The benefit of following the coastal road in Costa Rica was that I could swim in the Pacific at the end of a day’s ride. But after Dominical, the road turned in land, so I was just looking to get to Panama quickly; riding for distance instead of destination.
As I was getting back onto the road after stopping for a drink, a touring cyclist was riding by. I shouted at him, and waved him down. For some reason, I assumed he spoke English, “Where are you from?” He didn’t understand me, and asked, “En espanol?”
Alex is from Colombia and he was cycling from Guatemala back to Medellin. He had gotten this far, almost to the Panamanian border, in only three weeks. He was carrying almost nothing on his bike. On his rear rack, he had two tiny panniers and a small bundle wrapped in a trash bag, and he was wearing a fanny pack and a backpack. I don’t know why he had a backpack; it would have been really sweaty.
I really like speaking English because it’s so easy for me, but it was great having a partner who only spoke Spanish. It forced me to stumble through it, and I was proud at how much I was able to communicate. I was really getting into the zone, and Alex was patient, and acted like he was impressed by my Spanish. He didn’t speak much English so I guess he understood my problem. Later on, Alex started using some English words he knew and used me to learn more. Whenever we were about to leave somewhere, he liked saying, “Let’s go.”
After going 80 miles, we got drenched in an afternoon downpour, and stopped in Ciudad Neily, 20 km from the border.
Panama Border Crossing
The border was slower than usual because Alex, being Colombian, had to do more to get through. And at a checkpoint 10 km after the border, we were stopped, and they searched his bags really thoroughly; mine were opened, but they were satisfied after only looking at the stuff on top. Colombians get a hard time.
At immigration on the Panama side, a guy in street clothes had some stickers hanging off his shirt. He took one off and said I needed it in my passport. Then he said it cost $1. I didn’t believe him, so as I got my passport officially stamped by an official, I asked the official if I really needed the stamp. He said I did, so I paid the guy $1. I still feel like I got ripped off.
Alex and I made it to David, the capital of the region, and we got a room. We went to eat at a nearby comedor, and I got $2 pescado con papas. All that ketchup on fries; it was delicious. I went back the next morning and got beef with fries for breakfast.
It was a shame that Alex and I had to split up so soon after we met, as it was great having a partner and I felt like my Spanish was improving quickly in this situation. But I was going to Boquete, a diversion from the Interamericana, and Alex needed to get back to Colombia where he has a job, a wife, and two kids waiting for him. I’m sure I’ll meet up with him again when I visit Medellin.
As I was getting ready to get back on my bike to leave Dominicalito, an overweight guy in his fifties and carrying a fishing pole asked me about my trip. Gordon was from Tennessee and had a house in the area. Apparently, everybody there called him “El Gordo” (The Fat One) since it was close to Gordon and he was sort of fat. Gordon seemed to like the name.
Gordon and his wife, Beverly, were there spending three weeks at their house. He described the place as paradise. “It’s sweet, man.”
So then Gordon said, “If you need a place to stay, you can come camp in my yard.” “Oh, wow, really?” “Yeah sure, I don’t give a fuck.” “Well, that sounds great. Thanks man.” “I mean, I’m not gay or nuthin’.” “Oh yeah, yeah. No.” It was a great offer. I never turned down generosity like that. Too bad he made that weird “gay” comment at the end.
I followed Gordon and Beverly back to their house. They welcomed me in, and immediately asked me to give them all my dirty clothes so they could put them in their washing machine. I hadn’t had my clothes washed in a machine since the US; it was a real luxury. Then they sat me down and brought me a plate of food. They liked that I was from Atlanta – fellow Southerners.
The conversation became complaints about Ticos (Costa Ricans) and living in Costa Rica. There’s a double standard: rules are enforced on gringos, but Ticos who are squatting on land break lots of rules and get away with it; there’s a gringo price for everything, and; they have to pay this Costa Rican couple $500 per month to live in their house – pretty backwards. But this “house sitting” protects the house from getting robbed by Ticos. From what I could tell, their Paradise wasn’t all that pleasant.
Gordon and Beverly took me out to the town of Dominical for a drink. We had a beer at a gringo bar where I sat down next to a bleached-hair, middle-aged English guy with a “wild” spirit. He was trying to act like my pal so he could sell me drugs. Apparently, this place was full of exiled trust-fund baby deadbeats. Their parents would send them down here to “chill out” after their reckless lifestyle had created a problem. Leeching beach-side off their parents’ deep pockets.
