Costa Rica on an F650: Land of the Ticos

(c) 1995 Bruce Clarke

The following is a transcription of a journal I kept while motorcycle touring the Central American country of Costa Rica. The tour was run by Pancho Villa Moto-Tours (1-800-233-0564). The motorcycles used were BMW F650s and were rented from Costa Rican Trails ((506) 221-3011). I have no affiliation with PVMT other than as a satisfied customer. This journal may be freely distributed so long as it is unaltered. Any questions or comments are welcomed by the author and can be sent to the e- mail address:

Sunday January 1, 1995:

I had to catch an American Airlines flight out of Vancouver, B.C. to San Jose, Costa Rica via San Jose, California and Dallas, Texas. The flight left Vancouver at 8 AM so there were no New Year's celebrations for me! The flights went smoothly with no real turbulence. Gee, Dallas is sure smoggy- looking from the air.

Costa Rica is four hours (by jet) south by southeast of Dallas. This country is the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined and is sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama. I arrived late at night (Sunday) and so I caught a taxi downtown and ended up staying at an old hotel called the Amstel Morazon. It's a bit beat-up but it's clean and has a private washroom with hot showers. Hell it's nicer and cleaner than my bathroom at home, but I'm a bachelor so what does that prove?

I'm a bit tired. It's surprising you can get tired just from sitting on a plane all day eating greasy cheese omelets because the airline ran out of cold cereal.

I believe the group is to meet tomorrow at the hotel Herradura out near the airport. I'll call around tomorrow and find out the scoop.

Monday, January 2, 1995:

I slept okay. I exchanged some money for colones. There are about 160 colones to the US dollar.

I met Skip Mascorro (PVMT's head honcho) in the hotel's restaurant along with two of the other riders, Robert and Linda; both will be riding solo. They both seem like nice people.

Skip went off to arrange the delivery of the bikes, so the other three of us will check out the Jade Museum here in San Jose.

The Jade Museum is in the eleventh floor of a large government office tower. It contains many carved jade figurines, tools, and jewelry. To the native Indians of Costa Rica, jade was considered more valuable than copper or gold. Costa Rica's native population was about 300,000 when the Spaniards arrived. Now the number is only about 25,000: less than 1% of the country's total population.

Although the city of San Jose reminds me a lot of a Mexican city there is one obvious difference: it's much cleaner. I saw only a few pieces of litter while walking around downtown.

The people seem more affluent than in Mexico. There are lots of small cars and 100-200 CC motorcycles. Surprisingly (compared to Mexico) a lot of riders wear full-face helmets and sometimes even wear jackets.

The day is quite cloudy and cool — say 65 to 70 Fahrenheit (of course Victoria was about 40 F when I left so I won't complain).

The bikes may be ready by the afternoon but Skip has suggested that we wait until early tomorrow morning to get them.

Other riders arrive at the hotel, so Skip arranges for a bus to take us to the Hotel Herradura. On the way Skip talks a bit about the difficulties of motorcycle touring in Central America. Many riders want to arrange tours from the USA straight through to Panama, but Skip says the paperwork is horrendous. You spend many days standing in line at the various border crossings.

The Herradura is a very nice hotel but it is several miles from town. There's a large pool and a casino but I don't think there's too much else here. I'm going to walk around and take a look at the Hotel.

{Later} We went to go pick up the rental motorcycles. All are brand spanking new BMW F650s , specially imported from Europe. They are white with black seats (except for one with a dark blue seat). I've seen various pictures of the F650 bikes and have been unsure whether I liked their appearance. I'm glad to report that these are beautiful-looking motorcycles in person. The white color suits the clean aerodynamic lines of the bike.

The 'cockpit' instruments have a nicely laid out appearance and are easy to glance at while moving. The 'idiot' lights are large but are sitting to the lower right; I think they might be better placed in the center between the tach and the speedometer. The controls are similar to a Japanese-made machine and are easy to use. The horn sounds okay but it could be louder.

The bike is very quiet when running. The engine is a liquid-cooled four valve single. It has a counter-balancer and is actually very smooth. The handlebars are wide, straight and fairly high, like an enduro. (We find out later that the bars are rubber-mounted similar to the R1100RS.)

I climbed on — whoa horsie! The seat is fairly high for me, though not as high as an R80-GS. The preload control knob is on the left side so I set it as low as possible and that helped a bit.

The bike has one of BMW's $#@! side stands with a preloaded spring. Grrr. These F650s don't have the optional centerstand.

The seat is fairly comfy and has plenty of room for a passenger. Mirrors are round, on high stocks, and are well-located for scanning traffic. Behind the passenger seat is a tail rack made of metallic grey plastic: it looks like it could break under a very heavy load. The footpegs are centrally located.

The wheels are spoked and require tubes. The tires fitted are Michelin T66 tubeless radials.

I fire up the engine and find it starts very easily but I have to keep the choke partly on or keep the throttle on slightly to prevent stalling. Neutral seems a bit hard to find. The F650 I pick out has a mere four kilometers on it.

The bike doesn't have a fuel warning light. On the left side is a single fuel petcock with a reserve.

Wierd: the oil filler cap sits at the top of the bike between the fuel tank and the handlebar clamps, and has a dipstick.

The owner of the F650s is Wilhelm von Breymann. His father is a famous motorcyclist in BMW circles. We met his father briefly and he spent a few minutes talking about his riding adventures in the Second World War and in Central America.

We head back to the hotel on the strange and unfamiliar F650s in rush hour traffic with the sun shining in our eyes. Yikes; these are very busy streets full of pedestrians and buses. Luckily the bike runs great with a sweet- shifting gearbox (5 speeds). The engine has a very smooth powerband and I find the bike runs comfortably in the 3000 to 5000 RPM range. The turn signals and horn are fairly easy to use. I find the bike to be very tall for me and to be top-heavy with a full tank of gasoline (at least compared to my Kawasaki EX-500).

