Before the Nicaraguans showed up, Bunny was living on the beach at Playa Grande, defying the Costa Rican law that requires tourists to leave every 3 months. He told us, "Boys, don't let anyone tell you that you can't just chuck it all away and go live on a beach somewhere. Tell them you've met proof it can be done."
But then, around Christmas, the Nicaraguans showed up with boatloads of building materials, building 4 houses in the jungle just past the beach with materials brought in from Tambor. They sectored off the beach with strings and even planted trees with small signs labelling the variety. "They were good workmen," Bunny observed. "Every morning about 8 they'd turn out, except Sundays. They were just the workmen."
Because it wasn't the Nicas who were settling Playa Grande. They were working for someone. By establishing homes on the beach, the people behind the plan could become squatters right there, never to be evicted. Maybe later someone would build a hotel. There really could be no other reason to go to the trouble to build on a beach an hour from the nearest road.
And because it was Christmas and the government offices were closed and because Albert - who owned the land - had paid his taxes to Cobano and had no tax receipts from Puntareinas, he finally had only one recourse, and that was to donate all of Playa Grande to the government as a Reserva Absoluta. And that means no camping on the beach, so the park administrator asked Bunny to leave, and he did. Mark - the guy from the Peace Corps who was perpetually cleaning up the plastic refuse that perpetually washes ashore at Playa Grande was so incensed at Bunny's expulsion that he left as well.
Bunny moved down the coast for a while and then set up camp behind the waterfall El Chorro, back in the brush. The tourists from Tambor all used the beach to get to the waterfall, so although they could be seen from Bunny's camp, everyone in camp was invisible to the tourists.
Bunny had a bicycle stored at Senora Maya's place. And when he learned that I had bought a bicycle, Bunny suggested that we take a bicycle trip. It sounded good to me.
Day 1 - Playa Santa Teresa
To start the trip, I take the 8:00 bus from Montezuma up the mountain to Senor Roja's house, where I have been storing the the bicycle. I am using a duffel bag on the rear carrier, and it takes several tries to get it mounted. Here is the equipment I am carrying:
A tent big enough for 4 people. "Big enough for the card game," Bunny will say the first time he sees it,
An inflatable bed roll,
A change of clothes,
Two water bottles (about a liter and a half),
Four kerchiefs, intended as masks against the dust on the road especially since the herbicides sprayed on roadside vegetation in Costa Rica are reputed to be nasty.
Tools and a spare tube, and
Taking the bicycle down the mountain to Montezuma means using the sub-standard brakes that came with it. They are worthless. The only way that the brakes will serve is by constant use - never getting up enough speed to find out that they don't work well. I have had to adjust the shoes for the maximum upward force from the centerpull to get ANY stopping ability, and the result is a horrific screaching whenever the brakes are applied. So I inch down the mountain at a pace slower than walking.
From Montezuma, I head south to Cabuya, where I will find Bunny. The road follows the beach and is generally flat, quite a change from the hill and mountain climbing that I have been doing for the past 3 weeks to get ready for this trip.
The idea to get a bicycle began with Aunt Mary, months before back in Ohio, when she asked how we get around in Costa. "By bicycle?" she had asked. That planted the seed of the idea, but Wilbur Perez, up in San Jose, had germinated the seed, offered to transport the bicycle down to the shore when his family left for Playa Montezuma on the 4th of January, and he showed me where the local bicycle shop was located.
I had followed the classified ads in La Nation for weeks with no luck, so just after Christmas I went to the bicycle shop and bought the cheapest bicycle that they had for 30,000 colones - about $100.
But I ran afoul of the holidays and left for the beach bicycle-less and a week later had to return to pick it up.
Riding in the city traffic was not nearly as dangerous as I had anticipated, since there are plenty of people on bicycles and the drivers of cars expect to see them. I kept the bicycle in my room at the pension, and at 4:30 in the morning, rode through the still dark streets to the Puntarenas Bus Station. There I pulled the wheels off, tied them to the frame with some light nylon rope, bought an extra bus ticket, and loaded the cycle into the cargo bay of the first bus out.
Two hours later, I was across the street from the bus station in Puntarenas, reassembling the bicycle. All I had brought with me to San Jose was a change of clothes, so I had a minimum of luggage and, as it turned out, almost 4 hours to kill until the next scheduled launch to Paquera, so I took the oppprtunity to become acquainted with the bicycle.
Puntarenas is a city built on a long spit of sand that pokes into the Gulf of Nicoya. It is perhaps 4 blocks wide and 30 or more blocks long, and it is completely flat. This is undoubtedly the reason that there are few taxis and many bicycles in the city. In fact, it seemed in that early Sunday morning that there was a bicycle shop or workshop in every block. Perhaps a better place to buy a bicycle than San Jose.
It was also my opportunity to discover that the two muchachos who had assembled the bicycle in the back room of the bicycle store had neglected to tighten any of the nuts or bolts. When the toeclip fell off the right hand pedal, I was momentarily disconcerted, but there was a ferrateria - a hardware store - right there in the same block and it was open, so I went in and learned the Spanish words for nut and bolt and lock washer as well.
Bunny: "That's Costa Rica - a surprise around every corner. And I usually prepare for a nasty surprise."
Bunny is living in Cabuya in the rancho behind Mary and Simone's house, a two story structure right in the middle of the flower garden. When I arrive, Bunny has just finished packing. He hefts my bicycle, but with the four man tent, it weighs as much as his, even though he is carrying the kitchen. No possibility of offloading some of the weight on me - we are both overloaded.
"You made good time," Bunny tells me, although we both know this is not true and the morning is waning. We walk our bikes to the gate and start down the road in the beginning of the hottest part of the day.
From Cabuya we head west on the road to Malpais. We immediately start climbing a series of small hills, and this is my first confirmation that Bunny - who used to range the Himalayas - is a traveller.
"Don't worry about keeping up with me," he says, and I don't because it would be impossible. Laboring up the hills, the bicycle gets heavier and heavier until it is necessary to dismount and push, but Bunny keeps pumping and disappears ahead. Twice I find him waiting for me in a spot of shade. The second time is at the top of a long, steep downhill.
"There's a river down here where we will stop and have a smoke," he says, and then climbs on his bike and is gone.
Using the miserable brakes, I start after him, but the road quickly turns treacherous with ruts that are easily a foot deep. I find I cannot stop no matter how tightly I pull the brake handles, although I am heartened by the fact that the rear wheel has lost its squeel. At the bottom, the ruts turn to mud and then into the river, and I seem to be along just for the ride, being able to exert only minimal control over the bicycle. Bunny is waiting there, pipe in hand.
Bunny: "I smoke 4 times a day. At 6:00 because that's when I get up, at 1:08 because the number 108 is holy to Shiva, at 10:08 because the number 1008 is like 108 - maybe even more holy, and at 4:20 because that was the number of that law in California."
