Thursday, 23 June 2011


Weed? Cocaine? These are the first words we hear as we stepped out of our car upon arriving in the surfing and party hub of Tamarindo on the pacific coast of Costa Rica. Now this isn't the first time either of us had been offered drugs from a street dealer but never before has it been shouted from across the street in a busy town centre. It was instantly clear, the rules don't apply here in Tamarindo and whatever rules there are were created and will be enforced on the street.

It had a sinister vibe and I couldn't help but sense an agenda behind every smile as I walked down the street. Every local and ex-pat living this town was working their own hustle designed to fleece unsuspecting tourists for maximum profit before sending you home broke and bewildered to what just actually happened. Maybe there is a sad story and a tragic addiction behind every smile and hustle but whatever it was, I never felt genuinely welcome here. I knew my place here was to become someones next meal, snort or drink. I know I'm a walking wallet everywhere I'll go on this trip but it was different here.

We were certainly part of the tourist machine but that didn't matter right now, we had some drinking to do. When in Rome I guess....

In the end, it was an almost uneventful evening. We drank, we got drunk. There was one small near incident however. If there is one thing I can't stand in this world, it's line jumpers. When a young man had obviously pushed ahead of me at the bar, words had to be exchanged. I wasn't looking for a fight, I just let him politely know that his lack of manners had not gone un-noticed. At 6'2, I towered over this guy although he looked at me like I was just another ant to squash. Fuck, what have I got myself into.... His friend steps in and explains in good English explains that I really do not want to fight this guy. He was right, I didn't. My body was awakened by a shot of adrenalin as I slowly began to realize the stupidity of my actions. It looks like I had just pissed off a local gangster and likely cocaine dealer. Now I never threatened or insulted this guy but the very fact I had pulled him up on jumping the line obviously challenged him in front of his friends. I had to do some fast talking, some good fast talking. I extended my arm to shake his arm and used my best verbal asset immediately - Soy Australiano, soy Australiano (I am Australian). Not sure what that was meant to do but it seemed to turn his frown upside down. I smile, shook hands and promptly fucked off right out of there.

I think I'll just wait a little longer for my beer next time.

That was a night ender for me so I told Scott and Charlie that I was heading back to the hotel. Their parting words were "don't fall asleep in the taxi!" as Charlie had the misfortune of coming across a young female tourist who was raped in Mexico after taking a quick nap in the cab to awaken again high in the mountains. The poor girl, how terrifying that must have been.

After being circled by the local working girls, I step inside the cab and after negotiating the fare, the taxi driver turns to me and says in broken English "it's a long drive Sir, please put the seat back and close your eyes".

Here comes that adrenalin again.......


With still 25 days before my bike was due to arrive, we had plenty of time to explore Costa Rica a little.

From our base in Playa Flamingo we headed south down the coast checking out each of the small towns along the way. Unlike home there is no one coastal road that connects each town. Much of the time driving is spent weaving in and out gravel roads peppered with crator like pot holes big enough to swallow you in a moment of lost concentration. Driving in general could actually be considered a high intensity exercise in Costa Rica considering the amount of brain power required to survive each journey. Between the poorly maintained roads, suicidal animals and local drivers with a complete disregard for rules or safety, you compete in a mental triathlon every time you turn the key.

As we explored more and more of the coast, we discovered a few things. It seemed each town was almost a clone of the last. The same tired old hotels, near empty restaurants and tour operators offering the same over-priced rafting and zip-line activities. To be completely honest, I found this whole area of Costa Rica to be on the depressing side. Much of the tourism here is fueled by American travelers looking for a quick exotic adventure from home. It's also not too uncommon for them to never leave or buy up what used to be a cheap holiday house. Over the years, the cost of living in Costa Rica has steadily risen to where it is now often referred to as Costa Lotta. Given we are now in the low season on the back of a struggling American economy, these small tourism towns are obviously feeling the pinch. One thing did seem quite evident to me and that is that innovation is all but dead in Costa Rica. At some point people just stopped trying to be creative and differentiate their business from the drones of businesses just like them.