I take a couple of turns rather sloppily as the bike handles quite differently from what I'm used to. I realize I'm too tense and am fighting the bike. I try to relax (ha ha) and let the bike "turn itself". Ah, that's better.

We ride down a somewhat steep city street and turn right. Rounding the corner I head straight into a deep pothole. I think just before hitting it that if I can keep the bike upright it must have a good suspension. Ka- thump! Oof! Hey the bike is still upright — I guess it must be pretty good.

After struggling through the rush hour traffic we make it back to the hotel just as the sun is setting. Total distance travelled: 14 kilometers (about 8 miles).

It's sure intimidating to be plunked onto a completely foreign bike and then spend your first eight or ten miles dodging crazed car drivers. Happily the bike performed very well. I think BMW has a winner — I'm just not sure how well it will sell in the US or Canada.

Fortunately the remainder of our riding will be away from San Jose so we shouldn't have too many problems with traffic. I had a couple of worrisome moments due to trying to handle the unfamiliar bike in fairly heavy (and hectic) traffic.

Everyone who rode the F650s had praise for the bikes. We have a gamut of riders — from HD riders to Ducati owners (in one case the same person). Most of the riders own BMWs, with one Gold Wing owner, one SR500 owner and one GB500 rider. All the riders like the engine, the transmission, and the overall feel of the F650. The one major complaint is that pre-loaded sidestand — everyone hates it.

I met all the riders at dinner. They were: Ivan and Rochelle from a suburb of Chicago, Buddy and Brenda from Atlanta, Georgia, Their friend Tom from Atlanta also, Paul from California, Ron from Burbank, California (we shared a room for the tour), Robert and Linda from Madison, Wisconsin, and Debbie from Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Tuesday, January 3, 1995:

We all ate a delicious breakfast, then went out and started all the bikes; well, all except mine. It acted like it was flooded except we checked the plugs — they were dry and unfouled. They also sparked okay. Skip sent the rest of the group on ahead with the support van while he and Wilhelm sat and diagnosed the problem. Fuel was in the line from the petcock to the carburator, but the float bowls weren't filling up. The BMW mechanic arrived and he pulled the carbs apart. They were gunked up with a black oily goop. The mechanic cleaned them thoroughly and put it all back together. (Geez he makes it look so easy.) The bike started right up and Skip and I head out. SCORE: F650 — 1; Bruce — 0.

The bike ran terrifically now. We headed out on the main highway west and turned towards the north at Alajuela. We take the road up to Poas volcano (el. 2700 m) Nice twisties, but the pavement is potholed. Reaching the top, we see a large open crater with a bubbling pool of water far below. The caldera has many visible layers of material and is quite an eyeful.

We head out and pass through several small pueblos. The pavement is generally good with a fair number of bends and curves. Skip and I saw a radar cop (in a blue and gray pickup truck) pull over a farm truck.

We reach the town of Naranjo. Skip and I circle the town's pretty square plaza looking for the other motorcycles. Next to the plaza is a pretty Mormon church, so we stop to take a look. While buying a pop at a small general store, we meet the owner of the store. He invites the two of us into his apartment in the back.

It turns out that the man has a 200 acre coffee plantation near San Carlos. He makes coffee for us from his own farm's beans. The coffee is marvelous — a very strong flavor with no bitterness or acidity. Skip asks the store owner about various fruits we've seen in Costa Rica. The man pulls open a cupboard and grabs a dozen bananas to give to us. "These are from my farm as well," he tells us. "I have a small banana grove."

Skip and I head out to the motorcycles. While we were talking to the "Juan Valdez" of Costa Rica, his wife and a friend were chatting in the plaza as they watched the bikes. A little Nicaraguan boy had tried unsuccessfully to steal Skip's jacket. The store owner tells us that Costa Ricans are growing annoyed with Nicaraguans who come to Costa Rica to find work (a little like the way some Americans get upset with Mexicans working in the United States).

Skip and I get back on the road. We climb a twisty road with many potholes high into the cloud layer. For a few miles the road has a very dense fog and is a bit intimidating. I take all the corners very cautiously as the occasional car looms out of the fog with no lights on.

We descend and the road is still twisty with many deep potholes. I'm sorry to say that there were a couple I accidentally rode through but the BMW F650 took them in stride. There is virtually no car traffic and the riding is pleasant.

Finally Skip and I reach the destination. It has a very rough gravel driveway leading down a hill. (I should mention at this point that I have absolutely zero dirt riding experience.)

I slowly follow Skip down the hill perhaps 150 to 200 feet. I'm thinking this isn't so bad when all of a sudden the back tire slides a bit. I panic and hit the back brake. I almost get the F650 under control when I hit a large bump and the bike flops onto its left side, spitting me off hard. I land a few feet from the bike on my elbow and knee.

"Oh shit," I think. "How embarrassing." I hit the engine kill switch and then try to pick the bike up. The F650 weighs about 450 pounds or so, and shouldn't be _that_ hard to pick up, but the wheels slide around in the soft dirt so I can't lever the bike up. The sun is setting and Skip has already passed around a bend in the road. SCORE: F650 — 2; Bruce — 0.

I start to really get worried because I realize the carb is now probably flooded and I'll have to push the bike in the dark (if I even manage to get it upright). I start to look for a branch to lever the F650 up with.

Just then the remaining bikes come along. A couple of guys hop off and help me pick up the bike. Amazingly the motorcycle has hardly a scratch except (gulp) the left passenger peg has broken off. I stick this in my bungee bag and try unsuccessfully to start the bike. "Great," I think. "I might as well get pushing."

I manage to push the bike maybe a quarter of the way when Skip returns (the rest of the riders have gone on to the lodge). Since Skip is very experienced at dirt riding, he offers to ride it the remainder of the way through the dirt. After a few tries, the poor F650 fires.

