Archive for the ‘Costa Rica’ Category

Travel Summary – Central America

Friday, May 26th, 2006

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Hello from South America!

   Since the last update, I have biked the length of Central America, visiting all 7 countries (see map of my route) and adding 2,400 miles to the trip. This trip continues to exceed my expectations, and I have visited schools and appeared in the national media of almost every country I have biked through. I am now in Colombia, where I arrived from Panama only a few days ago.

In La Prensa - Panama's national newspaper
Camping on the beach, near Las Lajas
Escuela El Progreso, Los Arroyos, La Union


  • 3/12 Mayan ruins and climate change
  • 3/17 Dennis Murphree joins me for Belize
  • 3/21 Learning to SCUBA and the fate of coral reefs
  • 3/26 Dennis Murphree speaks
  • 3/31 Honduran countryside
  • 4/7 A week through El Salvador
  • 4/15 Should I bike Colombia?
  • 4/15 Media coverage for rideforclimate
  • 4/16 Honduras, Nicaragua, and swimming with the locals
  • 4/18 Hurricanes and climate change
  • 4/29 Pops joins me from Nicaragua to Costa Rica
  • 4/30 Biodiversity and climate change
  • 5/8 Costa Rica to Panama City
  • 5/14 Deforestation in Central America
  • 5/15 A sailboat through the Panama Canal
  • BEST VIDEOS FROM CENTRAL AMERICA (click on the links below to watch)
    Scuba diving in Belize
    Kids dancing at pool in Nicaragua (large file – watch only if you have a high speed connection)
    My father joins me and rides a silly looking bicycle
    Dogs chasing me in Costa Rica
    Riding through the Panama Canal

       Central America is a region highly vulnerable to climate change. Rising sea levels and stronger storms could cause hardship, especially for the poor (of which there are a lot in Central America). Climate models for the region show warmer temperatures as well as perhaps less precipitation, both of which will be bad for agriculture. Many species as well may be threatened by a warmer climate. Finally, the coral reefs that line the coasts are greatly threatened by a warmer earth.

    Monte Verde Cloud Forest
    Building a house out of adobe (mud blocks)
    Coral Reef in Belize

        Environmental Defense has a new website to help you reduce your carbon emissions: On this site you can calculate how much carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere, and learn how to reduce these emissions.

       I have created a paypal link so that you can give money on my site to the Union of Concerned Scientists and Environmental Defense. Many people have also offered to help with my travel expenses, and there is now also a link for this. These are on my take action page.

       Did you really think I would stop biking? I have decided I need to take rideforclimate to the U.S. Here are the tentative plans.

       In Colombia, I am biking through Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota. I’ll then head towards Venezuela, following the northern coast before turning south into Brazil. I will arrive in Manaus, which sits on the Amazon River, where I will likely send my next update. If you know of organizations, schools, or researchers to visit on this route, let me know!

       I am now in Cartagena, Colombia, on the northern coast of South America. If all goes to plan, in 10 or 11 months I will be at southern tip of the continent, in Ushuia, Argentina.


    Total Miles Biked: 6321

    Flats by country in Central America:

    four flats in one day

    Belize: 0
    Honduras: 4
    El Salvador: 1
    Nicaragua: 0
    Costa Rica: 1
    Panama: 10 (ugh)

    A Ride for the Climate is sponsored by:
    Mike’s Bikes of Palo Alto
    Clif Bar
    Hobson Seats

    Leave a Comment!

    Deforestation in Central America

    Sunday, May 14th, 2006

       Deforestation is a major problem in Central America. A quick look at the statistics shows that in the past 15 years, 20% of the countries’ forests have been destroyed. As I have biked through Central America, I have seen countless roadsides which were once covered by forests, but are now ranch land or farmland.

    Deforestation in Honduras
    One of El Salvador's many volcanos (Volcan de San Vicente)
    Lots of land cleared for cattle along the road.

       The problems associated with deforestation include loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, more landslides, greater flooding, and more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Cutting down forests releases a large amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and in these small, mostly poor countries, these emissions are comparable to the countries’ use of fossil fuels.

