We got to Puntarenas in the late afternoon, and settled on a cheap hostel for the night. The next morning we pushed out towards Jaco. It was a bummer getting back onto pavement after such an amazing stretch of dirt road. After a few hours of pedaling we stopped by the famous crocodile bridge at the Rio Tárcoles. An impressive sight met our eyes as we encountered over 30 enormous adult crocs lazing about in the river below with a perfect vantage from the bridge above.
While enjoying the incredible site of the crocodiles, afternoon rains moved in. We took shelter at a nearby restaurant for a couple of hours. It was nearing dark, still raining and we weren’t sure where to camp. While the river banks may have been a good option for us, crocodiles clearly owned the place and we were not about to take our chances. We asked around to the cafes and restaurants nearby, but none wanted to let us pitch our tent for the night. The rain was still coming down steadily and dark was upon us. Finally a delivery guy pulled up in a truck, and we asked if he’d give us a lift the last 16 or so kilometers into Jaco. He agreed, we loaded our bikes and he dropped us near a hostel in town where we dried out, made some dinner and went to bed. The next day we linked up with a family friend Tina and her husband Jeff, who took us in for the night, fed us and took us around Jaco and Playa Hermosa before Erin’s family arrived.
We spent an entire week with Erin’s mom Laura, stepdad Scott and brother Kevin staying in Playa Hermosa at Ecovital. From stand-up paddle boarding, hiking, exploring National Parks to beach days, it was great to get some family time while also exploring mainland Costa Rica off our bikes for once.
Our lovely cabina at Ecovital in Playa Hermosa
Quick stop to check out the crocs
Manuel Antonio National Park
One of the highlights of our week together was exploring the amazing Manuel Antonio National Park. There we pitched in for a private guide, who, with his powerful telescope and in depth knowledge, was able to show us dozens of species of butterflies, crickets, sloths, raccoons, lizards, monkeys, spiders and more. We're not too big on guides, but this was by far the best way to experience this park. It is so rich with local wildlife that much of it is easy to miss with the untrained eye or without the proper guide. After spending a few hours hiking around the park, we ended our tour on the beach, where we indulged in some coconuts and snacks before heading back to our homestead.
Playa Herradura, Jacó & Playa Hermosa
We spent a couple of days enjoying the beautiful beach, Playa Herradura, just north of Jacó. The waves there are very mellow, so we enjoyed swimming, Stand-Up Paddleboarding and generally relaxing. We enjoyed hikes around Jacó and Playa Hermosa as well. Jacó is very touristy, but filled with great restaurants, hotels/hostels, cafes and plenty of shopping. We were thrilled to stay in the quieter Playa Hermosa to the south, where we were surrounded by nature and wildlife in our precious cabina, but could still zip into town for a coffee or food.
Time to hit the road...
After a week of rest and relaxation, it was time to get rolling again! We bid farewell to Erin's family and Carolina at Ecovital. We pedaled out of Playa Hermosa, cycling pavement once again through the rest of Costa Rica and into Panama as dirt roads were next to none along the coast. It was a hot stretch, but not without its redeeming beach campsites and friendly locals. Shortly after leaving Playa Hermosa, we were pedaling hard into the rain when suddenly, "Erin?! Erin?!" A car behind us pulled ahead and off the road. Am I dreaming? Did someone just call my name? A woman gets out of the car. It's Alison Turner, an amazing photographer who I've followed for years on Instagram. "I thought we might run into you!" We chatted for a bit on the side of the road - totally surreal and fortunate to run into someone you've followed and whose work you've admired for many years... in the middle of Costa Rica!
One of our favorite beaches on this stretch was the small surfer town of Playa Dominical with a laid-back vibe and loads of great food. When we arrived, we were thrilled to find an empty beach at high noon, so we enjoyed a quick skinny dip before heading back into town to pick up ingredients for dinner. We found Mama Toucan’s, an organic health-food store, and the owner hooked us up with some tasty treats. It is so wonderful to meet people who are supportive of our wild journey and want to help however they can. For us, a jar of tahini goes a long way! We also got some to-die-for vegan chocolate cake and super tasty vegan cheese. Their local, organic produce was so delicious that we decided to take an extra day off just to load up on fresh greens. We’ve gone entirely vegetarian since the beginning of our trip, and finding health food stores like this is a great reward for the mind, body and spirit. And, after many months of traveling through Mexico and Central America, we were thrilled to find such delicious organic ingredients. Plus, Playa Dominical was quiet and laid back - our favorite! So an extra day it was.
