Costa Rica

Old wounds from Italia ’90, cheeky monkeys and cycle tourists for company

Posted by Gordon Dunlop on July 1, 2016

As a youngster growing up in Scotland, the name Costa Rica was synonymous with heart-ache. Whisky may be Scotland’s speciality, however, glorious failure at major football tournaments runs it pretty close. With all the blind optimism of an enthusiastic 7 year-old, I sat down to watch Scotland snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against Costa Rica in their opening game of the Italia ’90 World Cup. This was my first taste of the heart-ache which still persists as an avid follower of the Scottish national football team (something Meg now has first-hand experience of!) No sooner had I crossed the border and was getting my passport stamped, this old wound was duly re-opened and a healthy dose of salt rubbed in. “De donde eres?” asked the border guard. “Escocia” I replied - with my usual slight hint of national pride. “Aaaah 1-0 en Italia ’90!” exclaimed the guard, thus instantly extinguishing any semblance of national pride!

Photo 1: Border crossing

Monkeys are a great pick-me-up!

All thoughts of the Scottish football team vanished as we rode through the rainforest and marvelled at the monkeys swinging from tree to tree! Journeying down through Alaska and Canada, upon hearing a rustling in the trees, we were instantly on edge as we expected to see a bear or a moose jumping out at us. In Costa Rica, however, any rustling in the trees signalled excitement at the sight of another curious monkey looking down upon us. On that early stretch in Costa Rica, we were joined by more cheeky monkeys of the human variety as a group of local kids raced us as we struggled uphill!

After enjoying Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, the race was now on to reach Panama for our flights to Peru, on the 10th May, for our summer jobs with Operation Groundswell. Knowing that Costa Rica and Panama were Central America’s more expensive countries, we’d decided to spend less time there and so we now had just 11 days to cross two countries and reach Panama City!

Photo 2: Monkeys

Throughout Central America, the humidity had been building as we approached rainy season and, although we’d been treated to spectacular storms at night, the rain had yet to impact our cycling. That would all change during our first few days in Costa Rica! The rain would pound off the road surface every afternoon around 2pm and we had no option but to sit it out. Aside from the rain, Costa Rica’s rainforest was memorable for great scenery and even better sounds. The constant hum of crickets and the chirpiest of birds provided a relaxing soundtrack. As we neared the south coast, we passed some wildlife of a more threatening kind. We were crossing a bridge where a mass of people were gathered looking down below. Our curiosity aroused, we looked over the edge to see a crowd of crocodiles basking in the sun – and no doubt waiting for a tasty human to put a foot wrong!

Photo 3: Taking shelter

Cycle tourists for company

After leaving the crocs we had a tough uphill, in the intense humidity, which would take us to the coast and to our Warm Showers host, Nico. On the subsequent downhill, the heavens opened and unleashed a torrential thunderstorm on us, turning an already steep descent into a treacherous one. On the plus side, we had a nice cool shower before arriving at our Warm Shower! Nico was a fellow cycle tourist, from Guadalajara, Mexico, and was funding his travels by making artisanal bracelets. He’d stopped for a few months on the coast of Costa Rica where he could fetch a good price for his bracelets. A great ambassador for the cycle touring community, he’d offered up the couch, on Warm Showers, for passing cycle tourists. Nico was great company as we exchanged our stories from the road and he also passed on his bracelet making skills.

Photo 4: Riding with Nico

The next morning, Nico rode south with us for 20km through some beautiful rainforest on a pleasant Sunday morning. After he left us, we rode for a further 15km when I stopped at an ATM and was approached by a giant, blond American offering to buy me a coffee. It turned out that Todd was also cycle touring and, having seen me pass, was eager to hear our story. We spent the afternoon cycling with him, sharing stories and many laughs. He was a big personality and veteran of 24 cycle tours! It was great to draw from his experience and get some tips – especially on gate-crashing weddings – a skill he’d become particularly adept at while touring!

After two more days of the lush Costa Rican rainforest, we passed into our last Central American country, Panama.

Photo 5: Storytelling with Todd