Bunny's pipe is Moroccan, consisting of three tubes that form a stem about 16 inches with a small ceramic bowl. The long stem is designed to condense the tars out of the smoke, and as a result one of the first steps in the use of the pipe is to clean the stem. This is accomplished using twigs or spines of leaves or whatever other natural material is at hand.
Bunny: "What's the earliest tool the scientists have found? It's a pipe, isn't it. What's that tell you?"
The river at the bottom of the hill is the Rio Buenas Aires, and it contains a lot of water. Here there are tall trees and plenty of them - one of the few forests in the region which has escaped clear cutting.
I examine my rear brakes and discover that their poor performance is due to a broken brake lever on the handlebar. The brakes are so cheap - just pieces of stamped metal - that the designers put all the leverage up in the control on the handlebars. But they also made this piece out of plastic and it is broken through. It is not an immediate problem, since we are at the bottom of the hills, but it will be dangerous later.
On the other side of the river the road is pleasant, almost like a country lane occasionally crossing small streams and brooks. And then the big hill.
Even Bunny has to walk his bike up this one. Not only steep, but rutted and covered with loose rock and dust, it would be a difficult hill to walk without a pack and bicycle. Under the midday sun, it is sheer torture. And at the top of that hill is another even longer and steeper. Toward the end I am advancing in ten foot increments, resting without shade after each. At each stop, both the bicycle and myself inch back down the hill. At the very top, Bunny walks back down and helps me push the bike up.
In the shade at the very summit, we rest for a little while. The first vehicle we have seen since Cabuya passes us, a pickup truck with three passengers in the bed. Bunny says "This is the way you want to have them see you. Resting at the top of the hill. You don't want them to see you resting at the bottom of the hill."
On the downhill to Malpais, I walk my bike because of the inoperative rear brakes. Bunny rolls down. The ruts are so big that they cannot be ridden in without dragging pedals and Bunny keeps to the crests between the ruts. But there is so much dust powdering the roads that at one point his bicycle slides out from under him and into a rut. But Bunny is able to start running and doesn't sprawl. Nothing serious. Could have been worse.
There are two men where this road joins the beach road at Malpais. I stop and greet them with my best Pachuco "Que tigra mae" - what a bummer - demonstrating the broken brake handle and ask if there is a bicycle shop around, and they tell me that there is one in Santa Teresa, about 4 kilometers north and our next stop in any case.
Restaurants in Costa are called sodas, and at the local soda we get a couple of Canada Drys. Bunny has brought a handful of coinage and is anxious to lose the weight, so he pays the cuenta with it. It becomes a fairly complicated process, and when it is over, I ask the senora for some water in the water bottle. When she returns with it, I try to hand her a 100 colone coin but she will not take it until I explain that it is not for the water, but is her tip. Only then will she take it.
"Of course," Bunny explains when I tell him. "You don't charge for water. That's basic hospitality. Nobody has ever refused me water, except for those damned Yugoslavians."
Across from the soccer field, we find a newly opened bike shop - so new that there is no sign out front.
An so, in minutes I have new brake shoes and new brake handles. The brakes do not work appreciably better than before, but they will do for the rest of the trip.
We set up our tents on the beach and Bunny immediately starts the ritual of setting up the kitchen by searching for three rocks. I ride back to a pulperia and buy a cabbage and three potatoes and a tomato. Pulperias are the small local grocery stores which dot Costa Rica, places to buy provisions, usually the location of the public telephone, and always the center for gossip. The man behind the counter strikes up a conversation with me, and I tell him that I have just come over the mountain from Cabuya. He is impressed. He has evidently crossed the mountain himself, perhaps on a bicycle. There are cartoons on the television.
When I return to camp, Bunny has hot tea waiting and begins dinner of curried vegetables and rice.
The kitchen consists of a 3 rock fire, just like in the Boy Scout manual, and Bunny insists upon the 3 stone method. "Because the wind is always blowing from SOME direction,"
The kitchen consists of the following: two pots that fit into each other for transportantion, two metal lids, two tupperware containers, a metal tube used to selectively apply air to the fire, and a kitchen rag. It weighs only a couple pounds and is easily set up.
"You've got your back to the television," Bunny says as we start to eat, and I do.
Behind me is a spectacular Malpais sunset over the open Pacific.
Day 2 - Rio Ario
Bunny cooks breakfast and then we start north up the coast. There is a hotel at the end of Playa Teresa called Milarepa. Bunny knows the name - it belongs to an ascetic monk.
Bunny: "He lived alone in the mountains and smoked ganja and levitated. Lived on a diet of nettles."
Bunny: "They grow up in the mountains where the ganja grows."
We pass the yellow ICE truck, the branch of the government responsible for providing electricity. It is a boom truck and the man on the boom wears a complete face hood, long sleeves and gloves. He holds the nozzle of a spray gun. Herbicide for the electric poles? The supervisor and two workers wear short sleeves and no special protection.
The road generally follows the beach, so it is flat and - after the hill climbs of the day before - pretty fast. We stop at the end of Playa Manzanilla and consider whether to abandon the road and take the beach past the combined mouths of the Ario and Bongo rivers. Bunny had travelled here before and is reluctant to try it again.
Bunny: "You have to wait until the tide is all the way out and just changing - after all the water has rushed out and before it all starts to rushing back, and then you have to wade across with your pack over your head. And you want to hurry, because there are crocodiles in the swamp there."
And because this year has been so wet, even raining in January, the river is likely higher than Bunny remembers, and we have bicycles as well as packs to carry across to the other side, we decide to continue on the road as it turns inland.
"Funny," Bunny says after the first hill, "I remember this as a long difficult hill."
Almost immediately, the road turns into a series of severe hills, and despite the weeks of training on the bicycle in the hills above Montezuma, I am quickly on foot pushing the bike, watching Bunny cruise up and around a turn. In the hour that follows, I don't see Bunny, but plodding uphill beside the bicycle in the hot midday sun, I can see the tracks of Bunny's tires, and occasionally - toward the tops of some particularly steep and long inclines - tracks of his size 13 shoes as well. Even Milarepa probably had to walk once in a while.
As I finally reach the summit of the chain of hills, the sky clouds and a light rain began to fall - a rare occurence at this time of year. At the summit, Bunny is sitting out of the rain under a tree waiting for me, pipe in hand.
"A bicycle trip is agony for only about seven days. After that it is just misery," Bunny says to cheer me up. Then the pipe is finished, and he is up on the bike and off again.
Costa Rica is a nation of barbed wire. Bunny believes that the property owner is required by law to run 4 strands around his property, and that may be true. Certainly, there is barbed wire along both sides of every road. Perhaps because the country was not settled with plantations but with many individual land-owners, Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves, today are a independent, self-sufficient people, traditionally supporting themselves from their own land. Up in San Jose at the bar Cometa, there is a painting in the window depicting a small house and ox cart which are surrounded - along with a few trees - by a fence. The inscription on the painting is "Costa Rica es como asi" - Costa Rica is like that.