When I get down to the bottom of the hill, I feel pretty damn low. Naturally everyone has a bit of a chuckle at my day's misfortunes. While I look through my bungee bag I realize the footpeg has fallen out somewhere. Grrr!

I have barely noticeable scuffs of the elbow and knee of my leathers. Since I now have a bruised knee, I decide to name my motorcycle "Tonya Harding."

The group has a delicious dinner of steak, fish or pasta. Today's mileage: about 160 KM (100 miles).

Wednesday, January 4, 1995:

I slept very well. I got up early and walked up the road to where I dumped my F650 and searched unsuccessfully for my missing footpeg. The Hotel Valle Escondido ("Hidden Valley") is sitting in a neat little valley. A small portion of it is used for growing plants such as impatients and air ferns. These plants are exported to Europe, mostly as "office plants." The hotel owner employs about sixty people full-time to cut, plant and sort the plants. We didn't ask how much the workers are paid, but we noticed that the workers were dressed well and some had gold jewelry, so they seem to be paid fairly decently.

After a tour of the farming operation, a guide takes us by the plant boxing building. Here we notice and extremely old-looking tractor — it looks like it could have been used for the building of the Pan-American Highway, but it still in running condition. We take a closer look and are surprised to discover it is a Lamborghini!

We then take a 40 minute walk through the jungle as a guide points out the various plants. We see some trees encircled by choker vines — the local people call these killer trees because they eventually crush the tree they are living on. We see one large tree with an "above ground" root system similar to a cypress tree. This tree was big enough that we could walk underneath it and stand upright.

We get back to the F650s and Skip offers to ride mine back up the rough hill. We find out that a farm worker found my footpeg sitting on the road and has given it back to us.

We head back to the village of San Ramon. This time the twisty road is sunny and warm. When Skip, Debbie and I stop to refuel, a pump attendent asks me in heavily-accented English where we are riding to.

"Muelle," I answer. He nods. "That is Spanish for duck," he tells me. "A duck?" I ask as I make a wing-flapping motion with my arms. "No, the other duck." I look puzzled. He shakes his head and says, "Like in the song." He starts singing: "Sitting on the duck on the bay..."

After gassing up we ride to Valencia. Along the way we ride a ridge sitting between two large green valleys. The road is a bit bumpy and has a fair number of potholes. I notice that for about ten miles my bike bike seems to surge around the 4000 RPM mark. It goes away so I think I must have caught a small piece of dirt in my gas.

The group gathers in the town of Zarcero. I'm thirsty but not hungry, so I eat some french fries and have two cokes. Costa Rican restaurants are cheap, but they add a 10% tip and a 10% tax. Service has been excellent at every stop so far.

The town plaza of Zarcero has a beautiful white church. The plaza has many sculpted bushes, including one that looks like a monkey riding a motorcycle!

We ride out of town in the direction of Muelle. Five minutes from town there is a _huge_ line-up of vehicles sitting on the twisty hillside road. All the motorcycles bypass the cars and head to the front of the line (heh heh). A section of road is being repaved and we have to stop and wait for about forty minutes.

Finally we are waved on and make rapid progress. We are joined briefly by two riders on a Yamaha RZ-250 (not a 350 — unusual) and a Yamaha DT-125. There are many two stroke 125 to 250 CC motorcycles here, especially Yamahas. The road is fairly twisty and surprisingly the car drivers are not that fast or aggressive compared to other places I've ridden. I was riding at maybe 8/10s or 9/10s of my skill level and I couldn't keep up with most of the group. Man these were some good riders.

Eventually I caught up to the group at a toll booth. We then rode as a group through Muelle. All the cars and trucks (with a couple of notable exceptions) stopped and waved us through. People were smiling and waving in a friendly way.

The group reaches a Y-shaped junction. The rest of the group heads off to the right, but there is a bad-looking (to me) section of gravel. I stop and wonder what to do when the support van pulls up. Alex (the Costa Rican driver) waves for me to follow him up the left branch. It turns out to be an alternate route that is paved, has few potholes, and has little traffic.

I end up reaching the Hotel Tilijara: only one rider has reached here first. It turns out that the group got lost on the gravel road and is delayed. They show up about ten minutes later just as the sun is setting.

Today's mileage: 85 miles or 135 kilometers. Geez, these roads are so twisty compared to what I'm used to riding that I feel as tired as if I rode 150 to 200 miles at home.

For dinner I ate rice with chicken: it was very tasty — and cheap too. It only cost about 750 colones or $5 US.

The sky is cloudless and the stars are exceptionally bright. I wander out into the field away from the hotel's lights. To my amazement I see what looks like a distant airplane's strobe light flying only 30 feet above my head. It's a firefly. I've never seen one before.

There's a friendly little calico cat that insists on coming in my room so I'll pet her.

My face and scalp are beet-red: I was badly sunburned when I stood in the parking lot waiting for my bike's carb to be cleaned.

I dropped off a small bag of laundry at the hotel desk — I hope it won't be too expensive.

The F650 is a great bike except for one little detail — that terrible, terrible sidestand. For a short-legged rider like myself it's very difficult to push the sidestand down properly. On top of this, the F650 doesn't seem very stable when on the sidestand. You have to be excruciatingly careful with parking the motorcycle. So far three riders have had their F bikes fall over while on the sidestand! (Luckily there was no damage to any of them.)

After a second day of riding I have to say the F650 is a fun bike to ride; however, I'm not sure I'd buy one for one reason — it's too tall for me. I find it a real struggle to 'duck-paddle' the bike when parking or backing up.

Skip tells me the F650 will be sold in North America in 1996 for $7000 US. It is a good bike but I think that is just too expensive.

Thursday, January 5, 1995:

I slept until about 6:30 AM. We all meet for a buffet breakfast of rice and beans, scrambled eggs, and fresh fruit. Today's ride is straight north to the Nicaraguan border. The road is generally straight with gentle hills and sweeping curves. There is good visibility for passing around the bends. We ride through farm country: sugar cane, peach groves, citrus trees, etc.