Whenever anything came up about me cycling, Gordon would call me “Lance Armstrong.” It made me uncomfortable for some reason.
Gordon and Beverly took really good care of me, and their generosity never felt strained. Although Gordon initially offered me a place to camp in their yard, it was never mentioned again, and I was shown a big bed in their spare room.
They mentioned that they never had children. Maybe they saw me as their son. That would be cool.
It wasn’t sad leaving the Belgians. We had a good time together but there really wasn’t a connection. They were on a fat budget being in their fifties with steady jobs and touring for only three weeks.
The road to Dominical was dirt and rock for 30 miles. It was under construction, so it’ll be paved soon. I was lucky it wasn’t raining.
In the middle of the day, I stopped at the Dominicalito beach for a swim. It seemed undiscovered as there weren’t many people around and there were only a few huts. Nothing commercial.
Then an American appeared, talked to me, and offered me a place to stay. See Southern Hospitality in Costa Rica.
Stats: 42.27 miles, 13 mph avg, 3:15 hours
When I returned to the campground to recover my wallet, the two deadbeats at the reception took an interest in my story. It seemed they pitied my situation – having to backtrack 30 miles on bicycle. They didn’t ask that I pay the $5 campground fee, so I didn’t offer it.
The next morning, I packed up, and was thinking, “All I have to do is get through that gate.” Not having to pay that $5 seemed like a just reward after losing my money and wasting time after forgetting my wallet. But one of the guys approached me, telling me I needed to pay. I thought they were going to let me slide.
One thing I really hate while I’m bike touring is backtracking. Even when I’m looking for a place to eat, and someone points me to a place 500 meters back, I usually look for something else in the direction I’m going. So, it was like murder having to travel the same boring stretch of road a third time.
But on the way, I saw the Belgian touring cyclists again! This time we were going the same direction, so I joined them. They were friendly and when we stopped for a drink, they bought me a coffee.
When I passed through the town where I realized I lost my wallet, I saw the taxi driver in the red truck. He honked at me and waved. I gave him a cold stare and an unfriendly “Hola.” I sort of feel bad about that now — he was just trying to be friendly, but the emotion was still raw at the time.
The Belgians and I rode to Quepos and I got an $11 dorm room at a hostel named “The Wide Mouthed Frog.” What’s with these stupid hostel names? In Granada, Nicaragua, I remember passing one named “The Bearded Monkey.” They’re really embarrassing names. Like “The Squirrel Nut Zippers.” Remember that band? Wouldn’t you hate to have them as your favorite band? Every time someone asked you what bands you liked, you’d have to say The Squirrel Nut Zippers.
It was a pretty nice hostel though since it had a swimming pool, a kitchen, and a TV room with a big selection of DVDs. I watched Tropic Thunder. It turned out to be a pretty crappy movie.
And Quepos was a pretty crappy town. It really only serves as a base for getting to the Manual Antonio National Park with its famously scenic beach. But I didn’t go because of its $10 entrance fee. I would rather have a night in a hotel than to see a beach.
Stats: 53.40 miles, 13.8 avg, 29.2 max, 4 hours
I packed up my wet tent, and put all the loose items I took out, back in their proper places; everything in its right place. If I need something, I know in which bag to look. It slows me down when I have things scattered and out of order. It’s satisfying when I get all my stuff packed back together, all on my bike. One mobile unit.
All I needed to do before leaving was change my shorts, and I was ready to go. Since I was at a campground, I took my wallet with me to the bathroom – a security measure. I changed into my biking shorts, and then I decided to wash my underwear before I set off. I left my pocketed-shorts with my wallet on the bench outside the showers while I did laundry at the sink.
I headed off towards Quepos, a beach town about 60 miles away from Jaco. It was an unmemorable ride, and when I had gone about 25 miles, I stopped to get a yogurt drink. I waited in line, and when I got to the cashier, I opened my handlebar bag to get my wallet. I couldn’t find it – digging, digging.. “Un momento,” as I rushed outside to my bike. I opened up both panniers, digging down, throwing stuff out on the pavement. Then I thought back, retracing my steps to the last time I had seen my wallet: in my shorts, on the bench … back at the campground! I threw what was in my hands, spiking it against the pavement. I cursed and made a scene outside the supermarket. People took a wide berth as they walked around me.
It was especially frustrating that this was a result of me being careful. I took my wallet with me in my shorts while I changed, so it wouldn’t get stolen being left unattended. But then I forgot about the damn shorts when I left.
