Archive for December, 2010

rapid cycling of thoughts.

30 December 2010

after we reached the end of our trip down the rio toro, the rafting guide told us that we had a situation. he explained how people abandon their pets when they no longer want them, before leading us up an embankment where there was a cat with its head sticking out of a bag of rice. another cat — emaciated, fur matted with rain and dirt — lay dead in the grass beside it.

we gathered around an overturned kayak, eating pieces of pineapple and yucca chips, while someone cut the cat free and washed it in the river as it shook and whined. wrapped in a towel, we fed it crumbled bits of coconut cookies. it couldn’t support its own weight.

we drove to town for lunch, the cat in the front seat of the van, nestled in the floorboards. we drove to town to put the cat down as humanely as possible.

i don’t know why i’m telling you this. i don’t know what motivated me to continue through this story, rather than talking about the whitewater rafting experience itself. i could have written about how the guide initially told me my strokes were lazy, and the irony of that statement when, upon viewing the pictures taken while we paddled, we noticed the girl behind me staring directly at the camera in each photograph and even flashing the peace sign in one. i could have told you that i became completely soaked, my shoes, formerly caked with mud from a hike on a muddy trail near an active volcano, now pristine. i could have just said that it wasn’t worth the money and left it at that (though then everyone would think of me as a curmudgeon that cannot be satisfied, instead of someone whose idea of adventure is skewed).

i’m sorry that my thoughts tend to go in these directions and that i become fixated on the details of an event outside the event, that i remember the way a dying cat was carefully bathed along the banks of a raging river rather than presenting a travel guide so that you know what places to visit and what tour companies to use. again, i am seeing how strangers come together to support each other at times of crisis, but, yeah, i could have achieved those ends by detailing how we synchronized our oars to navigate without capsizing.


renting a car in costa rica.

28 December 2010

before i came here i did a lot of research on driving conditions and crime. i’ve found that the warnings should be taken with a grain of salt (the pessimist in me feels the need to point out that i’m here for another week). while it’s certainly a challenge to drive on narrow roads that wind through mountains, avoiding potholes while buses and trucks speed toward you in the opposite direction, it’s not as if this is a constant concern. for the most part, the roads are in fairly good shape, the drivers are courteous, and the 4wd takes care of the rest.

my only problem has been the inadequate signage, especially in the cities, which lack street signs (except for the main road in liberia). when i arrived in alajuela i missed the turn for my hostel and circled the city for two hours trying to find the statue that was my only point of reference. later, i drove around for another two hours trying to find a secure parking lot that would allow my car to remain overnight.

a lot is written about petty theft, going so far as to recommend keeping one’s windows rolled up because thieves will reach into your car to steal the earrings out of your ears or the necklaces off your neck. it’s just like any other large city throughout the world, one needs to remain vigilant, be aware of their surroundings, and not be flashy with their wealth. i mean, even the people trying to sell me drugs are very nice.

driving on the highways, it’s as if they decided on sign placement by having a government official sit in the passenger seat while someone unfamiliar with the area drove: the inexperienced driver would indicate whenever he thought he might be lost, then the road supervisor would post a sign 5km further down the road. perseverance pays off, but, inevitably, you will get lost.

i want to single out a few people, in reverse order, who assisted me when i was lost, traveling from manuel antonio to liberia, about a six-hour drive north along the pacific coast.

1. the security guard at a plaza in playa del coco. after telling me his english was so-so he motioned for a pen and drew me the simplest map, a straight line with sardinal written at one end and coco at the other. between them were two short perpendicular lines meant to represent my destination.

2. the girl at the reception desk at the hilton garden inn across from the liberia airport. she indicated my route on a map, telling me it was easy. for some reason, whenever anybody gives directions here they use that word, exciting you at first, but then, after you find yourself lost again, making you feel even more incompetent. she chased after me, handing me the map (it’s for you). this time two-thirds of the trip was in fact easy. the last road i needed was new and not on the map.

3. the man on the bicycle in orotina. he took the map from me when i pointed to liberia so he could hold it in my headlights. he returned, sticking his arm out straight before turning his hand slightly to the right, simulating an on-ramp. he said, caldera, puntarenas then his fist went skyward as he shouted, liberia. he directed me to follow him as he jumped back on his bicycle and pedaled across a busy street, wobbling a little, as i trained my eyes on his fat little body wearing a polo shirt with stripes in muted colors. a few blocks away he pulled off the road so i could continue alone.

at times i’ve cursed the rav 4 that i rented last week as traffic sped around me on both sides, but every time i’m about to ditch it and take the bus, something wonderful happens. i stumble upon an old yellow church on the side of a hill. fifteen or so coatimundis play in the jungle foliage roadside. or i’m forced to talk to strangers and realize they’re not the people i’ve been repeatedly advised to avoid.

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