Two weeks of a road trip through Costa Rica. Still no one stole our tires at night and sold them to a Nicaraguan. Still no pothole has destroyed either of our axles. And still no crocodile has gnawed off our side mirror.
We take off in good spirits with the sun shining brightly on the four-lane InterAmerican Highway leading from the town of Liberia, in the province of Guanacaste, heading toward Monteverde.
Until the GPS app has us turn left onto a somewhat less sophisticated dirt road. It's no big deal, we know unpaved roads from Wyoming. They shake your adrenal glands out, dust and pollute the polish on the Porsche behind you, but otherwise they are not a big deal.
My boyfriend bumps along on the dirt road and I take a picture of a motorcyclist zipping past us with half a pound of bananas under his arm.
Slowly, but steadily, the sky darkens. "Look at those fantastic cloud formations over there in the mountains," I shout excitedly as I try to snap a photo of them while simultaneously trying to avoid ramming the camera full force into the side window during the bumpy ride.
A little later we are driving in the very mountains I photographed. A heavy rain, which would have sunk Noah's ark in five minutes, erupts over us. We are told by our nav app to turn left again, and suddenly we are looking into a valley with tracks of fist-sized stones, where streams of brown rainwater are flowing down. The channels in the flatter areas lead to puddles that seem almost as big as the Great Salt Lake.
Off we go! Now buckle up for a tale of tropical deluges, the LAST drivers, the best Ticos (Costa Rican natives), the most creative tow trucks, and the strange ways of the Universe.
I'm still staring at the multiple versions of the Great Salt Lake, only about 500 yards away from us. "How deep do you think the water is?", I ask.
My boyfriend glances at the brackish broth and I realize I might as well have asked him how many feathers a penguin just lost at the South Pole.
I take off my shoes and reach for the doorknob. "I'm going to go there now, walk through it, and then we'll know!" I explain my scientific endeavors.
My boyfriend looks at me like I've lost more than a few feathers, plus my most of my mind. The rain thunders horizontally against the windows and somewhere in the distance, a clap of thunder roars at us.
We decide to wait in the car for now. To do this, we park almost in the middle of the road, because apart from us morons, no one is on this Road of Death driving in the Weather of Death anyway. We are The Last Drivers. What a book title! When I try to google the rain radar, I realize we have no signal.
After a few minutes, we imagine that the rain has waned a bit. Meanwhile, my boyfriend has come up with a plan to maneuver the car around the Great Salt Lake, in case there are crocodiles in there waiting to eat our side mirrors. "Don't mess around,” I tell him. “We don't have a signal!"
Luckily, he doesn't mess around because he's one of the most experienced drivers I have ever met.
"How much longer is this road going to be so fouled up, and when are we going to turn back?" he asks me.
I stare at the sat nav. "Only a mile and a half," I say. Hallelujah!
After the mile and a half, the dirt road ends. But it ends into something that cannot be driven on under any circumstances, at least with anything other than the Mars Rover. We look at the steep road ahead of us, covered with scree and mud holes.
"How many miles?" my boyfriend asks anxiously. I glance at the nav app and say nothing.
"How many miles, Sarah?"
"Five," I squeak out meekly. "We could also turn around and go back. Then it's in the other direction...also five miles."
We gaze at the rugged hillside ahead of us, which is slowly dissolving into pudding in the still-pouring rain. We decide not to turn around here. Too dangerous.
Instead, we keep going forward. More sideways than straight ahead. Always around the craters and boulders. At the pace of a hundred-year-old turtle. At least we have rented a car with a high ground clearance. However, without four-wheel drive, an unfortunate economic decision we made before we arrived in Costa Rica.
And the two-wheel drive is exactly what becomes the final killer in just another two miles and seven and-a-half years later. A long slope awaits ahead of us. With lots of mud. Halfway up the steep incline, nothing works. The wheels are spinning. We try different techniques, different directions. Even with a few choice words and fervent coaxing, we do not move. I get out. Strangely enough, the rain stops. Maybe I can put something under the tires to give the car more grip. If I can find something besides more mud.
Just when I really feel like temporarily giving up and just squatting down on the side of the road to pee, a man suddenly comes running over the crest of the hill. I jump up and pretend to inspect the tires.
It's a Tico, a native Costa Rican. He speaks only Spanish. We speak only English. Uh-oh. Fortunately, a bunch of hand gestures seem to work. He first rummages around in our trunk for tools to tow us and finds what he needs. Then he reveals a hidden opening in the front of our car. He screws the tool through the opening into the frame and then gives us a thumbs up and motions for us to wait.
When I first started traveling a lot ten years ago, I was afraid of situations like this. What if the guy just stole all my tires and sold them to a Nicaraguan after pouring formaldehyde in my eyes?
But that is nonsense. One of the things you learn when you travel a lot is that if you trust people, you will find trust in return. Be open and friendly, and you will get back more kindness than you ever dared to dream about.
After a few minutes, the Tico comes back. With an ancient pick-up truck that has a strange-looking body, a tow rope—and his wife and two dogs. I get the idea that this isn't the first time they've done this. Un turista estúpido and all.
After a few unsuccessful attempts and further slithering in the mud, the couple somehow manage to pull us out of the Quagmire of Horror. The man sits in the pick-up, my boyfriend in our rental car and I stand with the wife next to it.
I would like to say something grateful and funny. But the only thing I can think of right now in Spanish is “El hombre come una manzana.” “The man eats an apple.” Thanks, Duolingo, for teaching me these phrases that are useless in an emergency.
To make sure we do not start to slip again, the pick-up driver stays with the tow rope attached to our car while the motorcade drives up the entire length of the hill. I walk behind the procession with the man’s wife. Suddenly, the sun begins to shine and the deluge water all around us begins to evaporate as hot mist. Now I would love to plunge into the Antarctic Ocean next to a penguin.
Eventually we all reach the top. We tip them both and I say “Namaste” or something in Spanish. No idea how they knew we were stuck, but it doesn't matter. Good people in a bad situation. That's all that matters. Thank you, Universe!
As we drive a short distance down the road, we see something incredible: asphalt! A dog jumps madly across the road as if to welcome us back to civilization.
When we eventually arrive in Monteverde, I want to share our fortuitous adventure with the entire world. Just as I find the wi-fi password for our Airbnb, the lights go out. Power outage due to heavy rain. In the whole town.
I look at my boyfriend. Then we laugh out loud. Let’s face it, if you can still laugh, nothing in life is really bad.
Find more about our adventures in Costa Rica in my article Wild Caribbean, Toucans and Howler Monkeys at Night - Road Trip Costa Rica I and Ziplining, secret Waterfalls and the Gate Mafia - Road Trip Costa Rica II.