Friday, November 23, 2007

La Ruta

Absolute, best way to procrastinate a disseration: sign up for a 4-day mountain bike stage race in a foreign country. Beyond the 10 days required for the trip itself, you also have to make sure your bike is in good working order, you have to pack, and it will take a few days to recover with some good relaxation when you get home. But the big time suck is the training. It takes months of riding to be ready for a race like this. So here's my report on La Ruta, a 4-day mtb race in Costa Rica that goes from Jacó beach on the pacific ocean across the country to Puerto Limon on the Caribbean (I use the term "across the country" quite loosely, because that implies a somewhat direct route and it would perhaps be more accurate to say up and down, up and down, up and down, and up and down every hill and mountain in the country from one coast to the other).


Flew into Liberia, rented a car and drove to Nosara to "acclimate" (mostly read on the beach and do some easy rides) in this little surf town for a few days before heading down to Jacó for the race. My brother lived in Costa Rica for 6 months, so before i left i asked him if i would be alright renting a midsize car or if i would need a 4-wheel drive. He advised me that there are so many potholes on the roads in CR that if i took my eyes off the road for a second i would mostly loose a hubcap, if not a whole tire, but that i would probably be alright with the midsize car. So i reserved a toyota corolla, which i was relieved to see when i picked it up, that it didn't have any hubcaps to worry about losing anyway.

The rental car people pointed me in the right direction (after doubling my car reservation fees by adding "drop off charges" and liability insurance because i didn't have enough on my debit card to make a $1750 deposit) and gave me a map and i headed out for Nosara.
First 30 k i made good time, rolling through some nice little towns on good roads. I found the most direct route to Nosara, that also looked like it paralleled the beach, and from what i saw out of the airplane window as we flew in, it looked a beautiful drive along the coast from Tamarindo to Nosara. As i started out from Santa Cruz towards the coast the road started to get progressively worse. At one point the potholes were so bad i wondered, "why bother paving if it gets this bad, why not just leave dirt roads, they can't possibly get worse than this." I was soon to find out what a foolish thought that was. But i was still a new experience and i was taking in the country until i got lost in a little town (road signs are notoriously absent in CR), and had to stop and ask directions. the kid i asked was headed the same direction (at least a little ways), so i gave him a ride and he gave me directions. he told me i should go back to Santa Cruz and take the road down from Nicoya, but that looked like a long way to backtrack. I asked him if the road i was on was bad, and he said it wasn't much worse than what we were on, so i continued on. I let him out at a crossroads a little further and kept on. The road had turned from paved to dirt, but it was broad and though pocked with potholes, still in pretty favorable condition. What i didn't count on, however, were the river crossings. They didn't start out too bad, mostly just big puddles. I was a little nervous about the little corolla, but the rivers were shallow and i made it through them without too much problem.

As i got further along, however, the rivers seemed to get bigger and deeper. It wasn't too long that i came to a river crossing that wasn't just a crossing, but more of a traverse. The road entered the river, continued downstream for a good 200 meters, then exited on the opposite bank.

In the top middle of this pic you can see where the road turns and enters the river. it continues under the suspension bridge from where i took this picture downstream another 100 meters before exiting on the opposite bank.

It was at about this same time that it started to occur to me that i had only seen motorcycles and 4x4s on this road (and the occassional bus rocking along at an awfully slow pace). With maybe more than a little bit of foolish naivity i put the car in 2nd and drove the little corolla into the river trying to keep it at a moderate, steady pace. I could smell the water vaporizing into steam off the hot engine, put kept it moving, easing it through the deep sections, and pulling out on the other bank without too much problem.

I was feeling pretty confident in the little corolla at this point, and as i knew i was nearing Nosara i didn't worry too much. After a few more kilometers i came across another, much shorter river crossing. Without too much thought i drove through, but this time the exit on the opposite bank was steeper and a bit muddier. I tried to keep my speed steady, but my tires started to spin out and the car stopped half way out. I put it in reverse, slowly backed back into the river to where it was shallow enough i could try again, and made another attempt. Damn! same thing! half way out and the car spun out and got stuck. Back up again, try a little more speed, but keep it steady, and, yes, spin through the mud all the way out to the dry road. Nice.

Now the only problem was that i really didn't know where the bed and breakfast i was staying at was. In fact on my way to the airport i realized i had forgotten to print out or write down any info, including the name, of the bed and breakfast. Fortunately during my layover in Atlanta i had found a pay by the minute email kiosk and logged into my email account to look up the name of the B&B in an email my buddy had sent me. so that's all i had to go on: The Vista del Mar lodge in Nosara, CR. Fortunately Nosara is pretty small and as i rolled into town and asked directions the locals were quickly able to point out directions to me. Just as it was getting dark (3+ hrs into what i thought would be a 90 minute drive) i rolled into the Vista del Mar and took in the nice sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

When i returned the car I noticed a poster on the wall of the rental car office declaring that cars driven through rivers would not be covered by the insurance. oops!

No comments: