The Mountain Tigers Of Talamanca

Upon arriving in Costa Rica, Gianfranco Bianchi sets out to find one of the country’s elusive enduro motorcycle clubs, The Mountain Tigers.

The Mountain Tigers, otherwise known by their indigenous name of ‘Kabata Namupa’, are an enduro motorcycle group based out of the second-largest canton in Costa Rica, the Talamanca. They consist of a group of about 30 riders, male and female from the ages of 17-45.

Group leader, Juan Carlos, better known as ‘Caya’, founded the group as a way to unite enduro fans from the surrounding towns and provide charity work to remote indigenous tribes where only horses and motorcycles can travel to. 

Talamanca, which is the biggest of 81 cantons in Costa Rica, is home to the county’s largest indigenous population and 88% of the canton’s territory is government protected. This combination creates a very interesting culture of a vast indigenous population getting around by any means necessary, through it’s various crude but incomparable roads. The beauty of this area is that, as a rider, you can start from the beach and end up above the clouds just in a day of riding. 


When I arrived in Costa Rica, I had one goal in mind: find a bike and go riding in the jungle. I have been all over North America, but never have I had the opportunity to ride somewhere as wild and untamed as these jungles. I landed in San Jose and took a four-hour bus ride to Puerto Viejo, a small Afro-Caribbean influenced town one hour south of Limon. After spending a couple of quid on the bus ride I arrived, got hold of a car, checked in and began my search for riders.

Having fun while tackling a water crossing

I got my first lead from a guy in a supermarket. Most bikes here seem to be Chinese toys but he had an XR and it looked tough. We spoke for a bit and he told me he just used the bike to get to work but that I should “go to Cahuita and look for a guy at the beginning of town who rode a white bike.” That is pretty much as vague as one can get, but I went forth.

Determined to find this guy, I looked for hours. I found somebody that fit his description but he had no drive, he was just a kid with a bike. I went back to my town and stopped at this restaurant, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what it was called, just that it is red and next to Salsa Brava. I think that’s how this place works, the place next to the guy across from the thing is what you’re looking for. 


This restaurant did do one thing right. The owner leaves every morning and catches a limited supply of fish to serve that evening. That night’s fish was red snapper, served over a bed of homemade French fries.

His son Robbie is also one of the few bartenders that is able to make you any kind of drink you desire. Of course, he’ll try to give it a tropical twist, so tell him to hold the passion fruit if that’s not your thing. I ended up chatting with Robbie and asked him about riders. He didn’t know any but his cook did and that lead me to ‘Caya’. 


Caya has been riding since he was 15 and initially used his motorcycle as a way to work in different farms around the area, like most people here. He has always been part of the agricultural progress of Costa Rica. His fields ensure that all workers are fairly paid, that schools get built and along with the group, that remote tribes receive supplies and gifts as they brave the roads and arrive as superhero mud men.


He is also part of a strong movement to reintroduce cacao farming to this part of the country that was ravaged by a fungus that decimated the fields back in the ‘70s. All of this helped him and the group discover and hone in on their skills and passion for riding enduro. Because the group is so varied, the rides are usually based on the ability and the kind of motorcycle of the members. Caya’s ride of choice is a KTM 350, but the other favourite ride seems to be the Honda XR. 

The Kabata Namupa group lives by one motto, ‘Is be Shkena Yamipa’ which means ‘like family’, and they treated me just like that. They welcome anyone passionate about riding whether local or tourist. The riders have a Facebook group that helps them organise their futures rides and share their exploits.

The terrain is varied and challenging

As well as a Saturday ripping through the jungle they also provide well-needed supplies to extremely remote towns. Beyond delivering supplies they also teach locals how to tell if their river water is drinkable and what they can do to clean them up and turn them into an abundant source of food for the tribe.

