Friends back home think I’m downing piña coladas at a beachfront bar, hiking through a rainforest, or sitting in a hot tub watching the orange glow of a distant volcano. Just over a month ago, I would have guessed the same thing, because that’s what tourists do in Costa Rica. I’d even visited before, twice.
So when my husband’s old surf buddy John asked us to care for his pets and house in Costa Rica for a month, we jumped. We knew the weather wouldn’t be quite the same as it was on earlier visits. They’d been during the dry season. This time we’d hit the rainy season. But what’s a little rain? I live in the fifth rainiest state in the United States.
There was another difference between this visit and earlier ones that Bob’s good old surf buddy neglected to mention. We had done most of our driving in Costa Rica on main roads. In other words, packed dirt with holes deep enough to swallow a Volkswagen. We just drove vehicles bigger than a Volkswagen. We realized only when we arrived this time that John lives a mile and a half uphill from the nearest main road. In the United States, the stretch to his house would be classified as an expert mountain-bike trail. The jokester who decided it was a road could be the same one who nicknamed Florida the Sunshine State.
We were at the beach, less than a week into our stay, when a downpour turned the dry clay covering the hill into slick mud. To get back to the house, we could forge uphill or drive 25 miles out of the way. Bob forged, and advanced at least three feet before the wheels started spinning in deep mud. We sat biding our time until a less patient motorist came fishtailing down the length of the hill. We knew we wouldn’t see a more entertaining sight that day, so we headed into town until the rain let up.
The next day was our anniversary. The roads still had the texture of Jell-O pudding, but we had to celebrate. To avoid the hill, we drove into town by way of Mal Pais, which is like going from Minneapolis to St. Paul by way of Seattle. After 15 minutes crawling over boulders and ruts, we reached a river so muddy we couldn’t see the bottom. Bob sent me out to see if it was safe to cross. When I made it to the other side without swimming, he sped through. The ride was so harrowing that we decided in Mal Pais to scrap the fancy restaurant, still several miles away, and get a pizza at a nearby bakery. We were heading back the way we came when a local signaled us to stop. When I rolled down the window, he babbled in Spanish for five minutes. Neither Bob nor I understood a word, but we figured it might be wise to turn around. We drove back past the bakery, past the fancy restaurant and up the hill we were trying to avoid.
The next morning, I made the hill safer for motorists by collecting all the mud covering it on the soles of my running shoes. If I were Lindsey Vonn, I could have schussed to the bottom. Instead, I knocked the slick mud off and sidestepped down like a beginner on a black-diamond slope.
Later that day, the French expat next door asked how I was enjoying my stay. I said it was fine, except for the muddy roads.
“Eef eet rains, you just wait a couple hours for eet to dry,” she said. “Eef eet rains all night, you drive slow.”
She and her husband used to live in town. So did John. They claim they prefer living along a road that mangles the undercarriage every time they run out for a loaf of bread. It keeps sane home buyers from crowding the neighborhood.
The next couple days it rained so hard that Bob and I stayed inside, surrounded by damp clothes draped over every table and chair. (John swears that with an outside clothes line, he has no need for a dryer.) By rotating items in front of the floor fan, I could dry an entire load of laundry in five days.
The rain continued through the next three weeks. Friends back home, meanwhile, were prepping for a hurricane heading their way by dutifully emptying their refrigerators of anything a power outage could spoil. One boasted on Facebook that she ate 16 brownies and washed them down with Margaritas. Another posted that he ate all 12 of the ice pops in his freezer.
Our last week in Costa Rica, the weather finally turned. Along with rain, we got wind. The power went out for five days. To prevent spoilage, Bob and I gobbled down all the lettuce, zucchini, almond milk, beans, rice and oatmeal. I didn’t mention it on Facebook.
The hurricane my South Florida friends braced for did nothing more than knock down small branches and coconuts. Kids got two or three days out of school. Adults got a couple days off work and enough coconuts to make piña coladas for the entire neighborhood. Lucky stiffs.