We returned to our hotel to find a Scott, a solo Australian traveler we met back at our hostel in Alujuela. At 39, Scott's a fitness fanatic and works hard to keep in top shape. Frankly he makes Charlie and I look bad and you certainly won't catch me standing next to him with my shirt off any time soon. Scott had done all the tours Costa Rica's brochures had to offer and jumped at the chance to split the bill on the hire car and get off the tourist track for a while.

Although Charlie and I usually have a few quiet beers each evening, we managed to so far avoid the party scene. With the arrival of Scott, we now had a good enough excuse to celebrate and get amongst it for a night before we split from resort world.

We ask around and soon discover that for a party, there is only one place to go, Tamarindo.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Doing the Right Thing Ain't So Easy

After 15 years of driving on the left hand side of the road back home in Australia, the moment had come for me to switch. Truth be told, I was actually quietly nervous about it, 15 years is a lot of time to engrain some pretty deep planted habits.

Charlie and I rented a well used Nissan X-Trail and planned to head North of San Jose to the famous resort coast of the Guantecaste province. To my delight, Charlie was going to drive first so I planned to use that time to familiarize myself with the strange sensation of driving on the right hand side. It might just be me, but my brain was seriously over heating while I visualized various turning scenarios in my mind. It was so hard to overide my instincts but I knew doing so wasn't particularly optional if I had any chance of completing this trip.

We arrived at our hotel in Playa Flamingo and checked in to what turned out to be quite a nice two bedroom suite. We weren't exactly roughing it, not at all. Plenty of time for that I guess.

We lugged our baggage in and headed back to the car to find a restaurant for dinner. If ever there was a moment for me to start driving, it was now while we were in this sleepy resort town in the off-season. I turned the key, started the engine and selected reverse. Ok so which direction do I reverse to get into which lane and from which direction will the traffic be coming from in each lane as I do this? I was calmer than I expected but my brain was performing mental gymnastics as I un-wired every instinct and safety alarm screaming inside my mind. I gently hit the accelerator and guided the vehicle back. I put her into drive and headed towards town. Within about a dozen left and right hand turns, I could already sense that new habits were being born while my brain began quickly adapting. It really was a big load of weight lifted off my shoulders and I huge confidence builder for the trip. I still had chaotic city driving to face but at least now I had the basics under my belt. Truth is I should never over thought it all so much in the first place.

Man I wish I had my bike.....

Thursday, 16 June 2011

no news is good news?

They say no news is good news but when my emails stop being returned from the freight company responsible for delivering my bike to Costa Rica, I knew some bad news was on the way.

I decided to cut out the middle man and contact the freight agent in Costa Rica directly, I needed to know.

To say my Spanish is rusty would be giving it far too much credit. I needed a translator. In steps our gracious host Jose to come to our rescue and provide his local linguistic skills for at least the fourth time in the past 3 days. After a blur of words were exchanged between Jose and the freight agent, he turned to me, covered the phone and told me "not good news I'm afraid".

Oh shit.....

For reasons still a mystery to me, it appears my bike has been detoured via Germany and will now arrive a month later than expected.

At first this was a pretty hard blow, I came here to ride a motorbike to Argentina and in one phone call, I lost 30 days. It's easy to let things like this take its toll on your spirits and that's the last thing I wanted. It didn't take long to collect my thoughts and clearly see the reality of my situation. I'm in one of the most desirable locations on planet earth for another 30 days. Much worse things have happened to a lot better people.

Amongst the excitement, Charlie had rocked up after blasting through Guatemala, Honduras and nicaragua to meet me. Charlie left Australia in January and started riding South from LA to join me to continue South. It was great to catch up and we quickly got to sharing stories over some cold cerveza.