On the downhills, my concentration is focused on the road ahead - especially that spot obscured by the shade at the bottom of the hill, scanning for surprises including rocks, holes, ruts, and collapsed culverts. On the uphills, there is seldom time to gawk. One is constantly looking at the road ahead. Only during those rests in the shade - sometimes at the top of the hill but more often at the bottom or along the way - can I look around.
The weeds on the side of the road vary at every stop. The plant with the delicate blue flower at the tip of the long cluster of green petals is everywhere, but the ones in Nosara are a bit different from the ones in Paquera. In Malpais, there are plants with leaves like banana trees, but yellow and orange flowers a bit like irises. There's a vine that looks a lot like poison ivy, as well as morning glory and those gigantic impatiens with the spring-loaded seeds. Like the weeds, butterflies are everywhere, each a bit different from the last.
Where the road fords the Ario river, Bunny is sitting on the bank, the kitchen already going and a cup of hot tea waiting.
Bunny's bike is parked standing against a crude bench built out of the river bank by Tico or Ticos unknown right next to a pair of waist-level bank excavations. There are five such sites in the immediate area, but it isn't until evening when the family of wild pigs come around that we understand that these are fire pits for a pig roast, because the sow and boar have about 8 brand-new piglets but only one from the previous litter - that one about perfect for the size of the river-bank rotiseirre.
When the articulated road grader shows up on the other shore in a low-gear cloud of diesel fumes, I instantly realize that the driver will want access to the fine stone riverbank where he has left bucketmarks from previous loads. So without a word by either of us - the engine being so loud - I move my tent and he waves, rumbles through, loads up, and drives off across the river and out of sight. I replace my tent. Just before dusk, when the road grader returns, the driver waves to us but passes on the road back toward Manzanilla.
Bunny: "The Ticos all understand what we are doing. This is the way they take vacations. Nothing fancy."
Day 3 - Playa San Miguel
From the river Ario, we enter a vast plain. "Largest flat area in Costa Rica", Bunny jokes, or is it a joke? "Imagine what it was like before they cut down all the trees." It reminds Bunny of India, especially when he gets a whiff of a cashew tree.
We have the topographical maps from Libraria Topsy but at the first intersection, the senora at the dance hall coincidentally named Pearl of India tells us to take the road to the right although the map clearly says to take the road to the left. Unless this intersection isn't on the map.
So we take the recommendation of the senora. If it proves to be a bad choice, no matter. There's no hurry.
Just like up on Pelee island, everyone here waves when they pass on the road. But usually, it is dangerous to take a hand off the handlebars to wave back, so I have taken to whistling. At first I used the bracer's call, but eventually settled on a loud trailing whistle. Sometimes, for instance passing a bench in the shade by the side of the road where people are waiting (for the bus? for a friend?), I will whistle and receive four or five responses.
Everyone answers with their own private whistle, the one they use to call the dog or get the wife's attention. Some people imitate my whistle, or perhaps I have happened upon their private whistle.
We come suddenly upon the river Bongo, and then shortly after crossing the river, crossing again back to the original side, just as the map predicted. At the second crossing are a group of 5 cyclists in spandex clothes and crash helmets, but only two of them have packs and those are day packs. They are reluctant to stop and remove their shoes as we are doing, and so they all end up riding through the river and getting wet shoes, except for the guy who picks up his bike and carries it over the fallen tree.
"Where do you come from?" I ask one. "Texas," he replies.
"No", I explain. "What I mean is, does this road go to the sea? Did you come from the sea?"
And they have.
A couple hours later we come suddenly upon Playa Coyote. Here there is a soda and camping. Bunny fills the water bottles at the shower/toilet structure but doesn't have to play the 100 colon daily use charge.
Bunny: "With two people the least water that I ever used for a meal, with the clean up after, is a liter and a half."
Just to the north of Playa Coyote is the mouth of the river Jabillo, and we travel out onto the beach to find it. Bunny's idea is to put up in the shade there and wait for low tide to see if we can wade the river and continue along the beach on the far side.
This is my first experience riding on the beach, and it is a pleasure. With the complete flatness, I am able to get into the higher gears for the first time. Most of the roads that I have seen have precluded using the higher front sprocket because of stones or rocks or ruts or dust or gullies. Looking to the north, the beachs look close, and we can see headland after headland jutting into the Pacific invitingly.
We ride to the river but it is wide and there are whitecaps in what appears to be the channel. We can see a boat docked upstream, and it is a sizable one. The tide is coming in, and from the speed, it seems to be half full. By the time we get back from the river, most of the beach we have just ridden across is under the surf, so we stop and push the bikes into the palms just beyond the beach.
Bunny discovers an old three stone hearth and moves it into the shade, and before long we are drinking hot chocolate, then eating tuna and pasta.
This is our first experiment with resting during the heat of the day, and we eat a bit more than we should, so that when we judge from the sun that it is time to move onward, our stomachs are still full.
We stop at the soda on the road just above the beach. Bunny gives me a 1000 colon note to get a couple of ginger ales. The proprieter hands me two open bottles and asks if I want ice. That suddenly seems like and excellent idea, and putting the money on the bar in front of the proprieter, I carry the bottles to the table.
Bad mistake. One of the unspoken rules in Costa Rica is to count your change before walking away. Mark it down. It is a good rule in any part of the world.
When I return, the money has been replaced with two glasses of ice. I compound the mistake by carrying the glasses to the table. The proprieter is now involved with other customers, and my fear is that he does not remember my change.
But when a boy shows up to buy a candy bar and needs change, the proprieter shoots a fast glance toward me. I know he remembers it now, although I may have to ask for it.
When we are finished, I carry the empty glasses and bottles to the bar. The proprieter takes them and starts to walk away then stops abruptly as though suddenly remembering the change. He reverses his course, retrieves the correct amount and hands it to me. We understand each other. He is an honest man. I thank him and we are on the road
It is now necessary for us to travel toward San Francisco de Coyote, climbing steadily upwards. Here we encounter the corpses of giant mahogony trees, felled in the middle of otherwise grassy fields, each with a number painted on the side. As the journey progresses, we will see may of these trees, both on the ground and being transported in semi-trailers.
Climbing a long slow incline, I hear a dirt bike behind me, but it doesn't pass. After a while I risk a look back and see an old Tico on a red motorcycle with a cloud of oil smoke behind. After perhaps a minute, he finally pulls even with me. He's going as fast as his worn-out vehicle will carry him. When he finally passes, I stop and cover my nose with a kerchief until his cloud disipates.
