Dualsporting Costa Rica
[A great story from one of our own]
Juenemann (click on image for a larger version)
weeks off from work, single, extra cash (see single), and no plans.
What to do? Ride dirt bikes
in the jungles of Costa Rica of course! Having
never been out of the continental USA, family and friends encouraged me to hop
on a plane and see the world. What,
without my XR? There had to be a
solution, and with a little help from Google, MotoAdventures (www.motoadventuring.com)
delivered! Sure, it was the rainy
season, but it’s a warm tropical rain, and a little soggy underwear never hurt
a native Oregonian from the great ”Northwet”.
Within a dozen steps off the plane, I was met by an older
“Tico” (Costa Rican man) sporting a MotoAdventures t-shirt, at which point I
knew I’d landed in the right country. Marco
Sr., father of head mechanic Marco Jr. who keeps the scoots in tip-top shape
after severe thrashings by spodely riders such as myself, speaks two words of
English: “No” and
“English”. Drawing upon a
semester of eighth grade Spanish, I proudly came up with an impressive sentence:
“Hola Seńior!” Fortunately, despite my hideous efforts to try, no further
communication was needed for Marco to get me quickly through customs via the
express lane (helped by the fact he knew every employee in the airport) and on
to baggage claim, where people probably wondered what was in my bags given that
I kissed them upon checking the contents. We
motorcyclists get a little attached to our gear, especially half a continent
our way through San Jose, the capital and heart of Costa Rica, I noticed the
streets were infested with rat bikes of every cross-breed imaginable, making
this just one of many examples of Ticos opting for function over form.
Upon arriving at the hotel, I engaged in some major red-eye flight
recovery before meeting up that evening with victim, or rather, “rider” #2: Bob from Florida. We
had talked over the phone before meeting in person, but only as riders with a
common goal. As it turned out, we
were from rather different walks of life, but found enough common ground (dirtbiking
being a great starting point), and beer, to break the ice.
Day 1 came early, but the excitement and anticipation of
railing the jungle on an XR quickly overcame any second thoughts of rolling over
for a few more Zzzz’s. Within an
hour I was showered up, packed up, filled up, geared up, and wound up.
Sporting full moto gear, I made my way through the elegant lobby of the
posh Best Western Irazu Hotel. As I
passed the signboard listing the daily eco-tours, the primary draw for American
tourists, I couldn’t help but feel a bit out of place, like a lumberjack at a
Sierra Club convention. Never,
during my entire stay, did I feel unwelcome though.
I came to find Costa Ricans as very friendly people who love Americans. Best of all, they are real environmentalists who understand
and make the best use of all of the values of their land, not just those
preferred by a select group of people. Not
that the world is full of hypocrite armchair environmentalists or anything, like
those who leave their SUV parked at home in the garage of their wooden mansion
while they fly to Costa Rica in droves on 747s to take tour buses to the remote
corners of one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, in search of
eco-paradise. But I digress.
front I met up with Bob, already on his second cup of coffee.
It felt like high school all over again as I sized up and envied his
shiny new digs from head to toe, wondering if my cobbled together ensemble of
mismatched second-rate discount rack gear would survive the week, much less make
me look like the amateur rider I was. But
the important thing was I had the essentials –helmet, goggles, chest
protector, elbow guards, kneepads, boots, and backpack with water – lots of
Marco Jr. pulled up with the dumpy white box van that would
become a comforting sight as the week wore on.
We loaded all our bags (since we wouldn’t return to the hotel until
mid-week), and then spent the next fifteen minutes narrowly avoiding accidents,
as far as I could tell, while working our way across San Jose.
“Thank God we’re headed straight for the dirt!” I thought to myself
as I watched motorcyclists making passes in traffic that would put Ricky
Carmichael or Bubba Stewart to shame. Eventually
we wound our way to the edge of the city near the foothills, and came to a stop
at a driveway where three XR400s with fresh meats awaited us, marking the humble
residence of Larry Larrabure, the main masochist, or “tour guide” if you
a brief introduction, Larry sized me up, “So what kind of rider are you?”
Not knowing the A-B-Cs of rider levels, I made some attempt to describe
my purely amateur experience, having never entered a formal event (unless you
count racing back to camp for a cold one).
I could hear Bob’s eyes rolling in his helmet behind me.
So, like a good benchracer, I hastened to add that professional or not, I
didn’t suck and felt very confident in my abilities.
Perhaps Bob’s impression of me was not really that bad, but this being
his second time around, I felt the burden of proof was heavily on me to indeed
not suck, at risk of ruining his $3000+ excursion, not to mention my own.
Larry then gave us a brief briefing, “We’ll head across San Jose,
then into the mountains to Volcano Turrialba where Marco will meet us to stay
the night at a remote lodge. Watch
out in traffic, motorcycles are invisible to drivers here!”