1 16 oz can of chickpeas
3 tablespoons of raw tahini
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 cloves of minced garlic
1 tablespoon of dried thyme
1 tablespoon of paprika
juice of one lime or lemon
salt to taste
Drain half of the water from the can of chickpeas. Mash all ingredients together with a fork for about 5 minutes.
We enjoyed this beautiful batch of hummus on fresh baked bread with organic greens from Mama Toucan's. Thanks for the love, y'all!
Before pedaling out of the country, our final beach campsite was at Playa Ventanas. Unfortunately it was also Costa Rica's Independence day, so we shared the beach with many local tourists during the day, but had the place entirely to ourselves at night.
We awoke the next morning to the sound of howler monkeys. The weather cleared and we decided to stay an extra day to enjoy this beautiful beach. Our route will take us away from the coast for the rest of Central America, so we wanted to enjoy one last night of beach camping and swimming before heading inland.
But boy, did we enjoy our last day by the ocean! We swam, explored the caves, took tons of photos and of course, cracked open almost a dozen coconuts to enjoy in the heat of the afternoon.
We bid farewell to the ocean and pedaled out of Playa Ventanas, heading toward Palmar Norte, Ciudad Neilly and finally, Paso Canoas at the border. This stretch (and into Panama) was by far the hottest in all of Central America, and about as hot as Mexico's Oaxacan coast. We pedaled it as quickly as possible.
One memorable afternoon we were stuck in a massive rainstorm. We took cover on the side of the road against the shrubbery, which provided a bit of shelter, but as the rainstorm moved in, the rain became much heavier and we were now completely exposed in the pouring rain. Since we were already soaked through, we decided to pedal on and find proper shelter. A kind family took us in for a few hours while we waited for the rain to pass. We chatted with them and their kids, including a very inquisitive five year old boy for the afternoon. They fed us, gave us fruit from their trees and then we pedaled on for another few hours. These moments make those hard ones so worth it! There is always a glimmer of joy to be found in any situation. These moments teach us patience and we are forever grateful for them.
Excerpt from Erin's Instagram
Lately I've been thinking that the most revolutionary thing a woman can do these days is to love herself. To forgive herself for her wrong doings. To make peace and let go. I may have some folds from carrying an extra 40 lbs of weight when I was a teenager. I sometimes go a week without looking in the mirror. I now have grey hairs in my eyebrows. I stopped traveling with deodorant a year ago. I have scars from surgeries and broken hearts. I have made mistakes, hurt people, hurt myself, and at times lost my light and my hope. And I forgive myself for all of it. I love that all those things are a part of my journey. I carry them with me everywhere I go until the day I die.
A journey like this isn't for the faint of heart. It holds a mirror up every day and asks you to look at yourself. To really, really look. What kind of limitations are you imposing on yourself? What lies do you feed yourself? We are capable of so much yet we believe our own lies, let our own fears take hold, and convince ourselves we "can't." I recently read that if you argue for your limitations, you get to keep them. I'm not arguing for mine anymore. And that may be the biggest transformation on this journey so far. I may have cycled through six countries but my greatest accomplishment has been to learn how to love and forgive myself. Priceless.
Costa Rica really taught us some valuable life lessons:
Slow down, There's no rush.
We'll figure it out, we're in this together.
Our biggest misconception about Costa Rica was that it was going to be touristy and expensive. We wanted to pedal through the entire country in less than 2 weeks and we probably could have. But we ended up spending a total of 37 days (including time spent off our bikes) and could have stayed longer if we didn't still have at least 5,500 more miles to go to reach our destination.
We found the adventurous Nicoya Peninsula in the north extremely quiet, except for the larger towns of Tamarindo and Sámara. Food was simple (gallo pinto, or beans & rice, is the local staple), but delicious and hearty. We camped almost every night in Costa Rica; beach camping is free and legal in most places. When we were offered places to stay, accommodations were clean and most were air-conditioned. Manuel Antonio National Park's wildlife was quite remarkable, as were its beaches. And best of all, the country is just so dang clean. We bathed frequently in road-side waterfalls throughout the country. Litter is almost non-existent.
We loved our time in Costa Rica, but it was time to head south.