Costa Rican road trip day 4: a supposedly “relaxing” journey from the Arenal Volcano to the Pacific paradise of Manual Antonio. Hubby and I were crazy enough to drag a 5-year-old through a Third World Country for an adventure of a lifetime. Our ride was a manual 4 x 4 Diahtsu Bego, which is a Central American version of a Kia Sportage or basically a tin can on wheels. But it was a gutsy little tin can; it had already climbed rain drenched mountain roads and forded two rivers and a washed out bridge without a cough or a sputter. The same could not be said for me. Costa Rican Imperial beer was our reward for surviving each day…
A little background on the roads: there are no street signs or addresses in Costa Rica, no “highway” exits are marked, and the traffic lanes have this particular way of ending with absolutely no warning. Mountain roads consist of two of the narrowest lanes known to man smashed between a rock wall and a cliff. No guard rails. There can be two lanes then suddenly there is a one lane bridge with a several hundred foot drop on either side. Roads go from pavement to dirt without any rhyme or reason and the potholes are big enough to eat a small car. It took me a while to learn how not to wet my pants or scream as we traversed the treacherous “roads.”
We said goodbye to our beloved Volcano Lodge perched just below the constantly erupting Arenal Volcano and made a quick stop to collect some pumice stones and sand along the banks of the rainforest river. We spent a couple of hours cruising along the far side of Lake Arenal before settling down onto the flatter roads of the Central Valley. Troops of monkeys chattered in the trees above us, herds of cattle moseyed across the broken pavement, and powerful mountains puffed away in the distance.
Not long after lunch we were pulled over in a speed trap. We played the roles of stupid Americans as Hubby learned how to correctly bribe the Policia in a Third World Country. Perhaps a nearly sobbing wife and a cute 5-year-old smiling in the backseat helped us get off with only a $15 “fine” and a promise to slow down.
We broke for a pit stop at a little cafe by a large river. As I held my wiggling child with a vice grip we crept across a narrow concrete bridge as semis overflowing with logs and watermelons barreled past us only a foot away. Below us lay dozens of crocodiles: wild, fearsome, and really fricking big. As the massive trucks rumbled by I wondered if I would rather let us get plowed over by a semi or jump and take our chances with the crocs if I had to pick. I chose getting the hell off the bridge instead.
We dipped our toes in the Pacific for the first time on the beach of the famous surf town of Jaco. Tanned boys tamed massive waves against a breathtaking backdrop of cliffs and rainforest as we wandered between the cigarette butts and used condoms. Time to move on.
A little further South we pulled alongside a beach side bamboo shack shaded by coconut palms. We dangled our feet in the black sand as we sipped papaya smoothies and watched the waves roll in along the deserted Hermosa shore.
Kiddo sang Dave Matthews at the top of his lungs and hand surfed as we drove through lush palm oil plantations. There was no dvd player, no cartoons for amusement, just a new world passing by through the open windows. It was enough.
Traffic came to a sudden standstill. The road instantly narrowed to one lane. A lumbering metal structure caked with rust and age rose ahead of us. The bumpy asphalt ended, replace by jagged ancient wooden planks. We waited as cars and motorcycles bounced across the so called bridge, their shocks squealing in dire protest of the rugged conditions.
Oh my God.
An old pickup across the river flashed its headlights. It was our turn. Hubby revved it up to a whopping 10 km per hour. The old metal railroad trestle didn’t start for at least 25 feet. There was not even flimsy wooden rail separating us for our impending death in the river. The planks were spaced unevenly and there was not much clearance on either side of our narrow car, which I knew would crunch like a soda can if we fell off the bridge.
Oh my God, oh my God…
Strips of metal were laid across the boards in a few places where ruts wore the wood down to splinters. The car hit one with a resounding crash, jerking us up and down. In a few spots the wood was completely absent. I could see the river directly below.
Oh my freaking God…
My head hit to roof on the last violent buck. As we neared the end, patches of pavement were plopped around like blobs of play-dough over the worn wood. River grasses crowded the edge as we hit the solid pavement of the actual road with one final thwack. We had survived.
That was fun! Can we do it again? Kiddo cheered from the backseat.
Oh. My. God.