I had to go back 25 miles to Jaco. Most of all, I needed my ATM card. I wanted to get back quickly, so I decided to try to hitchhike. In an anxious, terrible mood, I went out on the road and stuck out my thumb to passing pickup trucks. I got honks and waves, but no one stopped. So, I went back towards town.
One guy sitting on the road, flagged me down. He had seen me trying to hitchhike and told me there was a guy with a red truck that could take me to Jaco. He led me to the guy.
The guy with the red truck was a taxi driver. I told him the situation about how I didn’t have money and needed to get to Jaco. He didn’t seem interested, so he left. But there was another guy, a bystander, that took interest. He had a truck and asked me if I have money in Jaco. I told him I had money in Jaco in the morning, but I don’t know if I do now. I hope I do, but it might have been robbed at the campground. He asked if I had a friend in Jaco that has money. I told him I don’t have a friend. “No amigo? Solo?” rubbing it in. He asked again about if I have money in Jaco. He was really concerned about whether I was able to pay or not. I told him I needed help. At the end of it, he said “Adios,” and walked away.
It seemed pretty cold to me. A foreigner, lost in another country, without money, without a friend, and needing help. He walks away. After so much time spent learning about my situation, he leaves me stranded. He did his due diligence, sizing up the potential payout, and decided I wasn’t worth helping.
I got on my bike and headed towards Jaco. As I was leaving town, the guy in the red truck flagged me down. He asked me more about my situation. He asked if I have money in Jaco. I told him I hoped I did, but I wasn’t sure. We went over this a few times. Money, do you have money, what about the money. I got really frustrated with this bullshit, so I told him, it’s okay, and I left. When he flagged me down, there was a glimmer of hope he might help, but when he kept asking about the money, it fizzled quickly.
The Return Ride
I rode back to Jaco in a rage. I left my helmet swinging on the back of my bike; I didn’t want to put it on. I was already so frustrated, and I didn’t want the helmet cramping me further.
As I was getting close to Jaco, I passed some touring cyclists. They were the same ones I met on the day I was heading towards Monteverde, the Belgians; they seem to show up on my worst days. I told them about my wallet, and they told me they’d pray for me.
When I got back to the campground, I asked the guys at the reception about my black shorts. They had my shorts and my wallet! But the money in my wallet was gone. I had about $10 in there, and probably about $2 worth of coins in my coin purse – gone too. Pretty lame. Someone looks through some abandoned shorts, finds a wallet, and steals all the money. I’m glad the thief left my ATM card and my driver’s license, though, and my wallet, coin purse, and shorts too.
I’m having terrible luck in Costa Rica. And I’m aware that you make my own luck. I’ve screwed up a lot, making the wrong decisions: traveling down a horrible, mud and rock road into wilderness with a bleeding wound, heading up to an out-of-the-way mountainous, tourist destination, and now this, forgetting my damn wallet! I’ve been an idiot.
Costa Rican colones is a difficult currency because $1 = 585 colones, so most things you buy are priced in the 1000s. The coins less than 100 colones are almost worthless, but they still exist, and a lot of items have a digit in the “tens” position. For instance, my favorite, the strawberry yogurt drink, has been priced at 1104 colones. 4 colones. What’s the point, right?
So here’s my problem with this:
The supermarkets have been “rounding down” the change owed to me, so as to benefit themselves. The first time I noticed it, my total came to 1,987, so I handed the woman 2000 colones. I waited for my change as she moved on to the next customer, totally snubbing me. I wanted at least 10 colones back; I know there’s a coin for that.
Okay, so I figured maybe they’ve developed a system where if the change is a really small amount, it’s not worth the effort to give it. But the next example proves that these supermarkets have a policy to screw the customer by always rounding down the change that’s owed.
At another supermarket, I was owed 98 colones from the transaction. I expected one 100 colones coin back, but instead, the cashier went to the trouble of giving me a 50, a 25, and two 10 coins, totaling 95 colones. I laughed when I got the change. It was absurd.
Then, here at Subway, an American chain restaurant, where I am now, I just bought a small drink, so I could get refill after refill at their self-serve fountain drink station while I write some blog entries. The total came to 710 colones. I handed over 1000 colones, and got back 300. I got back MORE than I was owed. That’s a good policy for customer service when you’re dealing with change that’s almost meaningless: round up the change that’s owed to the customer.