renting a car in costa rica.

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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2 Responses to “renting a car in costa rica.”

  1. Grown Woman Says:

    I find it ironic that in your November 23rd posting, you comment on Eve Ensler turning over in her grave in response to Oprah’s using slang terms for genitalia, yet in your very next post, you recap your interaction with the “girl” who gave you directions in Costa Rica. Unless she was seventeen years old or younger, you didn’t get directions from a girl; you got directions from a woman. In all of your righteous feminist indignation, you can’t even get the most basic of sex-oriented terminology right. You can talk about my va-jay-jay all you want, if you’re also referring to your penis as a cock, dick, etc. The reality is slang terms for genitalia are equally represented regardless of sex: very few people actually articulate “penis” or “vagina.” As opposed to the open-minded progressive stance you were attempting to achieve, you instead made a pretentious observation that is more related to America’s reserved standing on sexuality and its expression than to feminism and the oppression of women. If you want to keep Eve Ensler from turning over in her grave, stop calling grown women “girls” and start addressing them properly as “women.” Note, you didn’t talk about “the BOY on the bicyle.”

    I support feminist ideals and a more open-minded viewpoint on sexuality, but don’t confuse a feminist (i.e. gender-related) issue with a cultural one (i.e. America’s uptight attitude towards sex). There are certainly areas in which they intertwine but saying “va-jay-jay” in the same breath as “cock” isn’t one of them.

    You wanted to make an in-depth observation of how slang terms marginalize women, then try to evolve it into a saccharine reflection of “I hope my daughters don’t grow up in this kind of society.” Yet all you accomplished was reinforcing the problematic mindset of males growing up to be men, whereas females are destined to be girls–indicative of a lack of maturity, knowledge and experience–forever.

  2. scott lefaive Says:

    first, i appreciate you reading two of my posts. there are too few people that are driven to write a vitriolic response. i applaud your passion, regardless of its being misguided and misdirected.

    the ‘girl’ that i mentioned in the above post was between the ages of 15 and 19, but, due to the imprecision of carbon dating, i was not able to correctly judge if she was indeed still a girl or if she were a woman. the ‘man on the bicycle’ was most definitely a man, unless he was suffering from the same disease as benjamin button. if that were the case, i would judge he was around twelve, and i will update my post accordingly.

    a few days after reading your reply, i was talking to a bartender in alajuela about laura chinchilla. he was extolling her virtues, telling me she was cleaning up san jose and the corruption of the police department; that she was making the country better, emphasizing education and bringing forth improvements throughout the country. at some point he said proudly, “she is our first president who is a girl.”

    i would have missed a lot if i had allowed my ‘righteous feminist indignation’ to take over, concentrating on that one word, pretentiously ignoring everything else that was said. i would have missed the fact that he was depicting someone who did not lack maturity, knowledge, and experience.

    in the same way, you’ve missed the point. it’s too bad in a post where i’m celebrating people and writing about how communication exists beyond mere words because we’re all intertwined by being human, you’ve only noticed that i may or may not have used the word ‘girl’ incorrectly.

    the girl i’ve described, as you would have noticed if you had bothered to read the entire paragraph, was wonderfully helpful and knowledgeable. she just happened to be young.

    i hope my daughters don’t grow up in the kind of society you inhabit. it seems like a pretty miserable place, where one is so focused on criticizing everything that they miss the beauty.

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