We had what we thought was a 4-hour trip ahead of us. We were leaving the Sloth Sanctuary just south of Limon and driving into San Jose for a very important task. Boo and her friend Ann were joining us for a week, and were due into the airport that evening. We left in plenty of time.
Or so we thought.
I was behind the wheel as we made our way into Limon, approaching one of the main intersections through town. Something wasn’t right. As we got closer I realized the street was full of people. Some held signs, and someone was speaking into a megaphone. Our path was blocked by the crowd, as well as piles of branches and rocks.
What to do? Our GPS did not account for this. The little bit of Limon that we saw looked sad and tired and worn and I wasn’t eager to go turning down side streets to find another way. And looking around, I didn’t see any side streets anyway.
Finally a man, perhaps seeing the panic on my face, motioned for me to go off-road and circumvent the crowd, which I did.
Back on the road, we breathed a sigh of relief and wondered what on earth THAT had been about.
Our relief was short-lived. We had seen smoke up ahead, but didn’t think much of it until the traffic stopped in front of us. My first thought was that there was a traffic accident or building fire blocking our way. Lee got out to see what was happening, and returned to the car with wide eyes.
“The road is on fire,” he said.
The semi trucks that had stopped in front of us weren’t budging, but several cars were passing us and going on ahead, although we couldn’t see far enough to determine how (or if) they were getting through. We sat there for a while assessing the situation, then finally decided to follow the Ticos and creep forward in the other lane.
As we got closer, we could see the source of the fire was a line of flaming tires across the road. WHAT WAS GOING ON?
Camille was watching a movie on the iPad in the backseat, oblivious. As I gathered my nerve to drive off-road around the fire like the other Ticos, I told her to pause her movie.
“Camille, something interesting is happening up here, and I think you’ll want to watch.”
As we drove on the right shoulder I could feel the heat from the fire radiating to my left. “No one throw anything flammable on the fire right now,” was the mantra I kept repeating in my head.
And thankfully, no one did. We were soon heading forward again, but without that same feeling of relief. What else might lie ahead?
A few miles farther and the traffic stopped again. We were passed by ambulances and police cars and I wondered if THIS time, maybe it really was a traffic accident. People were getting out of their cars and trucks and walking around, and I finally rolled down my window to ask one of them, “Is there an accident?”
He looked at me funny and shook his head no. Like I should’ve known better.
Finally, unable to resist, Lee activated the cellular data on his phone so he could check the news. Turns out, this was a national day of protests in Costa Rica. Pretty much every group with a gripe had planned some sort of disruptive protest in order to “cripple the country.”
Great. On the day we needed to drive halfway across the country to San Jose. On the day Boo would be expecting to see our smiling faces as she got off that plane. Why today?
We called Boo’s cell phone and were able to get her just as she was boarding her first flight in Savannah. We tried not to worry her, but came up with a plan B in case we couldn’t get to the airport in time.
And then we hung up the phone and sat there. And sat there. And sat there. This time, a crowd was blocking a bridge up ahead, and there was no driving around the bridge. Entrepreneurs came by selling drinks, snacks and portable cell phone chargers.
Our saving grace finally came in the form of a nasty downpour, which sent people scrambling for their cars. More than an hour after we stopped, we were finally rolling forward again, but at a turtle’s pace for many miles.
It was the last disruption we’d experience that day, thankfully, but it turned our 4-hour trip into a 7-hour one. It will not go down as my favorite Costa Rican experience.
Unpleasant though it was, the day of protests made for some interesting conversations with Camille. She asked so many questions – why would people behave this way? We talked about some of the protester’s concerns, like low wages and governmental corruption and environmental issues. Each of our answers brought a new deluge of questions.
A girl who likes to follow the rules, I think she couldn’t wrap her head around such flagrant obstruction. Especially when the reasons we were giving sounded reasonable. “So Mama,” she asked, “are protests a good thing or a bad thing?”
As much as the protests had put a major kink in our day, I answered truthfully. “It depends,” I said. “It’s important for people to be heard, and if you’re not hurting anyone, then maybe protests are a good thing.”
But of course, it’s so much more complicated than that. The protests of the Civil Rights Movement? Incredibly important. The protests of the Westboro Baptist Church people, who spew hate and intolerance? So incredibly negative. But still, I respect a person’s right to a peaceful protest – something that is crucial to a democracy.
Who knew that drive to San Jose would turn into fodder for such a weighty discussion? But thankfully, we made it into town weary but on time. And when Alva and Ann cleared customs and stepped out into the Costa Rican evening, we were there and ready with eager arms.