Great, sounds like fun. It
was here that Bob explained to me Larry’s tendency not to wait up for riders,
which, silly me, I mistakenly believed to be part of his job description as tour
guide. So I was thankful when
Florida-boy kindly volunteered to let me take up the middle position, since
Larry was probably less likely to leave a repeat customer behind.
Don’t get me wrong, Larry’s a great guy.
As one of the top riders in Costa Rica who’s job it is to ride dirt
bikes week after week (tough job - seriously), I just think he forgets what
it’s like for us mere mortals at times.
a purebred dirt-biker, little did I know I was about to dive head first into my
virgin “dualsporting” experience. My
last road riding stint was a daily five-mile commute to high school on my ’75
Honda XL175, primarily for the purpose of avoiding the stench of the back-seat
stoners smoking pot on an hour-long bus ride.
Even pushing that XL to the limits on every corner in an effort to beat
the first bell, it was approximately 237 times safer than what I was about to
I was right at home on the XR, having spent most of my life
on Honda thumpers. These bikes were
mostly stock, with the exception of well-broken-in hand guards, One Industries
graphics, and a custom duct tape headlight replacement (they wouldn’t last).
Dual sport kits are simply not a requirement for road riding in Costa
Rica, nor license plates for that matter.
ten minutes of having met our guide, and a few healthy kicks of the XR, we were
on our way! Larry wasted no time
entertaining us, veering to the shoulder to go airborne off a neighbor’s steps
cut into the hillside. As we came
to the first “ALTO” sign at the bottom of the hill, I got no response from
the rear brake, thinking this isn’t a great start.
I brought it to a stop with the front brake and my concern subsided once
I pumped the pedal a few times to build pressure.
I was now ready to do battle – with traffic. The jungle would come
as Bob predicted, Larry made an adventure out of attempting to evade us using
every means possible short of the sidewalk.
Quite unlike anything I’ve seen in the states, each stoppage of traffic
in San Jose meant a suicidal attempt to pass ten more cars by white-lining our
way up between lanes via any space large enough to squeeze the Barkbusters
through. Fortunately my experience dodging trees in the tight forest
trails of the northwest proved remarkably applicable to cars, with the exception
that trees generally stay put. To
add to the insanity, Costa Ricans give traffic signals about the same respect as
a politician, mostly ignoring them. After surviving a few miles of this, I
eventually began to admit that I was actually enjoying it!
last, our tires found their way to their first dirt!
We stopped at the trailhead to check out my slipping clutch, easily
remedied by un-tweaking the hand guard that was holding the lever hostage.
Meanwhile, Bob sucked down the first of many smokes.
Not a good habit considering the amount of O2 we were about to
burn through. Larry took this
opportunity to share his next morsel of wisdom, “This hill up ahead is very
slick, like ice.” By now I’d
learned to take what little he had to say very seriously.
“Ok, got it,” thinking to myself how bad could it be considering
Oregon is no stranger to slimy muck. I
made a good run at the hill, coming right up on Larry’s tail as he spun to an
abrupt stop, leaving me no room to get around, even assuming I could.
As I aborted my attempt, I discovered just how close the friction
coefficient of Costa Rican mud is to zero.
Ice would’ve given me more welcome footing.
bypass trail we took was steeper yet, but stickier mud made all the difference.
A group synergy developed for the first time when Larry and Bob, already
waiting at the top, watched me take the hill without a problem, using just the
right blend of short-shifting and light clutch work to keep the knobs hooked up.
This technique (unfamiliar to most California desert riders according to
Larry, who doesn’t much care for their “feedback” on the conditions) was
to become an essential survival skill for the week.
MotoAdventures makes a point of assessing riders’ capabilities early on
and adjusting the challenge accordingly. By
the choice of the progressively sick trails, it became clear that Larry wasn’t
holding anything back with us.
Our first adventure came after some “sweet” riding
alongside sugar plantations, when an unexpected makeshift fence blocked the
trail. Without saying a word, Larry
worked a fencepost loose enough to let us pass through, then closed it behind
us. Ok I thought, so we’re now
inside some area where someone doesn’t want us, but Larry must think it’s
kosher. A few corners later and
there’s fence #2. This one was
going to take a little more work, so Bob and I shut down the mills while Larry
scouted a way through. Meanwhile, a
farmer in his field 100 yards down the hill starts yelling what I assumed to be
obscenities while frantically waving his machete in the air.
This’ll make for a great ride report I thought, if I don’t die.
Larry calmly continued going about his work, apparently seeing no benefit
in communicating with this angry chap, while Bob and I threw our helmets on and
fired the bikes. Larry finally created an opening (not that the fence
would’ve stopped me at that point), and we slipped through. To our relief, Larry would later explain that the man was
more concerned with the wire being cut than killing us. Admittedly, it sure would’ve spoiled the “adventure” if
he had told us that in the heat of the moment.
the second day, I’d convinced myself Scott Summers could eat my dust, able to
hang with Larry right through the most challenging terrain and conditions.
I was gaining more confidence in my riding ability than ever, which can
only mean one thing. Fortunately,
Bob was too far behind to witness the crash, a product of fatigue, too much
speed, and an oh-so-prevalent erosion trench on a steep downhill corner.
