Monday, March 3, 2014

Pura Vida!, once again

Fidel lives somewhere down there
For the past week or so I have been in Costa Rica for a bike race, which now is finished. Coming to Costa Rica is always exciting, and I am grateful for these opportunities. I had never worked a stage race down here, and so it was with anticipation of seeing different parts of this relatively small country that I embarked on this trip.
Lago Nicaragua, on the approach of the northern border of Costa Rica
Not exactly sure about our accommodations for the trip in regard to the various stage starts and finishes I had brought along the Ritchey; thanks to my airline status it doesn't cost me a red cent to take along an extra piece of luggage. Well, to set the stage for some of what is to come, I never even opened the case of the folding bike. In other words: I worked my sweet ass off in those past few days.
With minutes to spare before the finish of Stage 2, this truck rumbles through the arch
Not what you expect in the finish area of a time trial...
When I think back to 1979, when I rode to the Panama Canal and crossed Costa Rica on another Ritchey (which later was stolen from my house; that bike was built by TR when he was a budding frame builder selling frames through Palo Alto, with no decals or serial numbers), there was no traffic down here. Sure, smoke-belching trucks were crawling uphill at 5 mph, and the cities had the occasional honking traffic jam, but that was not traffic. Nowadays, the roads are the same and the big trucks still crawl (albeit a little faster), but there are a gazillion more cars and pick-ups than back then—and the road infrastructure has remained essentially unchanged. The result is a constant traffic jam of Biblical proportions. Just my in-city transfer from the airport to the Team Managers' Meeting at our hotel in San Jose took almost 2 full hours—I changed into my dress shirt, tie, and blazer in the car and had 7 minutes to spare before meeting time.
Traffic marmalade on the way out of town
What all that meant is this: We spent an inordinate amount of time sitting in the backseat of a car, driving endless hours. For example, on the first day of the race we got up at 5:00 a.m., left San Jose half an hour later, and got to the race start around 8:00 a.m. Then the race took place, we did our job, and had to drive back to San Jose to get to the courier's office before 5 p.m. Imagine the traffic jam at that time! And then we were informed that we wouldn't be staying in San Jose after all but rather in the same town where the race had started, so back into the car. Upon arrival around 8:30 p.m. we found out that our rooms no longer existed. It was about 10 p.m. when we were finally installed in an alternate hotel and I could send off the paperwork via e-mail to Switzerland. And the other four days were, essentially, repeats with the exception that we stayed in the hotel in San Jose from then on. We had at least two 7+ hours driving days.
With my team at Parrita, with Carol next to me
When I say "we," I am referring to Carol from Brazil, who was my trainee at this race, and myself. I cannot tell you any other details about the race or the exact nature of our work, but those who know me have an idea of why I was in Costa Rica. Let's leave it at that.
Trainee and trainer in the Pacific
Carol enjoying her fish dinner
The doctora, Edwin the driver, Arturo, and Carol

So, it was five long days. We did see quite a bit of the country, from our car, and there were those times when we were able to really enjoy ourselves. For example, after an infernally hot day in Parrita, on the Pacific coast, we took a 10 km long rutted dirt road (I swear I thought that the rear axle would break in half as our driver, Edwin, showed no mercy) to a small resort where the organizers had arranged for the entire race entourage to have lunch. Of course, whenever and wherever we got to the lunch or dinner table, everybody had already cleared out. We spent 1 1/2 hours on the beach, napping in hammocks, and listening to the palm trees in the wind. Now, that was more like it! On the way back to San Jose, with me already suffering from the runs that eventually hit much of the peloton and most of our team, we had an amazing encounter with river crocodiles on the Rio Grande de Tarcoles. The beasts were lying below us (who were safely standing on the highway bridge) and waiting for fish scum to be thrown by entrepreneurial locals or for one of the tourists to step too closely. Very, very intimidating, to be quite frank! Some of these things were 8 meters or about 24 feet long, and the Brahma cattle on the banks of the river kept their distance. I let the pics do the talking.

Most of our return trips from the race back to the hotel were punctuated by a quick stop at Pops, the local answer to Baskin Robbins. Carol is a definite ice cream junky, and her day wasn't 100% complete until she had two big scoops of something cool and delicious.
Inside the Pops ...
... and with mobile ice cream vendors at the finish line
The last stage of the race was a circuit race around the old airport in San Jose, which was closed something like 60 years ago and converted into a beautiful park. Since it was an 8-lap race, Carol and I got a chance to drive along in one of the commissaire cars for the first two laps. Seeing the action from the inside of the peloton is always an exciting thing.
Before the start of the last stage in San Jose
The course led along beautiful tree-lined streets
The downhill sections were scary at best
After all of our work was done, our doctor, Tibisay, took us on an afternoon excursion to Irazu, the volcano outside of San Jose and Cartago, the old capital. It's quite a drive up to the top, which is almost 3,500 meters high. The volcano erupted the last time in the early 1960s, but now it is dormant. The gate to the caldera closes at 3:30 p.m., so we had to leave the car and walk the remaining mile, or so, but it certainly was worth it. I had been on top of Irazu a few years ago, when I was down here as a mountain bike commissaire, but the top was pretty much shrouded in clouds. But Sunday afternoon was perfect as high winds had cleared the atmosphere and everything looked crisp. There were clouds below us, and it felt like flying.
With the doctora and Carol
Part of the caldera
Amazing plants that have repopulated the volcano in the past 50 years
Just call it Scoliosis Ridge
Color in a hostile and alien world
And now it is Monday morning, and I am waiting for my old friend Rafael to pick me up for two more days of R&R. He is a mountain bike organizer, and before this race we had been in touch about getting together after my work was done. I have no idea what he has up his sleeve, so we will see. But knowing crazy Rafaelito, it will involve lots of Pura Vida!


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