There isn't too much traffic; however, I'd say I had to swerve around a bad pothole about twice a minute. I found my rate of speed to be about 70 to 80 KPH except for a couple of exceptionally bad sections of road.

About five or six miles south of Los Chiles it started to rain a heavy mist that smeared my face visor. It lasted for only a few minutes and stopped as we parked the bikes next to a dock on the river.

Los Chiles is a town on the Rio Frio just a few miles south of the Nicaraguan border. Here our group boards a canopied riverboat and we move down the jungle river. There is an incredible number of waterbirds. Every fifty feet or so we see a heron, a crane or a kingfisher.

We come within a few feet of a luminescent green lizard about one foot long. The local people call it the Jesus Christ lizard because it dog-paddles so fast with its big paws that it literally walks on water.

We saw several orange-colored iguanas sunning on the river shore. Someone pointed out a jade-colored hummingbird. There are several turtles in various locations. On one tree branch hanging over the river we see three small bats that blend in well with the natural light brown of the branch.

High up in a tree we can see a sloth hanging as he eats leaves. Right after this we spot two crocodiles (not alligators) about two to three feet long. Later on the boat pulled so close to one crocodile that I could have actually reached out and touched it!

The boat pulled up to the shore near a farm and the group had a nice little picnic lunch in the shade of a large tree. Fish in the river devoured within seconds any little crumbs of bread we threw in the river.

The boat turned around at a wide point in the river near the Cano Negro bird sanctuary. Here we saw at least a dozen crocodiles floating in the river with only their eyes peeping up out of the water.

Coming back we saw a tree with five or six small black howler monkeys. We also saw two or three long-limbed black and brown spider monkeys swinging from branch to branch like Tarzan.

Later on the group saw a cluster of trees that seemed alive with white-faced monkeys. It was amazing to watch these little acrobats jump 15 or 20 feet between branches. As we watched they would snap branches off the tree, strip and eat the leaves, then drop the bare branch into the river below.

We get back and saddle up. I decide to ride straight back to the Hotel Tilijara. The weather is sunny and pleasant. Some stretches of road seem nice but as soon as I get up to 80 KPH I run into a batch of potholes and have to scrub off my speed.

Reaching the hotel, the weather has become a hazy overcast and the temperature is about 70 Fahrenheit. Today we only rode about 85 miles (135 KM) but the boat ride lasted four hours and was fascinating.

Today yet another rider had her F650 fall over while parked on a dirt lot. That sidestand is the pits. A couple of tall riders complained that the F650 seat becomes uncomfortable after about an hour or so. Strangely, the shorter riders in the group (including myself) find the seat very comfortable.

At dinner time I sat and talked to Alex, the Costa Rican support van driver. I found out that he lives in San Jose with his mom and a cousin. He has worked as a tour guide for 2.5 years. The work is nonstop in the "high" season and is fairly busy even in the low season. In four months he will be going to an English language school to improve his English. He told me he will be going on the next Pancho Villa tour in late January 1995 — a fifteen day tour of both Costa Rica and Panama. Alex is looking forward to this because he has never gone that far into Panama.

I pick up my bag of laundry: 500 colones (about $3 US) for three sets of shirts, socks and underwear.

After eating dinner I felt tired so I went back to my room and laid down at 8 PM.

Friday, January 6, 1995:

I slept until 6 AM. As soon as I got up I bought a cheap baseball cap for about $3 US. I had a hat on my packing list but I somehow missed it. After breakfast we rode a fairly straight-forward road west to Fortuna. I press on to the lodge and arrive at 10:30 AM. Apparently the lodge is closed until noon, so I decide to ride my F650 back into town. I'm running low on gas, so I flip the tank to reserve and head back into town. With a startle, I realize that my rear mud guard has fallen off the bike. I figure my fall on the first day broke the fender and the potholed roads have vibrated the retaining bolts loose. SCORE: Tonya the F650 — 3; Bruce — 0.

I get into town and kill the engine to ask for directions. The F650 refuses to restart, just like the first morning. I realize that there must have been some dirt in the reserve bladder and switching to reserve has fouled up the carb again. SCORE: Tonya the F650 — 4; Bruce — 0.

I push the bike a half mile to the nearest gas station and fill the tank with super unleaded. I try a few times to start it unsuccessfully. Alex finds me and goes to find Skip.

Skip starts tearing the carb apart (again) and tells me to go into town for lunch. We come back an hour later as a group. Skip has traced the problem to a tiny piece of junk in a carb jet.

He tells the group to ride back to the hotel and get settled in. I'm not familiar with Skip's R80-ST, so Ron rides it and I ride Ron's F650 back to the lodge. The lodge has pleasant rooms that offer a magnificent view of the volcano Arenal a few miles away. Today's mileage: about 50 miles (80 KM).

That night we took the van from the lodge to the Tabacon Hot Springs. I normally don't enjoy hot tubs, but I did like going into the hot springs. The water was quite warm. I then ate a meal of stir-fried beef — it was okay but not great. Some of the others mentioned that they thought their meals here were not up to par with the good food we'd had at other sites.

Trying to sleep that night, I kept getting woken up every hour or so by a sound like a low-flying jet liner: it was the Arenal volcano rumbling.

Saturday, January 7, 1995:

Apparently some of the riders got out of bed and could see some lava spewing out of the volcano last night. I kick myself for not taking a look. It's just after 6:00 AM and I can see the cone silhouetted by the rising sun. The volcano is several miles away, but I can hear a rhythmic puffing sound. There's a drooping cap of ash hanging around the top of the volcano.

We eat breakfast and head west from the Arenal Lodge. The pavement isn't bad for 10 KMs or so, but then the road becomes rough gravel and dirt. At least it's dry and hard-packed, so I crawl along at 30 or 40 KPH. This goes on for several miles until I reach an extremely wet muddy stretch of 100 meters or so. I stop and wait for the others to catch up.

