It is our first full day in Costa Rica, we opt for close attractions to get our bearings.
John and I set out for San Isidro a few kilometres away, along the narrow, twisty roads. We breathe a sigh of relief as John parks the car, then a moment of panic as we notice the sharp ditches impossible to drive out of with their steep concrete sides terminating in a V at the centre.
Our mission is to exchange our USD to Colon, the local currency. We arrive at the bank and learn a passport is required and travel back to our rental to fetch the documents. We are confident in the direction and high five each other when we arrive. John trips the house alarm and frantically presses buttons to stop the ear shattering noise. The Police are called though are stopped before they arrive by calling our host.
Rattled, we set out for the town again. We exchange our money, buy a few groceries and wander the town in search of sustenance. Chicken seems quite popular, we settle on lattes and sweet treats as we plan our next move
We decide on Volcan Barva, a 27km, 30 minute trip according to google maps. We soon learn that google knows nothing about the twisty, corkscrew roads that triple our arrival time. The road is a narrow, pot holed ravaged affair with steep drops and hair pin turns. We lurch into the parking lot with 30 minutes to enjoy the park before beginning the trek down. We walk one path, take a few pictures then return. We agree that we need to get back before dark descends. The fog rolls in, mocking our plan of visibility and we creep down.
We stop at McDonalds to sort out the map, put in our location and destination and begin the 12km return trip to our rental. The map app hiccups and soon we are blindly travelling to San Jose, the major city during rush hour. Chaos reigns as scooters, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians fill the narrow gaps left by cars, trucks and buses appearing everywhere at once. The rush is the competition for space. We lurch along stinking up the place with our overused clutch.
I look around, the map voice confident announces our next turn, my fear grows, this isn’t right as we enter a convoluted turn. I reset the map app and it begins its announcement, feebly I put my hand over the map voice, too late, she announces a u-turn is required. John loudly states, “are you f…in kidding?” I quickly explain the situation, that we are now heading to San Isidro though we have 60km to travel. John takes it in stride, the map voice strangely silent. The silence is for the best, a cooling off period is needed.
We snake through the narrow streets of San Jose. Gradually the traffic lightens as we begin our ascent up a mountain. The road quickly deteriorates. We find ourselves powering up impossibly steep grades through tight hairpin turns in first gear. Dark descends and the fog rolls in thick. Blacktop gives way to gravel, washboard with canyon sized ruts and potholes. Our little SUV struggles for traction like the little engine that could. We reach a particularly nasty incline, vertical to the heavens on a sharp crease of a turn. Our SUV says, “no can do,” as it stalls to catch its breath. John tries again, it stalls, sliding back into oblivion. The headlights shine crazily into the sky, revealing nothing useful. John tries again and I wonder if this is where it ends. Sufficiently rested the SUV hums, ” I think I might,” as it does.
The road surface gradually improves, though the twists and turns never change. The map app over her anger, announces turns, then counts down the meters to a turn that is merely a bend in the road. I prefer her silence, though she is leading us through this ordeal. We put up with the incessant chatter. For three hours we traverse the mountain via switchbacks. The moon is a curious shape, like a smiley face, it mocks.
We near San Isidro, relaxed and happy in the knowledge the ordeal will soon be over. We plan our meal despite the late hour. We arrive, panic replaces the happy feeling as we realize, like Dorothy in Oz that this is not the San Isidro from this morning.
Frantically, I reset the map and it finally allows and accepts the address of where we are staying. We learn that San Isidro is quite popular in Costa Rica and now we have visited two. Perhaps John’s cussing earlier had the map voice reek havoc on our lives. Mission accomplished, we begin the return trek with 68km or 4 hours to complete.
We are both quiet, the map voice chipper announcing our turns. John states that we better not have to go through the rough section again. I have already looked ahead and know we will. I decide to keep that knowledge to myself for now, along with the knowledge that the mountain trek was not required. The boulders and insight will come soon enough for John too.
We arrive in the correct San Isidro as our map voice announces our next turn. We look at each other and simultaneously tell her to stop talking. We have learned enough to refuse.
Home beckons and soon we arrive. John expertly disarms the house alarm. We eat our dinner at 0200. We have learned a great deal about Costa Rica and even more about each other.