So, yesterday we finally left the Osa Peninsula. We had been in that remote part of the country for four and a half months.
We thought that we were in a remote place….
The funny bit is that when you are there, it does not feel sooooo far away from the rest of the country. It is when you leave, that you realize that you have been in a kind of a bubble, with few cars and trucks, very little traffic noise, few constructions and definitively no luxuries or fancy stuff. But, at least in the area where we were, around Puerto Jimenez, there was a minimum of infrastructure: a large supermarket, a small medical center, a veterinary and even a dentist, two pizzerias, a couple of veggie shops and even two pharmacies. So, we thought, it was not THAT remote as people told us it would be.
And then, we went to Drake…
And we understood what being in a remote area in the tropics really means. REALLY. To start with, there is only one road to Drake. It is about 50 kilometers from Puerto Jimenez, but it takes 2,5 hours from town to “town”. The road is a dirt road or a clay road, I should say since the earth is red. It crosses five rivers and at least three mountains/hills and only one of them (probably the worse) is asphalted (one side of the hill). Probably it was a cheaper solution than having to rescue cars all the time. And it is full of potholes and poodles. DEEP poodles.
Needless to say that a 4×4 vehicle is absolutely needed. Particularly if it has been raining a lot. And guess what? We left Drake after a tropical storm had just hit Costa Rica. So, the trip out of Drake felt a bit like a tropical version of The Martian. For those that have not seen this film of my favorite actor, Matt Damon is stranded in Mars, and he faces all kinds of troubles, from no food to storms to a rescue in the space. At the end of the film, a student asks him how he did it, and he responds that he “just tackled one problem at a time”. So, this is EXACTLY how it felt for me to leave Drake.
Why getting out of Drake felt like Matt Damon in “The Martian”
Problem one: getting in and out of the hotel
Our hotel was up on a hill, with super nice views. When we arrived, the road up the hill to the hotel parking spot (the one and only) was in really bad condition. The rain had created big trenches on the sides of the road. There was just enough space enough for a car to navigate…with a little bit of luck. We decided to give it a try nonetheless.
Big mistake! We ended with the right side of the car in one of the trenches. The car, obviously, did not go forward but I manage to get it out of the trench backwards. I should have realized, at that moment in time, that it was better to leave the car on the main road and pull our luggage uphill. But I like challenges and Frank also thought that it was doable. So we tried again, this time with a different strategy to pass the trench. And we made it up to the hotel. So far so good. At that point in time, I thought that the most difficult part was getting up the hill. That going down was going to be easy. My, was I WRONG!
Two days before leaving Drake it started raining hard. Like really, really hard. The owners of the hotel had filled the trench with earth, but it was washed away with the rain. Plus a big truck from the electricity company got stuck on the trenches and made them larger. So, the challenge became bigger…
I told a neighbor that I was planning to drive the car downhill before it got worse.
– Which road? he asked. I responded that the one of the hotel
– Ah! he said. And then he was in silence for some seconds and added “God help you and good luck” (Vaya con Dios y Mucha Suerte).
And then, seeing my anguished face, he added, “if I were you, I would wait until tomorrow morning….now the road is pure soap”.
So, the next morning, I woke up very early. It had not rained the entire night and the day was sunny but I could see dark clouds forming on the horizon. Rain WAS coming again. So, I calculated that I had a window of opportunity of about half an hour to try to drive downhill. So, while Frank was still sleeping, I went to the car. “Good luck!”- Shouted the neighbor! “Going down should help!”. So, I put the 4×4, and veeeery slowly started my descend. The car went sideways a couple of times due to the mud, but I was able to straighten it in time and made it to the end of the hill in one piece. Shaking like a leave in the wind but in one piece. And not a minute too early. When I was walking uphill to the hotel it started raining. That same afternoon, a car got stuck in the mud and had to be towed away. And I couldn’t stop saying ” I am SO happy we drove the car downhill when we could still do it”.
Lesson learnt of problem 1: If you see that NONE of the houses in a hill have their cars parked in front of the house…abort the plan to go up.
Problem two: Bringing the luggage downhill to the car
You might think that our problems were all solved once that the car was parked in a safe place. Ha!
The next challenge was to bring down the luggage to the car, without breaking any bone in the process. We had two options:
Option 1: To walk down the road with the luggage. The hotel owner strongly disadvised that option since “it was very slippery”…or
Option 2: To take the cemented ramps and staircases that the hotel had built towards the main road. This is the one that we took.
…only that the cemented staircase was ALSO slippery after the rain. I experienced that on the first trip down with Matilda and the yoga mats. One second I was almost reaching the car, and the next one Matilda, me and the two yoga mats found ourselves sitting on the staircases instead of walking on them. Fortunately, still in one piece. Both of us.
The second trip I did as the locals do and put the rubber boots instead of the fancy trekking boots of trip 1. It went like a shine. The boots seemed to glue to the cement as if they had velcro. So, after 6 trips up and down the hill (4 by Frank and 2 by me) we were ready to face the next challenge. Mission accomplished. We just needed to drive out of Drake.
Lesson learned of problem 2: If you see ALL the locals wearing rubber boots at all times, including for trekking in the mountains, there might be a reason for it…