    Deforestation in Costa Rica
    Building a house out of adobe (mud blocks)

       While in Panama City, I talked to someone who wrote Panama’s proposal to reduce deforestation. The people cutting down the forests, in general, are very poor – subsistence farmers who need to clear land to grow food to eat. It seems that the only viable method of reducing deforestation here is to find these people other work or to pay them to not cut down the forest. Protecting forests without finding these people other income could cause great hardship.

       In Panama City, I also visited Futuro Forestal, a company that purchases pastureland and converts it to forest. The wood from the forest is harvested after 25 years, and sold. While this is not as good as a full forest, it still takes significant carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and is far better than ranch land. It also provides local jobs and makes a profit. You can also buy carbon credits through them as well.

    This part was hilly.
    First day of biking in Guatemala

       Stopping deforestation in poorer regions will require foreigners and locals to work together – with foreigners helping to provide financial incentives to protect the forests.

    San Jose, Costa Rica to Panama City, Panama – 8 days, 535 miles

    Monday, May 8th, 2006

       Departing San Jose, I said goodbye to my father (who returned to the states), and continued climbing into Costa Rica’s mountains. I climbed a 10,000 foot pass and then, in the same day, returned to sea level and the Pacific Ocean. On one of the many climbs, I met two Costa Rican cyclists and convinced one of them to ride my heavy bike up a hill while I pedaled his bike. I told him it would be good training (video right).

    Climbing high into the mountains - 9,000 ft
    That is the Pacific!
    I convinced Max to ride my bike up the hill.  I hope this isn't cheating.

       You may notice I have only three panniers now. I sent a number of items home with my father – the first comment lists some of the things I got rid of.

       From the beach, I continued south along the coast, finding the heat and humidity at sea level almost unbearable. With every climb, my clothes became soaked with sweat. I was relieved to find that the fire station in Ciudad Neily, on my last night in Costa Rica, had not only extra beds, but also air conditioning, a kitchen, and a pool table.

    Just another day at the fire station - Ciudad Neily
    Pool at the bomberos station - I am stripes
    Geovanni explains why we should use bicycles

       Departing Costa Rica, I met Geovanni, a cyclist who rode with me and provided a short oration about why we should use bikes as transportation. Click on the video above right.

    Welcome to Panama

       Entering Panama, I noticed no major change in the standard of living – Panama and Costa Rica have strong economies compared to the rest of Central America. I biked quickly across Panama, which I found to be sparsely populated. I camped next to a fire station, camped on an empty beach, stayed in a cheap hotel, and then camped next to the house of a family who sells souvenirs on another beach (photo bottom right – note that my stove is at the bottom of that picture because I am trying to cook dinner).

    Fire station in the city of David
    Nice shoulder - Interamericana Highway
    This part was hilly.
    Camping on the beach, near Las Lajas
    Las Lajas beach
    Edwin, Orbic, Amando, Abimelec, Tris, Alcide, Magheleen, Andy, Belgica, Beatriz, Jaime, Siayeli, and others, and my stove
    Well-thought-through plan for getting to Colombia
    Trying to get across the bridge over the Panama Canal

       The rainy season has just begun here in Panama, meaning that it is humid all day and there is usually a heavy rainstorm at the end of the day. In such a storm, I crossed the bridge over the Panama Canal, and arrived in Panama City, where I will stay for a few days attempting to find a boat to take me through the canal and into Colombia.

    Climate Change and Extinction in Monteverde, Costa Rica

    Sunday, April 30th, 2006
    Monte Verde Cloud Forest

       Before arriving in San Jose, my father and I biked to the Monteverde cloud forest biological preserve. This preserve, at about 5,000 feet above sea level, literally sits in clouds, and is constantly blanketed by mist. We toured the forest, seeing bellbirds (see the video on the left and listen to the bird), quetzals (photo middle), monkeys, tarantulas, hummingbirds, strange insects, and much more. The forest’s thick fog provides moisture and nutrients for plants that grow on other plants, and the trees are thick with mosses and vines hanging off branches.

