Monday, February 25, 2008

When Central America doesn’t mean Iowa

After we sold our house at the end of last year, my wife Kara and I decided that, since we’d spent the past six months living on Ramen noodles and cereal that came in two-pound plastic bags with names like “Frosted Little Wheats” and “Sergeant Crunch,” we should treat ourselves to an adventure that didn’t involve closing costs and near-constant rejection.

“What about Ireland?” I suggested. The people there always seemed so clean and cheerful, at least in the Irish Spring commercials.

“We’d have to wait until May for the weather to turn around. We’ll be too old by then. What about a cruise?” she said.

“Cruises don’t really scream ‘adventure’ to me, unless you get on one that shows up on the news,” I said. “And then it might be too much adventure.”

We continued this process of narrowing down, tossing out ideas for countries that were warm, traveler-friendly and not currently putting on a revolution. And so it was that we found ourselves at a car rental desk at the Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica last week, at least 500 miles from anywhere either of us had ever been, following a trail blazed by the three bazillion American tourists who had come before us.

The man behind the desk pointed into the heavily trafficked street outside the window. “After the first stop sign, you have to stop twice more, but those are not marked.”

“So how I do know when to stop?” I asked.

“Common sense,” he said.

I turned to Kara. “Dude, if we’re going to need common sense to get around here, you’d better stay awake.”

The man behind the desk continued, “If you have to turn off the main road, which you probably will because of the construction, count the blocks so you can get back to it later.”

After waiting a moment for the “just kidding” that never came, I asked, “What’s the main road called?”

“It doesn’t really have a name,” he replied.

This was our first indication that navigation in Costa Rica would provide much of the adventure we had been seeking. Roads may very well have names there, but if so, they are a national secret guarded so closely that even Nicolas Cage and his toupee wouldn’t be able to piece them together. We soon discovered that getting to any destination correctly was a culmination of at least a dozen correct guesses, with each guess preceded by brief, heated rounds of debate and wild, usually opposing gesticulation.

As we blended into the stream of traffic for the first time, we were immediately struck by the chaotic but seamless coexistence of pedestrians, bicyclists, mopeds, delivery trucks, cars and dogs as they slowly made their way down the street. It was like we’d accidentally joined a parade.

After we cleared the city, the roads became so steep and curvy that you had to be careful not to rear-end yourself. Slowly climbing the switchbacks as dusk began to settle with the view of city lights opening up below, we watched in amazement as a moped came careening towards us in the opposite lane, doing at le
ast 50 with the rider using only one hand for steering. He passed by us very quickly, so I can’t be entirely sure that my eyes weren’t playing tricks, but I swear he was doing something I’d never seen before on a moped.

“Did you see what that guy was doing?” I asked Kara.

“No, what?” she said.

“I swear to you, that guy was texting,” I said.

I can’t imagine what could be so important that you’d have to text somebody on your cell phone as you sped down a gravelly mountain road on a motorbike at twilight. Perhaps something like: “Goodbye cruel world. C u l8r.”

You can scream adventure to Mike Todd at


  1. Next time you try to convince Kara to come to Ireland, tell her that her name means "friend" in Irish Gaelic (it really does!!!) so even if the weather's rotten the locals would make up for it by giving her a warm welcome.

    By warm welcome I don't mean free Guinness, by the way.

  2. Now would you rather be sitting in an Irish pub, drinking awesome ale and watching someone texting or on a mountainside, with your lovely wife, while some pshyco text messages on a moped? omg - I'm roaring with laughter! 5 stars!!!!

  3. gosh I'm glad you all navigated okay. I would probably still be over there lost somewhere's.

  4. JL -- We'll make it to Ireland someday. If it's not exactly like Waking Ned Devine over there, I'm going to be really disappointed. Minus the naked old men, I mean.

    Sheri -- You rock.

    Burf -- Thanks! There must be entire tribes over there with their origins in lost tourists.

  5. Did they have good ganj?? -Knockingthebottomout party goer.

  6. Funny. I think his last text could have been: "WTFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF".

    Like your rater thingy with your rating hovering around 4+ out of 5.

    I remember the old commercials and thought of something I had read in the past (from Cecil Adams):
    Dear Cecil:

    For years those sugarless gum commercials have said, "Sugarless gum is recommended by four out of five dentists for their patients who chew gum." What does the fifth dentist recommend? Gum with sugar?
    That always made me laugh. Ha.

    Link here for his answer:

  7. Are those actual pictures from your trip? If so, those coatimundi seem to be having a pride parade.

  8. I gave you a five-star rating for the line about the roads being so curvy "you had to be careful not to rear-end yourself" alone! That's comedic gold.

    Sounds like a um, adventurous, ah, adventure you went on there. Although you never mentioned if you actually got anywhere. Is is possible you're still driving around Costa Rica trying to get back on the main road?

  9. Buster -- Your text message suggestion was way better than mine. I did follow that link, too. That dude's funny. Thanks man.

    717 -- Those sure are pics we took, and yes, you may be right about the pride parade thing, though they seem to be lacking fabulous costumes.

    Funnygal -- Thanks, dude. That line was secretly the only reason I wrote the column about whatever the hell that column was about. And I ran out of space just as I was getting rolling. Oh well. The world can only take 630 words of me per week.