Norval, at the BMW dealership, suggested San Vito as a possible destination to us. Take route 2 (the Pan American) south and hang a left on 237 to San Vito. “Should take you about 5 hours with a break for lunch, and it’s really beautiful.” he suggested. Plus, it’s only an hour from the border and has some decent hotels.
So, we take our time getting going because it’s only going to be a five hour day and leave at 10. It takes us an hour to get out of San Jose because we’re not locals and don’t know the fast way. Also, we have to stop for gas, which always seems to take more time than you expect.
After a little bit we see a hill, maybe a thousand feet high before us. “Oh nice. We get to go over a little hill.” And we do, and then there’s another hill behind it, and behind that, and, and, and, and eventually we’re at 3,317 meters. Just over two miles above sea level. The ride has been gorgeous. Lush, green, and involving a few minutes riding through the middle of clouds.
We finally find a good place to pull over that looks like it may have a view, but no luck. All we can see is clouds and …. oh my…
That’s not right….
Dachary’s got the SW-Motech pannier frames. They’ve got this nifty quick-release mechanism that lets you take the whole thing off the bike when you want to ride around without a metal pannier rack poking out the side of your bike. Only problem is the bolt that holds the removable part on has a tendency to destroy itself and then jump ship without telling you.
It wasn’t intentional, but the carabiner that’s keeping her dry sack from jumping ship ended up keeping the pannier from doing the same. So, yay for backup / dual-purpose restraints.
We had a bag of bolts from a BMW dealer in Louisiana – they didn’t know what size the sub-frame bolts were so they just chucked an assortment in a bag for us. Actually, they’d never heard of the sub-frame bolts shearing which tells you a lot about their knowledge and clientele… Anyway, we dug in the bag and found a bolt we could use to shove in there and keep the thing attached, but we had no nuts, so we grabbed a piece of wire from the tool kit (a must have piece of kit) that we wrapped around the threads on the underside to form an impromptu nut, then wrapped duct-tape around the whole thing to keep it from pulling out if the “nut” fails.
As we did this an Austrian man stopped by to try and take some pics, but he finds, as we did, that all you can see is clouds. He tells us that he was here a couple days ago and could see the Pacific, and when the clouds are gone on the other side you can see the Atlantic too.
I raised my arms and shouted “Adventure!” when all was said and done. We’d accidentally stopped at the highest point of the road, the highest point of the Panamerican in Costa Rica, and on part of the continental divide, and accidentally discovered a serious problem, and fixed it.
We drove on… just a few yards from where we’d pulled over was a dirt road going up into a national preserve, but we’d been stopped long enough and didn’t feel like wandering through a random bunch of trees on top of a hill.
Instead we drove into a cloud. Not any cloud. A rain cloud. A huge, thick, dense, rain cloud. Almost instantly, visibility went to practically nil. You could see maybe 30 feet in front of us – at times, you’d lose the taillights of the car in front of you.
Our visors misted up. Dachary made the mistake of opening hers and from that point on was unable to close it without it fogging up, so had to ride with it open. It misted. The mist condensed on my visor and Dachary’s face. Then it started to rain. I know it’s obvious when you think about it, but it had never occurred to me that it rains in the middle of a rain cloud. Clouds are just collections of vapor and rain comes out the bottom… NOT.
We rode on. I wiped. Dachary blinked. We were glad we’d already closed our vents due to the chill air at altitude, but it wasn’t long before the shells of our jackets reached the saturation point. Shortly thereafter Dachary called for us to pull over because she’d been blinking out so much water that her contact lens was starting to blink out too. I took the opportunity to grab the rain liner out of my butt pocket. And rejoiced in the knowledge that my arms wouldn’t be drenched.
It was… awesome. Literally. It was beautiful. It was a little scary, and it was totally out of our realm of previous experiences. Insane people passed us around blind curves with visibility of maybe thirty feet. The fact that busses would appear out of nowhere and zoom up the hill in the other lane didn’t seem to be a deterrent.
I was, once again, very thankful for my Denali headlights. They didn’t help me see anything, because it was nearly noon at this point and even the sun couldn’t make it through, but they gave me a huge amount of confidence that people would see me. Sure, I could see oncoming headlights, but I’ve only got one, and the Denali’s are about four times brighter.
