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Driving to Monteverde: Scary but not scary

I think my nervous smile might be a giveaway here. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. This is the story of probably the scariest but also an exciting two hours on the road in a foreign land. It was a gorgeous December day for just about any activity you can think of; and my plans for the day were ambitious: Liberia → Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve → Arenal Volcano National Park → San Jose. I had a total of about 400 km to cover in just over 12 hours, including stops. For those of you who’ve heard of the drive to Monteverde, you can guess that all those plans were about to change. I had heard of it too but when it comes to travel, my mantra usually is..

“Don’t listen to what they say. Go see.”

..unless of course, it’s a matter of life and death. From Liberia, I set off on the Pan-American Highway (Route 1) for my first stop, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve. Route 1 is a nicely paved highway and with almost no traffic on Christmas Eve, I was about two and a half hours away (120 km) from my destination – it all looked easy until, it wasn’t. After about an hour (75 km) on the Pan-American Highway, I got onto Route 145. I’d say the easy changed to medium there, but mostly because it wasn’t the highway anymore. With a narrower road and a little more traffic, the drive was still enjoyable, up to the Juntas village. As I was passing by the village, the festive atmosphere in and around the area made me want to stop for a quick break. It had been only an hour since I started, and with a long day of driving ahead, I decided to keep going.

As I kept driving, the road started slowly changing forms – from paved to stone until it was finally just gravel. Was this what ‘they’ had been talking about? “Nah! it’s probably just a small patch. It’ll be over soon.” is what I told myself and kept going. If the pedestrian whom I had just passed had read my thoughts, he probably would have given me a wry smile. With about 30 km to go, I was still feeling enthusiastic and hopeful. That positive attitude and some fantastic views helped me cover the next 10 km. But as I kept going, the road was firstly, still gravel and secondly, only getting worse with the elevation of the mountainous area; and that is when medium changed to hard on the driving difficulty scale. The fact that I was driving a front-wheel drive didn’t give me a lot of confidence either.

With the uncertainty of the terrain ahead, my brain started playing tricks on me. Suddenly, I felt that the driver side was riding lower than the rest; the steering wheel didn’t feel right either. At that point, the enthusiasm and hope were long gone and the only thing I could think pray was, “Oh! God, not a flat tire, please!!!” I hadn’t made any stops since I had left Liberia but this time, the anxiety got the better of me and I found a safe enough spot to stop and have a look. I got out fearing the worst but much to my… delight, I saw no flat tires. I did one more lap around the car to be sure and with a sense of relief and a smile on my face, got back in. To this day, I don’t know what happened or what would’ve happened had it been a flat tire or worse, tires – there may have been a spare tire in the trunk but I’m pretty sure it didn’t have any siblings.

I don’t know what I’d have done but I did know that I had to get to Monteverde. As I started driving again, something changed. I didn’t even realize it until a little later – my self-talk had changed from “I don’t know for how long this gravel road would last” to “Even if I have to walk from here because of a flat tire, I would.” I broke it down into decrements of five – each kilometer covered in the car meant that I’d have to walk a kilometer less. “I would’ve to walk only 15 km now… only 10 km now…”, as you can tell, I was enjoying the countdown. With about 10 km to go, I got onto Route 606 but the road conditions didn’t change much. However, knowingly or unknowingly, I had made this last stretch of my journey a lot of fun.

I don’t think superlatives here would do justice to the relief I felt when I got to the parking lot. It had only been two hours since I had left the Pan-American Highway but I can tell you it definitely felt much longer. So eager was I to get out of the car that I could’ve been awarded ‘the worst parking’ trophy that day. It wasn’t to be – the parking attendant made me park again. As I was waiting for the shuttle bus to take me to the main entrance (another 5-10 minutes of driving), I looked downhill at the road I had just conquered and thought, “Maybe, it wasn’t as bad as I had made it out to be in my head. It was just the uncertainty of not knowing what lay ahead.”

Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.

Bob Goff

As I end this story, those words from Bob Goff ring true. So then was I ready for yet another crazy ride (Route 145 and Route 606 combo) to see the Arenal Volcano? I think I was but my car certainly wasn’t. I’m happy to have a reason to go back.

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