Houses in Costa Rica come in all sizes and shapes, but out in the countryside the most common building material seems to be wood and the most popular colors red and blue or light green. Frequently the red, white, and blue of the Costan flag is used as well. The new houses seem to all be concrete, but they are painted the same colors as the older.
Bunny: "A lot of times in Costa Rica, when someone buys property, they leave the Se Vende sign out in case someone happens by with the right amount of money."
At Playa San Miguel we find a bar down by the ocean's edge, and a grassy field interspersed with young palms for camping. Someone has a bano consisting of toilet and shower, probably collecting a nominal fee for use.
In Costa Rica the land within 50 meters of the high tide mark belongs to the public, although people with property closer than that can pay concession taxes to the government to use the land. This means that camping on the beach is free in Costa Rica, and indeed, a large number of Ticos do just that for holidays and vacations. But we are the only ones here tonight.
Bunny finds three stones and starts the kitchen. We eat refried beans and tortillas (although Bunny calls them zapatties) made from corn meal.
After dinner, our conversation turns to laws banning marijuana. The United States seems to be the only country with a authoritarian fixation on the plant.
Bunny: "And now what are they doing ... they're going to put sanctions against any country that they don't think is doing enough about drugs. What's wrong with the United States. If they don't want to have any fun, it's one thing. But they want to make sure that nobody else has fun either, don't they?"
The moon looks full. The only way we know that it is not is because it appears in the sky before sunset. The radio in the bar goes long after we have retired.
Day 4 - Rio Ora (Carillo)
I awake to the familiar sound of Bunny breaking twigs. The fire is going in the kitchen by the time I am out of my tent and a cup of coffee is not long behind. We skip breakfast, eating some granola and juice instead. This strategy gets us moving by 7 AM while the day is still cool.
We stop at a pulperia and our appearance so astounds the woman behind the counter that she repeats everything we say, just as though she didn't understand our words, although she does.
Bunny discussing bans on tobacco: "I would find it hard to listen to someone who drives a car speak against second-hand smoke."
Later stopping for a pipe and an old man passes on a bicycle in the other direction. He never looks up, keeping his eyes on the road and the task at hand. I'll be 50 this year. Bunny is 52.
This is the fourth day and my body is becoming used to the abuse to which it is being subjected. We pass a string of villages, but in Nuevo Pueblo we discover that the huge concrete AYA monument, erected as a guarantee by the government of potable water in the area, contains a working water tap. This is a wonderful discovery and we wonder how many times we have gone low or without water because we did not know about the AYA taps, although as it turns out, not all AYA monuments provide water.
We stop a short way further on and wade along a brook past where the barbed wire is down. Here - just off the road, is a stone beach and Bunny starts the kitchen.
In the early afternoon, we press onward. But scant kilometers farther, I get a flat tire. Luckily Bunny has not gotten far ahead, so we hunker down in the shade at the side of the road and pull the tube out, patch it, and replace it. It still leaks, so we replace the tube with a spare that I have brought.
While we are working, a Tico we have just passed working in a field with the machete has mounted his horse and rides up the road past us, then turns and rides back past us to his field. My feeling is that he just wants to get a look at this unusual sight, bunny wearing a brimless goro on his head, shirtless, with a sleeveless vest and myself with a full beard and clean white hat. My feeling is also that had we needed assistance, the Tico would have been happy to help. But the situation is under control, and we are soon travelling again.
Bunny: "When they look at us they know they aren't looking at the high end tourist. They are looking at the low end tourist."
But a rock has sliced the tread and cord of my tire, so although it now holds air, I am dismal about the prospects of completing the journey with it. Bunny laughs and shows me his tire, worn down to the cord because he has good brakes and can lock up his wheels. We will both need tires.
Just past the airport, a shiny Land Cruiser sporting a hotel logo on the door appears from around a corner. The road drops for a dry creek bed, so I stop and let the Land Cruiser choose his path across the ford. As he passes, I get a glimpse of the white-faced passenger staring out from the air conditioned interior, gawking at me. I am a fat, dusty gringo on a cheap, dusty bicycle but my white Pizza Chef hat is still clean.
Up until the last days of the trip, I am able to keep the cap clean and that fact serves well, as most people look up at the hat before looking at the dusty shirt and shorts. This is the advantage of a white hat. It minimizes sartorial ablutions. My other clothes do not fare so well. Although I have tried to do laundry when possible, we have not stayed in any one place long enough for clothes - especially socks - to dry, so I have hung them on the outside of the pack on the baxck of my bicycle. There, under the scorching sun, the dry well, but pick up red dust from the road so that they appear dirtier than before the washing, a tattered sight going down the road.
I get a bad feeling when Bunny says, "I remember this as being a long hill - like the one in Montezuma,"
And after some pleasant morning riding, a long hill it is, although not as difficult as the one in Montezuma.We had been following the signs for Hotel Punta Islita all morning and now just past the summit, the hotel could be seen - a spawling structure taking up the top of a small cerro.
At the bottom of the downhill to Playa Punta Islita there is a small waterfall spring from the black rock alongside the road. Unlike the water from streams and rivers, we drink this water without first boiling it.
Bunny: "The real danger in the streams is the chemical runoff from whatever chemicals the farmer is using in the fields. But there's nothing to be done about that."
Down on the beach, the hotel has a hugh palapa with a complete bar, and a manicured lawn populated with chaise lounges and hammocks. The tourists don't seem to notice us as we walk the bikes down the rocky beach, but the three employees putting the boat in the water stop to stare at us.
Down the beach past the hotel area, we enter the deep shade of the coconut palms. Here the temperature is 20 degrees cooler and in moments Bunny has the kitchen going. Before long we are drinking hot tea with cardimom. While Bunny prepares lunch, I watch the tourists on the beach.
From our vantage point in the palms, the hotel guests cannot see us. One woman walks down the beach in front of us, but she seems concerned by the rocks on the beach and turns back. A couple walks past us but do not look up as they pick their way down the beach - both wearing sandals but apparently afraid of stepping on something. A third tourist comes down the beach later as we are preparing to leave. He is talking to someone on a cellular phone and does not seem to be having any fun at all.
When we leave, I stop at the Hotel palapa. There are three employees but no guests inside. When I ask for water, one man fills my bottle not with tap water but with ice water.
As soon as we are away from the beach, we start climbing again. Bunny floats off ahead and I am stopping on hills without shade to rest. Behind is a spectacular vista of the hotel and the beach, both enclosed in mountains like a cup. To the south I can see Playa Coyote and Malpais across the Pacific. Too bad we couldn't just have ridden the beach here. It would have been a much shorter and easier trip.
I catch up to Bunny in a string of short steep hills. He is talking with three cyclists without packs, out for a day ride from Samara. I ask about a bicycle shop, but one of the cyclists assures me that he lives in Samara and there is not bicycle shop in that town. The nearest may be in Nicoya, over the mountains.
