Riding Costa Rica, Day 1: Are we sure we want to do this?

What seemed like a ‘long time before we leave’ went by in no time, between work schedules, and trying to make sure we had our bases covered - destinations and rough plans, gear, and sanity..not to mention my forgetting about, then stressing over if my passport would arrive in time...it did, and off we went, ‘armed’ with as much information as we could gather, and an assortment of ‘we might need’ things, from a pair of FRS radios and compass, to a Panasonic Toughbook, my new waterproof and shockproof digital camera, an Olympus 720SW..and many bungee cords! (bikes were unseen and weren’t quite sure how we’d strap bags down yet, so … … )

We flew into Miami for a layover before arriving in San Jose, Costa Rica on the night of Dec 29th. Once we made it through customs, it was warm outside but different, as ‘unofficial’ taxi drivers and locals swarmed around people coming out of the airport. You might manage to get a good deal, but you’re better off going with the official taxis, as they give you a fixed price to your destination before you get into the taxi with them, and are at least monitored in some form or another..

We had arrangements made for our first couple of nights, as we got in fairly late on the 29th, and stayed in Atenas, as we’d heard time and again to ‘don’t bother staying or doing much in San Jose, let alone riding there.’ We stayed at a quaint place called Villas de Colinas, that the taxi driver seemed to at least have heard of. The ride to de Colinas was...interesting, and we both ran over in our heads what we’d heard and read everywhere- don’t ride or drive at night in Costa Rica. From our view of the road, roads were generally OK but largely unmarked, quite dark, and twisty, with drivers deciding if they felt like obeying any traffic laws, or simply treating them as ‘suggestions.’

Villas de Colinas was nice, if a bit small and in need of some minor things...like working hot water! It was comprised of perhaps 8 ‘apartments’ or connected villas with kitchen, a hammock out back on most, and an odd electric shower head that attempted to turn freezing cold water into ‘mildly cold water.’ I did manage to get it to work and generate fairly warm water after a while, but I was definitely wanting the Hot knob in the shower to ‘just work.’ They were in the process of converting to normal hot water for the cabinas, however, and the rest of the place was quite nice. Great views, breakfast and coffee in the morning, and the rooms were clean.

We got in to de Colinas around midnight local time, and had a dirt ride guided tour set up for the next day. Our guide had left a note for us saying it was fine if we wanted to sleep in a bit, as he knew when we were arriving, and as neither of us are morning people, it didn’t take much nudging...we slept in a bit!

We still made breakfast though, and made it onto the road around 9:30am.  A few pictures of Villas de Colinas, before heading out..

Villas de Colinas Room Pic 1
Villas de Colinas Room Pic 1

First ride in Costa Rica

The plan for the day was basically to get some all dirt riding in. She had enjoyed a dirt training course we did back in NC, and in most cases, I’d choose dirt to riding on the street, but it had been a while since doing much extensively, let alone in another country, so we figured a guided day was a good idea.

Our guide was Jim, a partner of Mototours CR, and a second guy, Dave, who was going to start giving guided rides for them. We geared up, which was interesting, as we had a mix of old and new gear. After much hunting for ‘the right gear,’ I’d given her (and myself) a pair of Motoport Kevlar Air Mesh pants for her bday, and we both had new MX helmets. She had her normal summer riding jacket, a mesh Fieldsheer jacket, that’s pretty decen as far as poly jackets go, as well as an Icon chest and back protector, and I had a mesh armored jacket I’d picked up off of eBay with CE armor in it as the rest of my Motoport gear hadn’t made it to me in time.. Unfortunately, she had ordered, but not received, a pair of MX goggles online, so was stuck using a pair of sunglasses, something we’d come to regret a bit later...

The camera was new, and a bit odd, as it doesn’t allow for true manual focusing, but instead has many modes to select from, and which one wasn’t always apparent, especially when first starting to use it. So, as a result, pictures range from ‘what the heck is that?!?’ to breath-taking, and everywhere in between..

We ate breakfast, then headed out to a gas station. In Costa Rica(CR from here on out), all gas is full service, although we never did quite figure out if a tip for ‘gas only’ is expected/normal or not. The roads by daylight looked better, or the few main roads, anyway. Drivers still believe traffic laws and speed limits are optional, and the roads are not well marked, though. We rode around generally within 30 or so miles of Atenas, up and down some that we couldn’t determine if it qualified as a real road or not, or a horse path. Some were packed dirt, which was great, while others were a significant amount of gravel, or a mixture of rock and gravel or sand, without many guard rails, while one side of the road or the other ‘fell off’ a mountain in a fair number of places. The locals, or Ticos, seemed to take most of it in stride...seeing a few cars on ‘roads’ we were having some issues on the bikes with, and a lot of motorcycles riding around, many in shorts and without helmets, over some pretty rough paths. We saw a lot of motorcycles in people’s yards as well.  If I had to guess, I’d say it seemed like 20-25% of the locals had a motorcycle, if not more.

