To get to San Jose, the capital, from Pursical, we have to drive through the mountains for almost an hour, depending on the traffic. Around each curve, the vistas of the Central Valley will take your breath away, if you’re still breathing after some piece of heinous driving you’ve just witnessed. Perhaps a giant tractor-trailer or a bus has come at you around the bend, in the opposite direction, on your side of the road, and you have nowhere to go except into a ditch, or down the mountainside. Or maybe you come barreling around a curve to find a vehicle stopped in the road, the driver happily chatting with a friend. Or, a driver who appeared to be waiting for you to pass by decides at the last minute to pull out in front of you. And then, of course, he drives at a snail’s pace.
The narrow, pothole-ridden, two-lane road snakes up, down and around- especially around -the mountains. The curves are sharp, and never-ending, with few patches of straight road where passing might be possible. The road is heavily traveled during the morning and evening commute. To call this busy time period rush hour would be like calling your dog a horse. There’s simply not enough traffic to constitute a bona fide rush hour this side of San Jose.
But the traffic can be gruesome at any time, because the road is often littered with slow-moving trucks, sometimes hauling livestock, and with very old commuter buses and ancient jeeps, like ours. These vehicles cause long lines of slow-moving traffic behind them, and that can spell problems for impatient drivers.
Life in Costa is characterized by the expression, Pura Vida. That’s what people say to explain the secret of living happily here. Are you in a hurry? Oh well, Pura Vida. Are you frustrated? Impatient? Don’t be. Pura Vida. And that’s a good thing. But on the road, forget about Pura Vida: it’s every nitwit for himself, and the faster, the better.
Roland, a friend we’ve made here, theorizes that Costa Rican drivers are teenagers. Are they all teenagers? No, but as a country, they haven’t been driving long. We’re told that 20 years ago, most of the cars belonged to Gringos. Maybe that accounts for the insanity.
Turn signals? Nope. Horns? Hell yes. Right-of-way? I don’t think so. If you’re driving along, and notice that someone is obstructing your passage, what do you do? Me, I stop, if there’s oncoming traffic. Here? Just barge right into the oncoming lane. Throw into the mix pedestrians walking four abreast, and cyclists, driving down the middle of the road, and a drive can become a challenge to the best of drivers. I think I fit in that category, but my husband emphatically denies it. Husbands do that, I think. But when you’re headed towards a sharp curve at a fast clip, whoever is in the passenger seat is wearing out the brakes on that side, and holding on.
Of course, complaining about other drivers is what we do- well, what I do. In my driving lifetime, I have complained about old drivers, young drivers, drivers who talk and drive, and Asian drivers- I know- that’s terrible, but stereotypes exist for a reason. On the road, it’s often the assholes versus the idiots, and I’m an asshole, I admit it.
Having said that, I hasten to defend myself by adding that I always use turn signals, and I anticipate, by knowing what’s ahead. Except here, of course. Who knows what’s ahead? You’ll find out when it hits you, or you narrowly miss it, as the case may be.
During the day, the drive is scary; it’s a nightmare after dark. And when there’s fog, as there always is during the rainy season, well, you don’t want to be out driving at night. Our circle of friends here, mostly retired folks from the States, have said that they won’t drive at night. Please, I used to think; we’re not that old! But now I’ve joined their ranks, much to my chagrin. Last week, as I drove us home from the city, I ran into some dense fog. Every muscle in my body snapped to attention as I crept around dangerous curves, hoping I was still on the road, and on the right side of the road. My attention was riveted on the tiny space in front of me that I could see, until I noticed the sound of air brakes behind me.
I sneaked a peak in the rear view mirror, and saw a bus, not more than inches from my rear bumper. I was terrified. “Shit.” I said, “that bus is crawling up my ass!” Before I knew it, the bus had passed me, in the fog, on a bend, and so had the line of cars behind it, to my utter amazement.
Later on, once we were out of the fog, I trailed the bus. I was content to stay behind him, even through the stops. Pura Vida.