The landscape here is as crooked as an small-town politician. Here we encounter the phenomenon of the repeating hill. We climb a hill and get to the top only to discover an exact duplicate beyond. And because of the condition of the road, we cannot get enough speed to use our kinetic energy to attack the next hill. We have to start each repetition from the bottom.
About dusk we reach the river Ora, a broad river littered with stones the size of cannonballs. Bunny has already located a camping site and is setting up the kitchen, but I luxuriate immersed in the river. The three cyclists reappear just before dark and do not bother to remove their cycling shoes to cross. They are in a mad hurry to get home before nightfall.
And since the moon is almost full, it is already in the sky when the sun disappears. It may be possible to ride a bicycle in Costa Rica by the light of a nearly-full moon, but I would not like to try. It would be a project fraught with danger.
I have no sooner set up my tent than a big, white brahmin cow appears, evidently on its way somewhere along the cow trail across which I have erected the tent. The cow is confused by the nylon apparation that blocks his way, and stands watching us until 5 other cows show up. The entire herd finds an alternate route past us that takes them into a grove of banana trees. Suddenly a voice is hollering and the cows come crashing out of the grove and out onto the road, to disappear at a full run. There is evidently someone living in the woods right next to our campsite, but that is our only contact.
Bunny: "The only reason I use a tent is because of sand fleas and the flys that lay eggs in your skin and the vampire bats."
We have neglected to shop for groceries and have largely exhausted our supply. We drink hot chocolate and Bunny makes zapatties, tortilla shells prepared from corn meal and cooked directly on the fire.
Away from the beach, away from the sound of the surf, we listen to the birds and forest creatures until we sleep.
Day 5 - Playa Garza
The next morning we have coffee but no breakfast. We are planning to eat in Corillo, but such is not to be. It is Sunday morning and everything in the town is closed, although the porches and steps of houses along the road are filled with people. It's almost like being on parade. Sunday in Costa Rica.
At the soccer field I see a water tap with a puddle beneath, but there is no water in the tap. At the bottom of the hill by the sea I find Bunny lubricating his bicycle with oil from a discarded plastic oil bottle. There is enough left to oil my chain as well.
And then we are on the beach, riding with the wind at our backs on the still damp sand. This is even easier riding than the beach at Playa Coyote. The beach is deserted except for two boys chasing two loose horses.
And just past the beach, rising from the seat to attack a small hill, I break the bicycle chain. With the bicycle sprawled right there in the road, Bunny and I try to fix it. We finally join the chain ends back together by hammering with two rocks. In the few minutes we have been there. perhaps a dozen people have passed on thier way to town, all nicely dressed - perhaps for church.
And kilometers down the road, when we finally find an open pulperia, it is in a place called Samara Heights, and there are a half dozen people sitting around, passing the time. Sunday in Costa.
Just down the road we turn onto a paved road, the first we have seen on the trip. It leads us right down to Samara.
The question - as put by Bunny - is which came first, the autobus or the paved road, and I still don't have an answer. Samara is filled with buses, mostly from San Jose. We find the grocery store right down by the beach and park the bikes inside a chain link enclosed porch. While Bunny goes inside, I watch the bikes.
The fence-enclosed porch turns out to be a ticket booth for the San Jose buses, and the cost of passage to the capital is on a hand- lettered sign above the ticket window - 1800 colones. A fellow drops off a newspaper at the ticket window, and on his way out stops and squeezes Bunny's front tire, as though amazed that it is still inflated.
Aside from some cookies at the pulperia in Samara Heights, we have had nothing but tortillas to eat in 24 hours, so we immediately convert a loaf of bread, package of sliced cheese and a small bottle of tobasco sauce into cheese sandwiches, sitting at a table on the beach. The beach has white sand, is C-shaped and nicely enclosed, and is full of tourists, apparently all Costa Ricans
But one couple stands out, probably because the man is wearing long pants and the woman a full skirt while everyone else is wearing shorts or swimwear. And evidently we look just as strange to the couple, because they immediately come over to meet us.
They are Argentinians, and once nationalities have been established all around, they tell us that there is a bicycle shop right around the corner. This turns out to be true, and we immediately ask about new tires.
The bicycle shop masquerades as a juice bar with tables out front and coolers with juices and soft drinks. There is soccer on the television. Inside, however, are bicycles and bicycle parts. Soon the muchacho has outfitted Bunny with a new front tire and me with a new rear. New tubes, too. We save the old tubes. The muchacho replaces my chain broken earlier with a new one. He does not discard the old but throws it into a bucket of diesel fuel. Nothing is wasted.
Two breakdowns. Two bicycle shops.
Before we leave, I ask the owner for some water. "Pure water?" he asks pointing at the bottled water in the cooler, "or water from the shower." The tap water is fine with me.
We start down the road but within a kilometer I have another flat tire on the new tube. I am able to replace the tube with Bunny's spare. After my flat yesterday, we now have two tubes with holes and only one spare.
We pass through a small town and everyone is in the shade at the soccer field. Sunday in Costa Rica. Bunny stops and asks a local, pointing ahead, "para Playa Garza?" The local turns away as though ignoring Bunny, then quickly turns back as though thinking better of it. "Playa Garza", he says pointing ahead, "Directo."
The road is straight and flat, but riddled with softball size stones, just the right size to dent a bicycle rim. But the cars seem to roar past, possibly at speeds of 50 mph.
Bunny: "Look at these guys. This is the first time they've owned a high-powered car with good suspension and they think this is the way they are supposed to drive."
At Playa Garza we stop at a soda and order some orange juice. We make small talk with the senora, a portly woman who - as it turns out - is a native of Montezuma. We also ask which of the roads from Nosara to Nicoya is the better. But the senora tells us that there is only one road and it is ugly. It would be better to go to Nicoya from here, she says.
But that is a decision for tomorrow, so we ride, then walk our bikes down the beach to the northwest until we find a place to set up camp. Bunny finds three stones to start the kitchen and sends me with the collapsible water jug to get water. "The first house you come to should be good," he says, demonstrating a deep insight into Costa Rica, because he is exactly right, and although filling the jug with water takes the owner of that first house away from the task of building cages for his dogs, the fellow is happy to help us out.
We are exhausted by the long day and the day-long stretch without food, so we retire early. It is the second full moon in January - the blue moon. The next morning I find that the tide has brought waves to within a foot of my tent.
Day 6 - In back of the barrio
We were so pleased with the early start the day before that we do it again. We are on the road to Nosara early while the temperature is cool. Soon we are noticing signs along the road and they are all in English. Then we come upon the airport and then Nosara. We stop at a soda and have breakfast.
There are no autobuses in Nosara because there is no paved road, but there are plenty of cars and trucks and they mostly drive too fast and raise clouds of dust when they pass. In the center of town we find a square and two roads leaving. Bunny asks a Tico which road goes to Nicoya, but he says that there is no road to Nicoya and the only way to get there is to go back the way we came.
