Wednesday, my alarm was set for 4 a.m., so naturally I was up at 3:30. Camille, who is like me in many ways, was up at 3:59. It is difficult to sleep when adventure awaits.
The next 12 hours were a blur of airplane rides, sitting around in airports, standing in line for customs (where I snapped the picture below), and waiting for our rental car to be ready. But finally, we were handed the keys and let loose in Costa Rica.
After being herded around all day, it was exhilarating to find ourselves free in another country, left to our own devices to explore.
We still had several hours of driving ahead, winding our way across Costa Rica toward the Nicoya Peninsula and the Pacific Coast. The mountains around San Jose loomed tall, majestic and green. It is the start of the rainy season here, and the lush, emerald countryside is a terrific trade-off for the showers.
I’d heard stories about the roads in Costa Rica. Stories about rough conditions, river crossings and more. We’d been warned by the owner of our rental home not to drive at night – it was just too risky. We didn’t intend to test her theory, but knew we’d be cutting it close.
For the first couple hours of our drive, the roads were in good shape, having been recently paved. They were all 2-lane however, and driving here is a constant game of chicken – gunning the engine to pass the car in front of you, with cars doing the same thing in the other lane. Lee handled the road well, although with white knuckles at times.
Armed with written directions and a GPS, I felt pretty good about finding the house. The farther we got into the rural Guanacaste region, the more picturesque the area. And the more unforgiving the road. It was still paved, but was a patchwork of filled potholes that made for a bumpy ride. Cows and horses grazed in the valleys between the mountains, and Camille yelled “Vaca!” or “Caballo!” each time she spotted a new herd.
We had to stop in the small town of Santa Cruz to get a few groceries, because our house is rather remote and we knew we’d need at least a few basics until we had time to go to a larger city for major shopping. After picking up a handful of things (rather random things, in our now overtired, delirious state) we pulled back onto the highway, and tried to ignore the setting of the sun and what that meant for the remainder of our travel.
Soon the sun had disappeared entirely and the rural routes grew very dark. Suddenly, our GPS and our written directions conflicted. Our GPS wanted us to turn down a tiny dirt road, and I wasn’t keen on it so we kept going. And going. A few miles farther, our road ended at an intersection with another small dirt road and I knew in an instant that we were lost. This was not part of my written directions. The GPS still wanted us to turn around. We were in the middle of a tiny town, with small groups of locals sitting on their porches, riding bikes up and down the dark dirt streets, eying these wandering, out-of-place tourists.
I began to feel a rising bubble of panic. It didn’t help that Camille kept asking questions – questions I was desperate to answer but couldn’t. Questions like, “How long until we get there?” Her questions got under our skin as we tried to keep our cool, until we finally blurted out the truth.
“We are lost.”
In my head, I added, “In the dark. In a foreign land.”
This brought an unexpected burst of tears from the backseat. After a long day of travel, our girl was DONE. She was in a strange country with parents who were acting strangely because they were lost. It was too much for her. For all of us.
We back-tracked toward the tiny dirt road indicated by the GPS. We turned down that road, which was not much of a road, but more like two small ruts for our tires to follow. We crept along this path until our progress was stopped. By a river.
Was this one of those river crossings we’d been told to expect? I couldn’t bear the thought of plunging our vehicle into that water in the inky darkness, when I couldn’t see how deep it was. When I’d have no idea where to go for help if our car became stuck. Thankfully, Lee agreed, and turned the car around, all under the watchful eye of a cow munching grass by the riverbed.
We went back to the paved road and backtracked some more, hoping we’d spot the turnoff in our written directions that we’d somehow missed before. Gloriously, we saw a sign ahead that matched our notes, and turned.
This was a dirt road – more of a road then the path to the river, but no easier to traverse. The road was covered in rocks we served to avoid, and rivulets of rain water had carved deep trenches perfect for trapping a tire. We’d already hit a bird on our trip that day, and now sent several frogs to their reward as they hopped back and forth in the beam of our headlights. The sounds of night creatures floated through our open windows, and winged animals would occasionally flit in front of the car (bats, perhaps?). Once, we had to stop completely as an owl landed on the road ahead, seemingly unconcerned by our approach.
It look us an hour to go 15 miles on this dirt road. I spent every minute of that hour gripping the paper with our written directions, tense and wide-eyed, Thankfully, Camille had given in to her exhaustion and was asleep.
We found the turnoff to the property for the house and I felt the beginnings of relief. But then, when faced with several intersecting pathways, we were again unsure of which way to go. We forked left and rambled along this nearly impossible path until we were blocked by a fallen tree. I was out of patience and needed a life preserver, so I turned on my cell phone and made an expensive call to the property manager who lives next door to our rental house. It was money well spent.
Thankfully, she was able to talk us through the roads until finally, I saw the beam of her flashlight up ahead and pulled in to the carport of our rental home. I could have cried with relief.
We carried our sleeping girl into one of the bedrooms and unloaded the car. I could hear the thunder of the surf, but could see nothing of our surroundings. The reveal would have to wait until morning. I slept like the dead.
At 5 a.m., I was awakened to the sound of my girl whispering in my ear, asking if it was time to get up. The sun rises early here, and daylight had already begun to brighten my room.
I was as curious as she was about what lay outside. We opened the door. And this.
This beach that we have nearly to ourselves – this was worth the drive.