The views in some places were gorgeous, although I think both of us were spending more concentration time on not only adjusting to our ‘new rides,’ her on a DR350 and me on a DR650, but to the way people rode and drove in CR, as well as trying to stay on the road, gravel, path...it was definitely a bit intimidating at times to get adjusted and settle in. We stopped off for a brief look around...

Locals seem to pass at will nearly anywhere, crossing solid lines, in mountain turns, wherever...and on some stretches of road, our guides, who had both been riding there a number of years, did the same. We were both cautious to the point of generally not following them around most things, although that did improve a bit over time.

Jim was certainly the more aggressive rider, or maybe it was planned that way...he was always up front, moving along at what generally seemed to be a good pace, with the two of us between him and Dave, who was taking up the rear.

A few offs to be had...

She had her first ‘off’ coming around an uphill 150* or so turn, on a dirt/gravel/rock path..not going very quickly, but the bike was unfortunately not one of the lowered ones Mototours offers (had all already rented out), and got into a spot where she couldn’t get her feet down or ‘dab’ as she started to lose it..so down she went. No damage to her or the bike, so onwards we went.

Coming down the other side of the ‘hill’ we were climbing up/around, the path turned to gravel, which made me a bit nervous on the downhills, as I was having some issues stopping/slowing down on the 650, even when letting it engine brake and going relatively slow. We did air the tires down, but probably could have gone a bit lower. Have I mentioned before how much I dislike riding gravel? The path intersected a ‘real road’ now and then, which tended to add a bit of ‘additional excitement’ into the mix. I think she got a bit shaken up by her off, and wasn’t enjoying the dirt all that much, so eventually we got spread out a bit, with Jim in front, me following, and her and Dave a few minutes or more behind. I was getting back to feeling pretty comfortable, and generally riding pretty close to Jim, and we went on for a fair while, then would wait for her and Dave to catch up before starting off again.

We stopped for a bit at a local place...I hesitate to call it a restaurant, more like a bar without complete walls that served food, and I got a taste of what would become my ‘fallback food’- Gayo de Queso, which is basically a soft tortilla with a sort of cheese in it with an odd texture, sort of like a cross between ricotta and American or sliced cheddar cheese, soft and thick, but very good.

We were riding another section of mixed dirt and gravel, with the road ‘falling off’ on one side, with a fair amount of twists in the path, when I felt like I was riding a bit ‘hot,’ and was going towards the outside of a turn on a downhill curved section. Unfortunately, outside of the turn/road itself there was....nothing but the edge. I tried to reel it in a bit to the inside, and rode onto a good bit of gravel. The bike got squirelley on me, I tried to counter the slide I was in, unsuccessfully, then tried to go with it a bit to let the bike slide out to a stop, but was just going too fast, and wound up going down. I don’t have the best recollection of all of it, but would guess I went down around 35MPH or so. I felt my arm and hand hit, and slid a while with the bike...and evidently I hit hard enough that Jim said he heard me go down, surely a feat over the DR engine noise.. ;-)

I was a bit in shock from going down, and ‘checked everything.’ Ok, head is fine, can move everything...damn, no engine kill switch (had a button, but didn’t work) on the bike. My left hand hurt like Hell. I’d been wearing a pair of Olympia vented Gel gloves, mainly because my BMW F650 has some vibrations to it with knobbies on it, and it’s difficult to find a gel palmed glove that’s decent...and it protected about as much as I expected it to- not much. I got out from under the bike and took stock - evidently, the mesh body armor/jacket had evidently absorbed the initial impact just fine, but then slid around as I slid down the gravel.

Damage: My wrist felt sprained and throbbing, and had some nice road rash from behind my left elbow on up to my wrist, where my glove had been burned through/shredded from the fall and slide.

I told Jim I was OK, as I checked things out. Aside from the nice hole worn into my glove, my gear was fine. I didn’t feel a thing through my Kevlar pants, and my body armor at least did part of it’s job without falling apart. I busted a turn signal off the bike, but otherwise it was OK, and I was mostly OK, although a bit shaken from it. A few minutes later, her and Dave came around the corner to the aftermath..then we moved on.

We rode for a bit more, then crested another hill, and decided it was a good time to stop for a drink break when we saw a small stand down the road, selling Cokes, PowerAdes, and with a pet cow in front. Baby cows are almost nice enough to turn vegetarian, but - hamburgers and filet mignon win out.