I stop at a souvenir store and ask the same question, and the woman answers me with a european accent. The road to Nicoya is no longer maintained, not since the new road was built to Samara, she says. We will have to backtrack.
And so we head back the road to Playa Garza. Bunny discovers a Texas license plate lying in the road and hangs it on a nearby tree. Perhaps the owner will return and see it.
We stop halfway back to Playa Garza for a smoke by the side of the road. Vehicles roar past and all of the trees along the road are covered with dust. We see a pickup truck with a Texas plate on the front but no plate in the rear. One Land Rover is going so fast that it is spraying stones as it careens past, windows up and air-conditioning cranking.
Bunny: "Here's a joke from England. What's the difference between a hedge hog and a Land Rover? The hedge hog has the pricks on the outside."
Back in Garza we stop at the same soda as yesterday and give the senora there a report on the ride to Nosara. She says that it is for the best - the non-existent road from Nosara to Nicoya is in terrible shape. "It doesn't matter to me," Bunny confides. "I would have taken that road if anyone would have told me where it is."
I ask the senora if she still has any family in Montezuma, and - just like asking to see baby pictures - the question opens up a door. Actually, she is from Cabuya, where Bunny lives, and when she finds that out, they begin discussing people and family from there. Remembering something, she goes in the house and returns with the Sunday magazine from yesterday's issue of La Nation. In the center is a feature story about Roger and his monkey, both residents of Montezuma. She gives us those pages of the paper to take back to Roger if he hasn't seen it, writing on the paper her name and the name of her aunt who still lives in Cabuya.
It is late morning and we are tempted to spend the mid-day hours there in Garza, but decide instead to head toward Nicoya. This is the same road we rode yesterday in the opposite direction. About 8 kilometers from Garza, we stop at a bridge and walk down to the stream bed. Here the temperature is noticeably cooler than up on the road. The cars on the road zip over the bridge, and Bunny says, "Look at them. They might as well be watching the tellie for all that they are seeing." And indeed, the drivers have their windows closed and are driving insanely fast - just trying to get somewhere with no interest in the journey.
In fact, I walk out onto the sand bar in the sunlight, fully visible to anyone passing over the bridge, but nobody even glances toward me. They are all concentrating on the road - and at the speeds they are driving, that is probably just as well. Finally, I hear one vehicle coming slowly, and when it gets on the bridge, I can see it is an old pickup truck. The Tico driving spots me immediately and waves. I wave back.
We find the turnoff to Nicoya and the flat road starts climbing. According to Bunny's map, there is a river which crosses this road twice and the paved road ahead as well. We are planning on camping at the last of these.
We stop at a pulperia along the way. It is the front room of a house, devoid of furniture abd instead filled with shelves of goods, and while Mom is occupied with household chores, the counter is tended by a boy and girl about 4 years old. But they take care of us competently. But when it's time to pay, Mom has to come help. There are cartoons on the television.
We find the bridge where the road first crosses the river. And then, just a few kilometers beyond, in front of another pulperia, I get another flat tire. We have one good spare tube left, so we get in the shade by the soccer field, and I put it in, taking much less time that I needed for the first flat days ago. I pump the tire up until it is hard, but only get a hundred meters down the road, across the bridge that crosses the river the second time, when it starts to go flat again.
There's no shade here, so we turn around to head back to the soccer field, but I notice a road forking off down to the river. Lots of shade there, so we head that way, passing three or four houses huddled together. Down by the river where the road is covered with leaves, my front wheel hits something and I am suddenly on the ground on by back, looking up at Bunny's surprised face. We've each gone off the bike once so far.
And we find not only a shady place to patch our collection of tubes but also a prime camping spot on the bank of the river across from a shale cliff where the swimming hole is about 5 feet deep. Bunny starts searching for three stones.
I volunteer to fetch water. "There's an outside tap on the first house out by the road," Bunny says and it's so. On the way, I am joined by a girl in a rush toward the road. She is trying to intercept the 75 cc motorcycle with no muffler that we can hear approaching on the road. She succeeds. While I fill the collapsible jug at the outside tap (nobody home), I watch her flirting with the driver of the dirt bike.
We are camped right in the back of the neighborhood. Nobody pays us mind.
Bunny: "In India if you did this, there'd be 50 people gathered here watching everything we do."
There are perhaps 4 houses between our camp and the road, and there are perhaps another half dozen on the road. We can hear the kids playing at the soccer field across the river and music playing at the pulperia out on the road.
When sunset comes, because the full moon has passed, the sun goes down and the moon does not come up for a while. The blackness is broken by a hint of light down the river bed from the sodium light on the road.
Later we hear - from the sound of it - someone trying to pull a stump with a passenger car and later someone downstream playing a radio that is so distorted it is impossible to make out words or melodies, just a monotonous rhythmic drone of static.
We are getting ready to go to our tents when we first hear the sound. The echo off the shale cliff enriches the harmonics and it is both bizarre and wonderous. A few moments pass before we think to speak. "What was that?" Frogs, we surmise, because minutes later we can hear another one answering downstream, using the sound as a directional signal and coming closer. And then another from upstream coming as well. Once the moon has risen, we can hear others off in the distance. We never do get a look at them, but they serenade for hours.
When the Oldie first came to Costa - seven or eight years ago - he saw the golden frogs with his own eyes. They were quite famous and are still depicted in pictures and jewelry that the artisans sell to the tourists in places like Montezuma and Samara. But the golden frogs are all gone now. Extinct.
Bunny: "There are only what - 2000 tigers in the world. In 100 years there won't be any. But I suppose that doesn't matter if you are not looking at a tiger."
Day 7 - Rio Morate
In the morning we have coffee and mush and then we are on the road. By the time we get going, the distorted radio is playing again, and on the road we pass the very house. A man is sweeping the porch and the radio is no more intelligible up close than it was at a distance although it is louder, evidently cranked up all the way.
And just a few kilometers up the road we hit the paved road - the same paved road we first saw in Samara. Riding on pavement is so much easier. For the first time other than the beach, I use the high-gear front sprocket.
And here there is more evidence of modern life. The first thing we see is an automotive service center. There is traffic as well, but like most of the little traffic we encountered on the dirt roads, the drivers are generally considerate. They yield plenty of road when passing, and when they use the horn, it is a caution beep to let us know that they are there.
The road seems to generally climb and Bunny has charged on ahead. I walk up the berms of many hills. At the bottom of one downhill, a man is digging up roadside weeds. He has about a dozen small bundles made up and is digging more. He evidently has no fear of the spray from the yellow ICE truck.
