafts and a few of the guides kayaked to survey the river. There were big walls of rock that we thought we would crash into and rocks in the river that broke the currents into violent churning rapids. Fortunately I wasn’t one of the two guys that fell into the river (they were rescued with no problem). An older woman on the senior raft got a black eye from a paddle end! But she had the warrior spirit to kept going. On our raft, we hit a rapid hard that called for everyone to get down on the raft. It sent Armando flaying over us and his knee crashed into my head. “OUCH!” For the rest of the day I was paying attention for signs of a minor concussion, but I was fine. After every series our raft team were wet, and laughing from the mayhem we survived, knocking paddles saluting, “Pura Vida!” After rafting, Alberto brought us to their farm for a prepared lunch and tour of the farm. Double points for them because they proudly operated on organic and sustainable-aimed systems.
I arrived back to the fire station to find the boss in the office. It was the first unwelcoming fire station experience, as he told me I had to get my stuff and leave, because camping was not allowed. Never going by expectations, so I thanked him and moved on. The rafting guys offered me to stay with them. I stayed at Alberto’s cabin while he would be out of town for the weekend.
Gracias Armando, Alberto, y Costa Rica Descents equipo, por ser tan amable y para sacarme de una experiencia tan gran rafting. Gracias Willy, por darme un par de gafas de sol. Gracias Berta, por traerme mi computadora. Gracias a Hotel Leyko, para guardan nuestras bicicletas. Gracias Jose, Gabriel y los Bomberos de Fortuna, Costa Rica por sus hospitalidad. Y muchas gracias, Mayra, Kristel, Maria Jose, Daniela, Veronica, Felix, Jose, Jeaneth, Rosibel, Delfin, Fernanda, and Aurelio para darme una casa pen Los Lirios.
Gracias Paul, Karen, y Mike. Buen Viajes y mucho suerte.
And thanks to my Cuban friend who makes beautiful jewelry, Carlos. He made a beautiful pair of earrings and gift them to me. Gracias mi amigo Carlos!