SLOWING IT DOWN

Here, instead of getting stuck in traffic jams, we crawl along behind slow-moving, road-hogging cows. The cows can make us just as late as being stuck in traffic, but somehow it's nicer being late because of cows instead of cars. Besides, there are no convenient (Convenient? What's that?) alternate routes, so all we can do is exhale and tune into the rhythm of life in the country.

The road we're driving on in this picture is called the coastal highway. This is my kind of highway.

Here's what the National Geographic Traveler Costa Rica Guide from a few years back said under the heading SAMARA TO MALPAIS BY 4WD (we are located midway between Samara and Malpais). “There is no shortage of adventure in Costa Rica, where one of the best to be had is this 57-mile (91km) drive along the rugged southwestern shore of Nicoya. You will need a sturdy four-wheel-drive vehicle and an Indiana Jones spirit to tackle the rough dirt track that turns travel into a minor expedition, especially in the wet season when fording swollen rivers . . . can add to the adrenaline rush. This rutted dirt road clambers over mountainous headlands and down to hidden beaches passing forlorn villages and farming communities separated by long stretches of jungle-green shoreline. There are no road signs, and the roads have many deceptive forks in them. Fill up before setting off: There are no gas stations. Don’t attempt this drive late in the day.”

Our everyday cruising speed on the main roads is 30-40 kph, or about 20-25 mph. Hurrying is quite often simply out of the question.

The sharp rocks jutting out from the ruts in the road do a number on tires. We have to replace all of our heavy-duty tires every year and a half. Our shock absorbers work overtime.

Driving through rivers also takes its toll on our vehicles, and when the water is high, our nerves. Here is the dry riverbed between our house and Javilla. When the rain is heavy, this riverbed fills quickly with a powerful torrent of muddy water rushing down from the mountains. Our neighbor Bolivar's father and his horse were carried to their graves by this river some years ago.

My rule of thumb for driving through really high rivers is to hoist my skirt and wade through before crossing. If the water reaches much higher than mid-thigh or the current threatens to knock me down, it's not safe to cross. I'd say on average this happens seven to twelve days a year. We keep our pantry well stocked at the peak of rainy season. One time we couldn't cross at all for a week or so, but often the water will recede just enough for us to plow through and quickly gather supplies, hurrying home before the heavy rain starts again. Fording rivers is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes it involves a considerable amount of positive thinking, prayers, and reminders to ourselves to keep breathing.

The trip south to Mal Pais includes several river crossings and there's a big river to drive through to get to Samara, to the north. To go to a bank, gas station, ATM, pharmacy, etc., we drive an hour and a quarter east, over two very steep mountains on a winding, rutted, mostly two but sometimes one-and-a-half-lane road. Parts of it require first gear if you lose your momentum. This is why there aren't many people here. But they'll be coming. Work on a bridge over the big river between here and Samara has recently resumed and a few years ago they actually paved a portion of the mountain road that kept washing out.

When we first moved here we wanted to keep our piece of paradise a secret. Now, many sets of tires later, an ATM, a gas station and some of the other amenities found in civilized areas are sounding quite appealing to us.