While I wait, a huge Toyota bus full of little old ladies and too much luggage tries to cross: it gets stuck. Another guy with a Forerunner ends up pulling the bus out. The bus takes a short run at the mud and gets stuck again. The Forerunner pulls the bus out a second time. Finally the bus manages to plow through the muck and water. In the process the mud has been churned up and is now a real mess.

I ask Skip if I should try riding the F650 across the mud. He laughs and says "Yeah, don't worry. If you fall in we'll pull you out."

I start the bike and head through the mud ruts. I make it about a quarter of the way across and lose control. I end up wiping out in the mud. The left side of the F650 and of my riding leathers become coated in thick reddish- brown mud. As I pick myself up out of the mud, I happen to say many colorful words. SCORE: Tonya the F650 — 5; Bruce — 0.

Skip helps me push the F650 out of the mud. I fire up the engine and we head down the road. The dirt quickly changes to (relatively) nice pavement.

The weather was sunny and warm. The road was reasonably twisty and I reach the Pan-American Highway as I descend from the hills to the northwest plains.

The group meets at the Rincon Corobisi restaurant just north of Canas. Everyone has a good laugh at my mud-encrusted leathers and motorcycle. Plenty of photos are taken.

We leave Liberia and ride sweeping country roads to Playa Tamarindo. The roads were paved for the most part and had few potholes. The last six kilometers or so was graded gravel, which was pretty easy to ride after this morning's experience.

As they followed me down the road, Dave and Helen thought the road had a lot of bumps on it. Dave then realized that he was running over lumps of dry mud that were falling off my F650!

After hosing the mud off my motorcycle and leathers, I take a short walk to the beach. It offers a beautiful view of the pounding surf. Today's mileage: about 120 miles (200 KM).

After looking at the speedometer, a guy riding a Honda Rebel 250 asked me about my BMW "Superbike" (his words) "It goes 200 kilometers per hour?" Yeah right, as if I'd dare to go 200 KPH on these roads. I reached speeds of maybe 100 KPH (60 MPH) on the Pan-American, the first length of road I've seen with virtually no potholes.

Most of the group ate seafood at an open air restaurant in the town circle. The food is good as we sit and watch the sky turn black over the ocean. We walk back along the beach — the night sky is very clear and we have a wonderful view of the stars. The constellation of Orion is directly overhead. The Milky Way is easy to see.

About six of the group each pay 2000 colones (about $12 US) to have a guide take us by boat to a turtle watch. Here on a protected beach we can see leatherback sea turtles lay eggs. The beach is fairly dark and we walk a few hundred meters in single file.

We see a large sea turtle (about the size of a tractor's rear tire) slowly dragging itself down the beach to the water. It shuffles its flippers maybe six or seven times, each time dragging itself a few inches. It then rests for several seconds before shuffling again. The turtle takes several minutes to crawl the 20 or 30 meters to the Pacific Ocean.

Walking further along in the moonlight we see two more leatherbacks. One has finished burying its eggs and is starting the slow trek back to the ocean. We see another large turtle trying to dig a nest, but it's having trouble digging deep enough because its back flippers are very short: the guide tells us the flippers have been bitten off by a shark. The guide reaches into the sand and helps dig the hole deeper. The leatherback then drops soft-shelled white eggs into the three-foot deep hole. Each egg is about the size and shape of a billiard ball. There are about fifty or sixty eggs in total. Some were smaller and yolk-less; these act as packing cushions.

The big turtle then uses its huge front flippers to throw large amounts of sand over the clutch of eggs.

As we walked back to the boat, we saw another turtle crawling up from the ocean. The guide tells us that these turtles breed once every three years from age 15 to 50. They come up on shore maybe nine times per season.

Apparently only one in 10,000 eggs becomes an adult turtle. Most of the eggs hatch, but when the turtles are small they get gobbled up by fish and sharks. Once they reach adulthood, they are so big that their only predators are humans.

It's incredible how truly stupid some people are. The guide explained that no lights, smoking, camera flashes, etc were allowed, yet some of the tourists still lit up cigarettes, shined flashlights on the turtle's face, etc. By the end of the tour the guide was starting to sound a bit irate.

Sunday, January 8, 1995:

No real activities were scheduled for today. Some of the riders decided to go exploring on their own, and ended up on a very rough road — a couple dropped their F650s in the process (luckily no damage).

I decided to clean my leathers better. My pants had mud on the inside. I gave up and put the pants on with the cuffs rolled up and stood in the shower. My pants were finally clean but were sopping wet. Tomorrow it will be very hot so the motorcycle ride should dry them out.

I went walking on the beach: the water is a nice temperature. I saw about a dozen pelicans diving for fish. After getting wet on the beach I went back to the hotel for a dunk in the small pool.

I get a can of beer to sip on. It's fairly cheap in the restaurants here — say 150 colones or about $0.90 US. Meals range from 2,500 colones ($15 US) for a fancy steak dinner to something cheap and filling like rice with chicken for only 750 colones ($5 US). Gasoline is about $2 US per gallon of high octane unleaded, and our bikes get fairly high mileage.

We've had to stop for toll booths once or twice — they generally charged anywhere from 50 to 150 colones (about $0.35 to $1 US). Personally I think the government needs to work a little harder at upkeeping the roads. The local people can't afford this, but there are a lot of rented cars on the road. Maybe the Costa Rican government should charge a rental vehicle tax like $50 per car rental that would be dedicated to road repairs.

I find the drivers are not as fast or as aggressive as in Mexico, but the roads are generally in worse shape (and I have rode on some pretty bad roads in Mexico).

In the entire town of Tamarindo, there is one payphone. There's always a line-up to use it.

The sky is cloudless: the temperature is about 75 F or 80 F. There is quite a strong breeze.

