MOTO SAFARI: COSTA RICA
Words by Ben Giese | Photography by John Ryan Hebert
Deeper into the jungle, our tires sink and slide through the muddy trail. Behind us, nothing but rutted tracks winding through a dark rainforest canopy. A Garden of Eden full of life, and a strange hell where death lurks around every corner. In the trees and beneath the murky waters. Hidden in the mist of the humid tropical air, monsters wait in the shadows. And those muddy tracks would be the only trace of our passage if something were to go wrong.
When we reached the edge of a sandy riverbank, I looked out at the water ahead and thought this would be the end of the road. After three days of riding through tropical storms, the heavy rains made for deep currents that stretched over 200 feet across. I sat in silence, listening to the slow thump of our bikes that matched the beating of my heart, and looked over at Forrest Minchinton, waiting to hear if he had a plan or knew of an alternate route. He paused for a moment, then turned to me and asked, “You ready?”
Without hesitation, I followed him into the depths. Haunting screams of howler monkeys echoed through the trees, like demons taunting our demise. They cried out a deep and horrible howl, a sound nightmarish enough to make the hair on the backs of our necks stand up. But my mind was elsewhere. I was thinking about the terror that might be swimming below. Ancient creatures of doom with soulless eyes and jaws of death. This region is home to one of the world’s largest populations of American crocodiles, which are known to frequent these coastal rivers. And that feeling of vulnerability in the presence of a prehistoric predator is a sobering reminder that we are not separate from this animal world. We are all part of the same cycle of life, and we will all be swept away down the river in time. But that would not be our fate today. Today we made it to the shore to share some high fives and laughs before continuing on our epic ride through Costa Rica.
I first met Minchinton in Bali back in 2016 on a trip with the crew from Deus Ex Machina. We spent two weeks riding the beaches and volcanoes of Indonesia, and immediately I knew that we would share a long road ahead. When our time in Bali came to a close, we imagined where the next great adventure might take us. He told me all about the magic Costa Rica has to offer. The lush rainforest and desolate beaches, the enchanted mountains and holy volcanoes, the endless trails and perfect waves. Minchinton spent the first five years of his life down there before moving to California, and to this day it’s essentially his second home. He knows the place well and promised the juice would be worth the squeeze. I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.
We’ve collaborated on several projects over the years, but life moves fast, and with the constant grind of work and a global pandemic, that next great adventure was still looming in the background. That is, until one day recently when Minchinton was in town and we met up at a bar in Denver, and he told me whispers of an upcoming motorcycle trip to Costa Rica. It was finally going to happen. And better yet, the ride would be organized by our friend Wesley Hannam, the mastermind behind Moto Safari — a motorcycle adventure company that curates dream riding experiences in some of the most exotic locations across the globe. With Hannam’s knowledge of ADV riding, Minchinton as our guide, and one of my best buds, John Hebert, capturing images along the way, I knew we had all the ingredients for a truly special experience.
Hannam and Minchinton mapped out seven days of dual-sport riding that would cover over 1,000 miles through Western Costa Rica. From our starting point in San Jose, we rode south into the mountains on a mixture of slippery dirt and rough asphalt roads carved into the steep hills. Sharp hairpin turns wound back and forth forever, like a seductive serpent luring us higher and higher, until we rose above the clouds and entered the heavens. We passed by small villages and beautiful coffee farms, raging rivers and powerful waterfalls. I looked up and saw the sun beaming through the mist in the vines, and all the worries of life at home – the bills and obligations, the emails and deadlines – melted away in the soft summer rain. A feeling of pure bliss and enchantment, surrounded by the eternal wisdom of the mountains. These are the moments we live for.
Over the course of two days, those winding roads brought us down to the coast, and after a quick ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya, we reached the small surf town of Santa Teresa. Once a tiny fishing village, Santa Teresa is now dotted with fine restaurants, boutique retail stores and surf shops, along with our destination for the next two nights, The House of Somos — an outpost where riders, surfers and wanderers find refuge. Concrete and wood intertwine seamlessly with tropical plants throughout the contemporary structure, and within the bespoke rooms and bungalows, weary travelers can find rest. Downstairs, the Somos Café will provide nourishment from executive chefs who use only local produce, fresh meats and line-caught fish.
It was a hidden paradise where the next 48 hours would dissolve into a swirl of laughter and delight. White-sand beaches where the sun always shines, and the waves are always peeling. Tacos and cerveza. Warm sun and a cool breeze. Slow days and wild nights. Pura vida, as they say. But good things can’t last forever, and comfort is not what we came for. The jungle of terror was calling.
After a few morning wheelies down the beach and a quick goodbye to our friends in Santa Teresa, we found a narrow road leading to the dense trees. Into the dark realm, where more sinister things were lying in wait. Fangs and venom. Teeth and claws. Lurching, slithering, creeping and crawling. A place where everything wants to kill you. Like the aggressive fer-de-lance pit viper, one of the many extremely venomous snakes. Or the Brazilian wandering spider, considered to be the most toxic spider in the world and powerful enough to kill a human with a single bite. Giant centipedes and bullet ants. Scorpions and poison frogs. Panthers and jaguars. Crocodiles. The list goes on.
The farther you go, the rougher the road gets. The rivers get wider, the mud gets deeper, and the rocky hills get steeper. But good things never come easy, and if you can make it through hell, you just might find heaven. Keep pushing through the tangled vines and ghostly canyons, and eventually you’ll rise above the trees and enter the holy land.
The sun sparkled off tiny droplets on my wet goggles, and the horrors of the jungle faded away in the rearview. We wandered higher, through the peaceful rolling hills where vibrant green grasslands peppered with black volcanic rock sleep in the shadow of majestic giants. Ancient volcanoes that rise into the clouds like fire-breathing gods. Timeless and eternal. The creators of the land, dancing with the rain, the giver of life. Some things are just too much for words, so all we could do was keep riding and rejoice in the rapture of the land.
The hours turned to days, and the precious time slipped through our fingers in an instant. We were all feeling exhausted by the end of the trip, but the final stretch of was easygoing. We enjoyed a hundred miles of endless twisting tarmac back down into San José. And as we crested one final hill and saw the city down in the valley, I thought about all the distance we had covered and all that we had witnessed along the way. The sun and the rain. The beaches and jungles. Costa Rica is a magical place, and if there’s one thing the stood out to me during our tropical moto safari, it was the innate connection we share with the animal world. The birds and the butterflies. The spiders and snakes.
We’re all just trying to survive, and to thrive. And for us, that meant finding ourselves on the seat of a motorcycle in a strange land, far from home. Loving this world in all its beauty and terror. And rubbing shoulders with death, because that’s where we feel most alive.