Trial by fire part 2

In the last post I told you we bought a car.  When I said we were coming to Costa Rica for “the adventure”, I meant it.  I have to say, though, the driving adventure hasn’t been exactly enjoyable.  But it has been memorable.

I’ve told you before about how crazy driving can be here, and if you’ve been to Central America, you understand.  I mean, it’s not like they don’t have traffic laws and speed limits (some of them are even posted!), but they seem to be mostly unobserved.  This baffles me though because I keep hearing about these ridiculously expensive traffic tickets people get… If the maneuvers I’ve seen are legal and people are doing worse, I’d say they deserve the tickets.

But back to us.  We bought a little four-wheel drive, and I think it will be the perfect car for us.  I wasn’t saying that Sunday, though.  We decided to go for a little Sunday drive through the “country.”  Here, the country is a valley about forty minutes (and 14 miles) away.  Those numbers aren’t an exaggeration.  While a 14 mile drive doesn’t sound overly daunting, there was not a single stretch of flat land in those 14 miles, and we aren’t exactly experts driving a stick shift.  It’s about like our Spanish – it ain’t always pretty, but it gets the job done.  We made it to the town of Orosi via Tres Rios and Cartago.  We made a pit stop in Cartago which is an old town with the oldest functioning church in Costa Rica.  The church is an awesome Catholic church that reminded me of the Notre Dame Basilica on the inside.  Unfortunately, our memory card died and we lost our pictures from our weekend excursion.

After leaving Cartago we made our way to Orosi, a small town that sits down in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains on either side.  I love the sand and surf of the beach here, but this quiet little town may be the most beautiful place we’ve seen in the first couple months of our adventure.  Other than its aesthetic appeal, Orosi’s claim to fame is coffee.  This area produces some of the highest quality coffee in the world, and it is everywhere.  The second you leave the main street of Orosi you are immediately surrounded by coffee plants.  We didn’t stay in the town long because there is a national park close by we thought we would go and check it out.  On the way to the park, we passed through one more little town if you can even call it that.  Really it was a church and one single row of houses surrounding what else, a soccer field.

As we passed out of this quaint town, the pavement ended and the dirt and gravel began.

Soccer field in Palomas

Torie and I were having an awesome time with the top off and windows down as we were cruising down the road stopping every once in a while for a quick photo.  As we got to the foot of a mountain, we came to a sign: to the left were a couple hotels and a restaurant – to the right was the park.

From our walk to town – Coffee plantations and mountains

As we stopped to read the sign, the car died.  And it didn’t start back up.  We tried to get it going, but no luck.  After a few minutes a couple farmers passed by, and as we were taking up the entire one lane of road, they didn’t have much choice but to stop and help.  One poked around under the hood, eventually taking the fuel line off.  He asked me to start it, and nothing came through.  “No gas,” he says.  I don’t see how it could be possible because we filled it up a couple days before and hadn’t driven much.  The problem was, though, our gas gauge was broken, so we didn’t have much choice but to believe him.  They towed us off the road into the grass, and he told us the car would be fine there until we got back with gas.  So Torie and I started our walk.  Seven miles back to Orosi…

Don’t get me wrong, this would normally have been a pleasant walk: the sun was shining, and we were surrounded by picturesque coffee plantations and primary rain forest.  It was just a little hard to enjoy it when we didn’t know if we would even be able to buy a gas canister to bring the gas back, or if our car would even be there when we got back – all we’ve heard since we got here was how big of a problem theft is.  Seeing as we didn’t have a choice, we trekked back the seven miles to the gas station.  Luckily they were selling gas, unfortunately the store was closed, and they had no extra gas cans. (Remember, we are doing ALL of this in broken Spanish) On the way into town, Torie noticed a house with a bunch of empty canisters hanging in their open garage.  We went up to the house and tried to ask to buy a canister for gas.  They seemed happy to help and wouldn’t take any money.  Back to the gas station where we bought eight liters of gas.

Next, it was another mile or so into town in search of a taxi.  We finally found one and asked him to take us to our car at the park’s entrance.  We get there and pay the driver, but he insists on getting out to help – at this point we will take all the help we can get.  We start pouring the gas in – using a cut off two liter coke bottle that we also borrowed from the nice neighbors in Orosi.

We poured maybe two or three liters in when it started overflowing.  We had gas the whole time… Being the nice guy he was, the taxi driver continues trying to help, and he pokes and prods under the hood like the farmer.

Old bridge outside Orosi heading to the park

His car, however, is a diesel and he doesn’t know much about gasoline engines.  But, he does know the people at the restaurant up the hill, and he offers to tow us up to their parking lot where we can use their phone.  Who on earth are we going to call??

We get to the restaurant, and the waitress says her brother will come and look at it if we can wait. Where else are we going?  We tell her we have no more cash to pay him, but she says don’t worry about it.  He shows up about 15 minutes later, toolbox in hand.  Another local who was in the restaurant eating with his family also comes out to help.

Like the two before them, they also poke and prod around and come to the same conclusion: the engine isn’t getting gas.  After trouble shooting everything they can think of, he thinks to check the fuse box.  Sure enough, we’d blown a fuse.  After all the hassle, it was a two-minute fix, and we were ready to go.

Torie and I decided to stay and have lunch before heading on our way.  I had the best casado I’ve had yet in Costa Rica – with fresh trout, served whole.

Casado with trout

While it wasn’t the best way to spend a Sunday, we got to practice a lot of Spanish, meet some great people, and witness firsthand the generosity and friendliness of Costa Rican people.


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