There are about thousand stories about the great times we’ve had on our travels in Costa Rica. At one point I might have been willing to say it’s impossible to have a bad trip but I would have been wrong.
Or maybe it was all just a bad dream…
The first couple of weeks of the trip on the south and central Pacific coast were great. The trouble started in Monteverde.
Robbed: I was doing my daily good deed donating some maps to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest gift shop to benefit their project while my rental car was parked at the Bajo del Tigre trail head. I spent about twenty minutes chatting and checking out Willow Zuchowski’s new green house for native plants.
When I returned to the car my key wouldn’t work in the door and I realized the locks had been forced with a screwdriver. I’ve traveled in Costa Rica for fifteen years and knew better than to leave anything in the car so it took me a while to figure out why anyone would break in.
I was carrying my GPS in the front pocket of my pants and it was gone. The pants were loose fitting and the GPS had slipped out while I was sitting in the hotel lobby that morning. It must have slipped out on the seat of the car and twenty minutes was long enough for someone to notice it, jimmy the doors and grab it. Apparently it’s true that at least some good deeds don’t go unpunished.
The rental agency was great. They had a new Dihatsu Terios with working locks ready for me the next morning but I had to go to Tamarindo to get it.
Speed Traps: The first stop was on the Pan American highway near Limonal. It was a pure shakedown. I saw the reading on the speed gun as the officer walked up and had apparently been going 63 kph in a 60 zone. As we chatted and he suggested maybe we could just take care of it on the roadside he was subtly triggering the radar at oncoming traffic while holding the gun under his arm.
I insisted that I was only going about 60 and he swung the gun around to show me a much higher reading that he’d just gotten off of a passing truck. I said I didn’t think that was my speed, but he should write me a ticket. With no bribe forthcoming he sent me on my way with a warning.
Ten minutes later after crossing the Tempisque bridge I was amazed when another officer stepped out from the shade of a tree and waved me over again. Of course having just been pulled over I was driving extremely cautiously, cars and trucks were backed up behind me and had been passing like crazy.
The officer informed me that even though the sign 50 meters back read “Velocidad Maxima 80 kph” I was approaching an intersection and the speed limit was 40. He wasn’t interested in a bribe and was getting ready to write a ticket despite my protests that apparently no one knew the limit there because obviously everyone passing by was traveling much faster.
I mumbled something like what a lousy trip, and he asked why. When I showed him the police report for the robbery and told him about the attempted extortion a few minutes earlier he decided not to make my day any worse and let me off with another warning.
Run Down: I’d had about enough adventures with the car, so I was walking around Tamarindo. In front of the centro commercial a car was backing out of a parking space when the driver’s foot slipped or he decided that oncoming traffic was too close; in any case the car lunged forward and the bumper caught me in the side of the knee.
The sidewalk was sandy and I had just enough time to get some weight off my foot so my feet flew out from under me. If my foot had been firmly anchored I’d probably still be in surgery to reconstruct the ligaments. As it was I ended up with a skinned shin and a couple of scrapes.
I moved on to Arenal.
The Runs: I always drink the water and I’ve eaten everywhere from the four star French restaurant in the Camino Real to a wood stove campesino kitchen miles from the nearest road and never had a problem.
Until now. Eating soda crackers and handfuls of Imodium while never venturing farther than two minutes from a toilet is no way to enjoy Arenal but it was the best I could do for the first couple of days. By the middle of day three I’d recovered, but gotten myself into another predicament that made me wonder if I might have been better off hanging out by the bathroom.
The Lockout: Normally Sue and I travel by bicycle in Costa Rica so the ritual of clearing everything out of the car and locking up at every stop isn’t exactly second nature. Of course I waited until I was in the middle of nowhere before I carefully secured and checked every door … with the keys still hanging in the ignition.
I figured it would be a minimum of a couple of hours and a hundred bucks or so to get a tow truck or the police to drive out to Arenal Springs from Fortuna to get me back in the car, but fortunately one of the services they provide at the concierge desk is an ex car thief.
He was a well dressed gentleman, probably in management but the way he slipped the weather stripping off at the base of the window, reached a piece of specially shaped electrical wire inside the door panel and tripped the lock belied his past on the streets.
This time I was very grateful my car was broken into, but it was clear that you can’t count on door locks for more than about a thirty second delay if you are foolish enough to leave anything of value in your car.
I always enjoy Costa Rica and between the traumas managed a swim under a new waterfall, a hike to Lago Cerro Chato for the first time (almost passed out from dehydration because of course I started out dehydrated from having the runs and throwing up plus like an idiot I forgot my water) and a few other enjoyable asides, but this time I was more than ready to be home.
I headed to the airport hotel where they served me raw chicken in a dimly lit dining room so I took a big bite before realizing it. Having just spent three days hanging around the toilet being sick you can easily guess the rest.
The Rain Delay: The next morning plane was delayed an hour and a half arriving from Houston due to storms over Texas which guaranteed a late departure and missing my connecting flight to Denver.
Of course all the other Houston flights had been messed up as well and there were about fifty people ahead of me on standby by the time we landed…