The Fit Life, LLC

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Costa Rican Adventures: Part I - The Unexpected Adventure

We've been back from Costa Rica for three weeks now, and I've been meaning to blog about our travels there. So I'm finally sitting down to do just that.  I'm going to start with our first unexpected adventure--putting our rental car into a ravine on our first full day. I wrote the majority of the post that first day--by hand--in a little notebook. So my tenses may be all over the place for this one. Here it goes:

November 6, 2012 - Rural Costa Rica

I learned two very valuable lessons today. First, NEVER trust your GPS in Costa Rica; and second, learn the Spanish words for, "We need help!" There were some other lessons too: Always carry a complete English/Spanish dictionary with you when traveling in a Spanish-speaking country, always have food in the car, and spend money on a decent emergency cell phone.

Today was the day we were to make about a 3-hour trek to from Alajuela to Manuel Antonio. Alajuela is near the capital, San Jose, in the central part of the country, and Manuel Antonio is on the west coast.

The trip started out well, but the mistake came when our gps told us to go a different way than our printed directions. We followed the gps.

At first we were pleased with our decision. We were seeing some beautiful scenery that you just can't see on a highway. Not too far into our trip, our nice, paved road became a gravel road. We weren't concerned. We had done much reading on Costa Rica, so we had been warned that the roads there are a little crazy. They are often unpaved--and during the rainy season (which it is) it's not uncommon to see small rivers running across the roads. So we continued on without concern--enjoying the adventure (we heard someone refer to the roads there as a Costa Rican massage).

We continued on the gravel road for many miles. After awhile the houses became fewer and fewer, and the road became bumpier. Eventually the road became something that didn't really resemble a road at all. At this point we had two options:  backtrack a really long way (a few hours) or keep going and hope we hit a main road soon.

Our "road" continued to deteriorate until it was not much more than a hiking trail--partially washed out by heavy rains. We came across a bridge at one point, and just crossed our fingers that the car would make it over. On a few occasions, rivers ran right over the road. Again, we crossed our fingers and went, hoping the car didn't float away. During one part of the journey a tree branch brushed the inside of the window where I was sitting and dumped a bunch of fire ants on me. I smacked at them as I felt the stingy bites (which I later had an allergic reaction to).

Panic was starting to set in for me as the small SUV bounced all over the trail. What seemed like an adventure at first wasn't fun anymore. I glanced over at Mark and sweat was pouring off his face. I knew he was nervous too. We knew we were in big trouble if we weren't to a main road by the time the rains started. Our "road" would become a river with us as its victims.
As the car lurched up yet another steep mountain hill, our tire became stuck in a large divot. As Mark (he was driving, by the way) tried to back out of the hole, the car sprung backward and landed in a narrow, but deep ravine. As we sat there--almost in slow motion--the car started to roll on its side. It settled on the driver's side. We were definitely stuck and there was no maneuvering out of this one.

We both carefully climbed out of the passenger side door--making sure to distribute our weight carefully. We removed our most valuable items--cash, passports, camera, purse and papers, and started to walk up the road. We hoped we would either get a cell signal on our emergency phone or run into someone who spoke English sooner rather than later. It was hot. We were in the middle of nowhere--and we hadn't seen a house in well over an hour.

We only walked a few minutes before we heard voices. Mark ran up ahead to find them. There was a small house and a lady was walking up the mountain road with her cow. Mark managed a "Telephono?" in Spanish making a gesture as though he were talking on a phone. The lady pointed up the road. She spoke no English.

We continued up the road in the heat of the day--hoping our luggage would still be in the vehicle when we were finally reunited. Soon we came to another small house. "Buenos Dias!" we called. A man came out. "Hablo Ingles?" "No."

Between our small dictionary, gestures, and drawings we were able to convey that our "L'auto" was in a ditch and we needed "La Grua'" (tow truck). The very kind man used his call phone (his had a signal) to call an English speaking friend. He handed his phone to me, and I was able to communicate what had happened.  The man then gestured that we should walk to the car to take a look. Back down the mountain road we trudged, with his son and dog in tow (we had only walked about a 1/2 mile, so it wasn't that heinous. I was just stressed, hot and hungry--so it seemed far).

Soon we heard the sound of a motorcycle. The cyclist got off his bike, smile and said, "Hi folks! How are you doing?" We smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. Now we could communicate.

The young man's name was Markos. We were able to explain our entire predicament. Through talking to him, we learned that the road we had traveled on had actually been closed for over twenty years. The only one who uses it is the utility company to fix power lines.

Markos (our savior) spoke to our rental car company. And eventually arranged for a friend of his to bring a tractor to tow us out of the ravine. He felt if we waited for the towing company the rental place recommended, we could be stuck outside all night. Markos happened to know the three sisters who lived in the house we first encountered (where the lady with the cow lived). He helped us carry our luggage to their house so we could keep an eye on it. Now all we had to do was wait.

The friend with a tractor was a few towns over, and the roads were rough--so we had about a three hour wait ahead of us. Markos stayed with us the whole time. The three sisters gave us a cup of coffee, and Markos picked a fresh grapefruit for us to eat.

When the man (with a few friends for back-up) finally arrived with his tractor. Mark and Marcos helped them hook a chain up to our jeep. They were able to pull the jeep out of the ravine without the jeep receiving even a scratch. He pulled us up the last bit of the hill (it turns out if we had just made it through that last bit of treacherous road, a much improved road was just a half mile or so away).

We paid the tractor driver for his trouble without complaint. We gave Markos what we hoped was at least close to a day's pay--that's the amount of time he spent with us. We were very lucky to get off so easily. Markos had us follow him to the main road, and made sure we knew the route to our final destination--Manuel Antonio.

So what could have been a complete disaster--what very honestly could have ended in our deaths if the rains had come in--turned out to be a very lucky day. If I had it to do all over again, would I choose to take the same route again? It was crazy, dangerous and stressful! However, we saw parts of Costa Rica that most tourists never see. And we met some people I feel very lucky to have met--people who live their lives very differently than us.

The three sisters lived very simple lives. They didn't own a car. If they needed to go to town, they walked over thirty minutes to a bus stop, then took the bus--and then carried their supplies for the long walk home. They lived mostly off of the land--raising their own chicken, cows and vegetables--and eating off their wonderful fruit trees.

We learned firsthand how wonderful the kindness of strangers can be.

We had about another hour of gravel roads before we hit the main highway toward Manuel Antonio. When we finally arrived at our little cottage and got settled, we were exhausted. But reflecting back on the day's adventure, we felt like the luckiest people in the world.

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I am the owner of The Fit Life, LLC. The Fit Life, LLC offers fitness instruction and nutrition counseling in a holistic way. I focus on personal training using mainly your own body strength--very little equipment. I also hold a certification in holistic nutrition. Because nutrition counseling regulations are very strict in Ohio, I'm still working on what nutrition services I can provide to my clients; however, I'm happy to provide general nutrition information. I enjoy teaching TRX, Indoor Cycling, and Boot Camps.