    A singing Bell Bird
    A Quetzal through the scope
    Look!  A spider monkey.

       As with most places in the tropics, the biodiversity in Monteverde is far higher than what I am used to coming from the U.S. My hometown may have only a dozen types of trees, but here, in Monteverde, you will find hundreds of different species of trees. Likewise, there are more bird species in tiny Costa Rica than found in the entire United States.

       This biodiversity, though, may be threatened, as the climate in Monteverde is already changing. As the oceans have warmed, the clouds at Monteverde are forming at higher altitudes, and the amount of mist in the forest is far less than it was in the 1970s (the photo on the left shows the clouds sitting on top of the mountain – Monteverde is behind the clouds). I talked with one researcher, Dr. Karen Masters, about what this means for the epiphytes – the plants growing on other plants, which account for half of the plant species in the forest. Her experiment (see video middle), although still underway, already shows the new conditions are poor for some species (see dead orchids on the right).

    Up in those clouds is the cloud forest of Monteverde
    Dr. Karen Masters explains her experiment
    Orchids that have died, probably from lack of mist - part of Dr. Karen Masters' experiment

       Two recent extinctions of toads in Monteverde, the golden toad and the harlequin toad, appear to be linked to abnormally warm years. A more recent paper, which looks at extinctions of toads around the world, shows that recent abnormally warm years are extremely well correlated with toad extinctions, suggesting that climate change is already playing a large role in the loss of species.

       The climate is clearly changing here, and the science is backed up by common sense: if you change the climate, you will lose species that cannot adapt. There are many reasons we should preserve biodiversity, as diverse ecosystems provide better services as well as potential pharmaceutical benefits. For me, though, the strongest argument is for simple existence. Each species represents millions of years of evolution, which is completely lost every time a species goes extinct.

    Mangua to San Jose – two weeks with Pops

    Saturday, April 29th, 2006

       As I said in the previous entry, my father flew to Managua with a silly looking bicycle and the plan to bike with me to Costa Rica. Two years ago, Pops and I biked from Virginia to Oregon (watch the movie of this trip) and, amazingly, we still want to ride together.

       After spending a night with a family in Managua, my father and I biked for two days and then took a boat out to a volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, Central America’s largest lake. After three days of enjoying the island, we took a second boat to the far side of the lake near the Costa Rican boarder. We rode ‘first class’ on this boat, which meant we slept on the crowded second floor with tourists instead of the crowded first floor with Nicaraguans, many of whom we were told were hoping to cross the border into Costa Rica to work.

    Biking in Granada
    Waiting to get on the ferry to the Isla de Ometepe
    Biking the Isla de Ometepe
    Crowds waiting to get on the boat from Ometepe to San Carlos
    The bikes rode 'economy class,' boat to San Carlos
    Boat ride to Costa Rica
    Sugar Cane processing plant
    Costa Rica has efficient industrial agriculture

       After another short boat ride, we entered Costa Rica. Costa Rica has a stronger economy than the other Central American countries (see facts), which is why many of the Nicaraguans wanted to go there to work. In comparison to Nicaragua, the farms were not small family lots but rather large efficient farms. While there were still people using machetes, many others used gas powered weed-whackers. Roadside trash was nearly non-existent, and somehow I felt far safer biking into the major cities. Also, the dogs in Costa Rica are more likely to chase cyclists (watch movie of dogs), which I would guess is because they are better fed.

    Two Rainbow Tarptents, and a cow eating my handlebar tape
    Pushing our bikes up the hill
    I think this is a 20% grade
    Hurry up Pops
    Biological Preserve

       Pops and I climbed up into the mountains, following steep dirt roads with 20% grades . We spent two days at a biological preserve, where I met with scientists studying climate change and my father recorded birdsong. (Pops studies birdsong – he even wrote a book about it.)

    American School of San Jose, middle school

       From Monteverde, we biked to the coast and then back up into the mountains to San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, where I visited the American School of San Jose. I now have to say goodbye to Pops, who is catching a flight tomorrow morning.