Baby cow
Beach near Atenas in CR

After saying our goodbyes to the Senorita and of course, the cow, we rode for a bit longer, before discussing ‘what next?’ We’d had a few really good patches of packed dirt that were a blast, bit I think the gravel was starting to freak both of us out, so decided to do a bit more ‘casual’ riding for a bit, with some packed trails, and a few ‘real roads’ mixed in. After a bit of debate, we decided we’d like to see a beach, so we stopped at an outdoor restaurant past a place called ‘Steve and Lisas,’ which evidently has good food. I’d been ‘warned’ to basically ‘not eat beef’ while in CR, but Jim said they have a cut of beef in CR that’s the best bet for trying for an edible piece of meat- basically beef tenderloin, although I forget it’s name- Lomenico? It was thinner, and grainer, than in the US, but spiced nicely, and pretty good.

She decided,, being the more adventurous of us when it comes to food, had me convinced she was just ordering to see if she could make my stomach turn! ;-) She tried cerviche, which is essentially raw fish that is cooked, sort of, by a mixture of liquids it sits in before being served. She claimed it was quite good. I took her word for it.

It was starting to get a bit late in the day, so I got a shot or two of the beach before we headed back.


On the way back to Atenas, we had two choices, that seemed....interesting. One was evidently a climb up a pretty steep hill that ‘we should be able to make it over,’ and the other over the mountain where traffic would be bad, and either Jim or Dave mentioned something about ‘it might have been re-graded finally’ or similar...I wasn’t too sure which it was going to be, but we headed out.

We stopped at a bridge to look down, where we saw our first crocodiles...swarms of them!

I’m pretty sure this is the bridge I’d read about, where people mentioned buying a chicken and throwing it over the bridge, although when I mentioned it, I got the impression it might be ‘a bad idea.’ Ahh well, at least I (thought) was getting the hang of the new camera, and they were pretty awesome to watch for a bit. 

We didn’t stick around long though, as it was getting darker out...instead, had a fairly long ride through traffic, with Jim and Dave passing cars in the other lane at will, then having to wait for the two of us to either decide to pass (the roads are very rarely more than 2 lanes in total), or they’d wait for us. I’d brought an Airhawk along with me, but didn’t have it for this day, as I was wondering what the seat on the DR650 would feel like...I got my answer, as my butt got progressively more and more sore towards the end of the day. The seat’s not bad for a few hours, or off-road when posting off the seat a lot, but for longer hauls...Stacey’s DR350 seemed to have a gel seat on it, which was more confortable, but certainly not a cruiser seat, either :-) I was pretty ready for it when we pulled back into the driveway of Villas de Colinas just as it was getting dark, and made sure to use my Airhawk for the rest of the trip!

Crocodiles below the bridge
Crocodiles below the bridge

I was ‘reminded’ that I still wasn’t used to setting the right settings on the new camera as I tried to take a few additional pictures that night...which all well, sucked.

We were pretty beat by the end of the night...it had been a long prior week...we’d been ‘on vacation,’ but had done a lot between some work for our jobs, trip preparation, Xmas visits, etc...we’d met a few people also staying at de Colinas that were going to a local place called ‘La Trilla’ for dinner and a few drinks, and had been invited along..I think as much as it would have been nice to go, I needed a bit of veg time before I was ready to shower and head out for dinner, or pretty much anything else. We discovered the ‘special’ shower head again, and managed some lukewarm showers after a while, and got a taxi out to La Trilla for a late dinner around 9. Taxis and some other things, like most meals, assuming you eat at a local run place, are pretty inexpensive. CR money roughly translates into 50,000 Colones for $100USD, so 500 Colones is around $1USD.


I did manage to get a few better pics, and was tempted to revert to my phone, but considering the trip we were doing, and on and off-road, I really prefer to keep the phone zipped up safe in an inner pocket.  

La Trilla turned out to be a very nice surprise. We still don’t know what ‘La Trilla’ means, but I’d have to guess ‘The Treehouse.’ It’s open on all sides, with a bamboo type roof, and all the tables are made from slices of trees...very nice, actually, and the food was great. Me, being the picky eater I am, got Poyo/pollo...chicken, in a garlic sauce, and a Gayo de Queso.

I don’t know where they grow these chickens, but that was the largest chicken breast I’ve ever seen in my life!

Great food...and the meal in total, with a few Imperials, the local beer, (or Pilsen), was somewhere under $20USD. (The taxi ride was around $3USD, for a 5-6 mile ride).

Let’s see what tomorrow brings..