I told Charlie of my dilemma and we effortlessly made a new plan to explore the west coast in a hire car and make the rest of it up as we go.

Let's get amongst it!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A Volcanic Start.....

Well after a year of planning, some blood, sweat and even a few tears from some, I said goodbye to Australia and finally arrived in Costa Rica to kick off this adventure.

While I am pumped to be on this trip, I gotta say it was tougher than I expected to leave behind everyone and everything. I'm glad of that too, I think you need something and someone to miss.

Getting to Costa Rica was a 40 hour adventure in itself. A good friend of mine is a pilot for a major airline and was kind enough to book me a business class flight on his staff travel account. The only condition being that it was a stand-by ticket, no spare seat means no flight. It was rare to miss out though, and I planned to fly on a traditionally slow day outside of the holiday period to minimize the risk. 

God though always has the final say. With the volcanic eruptions in Chile, the ash cloud soon found its way to Australia and various airlines and routes began to shut down. Spirits were high though, as I was flying ex-Sydney which was unaffected at this stage. I checked in 2.5 hours before departure and was promptly dealt a good slap in the face. 

I was to be told that my attire was unsuitable for business class and I cannot enter the US without a return ticket although it probably wouldn't matter anyway because my flight was oversold and I was unlikely to get on the plane.

My heart sunk...... I knew this didn't just mean a short delay as flights were backed up for days with the overflow from stranded passengers delayed by the ash. There goes my connecting flight ticket, paid hotel reservation and scheduled catch up with my riding buddy Charlie.

I had to do something so I decided to tackle the problems one at a time. First I explained that I had a connecting flight to CR which seemed to keep them happy on the return ticket front. Easy.

Hmmmm, ok so business attire, they wanted me in dress pants, leather shoes and a collared shirt. How do you pull that outta your bum when your packed for a motorbike adventure? I remembered that my new kevlar pants were nice and shiny, they'll do. My riding boots are leather, that should work. Now although collared, my Thirsty Swagman (International pub crawl company ) shirt probably wasn't going to cut it. I was going to have to reach into my pocket for this one. It was an Airport after all, so I found a shop and bought an out of season shirt at a reasonable $50 airport price. It wasn't a fashion contest so I figured that they couldn't reject me for just my bad taste. After providing an entertaining cat walk complete with a twirl, the check out chick checked me out and proceeded to checked me in. What do ya know, it was a fashion contest after all.

So now I'm checked in but still on stand-by. How am I going to fix this one??? In short, I can't.

I was told that various flights delayed by the ash were inbound from Melbourne with 80 odd passengers looking to connect with my flight. It was simple, if they all turn up, I'm not going anywhere.

It was now on boarding time and no word. 10 minutes from departure and still no word. One at a time, other stand-by passengers started to get called up. My heart was racing, please call my name! One, two, then three people get called. I scanned the terminal for the 80 mystery passengers and I spot a transit bus from the domestic terminal pull up outside. I watch as dozens of thrilled holiday makers sprint in front of me and hand over their passports. It's over I thought... Soon enough it was departure time and hope was all but lost. I took a deep breath and went into contingency planning mode. What the hell am I gonna do now?? Then like a voice from the heavens, I hear may name called.

I'm on.

With instructions to run to the departure gate, I cleared customs and began a steady fat mans jog to literally the other side of the terminal. Guitar on one shoulder and a backpack complete with helmet on the other, I bounced my way to the gate and was greeted with a dirty look and a "we've been waiting for you" comment from the gate staff. I didn't even bother to explain. Fact was, my lungs were burning from that pathetic jog so I probably couldn't of anyway. I'll have to do something about that I think, I might think about it over a Scotch on the plane.

Well fast forward a couple dozen hours and I'm sitting at the Los Volcanes hotel just outside of San Jose Costa Rica. Charlie should arrive tomorrow and my bike (I hope) arrives by freight sometime within the next week.

Right now it's time for a cold beer and well, another cold beer.