Roads Driving

The worst in the world

Well, probably not the worst, but the roads in Costa Rica are not up to American standards. Costa Rica has no military need to keep roads free of potholes. The people living in town and in the countryside do not own vehicles, so they have no appreciation of the advantages of smooth pavement. In many instances the local population is not in a particularly big hurry to walk their horses to town. So the roads are atrocious.

This is a major Costa Rican thoroughfare. There are no line markers or reflectors to mark the edge of the road, and the road is so narrow and curvy that the many semis that drive on this stretch must use the entire width of the surface.

This is a major Costa Rican thoroughfare. There are no line markers or reflectors to mark the edge of the road, and the road is so narrow and curvy that the many semis that drive on this stretch must use the entire width of the surface.

By far the most dangerous activity of Serendipity is driving on the main roads of the country, especially after dark, with no white outer edge lines, no center yellow lines, no reflecting cat eyes on curves, no guard rails, a LARGE selection of deep potholes, lots of trucks going 10 miles an hour with no taillights, and pedestrians who believe that, if they can see your headlights, certainly you can see them in the middle of the road, and, the crowning glory, dense, tropical fog. Did we also mention, no direction signs or route numbers? Serendipity guides do almost anything to avoid driving at night, but sometimes it is unavoidable.

To point out something that straight numbers, especially really big numbers, only hide: In 1999 Citibank, the credit card company, paid computer programmers more to fix the Year 2000 computer bug than the whole country of Costa Rica used to operate its national government, including its heath care, education, retirement, and road building and maintenance.

Costa Rican road maps were written for the gullible. Many of the “roads” shown are really political boundaries. Some roads shown as paved were once paved with 4 inches of hand-pressed asphalt, then destroyed by heavy trucks, mud slides, volcanoes, earthquakes, hard rain, bombas de agua and other natural disasters. The distance from Arenal Volcano to Monteverde, for example, is shown as about 35 miles. The route on the map is clear, but once on the dirt roads up to Monteverde you’ll find it’s like driving through an English maze — no markings, nothing at forks in the road to point you to the cloud forest, no clear major road, and only a GPS could save you. The drive, for the in-the-know, takes about 3 hours and is ill-advised without 4 wheel drive. So think of the getting there as half (or more) of the adventure, and remember — relax, you’re in paradise, and the adventure of the journey is exactly that.

Yet you may want to look at a map of Costa Rica, just to get an idea of where things are. Don’t be fooled by distances; things may appear close, but the time to get from one place to another may be horrendous.