The benefit of following the coastal road in Costa Rica was that I could swim in the Pacific at the end of a day’s ride. But after Dominical, the road turned in land, so I was just looking to get to Panama quickly; riding for distance instead of destination.
As I was getting back onto the road after stopping for a drink, a touring cyclist was riding by. I shouted at him, and waved him down. For some reason, I assumed he spoke English, “Where are you from?” He didn’t understand me, and asked, “En espanol?”
Alex is from Colombia and he was cycling from Guatemala back to Medellin. He had gotten this far, almost to the Panamanian border, in only three weeks. He was carrying almost nothing on his bike. On his rear rack, he had two tiny panniers and a small bundle wrapped in a trash bag, and he was wearing a fanny pack and a backpack. I don’t know why he had a backpack; it would have been really sweaty.
I really like speaking English because it’s so easy for me, but it was great having a partner who only spoke Spanish. It forced me to stumble through it, and I was proud at how much I was able to communicate. I was really getting into the zone, and Alex was patient, and acted like he was impressed by my Spanish. He didn’t speak much English so I guess he understood my problem. Later on, Alex started using some English words he knew and used me to learn more. Whenever we were about to leave somewhere, he liked saying, “Let’s go.”
After going 80 miles, we got drenched in an afternoon downpour, and stopped in Ciudad Neily, 20 km from the border.
Panama Border Crossing
The border was slower than usual because Alex, being Colombian, had to do more to get through. And at a checkpoint 10 km after the border, we were stopped, and they searched his bags really thoroughly; mine were opened, but they were satisfied after only looking at the stuff on top. Colombians get a hard time.
At immigration on the Panama side, a guy in street clothes had some stickers hanging off his shirt. He took one off and said I needed it in my passport. Then he said it cost $1. I didn’t believe him, so as I got my passport officially stamped by an official, I asked the official if I really needed the stamp. He said I did, so I paid the guy $1. I still feel like I got ripped off.
Alex and I made it to David, the capital of the region, and we got a room. We went to eat at a nearby comedor, and I got $2 pescado con papas. All that ketchup on fries; it was delicious. I went back the next morning and got beef with fries for breakfast.
It was a shame that Alex and I had to split up so soon after we met, as it was great having a partner and I felt like my Spanish was improving quickly in this situation. But I was going to Boquete, a diversion from the Interamericana, and Alex needed to get back to Colombia where he has a job, a wife, and two kids waiting for him. I’m sure I’ll meet up with him again when I visit Medellin.
As I was getting ready to get back on my bike to leave Dominicalito, an overweight guy in his fifties and carrying a fishing pole asked me about my trip. Gordon was from Tennessee and had a house in the area. Apparently, everybody there called him “El Gordo” (The Fat One) since it was close to Gordon and he was sort of fat. Gordon seemed to like the name.
Gordon and his wife, Beverly, were there spending three weeks at their house. He described the place as paradise. “It’s sweet, man.”
So then Gordon said, “If you need a place to stay, you can come camp in my yard.” “Oh, wow, really?” “Yeah sure, I don’t give a fuck.” “Well, that sounds great. Thanks man.” “I mean, I’m not gay or nuthin’.” “Oh yeah, yeah. No.” It was a great offer. I never turned down generosity like that. Too bad he made that weird “gay” comment at the end.
I followed Gordon and Beverly back to their house. They welcomed me in, and immediately asked me to give them all my dirty clothes so they could put them in their washing machine. I hadn’t had my clothes washed in a machine since the US; it was a real luxury. Then they sat me down and brought me a plate of food. They liked that I was from Atlanta – fellow Southerners.
The conversation became complaints about Ticos (Costa Ricans) and living in Costa Rica. There’s a double standard: rules are enforced on gringos, but Ticos who are squatting on land break lots of rules and get away with it; there’s a gringo price for everything, and; they have to pay this Costa Rican couple $500 per month to live in their house – pretty backwards. But this “house sitting” protects the house from getting robbed by Ticos. From what I could tell, their Paradise wasn’t all that pleasant.
Gordon and Beverly took me out to the town of Dominical for a drink. We had a beer at a gringo bar where I sat down next to a bleached-hair, middle-aged English guy with a “wild” spirit. He was trying to act like my pal so he could sell me drugs. Apparently, this place was full of exiled trust-fund baby deadbeats. Their parents would send them down here to “chill out” after their reckless lifestyle had created a problem. Leeching beach-side off their parents’ deep pockets.
Whenever anything came up about me cycling, Gordon would call me “Lance Armstrong.” It made me uncomfortable for some reason.
Gordon and Beverly took really good care of me, and their generosity never felt strained. Although Gordon initially offered me a place to camp in their yard, it was never mentioned again, and I was shown a big bed in their spare room.
They mentioned that they never had children. Maybe they saw me as their son. That would be cool.
It wasn’t sad leaving the Belgians. We had a good time together but there really wasn’t a connection. They were on a fat budget being in their fifties with steady jobs and touring for only three weeks.
The road to Dominical was dirt and rock for 30 miles. It was under construction, so it’ll be paved soon. I was lucky it wasn’t raining.
In the middle of the day, I stopped at the Dominicalito beach for a swim. It seemed undiscovered as there weren’t many people around and there were only a few huts. Nothing commercial.
Then an American appeared, talked to me, and offered me a place to stay. See Southern Hospitality in Costa Rica.
Stats: 42.27 miles, 13 mph avg, 3:15 hours
When I returned to the campground to recover my wallet, the two deadbeats at the reception took an interest in my story. It seemed they pitied my situation – having to backtrack 30 miles on bicycle. They didn’t ask that I pay the $5 campground fee, so I didn’t offer it.
The next morning, I packed up, and was thinking, “All I have to do is get through that gate.” Not having to pay that $5 seemed like a just reward after losing my money and wasting time after forgetting my wallet. But one of the guys approached me, telling me I needed to pay. I thought they were going to let me slide.
One thing I really hate while I’m bike touring is backtracking. Even when I’m looking for a place to eat, and someone points me to a place 500 meters back, I usually look for something else in the direction I’m going. So, it was like murder having to travel the same boring stretch of road a third time.
But on the way, I saw the Belgian touring cyclists again! This time we were going the same direction, so I joined them. They were friendly and when we stopped for a drink, they bought me a coffee.
When I passed through the town where I realized I lost my wallet, I saw the taxi driver in the red truck. He honked at me and waved. I gave him a cold stare and an unfriendly “Hola.” I sort of feel bad about that now — he was just trying to be friendly, but the emotion was still raw at the time.
The Belgians and I rode to Quepos and I got an $11 dorm room at a hostel named “The Wide Mouthed Frog.” What’s with these stupid hostel names? In Granada, Nicaragua, I remember passing one named “The Bearded Monkey.” They’re really embarrassing names. Like “The Squirrel Nut Zippers.” Remember that band? Wouldn’t you hate to have them as your favorite band? Every time someone asked you what bands you liked, you’d have to say The Squirrel Nut Zippers.
It was a pretty nice hostel though since it had a swimming pool, a kitchen, and a TV room with a big selection of DVDs. I watched Tropic Thunder. It turned out to be a pretty crappy movie.
And Quepos was a pretty crappy town. It really only serves as a base for getting to the Manual Antonio National Park with its famously scenic beach. But I didn’t go because of its $10 entrance fee. I would rather have a night in a hotel than to see a beach.