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Peregrinations Mexico and Central America on Motorcycle: Open road, open heart, open mind.

Week 26: Ditching the Comfort Zone in Corcovado

COSTA RICA | Monday, 19 September 2011 | Views [1769] | Comments [1]

The jumping off point for the Corcovado adventure, crossing the river on the ferry from Sierpe.

The jumping off point for the Corcovado adventure, crossing the river on the ferry from Sierpe.

On the morning of September 15, 2011, in the dusty pueblo of Sierpe, I looked my Comfort Zone in the eye and said, "Thank you very much for the past six months, it's been lovely, but I must move on now." We shook hands rather formally (I think it was a bit miffed), then I turned around, hopped into the Millenium Falcon, and sped lightyears away. I never saw my old Comfort Zone again after that. 

Why did we say goodbye in Sierpe, a little smudge of a town on the western side of Costa Rica? Because that's where the pavement ended and a ferry took us over to the dirt road on the other side. My Comfort Zone was going to do me absolutely no good from that point onward, and it seemed kinder to leave it in an actual town instead of at the first steep, muddy hill. At least it could go buy itself a drink.

As for me, I went forward, with Tyler, Greg and Arthur leading the way (and Kate in the sidecar, of course) and ventured into Day One of the Corcovado Adventure. We were taking a "shortcut" that wasn't on any paper or GPS maps, a route that was recommended to us the previous night by Will, the owner of the Yamaha dealership in Uvita.

The riding that day was surprisingly easy (flat, dirt roads with few rocks or potholes), with a three exceptions. The first two problems arose from rain. It began to rain gatos and perros halfway to Puerto Jimenez, our goal of the day. The road quickly became criss-crossed with streams and chutes of water the color of Crayola's Burnt Sienna crayon. Coming around one corner, I was faced with a steep, muddy, rutted hill. This is what I saw: Tyler standing next to his Ural waving me on, encouraging me to go fast...Greg and Arthur heaving on Greg's bike to get it upright just beyond Tyler...and Arthur's bike parked just uphill of Greg's. I found the only line, nailed it, and got through the obstacle course without falling. I must be getting better at this, I thought. 

The second obstacle from the rain was this creek:

It was swollen and fast from the rain, and even the truck on the other side of the stream didn't want to cross it. So Arthur made a pot of coffee, we marked the edge of the water with a rock, and waited for it to recede. About half an hour later we were able to cross, and we all made it over safe and dry.

The third obstacle wasn't an obstacle so much as a difficult stretch that beat me. The hill was steep and covered in baseball- and melon-sized rocks that rolled every which way. Halfway up, I hit one that forced my front wheel into a wobble, and then it was deja vu: just like my crash in Mexico, the wobble carried me from side to side a few times before ejecting me highside up the hill. On my way over the bike, I clipped the handlebars with my left leg, and I faceplanted in the rocks. Whoopsadaisy. I managed to right my bike on the hillside and get going again without any help, and by the time Arthur came back to check on me, I was on my way again.

It wasn't until I met up with everyone else at the main road (hooray!) that I realized I was bleeding through my double-fronted jeans. Hm. Ends up I just had a little puncture wound in my left shin, but the sucker would not stop bleeding, and the risk of infection was high, so in Puerto Jmenez I went to the clinic. There I instructed the doctors how to properly flush a puncture wound (thanks RMRP!), they applied eight layers of gauze to it, prescribed antibiotics, and I was out the door for exactly $0. Half an hour later, I was bleeding through all that gauze, so I went back and had them close it up with one, single stitch. My first one ever! That, a Charlie horse on my thigh, and a bruised chin were all the remnants of the spill. Not too shabby.

But where did that leave us for the night? In Puerto Jimenez, a rather uninspiring town at the edge of something vast and beautiful: Corcovado National Park in the Peninsula del Oso. Corcovado is reknowned for its pristine beaches backed by dense jungle, and its abundance of wildlife (National Geographic called it one of the most "biologically intense" places on earth). To get there, we needed to ride to Carate, a tiny mark at the end of yet another dirt track.

Bring it.

