0052: And then there were BMW's

0052: And then there were BMW's

Costa Rica

I'm definitely in a different country.
The Peñas Blancas frontier is just how I imagined a Central American border to be.
A two hour wait, mostly in direct sunlight to be told by staff I was in the wrong line with my bike (though other staff told me it was this one).
In a queue of over 200 people, where of course only two staff members were working on the six booths that were available.
Calmly I made my way to the desk with my filled in forms. No pens provided of course. One pen had made its way down the queue slowly from person to person.

"Where is your flight exit ticket?"

"Pardon?"

"You have to show me your flight ticket out of the country, when are you leaving?"

A slightly surly immigrations officer suddenly reminded me of my arrival in the USA.
"I am cycling. I will leave by bicycle to Panama"

"Well, where is your bike then?!" He said, somewhat annoyed.

I tried to remain calm beginning to think I might be denied entry.

"Your colleagues told me to leave it at the door, and it's being looked after by a police officer who told me that is where other cyclists leave their bikes"

Trying to make the point his colleagues were familiar with 'Cicloviajeros', I explained my journey and he looked at me like I was the only cyclist who had ever passed this way.

I know of at least 3 in front of me in the past few days. And could point to the blog pages of many many more.

This is currently the only official land crossing point till they open another one later this year so all cyclists must pass this way.

He scowled and proceeded to fill in his forms.
He gave me 90 days and I quickly exited the office before someone changed their mind.

And straight into another room with several large X-ray machines.
The operator looked at me, looked at my bike, looked at his machine, then back at me and after a pregnant pause he waved me through...

Of course, I am not carrying anything dangerous or illegal but there are a few items, that might raise a few eyebrows...

Outside, frustrated tourists climbed aboard their buses having all disembarked for the same reason.
Hot sun, long queue, one pen and surly staff.

I thought this country was supposed to be a little more civilised?
My first impression was not great, but I chalk it up to experience.
I'm here!

As I continued along the Panamerican highway, the landscape did seem greener and the headwind was definitely much cooler.
I stopped for lunch in a small junction town called La Cruz and was almost ecstatically happy to see them accept Mastercard directly!
Oh joy!
I have a credit card for travellers, which if I pay by card, I do not get charged any additional bank fees.
However, if I withdraw cash from most cash points, I will get charged extra, as normal. Not much, but it all adds up.
Of course, since Mexico, apart from a handful of occasions, I have been paying cash for everything.

I continued and soon after saw my first road cyclist riding a $1000+ carbon road bike.
I heard rumours that the population was keen on cycling and was pleased to so quickly see my first 'real' cyclist.
As I approached Liberia, I saw another 'roadie' resting at the roadside.
I waved as I passed and he responded.
A few minutes later, Wagner and I were chatting as he returned home to Liberia after a short ride after work.
Of course, I thought about testing the waters to see if he might host me, but he soon commented that he would, except his home was too small.
Ah well.
As we approached the town, he suggested a detour as he knew a cheap hotel.
It was a little scruffy, but after checking out a couple of others, I came back to the one he recommended.

The following day, I wandered around the town and the contrast between this and the majority of the the others I had passed through recently was very distinct.
Though in places the town resembled others in Guatemala, or Nicaragua, it was clear there is more money here and it seems to be being channelled into the right places.
Roads are good. Businesses are busy. Council employees water the plants in the park and sweep the streets and people drive round in mostly modern cars.
Since leaving the USA and Mexico for the most part, I could count on one hand the number of times I had seen a BMW, Audi, Porsche or other big name European brands.
Land Rover must have a very talented sales crew here in Costa Rica.
I have seen more Range Rovers and Discovery 4x4's here since leaving the UK 11 months ago!
And my brother would without doubt, love the old Landrover Series and Defender vehicles that litter peoples yards as restoration projects and working vehicles.
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Costa Ricans or 'Ticos' as they call themselves have a lot of spare cash for toys and playthings. Quads, Mountain bikes Motorbikes, Jetski's
Everything.
How do they have it but the previous countries don't?
Something to find out...