I figured out which way was up, re-mounted, and was rolling again before
Bob rounded the corner. I’ve
often wondered, “if a bike falls in the woods and no-one else is around to see
it, did it really happen?” There
would be many more close calls during the week, including a 5-star flying
“W” performance in front of Bob when a rock crawled under my rear tire at
35mph, but this marked the only time I felt the XR should lay down for a
the second half of the week, Larry would have to leave us to tend to his
daughter. Our substitute guide was
Manuel, a short fearless mid-20s college student, whose mastery of the XR was a
thing of beauty to witness, especially considering he couldn’t reach the
ground. Manuel would turn out to
bring a refreshing change to the tour not only in riding leadership, but in the
unspoken guide duties like taking a moment to stop and cut some sugar cane for
us to chew on, or explaining the history of how the grassy right-of-ways we’d
been railing were created by the government in the 1800s to prevent farmers from
The height of the adventure was day 3, where the most
grueling trails tested my desk-job conditioning to the fullest, and left Bob
pausing for regular smoke breaks to “take a breather”, oddly enough.
Late in the day and deep into an endless stretch of sloppy wet jungle
single-track, Bob was increasingly having trouble keeping the pace.
We stopped near the bottom of a gully and parked our butts in a creek to
cool down. In Oregon, this would
mean a cold miserable ride back to the truck. But warm tropical rain means
letting go of notions (which I didn’t) like packing around a fanny-pack enduro
jacket all week that’s simply not needed.
our batteries now somewhat recharged (as in a dead Ni-Cad bounce), we again hit
the bamboo-lined trail to begin the long climb back out of the gully.
As I grabbed a handful of throttle to launch out of a creek, my trusty
steed coughed and died, nearly sending me over the bars.
Houston, we have a problem. A
stick with a tapered machete cut attacked my rear wheel, taking with it 1/3 of
the spokes. Somewhat delusional at
this point, I was thinking, “Cool! This
is what I call an adventure!” Bob,
on the hand, was thinking more rationally, “We’re gonna die out here.”
Manuel kept a cool head, looked at his watch, and decided we didn’t
have time for plan A, which was to remove the tire and redistribute the good
spokes around the wheel (something I wouldn’t attempt even with all day, a
shop, tools, and beer). He instead
opted for plan B, removing the bent spokes and praying it would hold.
swapped scooters with me and babied it as best he could up the wet rocky climbs
course it wouldn't be a complete adventure without another obstacle, so
naturally we encountered a washout. Fortunately someone left a narrow
plank over it, just wide enough to walk the bikes across. The
significance of this was not lost considering turning around was an option of a
nocturnal nature, requiring Braille (duct tape makes a poor headlight).
Daylight now rapidly fading and Jaco Beach still barely visible in the
distance, we cranked it up a notch, noting that the wheel miraculously seemed to
be holding. By the time we slid
down into the valley (quite literally at times), we couldn’t see a thing, like
the white dog that nearly took out Bob (or vice versa).
But as we emerged from the trees, a surreal scene developed with Manuel
out front stirring up swarms of fireflies from the roadside, a sort of guiding
light bringing us down the home stretch. We
rolled into the paradise of a Jaco Beach resort, looking worse for the wear, but
feeling like victorious warriors. After slapping emotional high fives all around and sharing
our conquest with Marco Jr., I checked in, showered up, chowed down, and melted
into the comforts of the resort while I took in the best day riding of my life.
spent the next day working hard on relaxing, giving me and my calloused hands a
chance to recover for the final day of riding.
Manuel and I would go it alone, with Bob instead opting to try
MotoAdventure’s brand new road ride tour back to San Jose.
While Bob was an adept rider who could leave me crying for mommy in the
flat stuff, I was eager to see what pace I could keep in the mountains with just
Manuel. The route back was as challenging as anything we’d done, replete with
more personal conquests. I
thoroughly loved it, giving my digital camera a workout along the way to help
archive the memories.
Costa Rica was a humbling peek into a country of people living simplistic lives
without excess. No matter the
hardships, I found a genuine happiness among them, stemming from a culture that
seems rooted more in humanism than materialism.
From the coffee plantation farmer deep in the jungle who sprinted down
from his meager shack just to shake my hand for taking his picture, to the
uniformed schoolchildren clinging to the fence motioning in unison for a wheelie
(which I humbly granted), the cultural experience is too broad to describe.
Suffice it to say that it was a major part of the adventure, and the XR
provided the means to see it up close and personal in the most remote regions of
the country, where no tour bus could go.
you have anything left after the riding has kicked your tail to the beach and
back, there are plenty of other thrills and sightseeing opportunities to take
advantage of. Oh yes, and if
you’re fair-skinned and opt for the whitewater rafting, be sure to apply
plenty of waterproof sunscreen, or your last night and plane ride home could be
more painful than going through life without having dualsported Costa Rica.