We continued on, blinking, wiping, and enjoying the whole thing…. well, except the getting wet part.
Eventually, we had dropped about a mile and passed out of the bottom of the cloud, and not long after that we found a road-side restaurant with a little collection of plastic Harley-Davidsons on the wall. The owner clearly wanted to talk to us about the bikes, but he was disheartened by our bad Spanish, and didn’t do much more than mime some things after we did such a poor job of ordering lunch. We don’t have the vocabulary to start up a conversation, but when someone attempts to talk to us we can usually get a fair amount communicated. Like the other day when a BMW guy stopped by our table and started chatting us up, and saying that they were great bikes for our trip and that we’d have no problems, which I countered by explaining that the fan was dead and that we had to head back to the dealer.
At least lunch turned out to be very tasty, and Dachary and I are both developing an affinity for the Avocado when you mix it with things. I think of it as a more refreshing form of butter. After lunch, though, we both put our jackets back on and cringed at the wet shells. It’s just no fun putting on a cold, wet jacket after it’s rained! But it was, once again, too warm to keep the liner in and Dachary had never put hers in to begin with.
We rode on, through tons of Del Monte pineapple fields, which took us a while, and some signage to figure out. Neither of us realized they grew underground! And eventually past a small street-sign sized sign that said “Volcan 3Km” and pointed down a long red dirt road. I was so tempted, but Dachary pointed out that the hill it led up to went up into a cloud so A) we’d get wet again B) we wouldn’t see jack shit and C) it was probably fucking muddy since the part in the sun near us didn’t look particularly dry either.
We rode on. I wish it hadn’t been cloudy though, because it’s a sight that I suspect hardly any Americans ever visit. If you’re interested it’s on the Panamerican just a few minutes west of Buenos Aires Costa Rica.
We arrived in San Vito just after 5 PM; seven hours after heading out. We pulled over in a gas station to find Dachary a bathroom and a guy on a Honda with panniers pulled up almost immediately. He didn’t speak any English, but it didn’t matter. He was an adventure rider too. He’d been up to Guatemala, and he and his friends had shipped their bikes to Peru and ridden back home to Costa Rica. We asked him where the ATM was since we were so low on Colones we couldn’t even buy gas, and he pointed us the way, and informed us that he worked at that one, and that there was another one just around the corner beyond it. And, the hotel El Ceibo was very nice and good for the bikes. We thanked him for the info, gave him a card (that won’t do him much good as our site’s in English) and let out a sigh of relief.
We had rather low expectations of what kind of hotel we’d find in San VIto and it was good to hear there was somewhere good, and that we’d be able to get an ATM to afford gas, and food tomorrow. All the hotels in Costa Rica will happily take US Dollars, but food and gas need Colones. So, we went up the hill, stopped at the bank, and pulled into the hotel, which turned out to be very nice although lacking any rooms with anything other than twin beds. And was, in typical Costa Rican fashion, way more than we wanted to pay.
Our tag line for Costa Rica? “I love Costa Rica. I just can’t *afford* Costa Rica.”
The sunset, was brilliant though:
It turns out there’s a Hotel Rino(?) just down the street that looks much cheaper… which could be a mixed blessing. El Ceibo is quite nice, except for the “giant bugs” Dachary keeps seeing. Two huge ants which neither of us are particularly bothered by but don’t want crawling on us, and a huge freaking jumping spider that Dachary was totally freaked about and I couldn’t decide how to handle. I went with tupperware, as I hate killing spiders and the idea of leaving a ginormous bug splat on the wall was also rather rude. The spider and the ants have all been chucked out the door, hopefully without injury.
If you visit San Vito be sure to eat at the Pizzaria just up the hill from El Ceibo. It’s the best pizza we’ve had since the US. Also, check out the little supermarket just down the hill from El Ceibo. It has everything: bungies, sewing supplies, cooking, cleaning, hardware, household food… Sounds like a giant Wal-Mart back in the states, but no, this is maybe a quarter of the size of a standard US supermarket. We got a pair of bungies, five safety pins, and some liquid refreshment.
Speaking of liquid refreshment. Neither of us has had a drop of alcohol since the start of the trip. I don’t mention this as an accomplishment for us, but as it seems to be so atypical for a trip like this. That and we’re not really trying to avoid it, we just haven’t been particularly interested.