domingo, 23 de junio de 2013

Km 47,748: The unbearable relativeness of kilometers and the mortality of crabs

The internet warned me about this. Driving in Costa Rica isn't easy.

Despite what I could define as driving expertise as a consequence of thousands of hours spent driving in Mexico City, sorting out gargantuan traffic jams, floods and potholes, I am just a amateur in Costa Rica. We have spent the last two days in a driving destruction spree that, in addition to the increasing lack of precision of the metric system the closer you go towards the coast, are likely to push me to having a stroke before the week is over.

It all started when Luisandoval and I landed in San Jose and decided to take some money at a bank. I parked the car and was kindly asked by the guy taking care of the parking lot to move the car to another spot. So I did, and he kindly asked me to move it again so that it was facing the other way around. So I did, but then failed at my first attempt at backing up into that space. By then I had lost my cool and in my second attempt, I backed up into one of the traffic cones that was marking the edges of the parking space, caught it in one of the back wheels and essentially destroyed it in his face.

With some money in my pocket and some shame on my face, we left the bank and headed towards Puerto Limon and from there to Cahuita, on the caribbean coast. We took a road through the jungle, in between the mountains, which was initially wonderful as the mountains looked beautiful covered with mist. The stuff of movies: centenarian trees surrounding the road, waterfalls by the sides of the road and enough green everywhere to make your eyes hurt. However, things started turning sour when a tropical storm hit us and the road filled up with slow-moving vehicles headed in our same direction.

After an hour of driving behind trucks through the mountains at 60 km/h, desperately wiping the windshield every half-second or so, we saw a sign: "Puerto Limon 87 km". At this speed, we would be there in an hour and a half, so well before sunset. We felt encouraged and drove another fifteen minutes, listening to music and chatting. There we saw another sign: "Puerto Limon 87 km". This seemed a bit strange, we were pretty sure that we had gone further at least 10 km since the last sign, but perhaps we were mistaken. We played some more music, drove on another 20 minutes and then saw another sign: "Limon 87 km".

We weren't driving in circles nor were we on the wrong road, so what was wrong? Is the metric system in Costa Rica different? Do kilometers become longer the closer you are to the coast? Were we caught in some sort of Costa Rican Bermuda Triangle? We turned the music off and continued driving for ten more minutes and then finally saw the next sign: "Puerto Limon 85 km". We had probably driven more than 2 km since the last sign but after 45 minutes of being 87 km away from Puerto Limin, the spell was broken and we seemed to be getting out of the Triangle. We were looking forward to our next sign, which came up five minutes later; "Puerto Limon 87 km".

After 87 neverending km of curves and dusty traffic jams, we arrived to Puerto Limon around sunset. I decided my nerves were sufficiently wrecked for a single day and Luisandoval took over the wheel. He was in for a treat: if I had had a hard time driving on a main road during day time, he would have to drive on a smaller one at night. This supposes two extra difficulties: low visibility due to lack of illumination and the herds of crabs that take over the road at sunset.

It was an unavoidable crab genocide. Thousands of them covered the road and while Luisandoval did his best to avoid running them over (unlike the car ahead of us, who was a crab-killing maniac and made sure to get as many as possible), we eventually closed the windows to stop hearing the crushing of shells.

One hour later, we finally arrived to Cahuita. Tired, stressed and psychologically scarred from the experience, we're ready to enjoy the Costa Rican caribbean "pura vida".

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