Thoughts held a few hours ago, elude me more often than I would care to admit, but there is one memory from fifty years ago that still lives as clear as ever. It is of the azure water of the Caribbean Sea breaking over a black pebble beach, a beach secluded and bounded by sugar cane fields and coconut palms; a half hour walk from barrio Arus, Puerto Rico. I lived in Arus in 1970 while I trained for a Peace Corp assignment in Central America. I left Texas and mainland USA with turmoil in my wake: the Vietnam war was on everyone’s mind… both supporters and those of us in protest; Richard Nixon was our president; students were being shot at Kent State University; chaos was the norm. Mar Caribe and the peace I felt while in or near it was my salvation. I can remember thinking that I would always seek out clear seas and new cultures for the rest of my life…luckily that has come true.
It is now January 2020, and I am in Central America and about to start an eight-day trip of discovery. I have come here to visit my grandson Finn and his parents who are in Costa Rica for three months. This is my first time in Costa Rica, a country that I always expected to visit someday. I knew, beforehand, that this would be a worthwhile experience to share with my youngest son and his family. It met my criteria of sea and culture, plus jungles, and monkeys, spiders and snakes, oh my. I couldn’t be happier at the prospect.
I have copped to the fact that I am a grandparent, so now I can easily admit that I am a late adapter of the ubiquitous dependence on Google for informing one’s every turn. I found that I needed to master this technology from the moment that I departed the parking lot of the San Jose airport. It was late afternoon by the time that I had cleared customs and found my rental car. That didn’t give me any extra time to spare if I was to arrive at the little community of Quizara before it was too dark to find my way over the poorly maintained and circuitous road to the house where Mark, Katie and Finn were waiting. Siri, or whatever her name is, never liked me very much, so I was out of luck as far as getting help from her. I did know enough to put an address in the Google machine, and I saw that there were multiple routes that seemed to cross the city of San Jose on my way to Ruta 2 and the one hundred and fifty or so kilometers that I needed to travel.
I had one hand on the steering wheel, the other on the shift lever of the standard transmission 4×4 and, juggled alternately one hand to the other, my iPhone…the one that wouldn’t talk to me. Almost immediately I found myself in a pandemonium of buses, motorcycles, delivery trucks and fast cars, all intent on getting somewhere before I did. I have seen and driven in my share of traffic snarls, but this one could give one pause, except pausing was out of the question. With one eye on the road and the other on the small, cracked screen of my phone, I proceeded to break rules and endanger the community. The map said traffic was slow and it surely didn’t lie about that. What was supposed to be an hour traverse of the city turned into two, plus a solid dose of anxiety on this driver’s part. Miraculously, I was able to thread my way through the city and finally onto the route that would take me over the highlands to Quizara.
The relief that I felt after beating my way through city traffic with no mishaps or fatalities, was replaced when sunlight began to fade and clouds, fog and light rain greeted me on Ruta 2. Universally, two solid yellow lines separating driving lanes means simply, Do Not Pass. Ha! In the one hundred and sixteen kilometers that wound their way up and over the passes, there were very few stretches that afforded safety. Ruta 2 is one of the main highways that moves the country, so a fair amount of traffic is on it at all times. Eighteen wheelers define both the speed of travel as well as the risk behavior of any traveler inevitably caught in the cars queued in their wake.
I was thankful that I had no passenger judging my driving behavior on the road that night. Downshifting, braking, upshifting, all while gazing through clouds and drizzle and failing sunlight at the taillights of cars, motorcycles, trucks, and signs warning of dangerous curves ahead, actually became an oddly exhilarating experience of movement and concentration played to the rhythm and sound of the windshield wipers making their sweeps.
My day had begun at 3:30 a.m. and I was safely tucked into our little casita by 8:00 p.m., thanks in no small part to the efforts of Katie, who had tracked me on her Google machine and played ground traffic controller. I couldn’t have been happier, although Finn had long since given up waiting on his papa and was sound asleep. The night was cool and clear at our elevation and I had no trouble relaxing after a travel day now in the rearview mirror. Tomorrow, the “wild rumpus would start.”