{Later} Dinner was at the Hotel Tamarindo. I had Chinese stir-fry chicken and vegetables with home-made coconut ice cream for desert. Delicious!

Monday, January 9, 1995:

I slept fairly well, then had a big breakfast. I left a bit early as I didn't want to slow down the faster riders over the gravel section.

I met up with Dave and Helen as they hunted for a gas station. We found some regular gas and then headed out on regular country roads to the town of Nicoya.

Reaching Nicoya, the road continues straight, but I thought we were supposed to ride through Nicoya to La Mansion so I convince Dave and Helen that we have to turn and go through Nicoya. We then find a Y-split road: a dirt road to the south-east and a paved road to the south-west. Skip had told us that there were no dirt roads during today's ride, so we went 10 kilometers or so down the paved road. We stop to ask a farmer on horseback for directions and he tells us we need to take the dirt road to reach La Mansion.

We backtrack and start riding down the gravel road. It is dry and hard- packed, so at first it isn't too bad. After a few miles we see a backhoe spreading raw brown earth on the road to build it up. This stuff was loose and squirrelly to ride on but we made it without any falls. Dave and Helen tell me I ran over an iguana that darted out from the side of the road, but the road was so rough I didn't notice the extra bump!

Eventually we made it to pavement and rode the fairly good pavement to a ferry at Puerto Moreno. Here there was a line-up of about 20 or 30 cars, so we ride the F650s up to the front. The ticket seller says it is okay for us to board first before the cars.

The ferry is a small open-deck barge. It runs every half hour and makes a trip across the Rio Tempisque as the river opens into the Golfo de Nicoya.

On the ferry are a couple of teenagers riding a fairly new Yamaha DT125, a two-stroke dual-purpose (very popular in Costa Rica). Someone told me that Costa Rica has so many taxes and duties on imported vehicles that cars and motorcycles cost about twice what they do in the States. The only motorcycles we saw (besides ours) that were more than 350 CCs were the police bikes: a mix of Suzuki GS1000s, Kawasaki KZ1000s, and an occasional boxer or big Harley.

Once the ferry docks, our two F650s and the DT125 take off and leave the cars in our dust. After a few minutes the two kids on the DT125 give us a big thumbs up as they head off down a side road.

The road is very straight and bumpy. We average about 90 KPH. After 20 minutes we haven't seen any direction markers and I'm starting to wonder if we're on the right road. Costa Rica is terrible for posting direction signs. For example, in the small town of Belen, we noticed that there were _two_ signs on the north side of the town that stated population, elevation, etc. On the south side of Belen there were no marker signs of any kind.

We finally reach the Pan-American highway and start to ride about 90 to 100 KPH. We take a brief stop for cokes and then encounter some construction. There are a lot of freight trucks and the countryside is hilly, so Dave and I start 'leap-frogging' the cars by lane-splitting past one car at a time. Most of the car drivers are accommodating, but one guy in a metallic green low-rider pickup truck was a bit reluctant with letting me pass him.

Soon we reach the town of Esparza and we turn right to San Mateo and Orotina. At this point we got into some tight twisty hills and had some fun. Unfortunately we had to stop two or three times to find out where the highway to Tarcoles was. We end up on one of the nicest roads we've seen yet: the road is like a small state highway, yet there is virtually no traffic.

Finally we find the Villa Lopez Hotel. It has a paved driveway that is quite steep. We park the bikes only a few minutes after the other riders show up. I then find out that I was wrong about going into the town of Nicoya; if we had gone straight we never would have ended up on that dirt road. Doh! Today's mileage: about 150 miles (235 KM).

I find the most aggravating part of riding in Costa Rica to be the lack of signs on the roads. It's extremely difficult to find your way around.

We take the support van into the nearby town of Jaco for dinner at the Oyster Restaurant. I had a couple of beers, a sea bass dinner, and a delicious coconut flan desert for only 1600 colones ($10 US).

Tuesday, January 10, 1995:

I slept very soundly. We ate the usual buffet breakfast of corn flakes, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, and good old rice and beans.

I start up my F650 and notice it's being a bit stubborn. I get it going and head out along up the paved driveway and along the half mile or so of gravel to the main highway south. I make a quick stop to gas up and then ride past the exit to Jaco.

The pavement is potholed badly. Eventually the pavement runs in lengths of 100 meters interspersed with 100 meter sections of gravel. The pavement allows one to have a little rest between the dirt stretches so the riding isn't too bad.

At one point some farmers are leading a group of horse along the road. I slow down to maybe 30 or 40 KPH as I approach. Just as I get near a young colt runs in front of my bike, almost becoming road pizza. Yeah, these F650 brakes work pretty good.

I pass through several large fruit plantations. I reach the town of Parrita and have to cross a river on an unusual bridge: it's made of old iron railroad tracks running perpendicular across the bridge. The rails are spaced a few inches apart. Actually it wasn't bad, but I can see how it would be treacherous in the rain.

I then reach a graded gravel road that runs for about ten or fifteen kilometers. The pavement comes back and Robert and I top up at a gas station. We notice that the pump attendants are all female and dressed, umm, unusually. As Robert put it, this was the 'Hooters' of gas stations.

We reach the little seaside town of Quepos. Here there is a road that leads to Manuel Antonio National Park. The other bikes show up a few minutes later and I tell Skip that I'm going on to Dominical. They head off to the park. I start the F650 up, ride about a block, and kill the engine to ask a small boy for directions. He points out the right road.

I try to start my bike. Nothing. I try again. Oh great — the carb is fouled up for the third time. I park the bike by the road leading to the park and sit and wait. It is 10:30 AM. I decide I had better not mess with trying to clean the carb myself as it's not my bike. SCORE: Tonya the F650 — 6; Bruce — 0.

