We planned our first trip to Puerto Viejo, on the Carribbean side, to coincide with the visit of my daughter, Bonnie, and my two granddaughters, Maiya and Bettie Belle. The luscious tropical resort area is a seven-hour trip from our home in Santiago de Puriscal under the best conditions. We knew it would take us longer.
Ticos love to pat our 1986 Toyota Land Cruiser as if it were a puppy and exclaim, “¡Buen caro!” Despite the admiration lavished on it, our car is parked more often in front of our mechanic’s shop than at home. To call it reliable would be like claiming it could fly.
And it’s clangorous. Nonetheless, as we began our trip, we noticed a noise that seemed to be a newcomer to the cacophony. Imagine the din an orchestra of rattles might make. “Do you hear that?” I asked, as we plowed up the worst road in Costa Rica, the one in front of our house.
Jack looked grave. He worried about making the trip through the mountains with the girls. I thought I heard him murmur something about universal joints. The scenario was fraught with possibilities I didn’t care to entertain. Instead of thinking about calamities-in-waiting, I like to imagine that everything will go as planned. But that strategy is only as good as one’s car, alas.
As we labored towards San Jose, about an hour into the trip, a bee stung me. I watched in horrible fascination as the pale skin under my forearm began to swell and throb. By the time we reached our destination, the car was limping and gasping. My arm was swollen from wrist to elbow, and had turned a livid red.
This trip was off to a decidedly inauspicious start, but at least I’d picked a winner with a two-story, three-bedroom, two-bath cottage in the jungle. In my imagination, this lodge had everything: wireless internet access, a large-screen TV, air conditioning, a pool, views of the ocean, five beds, and a gourmet kitchen.
I must have dreamed the air-conditioning, usually a must-have for me. I also conjured up the large-screen TV. We’re not a bunch of box-watchers, but we looked forward to a little entertainment at night, or in case it rained. We had wifi for about five minutes, so I didn’t dream that.
We’re oblivious to holidays, so we didn’t know that Semana Santa, (the week leading up to Easter Sunday) is a huge vacation week in Costa Rica. Think Spring Break on steroids. Puerto Viejo throbbed with reggae music, pulsed with people. Cars cluttered every inch of space on the narrow road through town. We wondered if we could have picked a worse time to vacation.
Happily, a friend located a mechanic who fixed the universal joints in the Toyota and didn’t require that we leave the baby with him in payment. I found the doctor’s office easily. It was the building with a giant sign announcing “worm-bite specialist.” He fixed me up for 160 bucks, which is high by Costa Rican standards, but he softened the blow by telling me how much if would have cost if he’d made a house call. ($400)
By Sunday, the teeming masses had gone, and Puerto Viejo turned into the sleepy little town we’d heard so much about. We enjoyed the rest of the week, and made it home over the mountains, albeit it slowly and cautiously.