by Hannah Nevitt, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Abroad Participant
Ask anyone in Alajuela about the “Road to Cuidad Quesada” and they will tell you it has taken 20 years to finish. However, finished would not be the best word to describe it…the word I would use is Terrifying. Long and winding, it’s gravel and rocky terrain is narrow in parts and still awaiting pavement. It is rumored to be a “short cut” compared to the other main road, and therefore calls to the adventure-seeking minds of taxi drivers and tourist chauffeurs alike; just the kind of temptation that would inspire my host mother’s brother in-law, Marco (a taxi and tourist driver) to venture in its direction.
My host family and I were heading to Cuidad Quesada, one of the nearest towns, to purchase groceries and to visit the park. But Marco, known for his crazy antics, was anxious to “test out the beast” (his tourist van) so we immediately started buckling our seatbelts. As we turned off of the main road we stopped and gazed at the long stretch of dirt in front of us. A cloudy haze of dust floated above the ground like a fog, leaving nothing but a question mark in our minds as to where this road would lead us.
Marco then revved the engine and we were on our way going about 50 MPH…throwing all of us back into our seats! With the amount of dust rising from the loose dirt I was surprised that Marco was able to see anything! The seats jumped and rattled, swaying from side to side as the tires fought for traction over the loose debris of rocks and gravel. From the open windows I could see steep cliffs cut from the mountain side. Stray cows and parked bulldozers still occupied the edges of the road. This road was definitely not “finished.”
The kids’ faces were glued to the widows…some even with their heads sticking straight out! Their eyes were wide and their mouths were permanently open. As we sped along I could hear each ding, scrape, and whack of the rocks shooting off from the tires into the underbelly of the van. I am definitely not a mechanic, but knew enough that those sounds were not good! Marco started laughing and whooping as if he were riding a bull, while the kids pulled their heads back inside as not to get hit by flying debris.
After winding around narrow bends, steep edges, and a rickety bridge we faced our first situation of oncoming traffic; an angry bull! As the van slowed and the dust cleared we saw two young men trying to pull a large bull with sharp horns to the side of the road. They were poking, prodding, and pulling with a rope to get it to move. We could all sense it’s frustration as it let out a huff and started to narrow its eyes threatening to charge. Luckily after Marco honked his horn, revved the engine, and started to move forward it reluctantly moved to the side and let us pass.
After the next series of bends we came to a fork in the road. The “gravel” pathway lead in two separate directions…and strangely enough, standing on a large rock just before the split was an old man with a walking stick and a long grey beard. His wild hair was blowing aimlessly in the wind. His skin was the color of mahogany, wrinkled by many days in the blaring sun. As Marco started to slow, mentioning something about “asking for directions” the man raised his stick and slowly pointed in the direction to the right. I found it odd that this man was standing on a rock in the middle of a deserted road at just the right moment to point us in the right direction…literally!
We continued on until we came to a steep incline up a hill and all I could see was the potential for a landslide! Marco backed up to gain momentum and hit the gas. I could hear the wheels spinning beneath us. All the while my host mother, Dinia, had been continuously praying, the kids had been silently staring, a fellow volunteer, Claire, who came with us on this trip was looking at me like “yep…we are going to die,” while Marco…hands gripped to the wheel…had a grin on his face as if he were driving a racecar!
My eyes were glued to the road in front of us…from what I could see anyway. My heart was pounding and I had to remind myself to breath. Right as I was beginning to think that this dirt road was where I would meet my ending, Gloria Gaynor’s, “I Will Survive” comes on the radio at full blast and I think this must be a good sign.
“First I was afraid…I was petrified…”
We are all holding our breath until we slowly reach the top of the incline, as if somehow that would make us “lighter” and allow the van move quicker? Once over the top we exhale and can see Marco laughing through the rear view mirror! On the next stretch of road…more tightly packed now…we had to pull over for a Mack truck towing a bulldozer! By means of flashing their headlights and honking their horns they were able to communicate and determine who shall proceed first. Being that the Mack was bigger…I guess he won.
I have noticed how important the usage of the horn and headlights can be while driving here in Costa Rica. In short, one honk means, “Hello, come over for coffee later,” while two honks means, “I am going to pass you so veer right!” They use their horns so often I swearif they had a choice between losing their brakes or their horn…they would choose to keep their horn!
So with the charging bulls and Mack trucks out of the way we were free to continue on. As we turned the next bend we headed over a bridge. Looking down we could see the locals fishing in the river. My only thought at this point was “Thank goodness…signs of life!”
After driving through a small village on the outskirts of town we cheered with joy at seeing the familiar mountain backdrop of Cuidad Quesada in front of us!
As we pulled into the familiar streets of the city Marco was all smiles at having braved the road, Claire and the kids were clapping, Dinia was still praying…and I, well I was still singing with Gloria…
“I’ve got all my life to live…I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive…. I will survive…hey hey”