And then a long uphill right through the heart of the village, with people sitting out at the soda close by on the left and some people on a bench to the right and me in my lowest gear and having trouble. But for some reason I don't want these people to see me give up on the hill and start pushing. I make it to the top of the crest and once beyond stop and rest. Then I push the bike to the top of the hill where I find Bunny sprawled out in a metal-roofed bus stop, waiting, pipe ready.
"I think we are at the top," Bunny says, but I've heard that before. But a kilometer or two beyond brings us to the highpoint in the mountains, and then its a long downhill that goes for 10 kilometers or more, at times of speeds close to 50 miles an hour. One car honks and starts to pass but then abandons the attempt and falls back behind me - following until the next flatter section.
I blast around one turn and there by the side of the road are two men and two boys in an elaborately-painted ox cart replete with ox. They are loading rock. From the look of the pavement where the steel band on the wooden ox cart wheels scrapes the tarmac, they have made many loads.
Bunny heads down a cross road and I follow. It is almost midday and time to rest. We discover a small stream that crosses a concrete ford. The water has hydraulicized a three foot hole on the downstream side, and while Bunny starts the kitchen, I submerge fully clothed in the hole so that only my face above my nose is exposed. A car passes while I am in that position, and the driver waves, saying "amigo."
After we eat a spaghetti lunch, we are standing around talking when Mom with two boys in tow appears walking down the road. The younger of the two boys is entranced by Bunny, hardly glancing at me. But on the return trip, evidently to meet Dad down at the paved road, the younger boy cannot take his eyes off me. His father attributes it to my Santa Claus beard, but I believe it fascination with the strange and different.
Later, heading down the road, Bunny suddenly brakes and pulls to the side so abruptly that we almost crash. He has spotted a European with a backpack resting in a metal-roofed bus stop along the berm. Bunny has spotted another traveller.
The traveller is German, but he manages some English. He is on foot, travelling to Nosara from Playa Naranjo. He appears completely exhausted, but perks up to talk to Bunny. Throughout the journey so far, Bunny has shown no interest in talking to people other than those conversations which are required to make purchases or get directions, but Bunny and the German exchange pleasantries. There is no information transmital - not cautions of roadside dogs or imposing hills - and they could be having the same conversation anywhere. They are not tourists. They are travellers just touching base with each other.
Then we are in the village of Betel. Here we stop at the pulperia. There is something creepy about the whole village, but I can't put my finger on it. "It's all new," Bunny points out. "The whole bloody town is new." And that's it. It's a planned community. Everything is new, but built in the form of the old. Just a commuting distance from Nicoya.
Bunny: "I'm just about ready for the knocker's yard. Do you know what that is? The knocker's yard? It's where all the old horses go. So if anyone tells you he's ready for the knocker's yard, that's what it means."
A man with a shovel and a pickup truck is standing next to a freshly dumped pile of plastic refuse. "Not there," Bunny yells to him as he coasts past. "That's supposed to go to Playa Grande." The man waves back.
And then we are in Nicoya, at first the outskirts, and then the city itself, and then the dense downtown. We see something that we have not seen before on the trip - a policeman. There is a police barracks here.
Riding becomes a purely defensive exercize and there are bicycles on every side.
Bunny watches our gear while I run into the grocery store. When I emerge, I am struck by Bunny waiting across the street, incongruously looming above the nearby Ticos, dressed in a T-shirt with 3 large Indian letters, a brimless goro, and a yellow sash tied around his waist. Nobody else on the street seems to be paying him the least interest.
Somewhere here the map shows we must pick up the road from Santa Cruz to Jicaral, but, as with most of the trip so far, there are no road signs. I ride into a gas station to ask the attendant. He is busy with a customer, but when he looks up I see him soak in my appearance. When I ask for the Santa Cruz road, he points ahead, saying "Directo." I thank him and as I turn to leave he slaps me on the back. From the corner of my eye I can see dust rise from my shirt.
And as he said, the road is a kilometer ahead. It too is paved, and seems to run downhill as far as the eye can see.
"It's too bad the wind isn't behind us as well," Bunny observes, but I find the wind cooling and can't agree.
Bunny's map shows this road crossing the river Morate and that's where we plan to camp tonight, Although it is late and may be sunset when we get to it. We stop at roadside soda with 3 young sisters behind the counter. We sit around back and enjoy a cold drink, because the tables are all occupied, evidently with boyfriends and would-be boyfriends of the three senoritas.
Bunny: "If you have three daughters and a place by the road, you can throw up a structure like this and let nature do the rest."
When we finally encounter the bridge over Rio Morate, we also find that there is no place to put our camp. The sun will be down shortly and this is a tight situation and reminds me of Bunny's story about sleeping in the ditch.
But just down a side road, we find an abandoned soccer field, scattered with cow pies and complete with a now-roofless structure where beer and drinks and potluck dishes used to be served during the games. And the cold water tap still works. On the other side of the field is another working tap. It looks like the electric is still hooked up as well, although that is of no consequence to us.
We set up camp and Bunny starts the kitchen. Almost immediately a stream of cows comes down the road, some spooked by our presence in the normally deserted field. At the tail of the parade is a Tico in campesino garb, carrying a machete. He stops in the road and calls to us, "Do you have food?" We assure him that we do and he points at the tap, "Hay agua" - there's water - and heads down the road after the cows.
Just after dark the sodium light comes on. It is on the electric pole about 50 feet away - close enough for light but far enough for insects. We can see the swarm of insect below the light and an occasional bat swooping through to cull a particularly juicy one.
"That's not a bat," Bunny says. "It's a night hunting jar."
And indeed, one can see that it is a bird feeding from the sodium light, although it flys as fast and as erratically as a bat. The jar stations itself at the base of a tree and studies the insects, taking to the air every few minutes to feed.
Bunny: "Generally, the campesinos out here in the country are honest people." We lock the bicycles together for the night anyway.
Day 8 - Paquera
During a breakfast of leftover rice, a tractor towing a baler appears with two bicyclists immediately behind. All three smiling Ticos wave, and we wave back. They are amused by us. Minutes later another fellow comes down the road the same way - "the foreman," I tell Bunny, but more likely the land owner, and he appears not amused but bewildered by our presence. But he gives us a "Buenos dias" anyhow and disappears after the others.
Our butts hurt from yesterday's riding. Probably the high gears.
The turn off to Jicarel is well marked and that road is paved as well. All of the villages appear to have prospered from their proximity to the highway. There are so many shingles out for beer joints that Bunny comments, "good thing we're not drinking men going from bar to bar."
We make good time until the paved road suddenly ends. Abruptly, I find myself riding in the middle-gear range and it seems slow. The hills become more difficult.
"There's only a few kilometers of this," Bunny says. "Seven. Or seventeen."
And it doesn't matter whether it is seven or seventeen, because we are both innured to the pain. How ever long it may be is how long it will be, and we won't be back on paved road until we are back on paved road. This is what Bunny meant about getting used to the bicycle after seven days. Riding the bicycle is no easier physically, but after a week of it, I am psychologically conditioned. Distance doesn't matter. Percentage of incline doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is forging ahead. If you're not turning the crank, you are not going anywhere. Just like life.
