05/21/2013 12:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

I Get Around: Biking, Driving, Riding and Surfing Your Way Through Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.

Jeff Jones and Gay Haubner

When we lived in NYC, we used the four basic methods of inner-city transportation: foot, subway, bus, taxi. Here in the Greater Puerto Viejo area, your basic travel options are a bit broader: bike, moto, bus; car, golf cart, ATV, horse, surfboard and the occasional ox cart.

Most things (groceries, restaurants, shops) dot the (only paved) road, which is essentially flat and traces along the Caribbean coastline, making the bike the simplest, most pleasant and ubiquitous way to get around.

It's sunny maybe 75% of the time, but even a rainy day generally provides enough of a break to pedal off for papaya, a piece of fish or a 6-pack. And most bike repair is simple enough, but when stymied by a broken chain or flattened tire there's always Jairo's repair shop, where he's happy to fix your bike and clown your Spanish for an average price of $2.

Better still: Bike riding integrates you into the community; lots of smiling between strangers, waving to acquaintances, and the stop-and-chat with friends. It's tough to get through town without at least three such encounters, and during baseball season, a trip to town involves stopping every 2 minutes to kick it with teammates, rehash last week's games and plan the next.

Also: Biking everywhere keeps you in shape; you have to really want that ice cream cone or cocktail enough to bike 15 minutes there and 15 back. And grocery shopping is limited to what one can carry in a basket, and as a watermelon takes up a basket by itself, trips to the store are frequent.

On bikes you can easily spot (and stop for) sloth, agouti or iguana crossings. We check out the squashed snakes to try and determine if they were poisonous (red touches yellow, kill a fellow? Red touches black, it attacks?). Instead of getting gas (expensive around here, too) we fill'er up with coconut water, straight out the shells, from a roadside stand; 60 cents a piece.


After dark, when the bad boys are out, you catch cabs, which is pretty much anyone with a car (we've lived here over a year and have yet to ride in an "official" taxi). We've even gone old school on occasion and hitched our way around. One night, a guy picked us up and motioned for us both to get into the back seat. Once we were on our way, we saw that a large iguana was occupying the front passenger seat. (Meat or pet?) Since almost everyone who picks you up is happy to take a couple of dollars, there's little difference between hitching and hailing a cab.

We've several friends with cars, but for those interested in the lazy man lifestyle, you're talking gas, parts and capable mechanics -- all three of which are scarce around here...

There are no gas stations in town, and if you can't make it to Hone Creek (5k North of Puerto), you can get your gas at the little grocery store where you bring your own receptacle and pour (as opposed to pump) your own.

And in a climate like this, where even a new coffee maker can give up the ghost in a matter of months, owning a car means constant repairs, which means finding the parts, and, if you don't have the skills to fix it yourself, finding a mechanic. Unlike Cuba, where you'll see hundreds of American classics still purring the streets of Havana courtesy of the undisputed champion mechanics on the planet, the local cats have a hard time getting it right. So we're told. By everyone with a car.

(As Manhattanites, we hadn't owned a car in 25 years. When we did have a car, Gay once hoisted the hood when it wouldn't start and puzzled over what could be wrong until a passerby yelled, "Hey lady, someone stole your battery.")

There are lots of scooters and 125CC bikes on the road, transporting any and every sort cargo: from stalks of bananas to a couple of surfboards to a family of five. We've seen a dad riding a motorcycle holding his infant tucked under his arm like a football, with assorted other kids both front and back. Helmets? Ha. Traffic violations? No aqui.


The golf carts look like good, pleasant transport, silently smoothing their way up and down the road, and may be a way to go sometime in the future; ATV's, on the other hand, suck: loud, obnoxious, monkey-upsetting jag-off things, generally ridden by the most assaholic locals and ex-pat dickwads. Recently, and unfortunately, a new type of ATV, which seems to have no muffler at all, was introduced to town, favored by a half dozen or so kids who ride them back and forth in front of the downtown bars, where the female tourists congregate. Ayo, ATV guy... no, you're not cool.

The opposite of the ATV would have to be the horse. Costa Rica is a horsey country: There are rodeos and an entire street in the capital city, San Jose, dedicated to saddles, boots and riding tackle; we've even seen open spaces outside the airport transformed into racetracks, with five or six ponies running flat out while jets taking off 100 feet above their heads. Here in Puerto, it's not uncommon to see horses (both attended and unattended) up and down the main road, or rolling in the sand on the beach.

We wanted a horse. Our friend Raul, a born horseman, knew people who had horses to sell. First, we saw a badass palomino, a straight-up movie star Halle Berry of a horse, which we wanted to buy on the spot... due to a slight mistranslation: We thought the price was one thousand dollars (already over our budget), but the price was actually 10 grand.

Next, we went to a ranch that specializes in paso fino horses. Imagine sending Flicka off to The Ministry of Silly Walks and you're there. They did have a lot of nice, silly, prancing horses (including a yearling that conjured Gay back into a 9-year-old: "I wanna pony! I wanna pony!"), but the horses exhibited weird, raspy breathing; stable cough? No bueno. As we stood around in the wheezing, dust and horse shit, the seller said he knew of another horse that was available. The four of us pile back into the car and head even farther back into the hills.

We ended up outside an odd, failed tourist center, where at one time, the few gringos who didn't care about a beach came to ride or be lugged across the countryside in conestoga wagons. We weren't allowed in for some reason, but the horse would be brought to us. After an hour of swatting mosquitos, a kid led out the skinniest horse in Costa Rica, Leo (pronounced Lay-o). His mane and tail were dreadlocked (not as cool as that sounds) and rivulets of blood ran down his flank. Apparently vampire bats, who like to return to the same spot night after night ("Oh, let's just go to the usual place...") had found this unlucky specimen, and had been swilling off him for a while. (There is an anti-vampire bat treatment, but Leo was squarely in the "help me please" category, unlikely to have ever seen a feedbag, much less a vet.)

And so Leo became ours. We were reluctant to adopt a rescue dog, which in the end we did, and now we were paying $600 for a blood-sucked, tick-riddled bag-a-bones rescue horse -- but are glad to report that with lots of good pasture, medicine, and Raul's excellent horse whispering, Leo no longer looks like the glue factory pin-up boy, and loves to tear ass down an empty beach.

And that's how we get around... around here.