We left the next morning, and two hours, twelve river crossings, and forty-seven kilometers later, we were in Carate. Good thing I left that darn Comfort Zone behind, because some of those streams were awful deep and rocky, and some of those stretches of road sure were steep, covered in rocks and punctuated with hairpin turns. But it was behind me, I was exhilerated, and (dare I say it?) it was fun. Really freaking fun. Good thing, because in three days I would be doing it all again, but it reverse. Victory photo:

In the meantime, Corcovado! Yes please. We parked the bikes at an EcoLodge, killed time on the beach chasing waves, and hiked in under the cover of darkness to avoid having to pay the outrageous park/camping fees. Minus fifteen silly minutes hiding in the bushes, it was an easy and successful hike. We camped on the beach for two nights, and spent our free time hiking, trying to stay dry, giving up on trying to stay dry, and watching the waves. I'd never seen waves like these before. They were enormous onslaughts of foamy water, like roaring avalanches rushing up the black sand. Lines of pelicans soared along the edges of the barrels, playing chicken with the crests of the waves, then diving in to gulp down a fish. 

In addition to the pelicans, we saw dozens of Scarlett Macaw's squawking overhead, whole herds of coatis (congregations of coatis?), many Northern Tamanduas (a type of anteater) climbing trees in their furry black vests, and one surprisingly large and oafish Tapir. 

Then it was back to the road, to negotiate the same twelve river crossings and hopefully make it all the way to Boquete in northern Panama in the same day. But, you know what they say about the best laid plans...

All the river crossings were going fine until crossing number seven, a particularly wide and deep one. Greg took a fall, and I guess I decided that was a good idea, so I fell too. Somehow, I managed to pull a complete 180, and drove straight into the deepest section of the stream, dropping the bike and flooding everything. We tipped the bike on its end to get water out of the exhaust and throttle, opened the airbox and let out a liter of water trapped in there, and checked the oil to see if there was water in there. It didn't appear to the flooded, thank goodness, so off we went.

About five minutes later, Burrito, the little bike that got me so far, died in the middle of an extended, rocky hill. Crappola. Knowing it would be an intensive fix involving at least one oil change, I got the boxes and tools off the bike, and waited for one of the guys to come back for me and maybe help me figure things out.

Soon enough, Arthur came tearing down the trail. I explained the problem, and we set about changing the oil using a liter he had with him. After we were done, I cooed and purred at the bike for awhile, telling her how good she'd been on the whole trip, and how sorry I was for dropping her in a river. I held my breath and kicked the engine over--she started fine. But we weren't done yet. To make sure all the water was out, we had to change the oil one more time. So Arthur, wonderful man, drove all the way to Puerto Jimenez (20 km away) and back for a liter of oil.

In the meantime I emptied the current oil, and was dismayed to see that it looked exactly like the first batch, which is to say, like chocolate milk.

Looks like I'd need more than one more liter of oil. Fortuntely, a man on a horse with a three-foot long machete and a gun shoved into his back pocket told me had plenty of oil at his house, a mere four kilometers away. When Arthur got back, he ran out again to get a few more liters off that man. With a total of four liters on hand, I changed the oil four more times until it looked like oil again, while Arthur made coffee and tea. Hours later, we were finally ready to go find the others and try to salvage the day's plan.

But Corcovado wasn't done with us yet. Sometime during his many runs on the rough road, Arthur's front tire had gone flat.

While he changed it, I shouted suplications to the canopy, asking for a little leeway in escaping the jungle, and, if at all possible, no rain until we were past the hills and river crossings. The forest listened, and we finally made it back to Puerto Jimenez around four o'clock in the evening. I wolfed down two tamales and a liter of water, my first food all day, and we hit the road running, trying to make it as far as possible.

Apparently that was only one hundred kilometers away. Night fell and the rain came down hard, and it was foolish to try to go further. We settled into the town of Rio Claro, flithy, soaked, exhausted, and trilled at the successes of the previous four days. The next day we would leave the muddy mayhem of Costa Rica for the last country in North America: Panama. 

Until next time,




gaggle of coatis

  Esus Sep 21, 2011 3:40 AM

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