For environmental reasons, I decided as a teenager not to get my drivers license any time soon. I liked driving too much, well, sitting in the car when someone else was driving. Especially the highways, I liked, and going fast. So I knew, that once having a license, I would sooner rather than later have my own car, and drive even more. There was only one solutions, I told myself, which was that I would only get a licence once there were electric cars. That time has arrived now. Moreover, living in Costa Rica in a remote area without a car is taking a big risk in case of emergencies like snake bites and broken limbs. If it happens to Cristina, I do need to drive her somewhere. On top of that, so far I have conveniently let her drive and enough of that is enough. Cristina agrees.
So, I got my drivers license in Sweden, in November last year, just before we were ready to start moving. The previous sentence was a one line summary of a long story involving two attempts in stressful conditions and of something I have plenty more to say about, but let me just repeat: I got it. In time.
I could even do some hours or perhaps even days of licensed driving to improve my skills on the German highways, Skånes ‘stora landsväg’ ( a scary concept of a 110 km/hour road that alternates between one and two lanes and where we have seen some crazy driving ) and the A50 highway in the Netherlands during rush hour with the sunset straight in my eyes. I even drove solo a couple of times. That is without Cristina beside me, trying not to panic and reminding me of some important details every now and then.
And to all that, I could add ‘not a scratch’, but even though it is true, it would be ungrateful to the universe for letting me survive once or twice with seriously stupid mistakes by making sure there was nobody else on the road. Beginners luck, I guess. Anyway, I was cocky enough to think that I was ready for Costa Rican roads. And so far so good, but I cannot say ‘not a scratch’ any more. In fact, it has been a dramatically steep learning curve. Perhaps it was good that I did not know that in advance. You are not asking, but let me explain.
For starters, the main roads in Costa Rica match the quality of most European roads. Decent asphalt or concrete, no potholes to worry about and perhaps not as perfect as the Swedish, German and Dutch roads, but do I dare say, perhaps a bit better than the Belgian roads?
However, when it comes to the remaining roads, it is a completely different story with the Belgian roads light years ahead. The Costa Rican secondary roads have potholes and cracks, usually within such distance of each other that there is hardly a reason to switch to third gear. Yes, they fix them, but not frequently enough. Next, there are people on the road, dogs, cats and some small wildlife, but also donkeys, chicken and cows that happen to just wander there or that are being herded to a different field. On top, since it never rains just a little bit in Costa Rica, the gutters can easily be a meter wide, at least half a meter deep, and be without any cover, fence, or marking, right next to the asphalt. Twenty centimetres further to the right and you can call the insurance. Oh, and I almost forget the speed bumps which are tiny and sometimes barely visible, but they will unflinchingly break the shock absorbers if one decides to ignore them. It is the Costa Rican way of protecting the school children. I can not really blame them.
When I started driving in San José, I was very concerned about the speed limit, knowing how strict the Swedish are about it and how high their penalties can be. Cristina laughed me straight in my face. After all, the secondary roads are such that one really does not need to know the speed limit: the road will explain what it is and punish bad behavior on the spot.
So, that is about the state of the roads. An additional quality of Costa Rica that my limited driving skills did not prepare me for, is that it is a mostly hilly and mountainous country with very curvy and at times incredibly steep roads. Not just in the outback but also smack in the middle of San José. Now, those hills and curves are not too difficult to handle. Just keep some speed, not too fast and not too slow, shift back in good time for uphill situations, and so on. But inevitably, at some point, one comes to a full stop on a steep uphill slope. The dreaded slope test.
Yes, a slope test was part of my training and I can proudly announce that I got it right in one go. I released the hand break and the car stood still on the slope on just the clutch with no gas. I remember how surprised my instructor was. It was the first and last time, back in 2019, before landing in Costa Rica last January. It must have been beginners luck, or a good feel for an easy car, because here and now in Costa Rica, it is a completely different story. Of course, I still know how to do the slope test, but, firstly, the slopes regularly are noticeably steeper than the one I practised on in Lund. Secondly, the clutch, shift stick and gas pedal of our Suzuki Gran Vitara are rather clunky compared to the Mercedes. And finally, let’s not forget that the quiet of a suburban neighbourhood in Lund with a patient instructor and 10 meters of empty asphalt in both directions is an utterly stress free environment compared to rush hour city traffic in San José with a car glued to me waiting for the green traffic light.
… so far, so good, but it has been a steep learning curve.