The Ride 

We all met up in Bribri, the canton’s capital. The day’s riding group was an eclectic one to my standards. The majority of the bikes were built to handle the road ahead but a few were using small four stroke meant for asphalt and at most some gravel roads. The riders were just as diverse too and a neighbouring riding group came to join us.

This group consisted of guys and girls in high school. Most of them had minimal equipment for this type of ride. Mainly a helmet and the fire to make it through. A father that shared his passion with his son, took him along on his Honda. Quad riders also joined us and my day consisted of riding Caya’s KTM and on the back of the quads so that I could document the journey. 

We left Bribri at 9 am and headed southwest along the Sixaola river which, in this area, divides Costa Rica and Panama. The ride would last about nine hours, including a lunch break, covering over 30 miles. The beginning of the route offered stunning views of the river and jungle over fairly easy gravel roads, crossing a few bridges and going under one tunnel.

Mud plugging in the jungle

As soon as we arrived at Bratsi, the road became more technical. We crossed a few streams and entered the deeper part of the jungle in between banana plantations and single file mud-covered trails. All of the bikes made it through, even the road bikes, with a little help from the group. At this point, any signs of civilisation were miles away and no one was here other than us. 

After a few more miles we met our first water crossing. The fee for crossing using the canoes was 1,000 colones (roughly £1) per bike. At this point, your feet are getting wet, even if you had managed to keep them dry from the mud. It takes just two people to get the bike on the canoe and depending on the size they will take three to six riders. The crossing is short but rocky as the River Telire’s current makes it a difficult one for the heavily loaded canoe. We unloaded the bikes and continued towards Kafsi.

About a mile south we stopped at a small town and bought our lunch to take to a hidden waterfall up ahead. The meal was the same for everyone, rice, chicken, boiled plantain and beans served in a Tupperware. Once we loaded it up on the quad we carried on and arrived at a clearing where we left all of our bikes. One thing that really stood out was the fact that an abundance of exotic fruit surrounded us at all times and the locals would disappear for a few minutes and come back with a bounty of snacks. I had raw fresh cacao for the first time and lychee like fruit amongst them.

Loading the bikes to cross the Telire River

The waterfall clearing was spectacular. Huge boulders surrounded the water landing providing diving spots and large areas for us to eat. We took turns diving and cannonballing into the refreshing river, the only annoyance being these small piranha-like fish that would nibble at you once in a while.

You really feel the camaraderie within the group, they all come together from different backgrounds to share the desire to explore and push their riding limits, helping each other out in the mud as well as in their lives outside of the saddle. After we were full and dry we turned around to the previous town and took a left towards Amubri but headed north before reaching it. Here we crossed the Lari river on canoes again and got back on the mud. This section was by far the most technical. Much of the trail was no wider than three metres and mainly covered in deep mud puddles. 

After we cleared the mud paths we crossed the widest river without the use of canoes. Most of us made it unscathed but this is where the street bikes slipped and struggled to carve through knee-high water. As the riders banded together and helped the lesser skilled and those on street bikes we carried on as the roads became more docile.

Would you trust your pride and joy on this?

The weather started getting grey most of the second half of the trip there was a light drizzle. Rain should be expected at any point in the ride, especially during the rainy season. After two hours we made another stop to get refreshments and as the sun started setting we headed back to Bribri. 

We crossed the Telire River one last time at its widest point. The canoe’s engine was struggling but this last image of the bikes lined up on the canoe rocking was a soothing one. I drove, rode, dove and had close calls, but it was everything I would ever want from a ride of this calibre. We all went our separate ways and I parted from the KTM, XR and quad that I got to ride that day. The Costa Rican people are an incredible kind. They welcomed me and made me feel like I had been part of the Kabata Namupa all of my life.

I was given a riding shirt that I will cherish and wear on my future adventures, along with the memories I will carry on from this day in the Talamanca. Costa Ricans have a saying that they use as a response to a lot of questions and as a way to say hello. They say ‘pura vida’ which literally translates to ‘pure life’ and after today, I have no doubt that it is how they live every day of their lives.