Interesting account from Emily about their trip down to CR driving.
Hello from Costa Rica!
It was an interesting, beautiful, challenging trip to drive from the San Francisco Bay to Bahia Salinas in Costa Rica. We spent about 15 days on the road. Except for a few nights in South Padre Island, Texas, a couple nights on the black sand beaches south of Guatemala City, and a few nights in El Salvador with friends; we found a new hotel by sunset every night and left soon after sunrise every morning.
By far, the Mexican borders were the slowest, most difficult, and most expensive for us; we had too much ìstuffî to qualify as tourists, and fell into a ìtransmigranteî category with all the professional truckers. The customs paperwork is grueling and expensive (you MUST use a broker) and they mandate the route through Mexico, with major fines if you are caught deviating in any significant way, and they put these seals on the trailer, so even if we wanted to stop and play, we didnít have access to our toys. If we ever do this again weíll find another way. But we still saw a lot of beautiful scenery and a couple places that maybe weíll try to visit again someday.
I had never realized that one of the largest (perhaps small-scale, i.e., private) exports from the US is wrecked cars & trucks. Of these ìtransmigrantesî: us, professional truckers, and anyone else bringing stuff THROUGH Mexico to the rest of Central America. Weíre estimating that 95% of them are ìsmall-timersî that go to the US, buy wrecked cars for super cheap, and drag them back home to fix them and sell them at a huge profit. Theyíd buy a school-bus, chop the end off, take out all the seats, stack them to one side, put two SUVs inside and tow another behind. And of course the school bus is valuable too, build a new back-end, paint it in 85 colors and itís a city bus! Or buy one little Toyota pickup truck that still runs & one that doesnít and drag it back to Guatemala fix it & sell it for probably $6000 US dollars. Cars are so expensive here. Who knew? Iím telling you, there were hundreds and hundreds of these guys.
Driving through the southwest corner of Mexico, in the state of Chiapas, and on the Guatemala side of the boarder, we observed the devastating effects of Hurricane Stan (late September). We crossed over or detoured around NINE bridges that had been washed out and were being rebuilt; and saw the unexpected paths that the rivers had taken, in a couple instances, completely washing away or burying entire villages; as a river that had resided for years within banks that spanned no more than a couple hundred meters suddenly swelled to nearly 2 km wide, bearing giant trees and enormous boulders and tons and tons of earth. Utterly terrifying and heart-wrenching.
Guatemala was lovely; and from the maps and guidebooks there is so much of the country that I would love to know better; but it did not have a comfortable feeling. Even the locals seemed to be a little nervous around each other, and everyone we met warned us to ìbe carefulî and ìdonít be out at night.î Not a cool vibe. But we had a nice couple days surfing with the local kids at these cool black-sand beaches, anyway.
El Salvador doesnít have a great reputation. Seems that it is often avoided by tourists. But we had a great time! Of course, we were in the very fortunate position to have friends in San Salvador who helped make our visit especially pleasant. Somebody met us at the border and guided us all the way to the apartment that another had arranged for us to stay in. Thank God! Because we would have gotten hopelessly lost in that city, and probably gotten in several collisions. Salvadorians are by far the most aggressive, most maniacal group of drivers Iíve ever experienced. Itís like the entire country is populated by NYC cabbies. Only no turn signals, no brake lights, only occasionally headlights, not to mention the pedestrians, bikes, dogs, horses, potholes, and broken down cars or trucks EVERYWHERE. And the bus drivers. Oh my god. My hands are shaking just thinking about it.
We went surfing the first day, awesome! Then the next morning, Jeff got to go windsurfing in a volcano! Very cool. And we tried kiting at another beach, but the wind was too light. Everyone we met was extremely friendly and weíre looking forward to going back again. We learned some very interesting stuff, too, while we were there. Did you know that they only use the US dollar as their currency? Yup. ATMs payout in greenbacks. Did you know that their government feels so obligated to the US that they have nearly 2000 troops in Iraq? (tragic; and the population demographic that we were exposed to wasnít real happy about it, either. I apologized, for what itís worth.) Another very interesting statistic that we were quoted by several sources on different occasions (and quite proudly) is that they have about 6 million Salvadorians in El Salvador and almost 2 million more that live in the US. Whoa! Thatís like 20% of their population! Theyíre like the USís little brother & I had no idea!! Shameful.
Honduras doesnít exactly feel the same way about the US and we got hassled a little bit. But not too much, and I thought the mountains that we drove through to cross into Nicaragua were the most beautiful Iíve ever seen. Nicaragua felt pretty sane, but I was feeling a little bit sick of Central America to be real observant; we spent one night north of Managua, then drove straight through to Costa Rica.
So now weíre beginning to settle in, reacquaint ourselves with friends from last year, the pace, the place, the spirit. More on that next time!
Hope I didnít bore you! Stay in touch and Iíll try to do the same.
Love and Pura Vida!