After about three or four hours of sitting in the shady plaza, I've had to explain to several people in pidgin Spanish and feverish gesturing that my carburator is fouled and that some friends are on the way to help me. The local town drunk shows up and buys me a bottle of Coca-Cola while telling me that he is from Nicaragua and that Nicaragua is "muy mal" — very bad.

As I was sitting I met an ex-patriot American. He told me that he recommends buying a small Yamaha dual-purpose and riding it around Costa Rica for a few months. You could then sell it and lose only a few hundred dollars in the process. I think it's actually a very good idea, but I can't take that kind of time away from work. It sure is a tempting idea though.

Finally about 2:30 PM the others come back from the park. I tell Skip that at this point in the trip (we only have 150 more miles of riding to go) we are probably best off to park the F650 somewhere secure and let Wilhelm come pick it up for repair. It'd take Skip at least an hour or two to clean the carb, and the problem could reoccur at any time.

Skip arranges for a pickup truck and carts my motorcycle off to a friend of Wilhelm's who happens to run a hotel nearby. I snap a picture of Terrible Tonya being carted off in the back of the truck. Today's (bike) miles: about 80 miles (130 KM). TOTAL MILES RODE ON TERRIBLE TONYA: 1,117 KM (about 700 miles).

I climb into the support van driven by Alex. He has picked up a hitchhiker from Baltimore. This guy (Tom) is backpacking around Costa Rica while waiting to start a new job on January 25. He knows a little high school Spanish.

Surprisingly I can follow about half the conversation Tom has with Alex. A lot of nouns and verbs in Spanish come from Latin, so an English-fluent person can pick out some words. I find I can understand some of what they are talking about but I can't really add anything to the conversation except an occasional 'si' or 'no'.

We pass through a checkpoint. A man sprays disinfectant on the tires of the support van. This is to prevent the spread of swine disease in case we drove through pig poop. (No, they didn't spray the motorcycles.)

The support van arrived in the beach town of Dominical about an hour before dark. The bikes had to ride a rough dirt road the 45 kilometers or so from Quepos. The other riders are coughing on dust from the road and tell me I didn't miss much.

Tom was the first to arrive at Villa Rio Mar. After riding the 45 KM of dirt road, he saw a crowd of hotel employees watching him pull in. He made a very big show of carefully parking and putting the F650 on its finicky sidestand. As he dismounted, he accidentally fell over in the dirt without knocking the bike over. Lying in the dust, he told the startled employees "I'm with Pancho Villa!"

The hotel has hut-style rooms and a fairly large swimming pool. The rooms each have the kitchenette and sofa in an open outer area facing the surrounding forest.

We had a group dinner. I had a grilled sea bass with lots of garlic. It was very tasty but they put in so much garlic that Count Dracula will never come near me.

Apparently the other riders met up with some journalists who write for a Central American motorsport magazine. The group had their photo taken and the journalist claimed he'll send copies of the magazine to Skip.

Wednesday, January 11, 1995:

Today the group ate a delicious breakfast that did _not_ include rice and beans. While the other saddled up, I got to ride in the support van. Oh boy - how exciting. Not.

Debbie took a wrong turn on the dirt road leaving the hotel and ended up stuck on a very rocky hill. A couple of us had to help pull her bike out of the rocks, but she didn't drop it.

After a few hundred meters, the bikes reached pavement and headed east to San Isidro. The road was potholed badly in places. At one spot we saw a large butterfly: the upper surface of the wings was a bright bluish-violet, and the lower surface a yellowish-brown.

The road is very scenic and often offers great views of jungle valleys. We reach the large town of San Isidro. The potholes clear up and we each the Pan-American.

I've noticed that we ride through 25 KPH 'Escuela' (school) zones every few miles in Costa Rica. This country has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. In school it is mandatory for all children to study both Spanish and another language, so most people in the country know a smattering of English, French or German.

I've also seen plenty of curve warnings and 'Despacio' (caution) signs. It's surprising to me how well the dangerous spots are marked but yet so few direction markers exist.

Today's road is very nice for riding — grrr. The air gets cool and thin. At one point we reach Cerro de la Muerte: the Hill of Death. The elevation is 3,333 meters (10,900 feet).

Riding in the van, I listen to the radio playing a mix of Spanish and English pop music. A familiar eery whistling tune comes on the radio as the announcer talks in Spanish about a TV show called "Los X-Files".

On the Hill of Death, we had to pass through a police checkpoint. Skip had his passport locked in the van (and we had already left). Apparently it is against the law for a foreigner to operate a motor vehicle without carrying a passport. Skip ended up playing the bribe game with the cops.

"We can let you go right away if you show us some co-operation," the cop said. The cop rolled up the window of his pickup truck and the glass got stuck halfway. "You see?" he asked. "It gets so cold up here! If only I had some money I could get a mechanic to fix this window..."

Skip finally gave up and agreed to give the cop 2,000 colones (about $12 US) to buy some sandwiches and "hot coffee to stay warm."

I stopped at Enpalme and took photos of all the other riders at a small hillside cafe. I had a "Cuban sandwich" for the first time: this is a kind of grilled submarine sandwich with a thin slice of roast beef — very good.

After a few more miles of hillside twisties, the road enters the valley San Jose sits in. The traffic increases. The group picks through the heavy streams of cars and reaches Wilhelm's house. Everyone drops off his or her bike and we take a private bus to the Hotel Herradura.

For dinner the group takes a limo bus to a nice restaurant in downtown San Jose. At dinner, Debbie confesses that before coming on this trip she had only 300 kilometers of motorcycling experience — holy mackerel! Skip's face seems to go a shade paler when he hears this. I tell Debbie that she has plenty of experience now: these 800 or 900 miles in Costa Rica are like about 8,000 miles of good Canadian road.

To anyone considering this trip, I would recommend having at least a few thousand miles in riding various road conditions. Most of the riders found downtown San Jose very intimidating. I commute daily in rush hour traffic so the cars didn't bother me _too_ much, but I found the dirt roads to be rather difficult at times.