Bunny: "That's the thing about the bicycle. It makes a bit of wind seem refreshing. Or a drink of water, even if it's warm. You want to say, that's the real thing, isn't it."
We are following the Morate river. Here it is lined by huge fields growing hillocks of watermelons and yellow Crenshaw melons, a vast agribusiness enterprise. A convoy of five tractor trailers pass us, clipping along. The trailers all say Dole.
Bunny: "The blighters are suing in the World Court to make us take their bananas. They are all chemical. They won't understand that we don't want their chemical bananas."
Abruptly the paved road appears, but only for 100 meters. If there had been a house there, I would have guessed it to belong to the local Mayor, but there is no house. Just this one short section of paved road. Then it is back to dirt roads again. We see cows in a field feeding on truckloads of melons.
When the paved road finally returns in earnest, we are close to Jicaral. It is as though the dirt road were only in the area of the Dole melon factories.
In Jicaral, we stop for breakfast at the Soda Amistad, sitting at the outside tables in the shade. An old Tico in a brown suit and bare feet approaches the table.
"I'm a poor man," he tells Bunny.
"So am I," Bunny replies, and the old man moves to the people in the next booth.
A senorita takes our orders, but an older woman brings the food, possibly the best pinto and fried cheese in Costa, and a man brings the cuenta. It is as though the entire family wanted a close-up look. As we leave, the man draws our attention to the water faucet on the side of the building, so we fill up our bottles, even though we really don't need any.
I am looking forward to paved road all the way to Playa Naranjo, so I am surprised when it returns to dirt just outside Jicaral.
But then, just a few kilometers beyond, the road is paved again. We stop at a pulperia and ask when the ferry leaves from Playa Naranjo. The reply is 1:30. An hour to travel 12 kilometers is no problem on the paved road, and we are among the first to arrive at the wharf.
Our plan, originally promulgated by the senora at the soda in Playa Garza, is to catch the ferry to Puntarenas and then the launch to Paquera. The alternative is to cross 48 kilometers of harsh road with neither towns nor water. We decide to cheat.
It is a lovely day to cross the Gulf of Nicoya. The sky is clear and the water is calm. But there is a headwind and the ferry is going slower than usual. We begin to worry about making the 3:15 launch. Neither one of us in anxious to spend the night in Puntarenas. In fact, when the ferry is finally secured at the quay at the tip of Puntarenas, it is past 3:00.
We ride off the ferry amd immediately head for the main drag through town and then it's time for high gears. We pass bicycles and trucks, handcarts and taxis. The hours I spent getting used to my bicycle on a Puntarenas Sunday now become valuable, since I know the shortcut through the one way streets. We get to the ferry with minutes to spare. This trick cannot be performed without bicycles.
We arrive at the dock in Paquera about five. Because we are on the east side of the mountains, it will be dark soon, so we decide against striking out for Montezuma until morning. Instead we take the road that snakes - not to Paquera - but up over the hills here to local beaches.
But we do not even have to climb many hills before Bunny finds a camping place, directly beside the road. We set up camp and start the kitchen, and as we eat, darkness falls. A too-bad-you-missed-us blast from the car ferry's horn echos through the hills around us and we watch the ferry's lights strike out toward Puntarenas. From our vantage point - about 200 feet above the water - we can see all of Puntarenas - at least, all of the beach side with the sodium lights strung together like a necklace.
Bunny: "Look at this. God gives it all to us. There's food growing on trees and water springs from the ground. Everything we need. It's all here. There's no need to pollute the Earth with plastic."
As we stand in the road talking, a bat just misses us in the dark. The bat - perhaps it is another jar - is evidently used to swooping along this road. He flies by again, so close I can feel the air from his wings on my face. So we squat down in the road and are no longer bothered.
Bunny loads up his pipe with the last pipeful. "This trip," he says, "has been exactly the right length."
Day 9 - Al la vuelta
In the morning we are up and packing when the launch's horn announces that it has started it's 6:00 run. We have not even built a fire. Instead we will breakfast at the ferry terminal.
At the end of the downhill coasting, we dismount and start to push our bikes into the terminal, but a worker points to the road. I explain that we are just stopping to eat, and that's okay with him. So, just as we have done the entire trip, we push our bikes into the restaurant next to the table. There is no problem. Everyone understands the reason why.
Then we are on the road for the last leg of the trip. At the top of the hill is a sample of road-maintenance humor, a sign that says "Road In Bad State" and it certainly is true. Just like the sign my brother saw back in Ohio just before he hit the hole that made his car unalignable, "Dangerous Road."
In Paquera I see Fidel the taxi driver and he waves back. Later, I see the 5:30 bus from Montezuma, the bus driver staring at us with his mouth in an O. Maybe he recognizes us or maybe we just look that bizarre.
Outside Paquera we start to climb hills. In Valle Azul I notice a house that has been handpainted with flowers and butterflies. As many times as I have been down this road in cars and buses, I never noticed that house before, but now I stop to admire it.
The road is still paved and suddenly it starts downhill, kilometer after kilometer of easy, fast riding.
We stop by the side of the road, but suddenly find that the cattle yard behind us has produced a herd of cows and cowboys heading our way, so we continue on instead.
Just before Tambor, we pass the Delfines, a huge new hotel with 400 bungalows and another 400 planned as well as a marina. This is the first year for the hotel and all of the locals love it, anticipating a flood of economic benefits. Myself, I wonder why there is never any evidence of guests. No cars. No pedestrians. Just bungalows. Who knows. Money-laundering maybe.
We stop at the grocery in Tambor for ice cream and then ride down the beach to the road. If the tide had been out, we would have taken the beach back to Montezuma, but it is not and we don't.
"This is the hill I've been fearing," Bunny confesses at the bottom. It is about noon and the sun is blazing. But there is nothing to do except forge on, so we start pushing the bikes up the Tambor hill. We don't get more than 30 feet before a Toyota Hilux stake bed truck pulls over and offers us a ride.
We accept and load up and as we climb the hill I realize that it is twice as steep and long as the hill at Montezuma.
Our ride drops us at the vivero outside Florida, and we thank the driver who turns out to be a friend of Bunny's. On the other side of Florida we pick up the Puravida road along the sea, recently bulldozed and a delight to ride. Most of my training for the bicycle trip involved the Puravida road, and riding it now, I suddenly realize that the trip is over.
I catch up with Bunny at the German's house at the highest point of the mountain above Montezuma. "I think we're at the top," Bunny says mocking all of the times on this trip that he has said the same thing. "It's all downhill from here."
All the way to the sea.
c 1999 Air Cooled Volkswagen Junkyard of Richfield, Ohio
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