Driving the West Coast of the Niquoya Peninsula
I AM A JUNGLE RALLY DRIVER!!! Today was insane. Or was it I who was crazy?
While sitting in a coffee shop in Tamarindo, having a lovely cup of Costa Rician brew I overheard 4 English lads excitedly talking about the drive they had recently returned from. I decided to invite myself into their conversation, as this is what a traveler must do in order to get the uncharted information. After chatting with the lads who had driven the road two days earlier, I discovered south of Samara was defiantly worth the extra time and was “A drivable road” or so they said. I brought this information back to our table the decision was made to take the coastal road. We planned our departure for the next morning.
After a hardy breakfast we set off south. The first quarter of the drive was inland. Quiet and quaint little villages specked the roadside. Children waved and parents nodded and smiled as we weaved our way down to Samara. As we came over the last hill before the city the clear sky hit the vast ocean, a scenic memory I will not soon forget, the decision was made to stop for a swim and a snack. The beach was perfect. Clean white sand covered the massive bay that was gently licked by the calm waters of the Pacific Ocean. Bernice and I collected shells as Brent relaxed in the sun. Revitalized and relaxed we hopped back in our 4×4 and hit the happy trail. Little did we know the relaxed feeling was about to slip through our fingers.
Not even 1 hour into the drive we were stopped, by a river, which flowed across the road that was to take us to our destination. Bernice responded “I guess we have to turn around” but I was not so quickly deterred. There were a few local lads fishing by the river so I asked. “Es Malpais directo?” and pointed across the river to where the road on the other side was. They replied with a nod and assuring me it was not dangerous. They also seemed to be trying not to laugh. When I returned to the car Bernice sighed, “I guess we are turning around” Bernice ,who was my best friend in high school, was always the first one to volunteer for some crazy peril ridden task back in the day. Now, however, she is the mother of two lovely girls and this comment came from the instincts of one who was a protector of human life. I on the other hand am a giver of life in a completely alternative way. So, I chuckled and put the petal to the medal yelling, “Hang on sister!” diving the car into the raging river. Well this one was more of a stream but it was enough to give a loud squeal of delight from me, and a shaky shocked expression from my companions. After this I was pumped and we blazed thought 3 smaller rivers to my vocally expressed delight. Slowly even Bernice was warming up to the idea of river riding. This was better than any theme park ride I have ever encountered. Likely it was because I was at the wheel with all the control. We enjoyed thrill after thrill until we rounded a bend bringing us face to face with a true test of our rally driving abilities. My eyes widened and my heart skipped a beat before racing in my chest. Bernice became very quiet. The two rivers in front of us paid no heed to us at all. Joining with the ocean was it’s goal and we were insignificant. The first was shallow and wide about 2 feet deep and 25 feet wide. We had already crossed many rivers in this league. Its brother was the real concern. The second was the opposite being about 4 feet deep and 10 feet wide. A sand bar separated the two rivers, which was a little bit thinner than our truck. Now an intelligent driver would exit the vehicle, test how deep the water really was and debate the next course of action. I however being a “strong woman”, was thinking, “We are half way there. I really don’t want to turn around. If we test it I think that will be the groups decision.” Some times strong, turns into the other two S words. Stubborn and Stupid. I was a little bit nervous knowing that if the truck stalled we would be stranded in the jungle for at least an hour to let the engine dry but I was the tour guide so without showing my friends the fear in my mind I crossed my fingers and toes and dove into the water with the front of the car. The first crossing was no problem. We slid through without even a moment of stress. But the second had us all holding the air in our lungs as if we might choke on the water if we didn’t. With only a moment of hesitation I plunged forward, the front of the car diving underwater for what seemed to be minutes but was only seconds. My heart was racing like I had just jumped off a cliff into the ocean. As we pierced the water it parted like the red sea, but being we without the help of gods it soon returned crashing on the hood and window of our jeep. My foot press hard on the gas pedal and my knuckles were turning white clenched the wheel. As we emerged from the water, the engine was still growling and steam was rising in front of us. So with victory howls and sighs of relief the rest of the drive was high energy. Brent decided that he was my new rally driving coach. From then on I had a cheering section. Bernice was very quiet. I think she was a bit worried she might not see her children again. Well there were a few rivers after the “Rios Grandes” but they all seemed like puddles to us. I was “The Jungle Road Warrior” now. The last stretch to Malpais found us cruising right down the beach. This leg of the road is not always there. If we had arrived in high tide we would have been stuck for 5 hours waiting for the road to appear. Though we didn’t time it at all we got lucky and managed to arrive at low tide. We should have arrived in Malpais without delay but somehow we managed to take a wrong turn. There was a road going off the beach and we naturally thought this must be the way to the town. As it ascended up the hill the road narrowed and potholes began to appear. Slowly it became treacherous. I am sure the locals believed it was a road but it looked allot like what I would picture a piece of land that was destroyed in an earthquake to look like. It was almost like if I made a wrong move we would fall into the center of the earth. We felt a bit lost here but as luck would have it we ran into a man on a motorbike (this guy was crazy). He offered to let us follow him to the Malpias turn off. He was going that way anyway. We followed him all the while wondering if we should turn around. Then the inevitable happened. The man fell into one of the crevasse to the earth’s core. He didn’t vanish all together and amazingly he was not injured. However, his bike stopped working. So our only option was to continue on alone. (There was no longer space enough to turn around) He refused to leave his bike and come with us but directed us to the road we needed to drive and he remained to fix his wheels. Doubt filled our thoughts as we half-heartedly joked about how we could be driving to our deaths. We slowly found solid ground to drive on and the man’s directions were sound. We arrived at the Surf Camp, a low budget hotel in Malpais, unscathed and the group consensus was to get completely drunk like the real rally car drivers do after a long race so “Pilsins all around” was the cry. We partied with the surfer dudes (that is a story in it’s self) and one of them had caught a huge tuna that day so we all feasted on his kindness. We played pool and did some land surfing, which took the form of a wheel and a piece of wood. That night the beer tasted better, the conversations seemed deeper, the moon and the stars seemed brighter. The world had a sliver lining. I guess it was always there it just some days we can see it.