Everyone had a fantastic time. It's astounding how strangers can become good friends after only a few days of riding together. As all the riders shook hands, it seemed sad that we are spread so far apart geographically and that it is unlikely we will see each other any time soon.

Thursday, January 12, 1995:

I slept okay until about 5:00 AM. I met Helen, Dave and Debbie for breakfast around 6:30 AM, then watched them leave in a taxi for their flight home.

I packed my bags and left a note for Ron (who was still sleeping) saying good- bye and thanks for being such a good roommate. I then caught a taxi from the Herradura to the Hotel Amstel Morazon.

After checking in, I walked around downtown for several hours. I visited the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica. This cost 150 colones to enter and offered an hour's entertainment. The displays covered Costa Rica's history from the first native settlements to the 1948 revolution. The museum is housed in an old army barracks building that is covered with bullet holes from that civil war.

One thing I learn in the Museo Nacional: in Spanish Christopher Columbus is called Cristobal Colon, so the monetary unit is named after Columbus. It's as if the USA called its money columbias instead of dollars.

I wandered down Avenida Central and looked in the various shops. I eventually reached an open square that contained a gold museum and the Teatro Nacional. This national theater was halfway through a renovation and looked unimpressive when covered with scaffolding. The gold museum is only open Friday through Sunday so I wandered past the street vendors selling hand-made knicks-knacks.

I reach another park that has a large domed bandstand. It's in a very nice palm tree setting. Many people gather here for lunch. Leaving the square I pass by the Melico Salazar theater — a white ornate pillared building.

I pass a McDonald's and have a craving for a nice disgustingly greasy Big Mac. I go in and buy a burger with fries and a coke. As I eat it I realize I have only 2000 colones ($12 US) left.

I know the taxi to the airport will be about this much, and that I will also have to pay a departure tax of about $8 US. I phone the airport and find out that they will only accept cash — colones or US dollars. I have about $35 Canadian so I try to exchange it at the hotel desk. They tell me I have to go to a bank.

I find a bank and stand in line for about twenty minutes before I realize I'm in the wrong line-up to exchange money. I get in the exchange line-up for ten minutes, then find out they won't exchange Canadian money.

I ask if I can get a cash advance on my VISA credit card. Sure they can do it, but I have to go to the first line-up. Finally I get 5,000 colones — whew.

I snoop through a few shops and then head to my room to pack up.

Friday, January 13, 1995 (the last day):

{A few comments written on the plane home} I rode about 100 miles per day when on the road. This doesn't sound like a lot, but I'd say that about 20% of the roads we rode were dirt or gravel. Even the Pan-American highway has a lot of potholes and construction.

I remember crossing a two lane concrete bridge where the concrete was missing at one end: there was a 'pothole' covering the entire right lane that had only the steel reinforcing rods in place. Someone had been kind enough to stick a wooden sawhorse with a red warning flag into this crater.

At the airport, I found the lines rather confusing; there are no signs in English telling you where to go to have your passport checked or to pay the departure tax.

I met Skip in the airport. He was supposed to fly out yesterday on Continental Airlines, but he forgot to check his flight reservations. He showed up two hours before departure to find out his flight had been rescheduled to leave two hours early and was just taking off. The last time I saw Skip his new flight had been delayed yet another hour and a half!

I have to marvel at airplanes. For the equivalent of a few day's pay, you can buy a seat on a giant metal bus hurtling at 550 MPH to pretty much anywhere in the world. And something like 250,000 people can do this every day!

I look around the cabin and see that most of the passengers are reading or are watching that crappy movie "Getting Even with Dad." The visibility is great but as near as I can tell I'm the only one fascinated with the view of the tiny villages and farms below.

At this point, those of you who have managed to read through all this crap are probably wandering how much it cost, etc. Let me say right off I have no affiliation with Pancho Villa Moto-Tours except as a satisfied customer.

PVMT (1-800-233-0564) runs motorcycle tours (from 6 to 35 days in length) throughout Mexico. This was their first "Fly-n-Ride" in Costa Rica. I think things went extremely well and I had a great time. This was my second tour with PVMT (Last year I rode their 10 day Colonial tour in eastern Mexico). I would definitely consider touring again with PVMT.

The cost of the trip was $2,200 US. This included the F650 rental, the support van, deluxe accommodations nightly, a motorcycle guide, and at least one or two good meals per day. In addition I spent about $15 or $20 US per day on gas, snacks, taxis, and souvenirs. The plane fare from Vancouver, B.C. to Costa Rica was about $625 US including travel insurance.

I know that sounds very expensive (hell, you can get a really nice used bike for that price!) but I think it was worth every penny.

I could probably fly down and rent a motorcycle on my own, but that would take valuable time for paperwork, finding places to stay, etc. It's worth spending the extra money to have PVMT take on all the headaches and let me concentrate on riding my motorcycle.

If I were between jobs or finishing college I would love to fly to Costa Rica, buy a small cheap bike and ride around on my own, but right now in my life I simply don't have that kind of free time.

I am thinking seriously of getting a small dirt-friendly bike such as a Yamaha XT225 Serow. I really need to have more dirt-riding experience if I want to ride the rougher roads. Someday I want to do a complete Pan-American tour, ride London-to-Bombay, or maybe even ride around the world.

{Later} Geez! What a total jerk the US Customs guy in Dallas was! He made me empty out my bag and my pockets, searched my jacket, asked me about three times what I did for a living, etc. Thanks to Sargeant Suspicious I got on my connecting flight to Vancouver only nine minutes before departure!

Here's the kicker: he asked me what I was doing in Costa Rica. (Gee, I'm wearing a leather jacket and I'm carrying a motorcycle helmet...) I tell him a little about the tour. Then he asks me if I can't do such a motorcycle trip in Canada.

I answer with as little sarcasm as I can, "Uh, no, it's January...."

The End

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