Nov 17, 2006

La Ruta Part 2

As we exited from the airport a man holding a sign saying “Tinker” was gesticulating wildly at us because we had bike boxes. It was tempting to accept his offer and see what kind of digs the “T Dog” got. Our better judgment led us through the crowd of taxi drivers till we found our ride to the hotel. I let the kid with the sign that said “Harlan” wheel my bike box to the van, while Topher let some random man with no hotel connections haul his bike. He ended up giving the guy a tip. It was fun watching them try to be overly careful with our hard cases, no matter how awkward they were too handle.
With Lilliana, the Kalexma hotel owner, behind the wheel we made it safely to the hotel. Our drive took us past random people standing next to burning piles of trash and every house had bars over the windows with uniformed school kids milling about in the streets. Their starched white shirts and pressed pants sharply contrasted the dingy city and humidity.
At the hotel we asked Lilliana if she knew where the Best Western Izaru was, since that would be the central point for racers in San Jose. She took us outside and pointed to the north where we saw a Best Western sign across the road. That was pure luck to be in such a central location at a third of the price, even if the hot water heater gave a shock when touched while in the shower. Our luck didn’t stop there, Lilliana’s daughter was the head of La Ruta’s transpiration and we had her at our disposal for pre-race questions.
We ate some dinner, flirted with some local girls then went back to our room to fall asleep watching Costa Rican TV. Just before falling asleep we caught a strange expose on soccer players who intimidate opponents by jamming their fingers into their opponents rear end. We agreed we were glad to be cyclist.
First full day in CR we got up, ate our first of many meals based around rice and beans began prepping our bikes. Ready for a test ride we decided to go explore San Jose. Getting directions from the Kalexma was turning out to be oddly difficult, mostly because of the language barrier, even though from the map it looked like it should be rather simple. After deciding to strike out and wing it we realized the main problem was the lack of any street signs. Apparently everyone in Costa Rica is born already aware of where everything is. After about an hour of winding around neighborhoods on very few tourists maps we made it to the central park and the trees with multicolored bark. (see pic) That was our first taste of Costa Rican biodiversity.
We meandered to the other end of the park and jumped inside of an empty reastraunt to grab a bite to eat and wait out the rain. The food was great but what was really interesting/unsettling was the requiem table that was being set up at t he entrance the whole time we where there. On the table was a couple of photos of an older couple surrounded by various dishes of food, an open bottle of coke, beer, lit candles, flower pedals and one lit but unsmoked cigarette that was allowed to burn down to the filter.
Thursday we had to catch the shuttle to the race start in Jaco on the Pacific side. We walked over to the Best Western, signed in and handed our bikes off to the bike transporting truck. It was nerve-racking watching them pile our bikes in, then putting a layer of cardboard on top and then add another load of bikes on top of ours. We found a few new niks later but over all our bikes came out unscathed. We jumped on our bus and began the 3hr ride to the coast. Costa Rica is famous for having notoriously slow roads because of potholes and 260 degree switch backs. Our bus had Jose as a tour guide to give us Gringos a bit of cultural and ecological history, both are partially intertwined. At about the half way point we stopped for a bathroom and refreshment break. I had my hands full of things like plantain chips, avocados and coconuts and went to pay. I pulled out 2000 colones ($4) but dropped some change and after I picked it up my colones were no where to be found. The guy totally snagged my money when I bent down and put it in his drawer. I wasn’t about to get into an argument so I left all my crap on his counter and walked out to another shop and got something from someone else. I’m such an easy target!
On the bus we had bike legend Marla Streeb with her husband and son next to us. She was a nice legend and talked easily about Costa Rica and her baby. None of that “oh when I won this race,” or “I’m Marla Streeb don’t you know”. I came real close to insulting her husband about being from California, but fortunately their baby Nico was the only one left with his foot in his mouth. Our hotel was 4star all the way and right on the pacific. They had cocktails waiting for us which we killed while staring at the sea and waited for our room keys.
The beach had a volleyball net set up and signs that said no swimming due to dangerous undercurrents. I don’t know who was supposed to get runaway balls in the ocean. Maybe they had a fish net with a long handle.
We caught the bus to the race registration hotel in Jaco and proceeded to stand in line, get our bags, electronic timer sensors and other race paraphernalia. They had a party planned and trotted out two sets of three scantily clad women, each set representing a different sports drink. I think there is a picture of me wedged between two of them. The party was preceeded by a fireworks display but with a 3 am wake-up I don’t know who they expected to stay up and party. I don’t think the UCI passes out a Rock Star award. Topher and I did our best to not let the ReStart energy drink girls feel useless so we went and tried to dance with them in the rain for a minute, but our better judgement sent us to our hotel within minutes.

To be cont...