After a couple of days the usual rest doing chores and finding my bearings in the country, I headed towards Puntarenas and a Warmshowers host.
At the last minute unfortunately, the guy told me he only hosted on certain days of the week and my arrived coincided with an off day.
Great, why not tell me that originally?!
I detoured to Barranca instead and looked for a hotel.
This scruffy little town appeared as the light faded and I rode through in the dark.
The unlit streets full of people in rush hour heading home from work and college.
Crazy drivers, Motorbikes and cyclists all trying to get home first.
I dislike arriving anywhere in the dark. The last time it happened was arriving in Coban, Guatemala.
After a few minutes it was clear there was no obvious accommodation here, so I ended up cycling to Puntarenas after all as it is a sea front town so more or less guaranteed to have hotels.
Passing by the $160 night Hilton resort, I continued and found as small ant filled room for $14 per night at the Hotel Midey.
I settled in and went to look for food.
I arrived on a Thursday night expecting the early weekend party atmosphere of a seaside down.
The most noise came from two dogs chasing each other down the street and the cool wind through the palm trees on the beach.

I had already sent messages ahead to San José as I had decided I needed a week off the bike to rest and also service my bike.
A mixed bag of mostly negative responses left me sleeping in a strangely cheap, central and newly refurbished hostel in the capital, San José and a two nights with couchsurfing host Alejandro and his family on the east side of the city.
Alejandro runs a health food business and weightloss programme for the chubbier residents of San José
He kindly let me stay for 2 nights at his family home on the east side of the city.
After directions to his house, I pedalled over there, and had to wait a while for someone to come home.
I waited a the security gate to the private estate and began chatting to the security guards.
Three guards came and went as I waited, All quite chatty and curious about my adventures.
The last, Oscar seemed the least interested and was a little put off by the fact that one of his colleagues had apparently given me his chair for me to sit as I waited.
Once he got over this, he began chatting. Telling me the life of a night security guard.
After calling his daughter and making sure she had done her homework and wish her a good night, he began asking about my journey.
I was prepared for the standard questions, but he caught me off guard asking me how often I service my bike, and if it needed any special tools?
He was a bike mechanic in a former life.
Sound familiar?
He told me how quiet his shift usually was, that the gate was so heavy it hurt his back.
Then, how he had no break for 12 hours, no water, toilet or protection from the rain in bad weather.

Despite his negative comments, he still seemed to enjoy the job.
"The stars are so bright some nights" he said, with a glint in his eye. And sometimes, I see wild animals that come to feed on the scraps people leave.
And I love the birdsong in the early morning." He smiled inwardly.

I walked my bike up to Alejandro's house.
While talking the family had come passed the same security gate, but not seen me standing next to it.
They were wondering where I was and thought they may have given wrong directions.
I settled in and here I met several other guests.
Three German backpackers and a couple from Argentina Joachin and his girlfriend (whose name I have forgotten!) who were about to fly home as she was pregnant.
I also met Max and Dev here.
Touring cyclists! My first since...well...I cant remember when?!
Coincidentally, I already knew Max as last Christmas I was asked by another Warmshowers user to give assistance to him as he was about to cross into Mexico from the USA.
I replied and we exchanged a few emails.
But hadn't expected to meet them in the same house, if at all!
Dev, his girlfriend was from Guadalajara and knew some of the guys I met at the Casa Ciclista I stayed at back in January when waiting for Charlotte to join me.
Its a very small cycling world!

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Finally, I was rescued by Rolando who has a very pleasant home on the west side, so I am now resting here for a few more days servicing my bike and getting my energy levels back up to normal.
He is a keen cyclist and walker so we have already been on a couple of long walks and my legs are complaining further about the punishment I have given them recently.

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I also met a couple of his friends and we walked about 18 kilometres to a church in the next city, taking the scenic route through the hills.
First though, Rolando and I visited a Farmers market for breakfast.

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And so I begin a few days rest and recuperation as I plan for the onward journey and how I will get from Panama to Colombia.
Still that is more than a month away but one of many things on my mind.

My Odometer has almost reached 25,000 kilometres in 11 months of travelling and I am not even half way.

The road continues.....

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Post by Matthew Hopkins

An avid cycle tourer and Bicycle Mechanic, I also enjoy cycling, cooking, camping, cinema, computers, internet and tech.

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