We had laughingly rejected the GPS system when the rental company offered it to us as we picked up our fun 4x4. “Who needs one of those?” said my confident other half, John. “We’re on a Costa Rican adventure!”
So now as we paused at a dusty crossroads, he shook the map again as if the problem lay in its creases and not in our utter failure to work out where we were. I tried not to look impatient as I tapped the steering wheel with a finger and waiting for him to send me on the right path. He craned his head out of the window in hope of a signpost, but as we had learned, they are not as common as one would think and are often hidden in bushes or so battered that the only real way to read them is to stop the car, get out, wipe it off and decipher the faded Spanish lettering.
Needless to say, there was no sign this time, nor a clue on the map. To make things worse, this dusty crossroad looked very similar to a numerous other dusty crossroads we had already passed: bumpy tracks through hilly farmland dotted with bent trees and cows that gazed at us with big brown eyes.
The sense of adventure was wearing thin. The first three hours had been fun with the car stereo blasting out long-forgotten ‘80s hits from a radio station as we cruised down the highway with the sun shining and the vacation stretched out in front of us. I could almost feel the sand between my toes. Right now though, it was grit that I could feel.
Winding down the windows to search for clues of our whereabouts had allowed the cool of the air conditioning to be replaced with hot, arid air — which only added to my irritation. Along the road in front of us strolled a man with a machete wearing rubber boots. I nudged my boyfriend who was still tracing his sweaty finger down vague lines on the map and muttering to himself. “Ask him!” I suggested.
What is it about men and asking for directions? If I am lost or unsure of my way, I’ll ask. But my boyfriend seems to feel that the need to ask for directions as a direct blow to his masculinity — as if finding the correct route is an inherent male instinct.
Motivated by the thought of a beach bar cocktail, I ignored John’s protests that he knew where we needed to go, I leaped from the car and gave my biggest smile to the passer-by. “Playa?” I asked in my best Spanish. The old man smiled back and with many hand gestures, gave me a five minute explanation of how to get to the beach. I understood nothing, expect that he had pointed to the right, so off we set.
We bumped along more hopefully, up and down a few potholes and paused as cows crossed the road (to get to the other side, of course). That is, until we reached the river. Baffled, we looked at each other and back towards the road, which clearly continued up the hill from the river bank on the other side.
The last intersection was at least a forty minute drive back along the baked, bumpy road, but I remembered the nice rental guy telling us that driving through a river was one of the many ways in which we could void our insurance. We pondered our grim options miserably.
But then, from behind came a bicycle with the man riding it pouring with copious sweat as he transported an umbrella-bearing woman on the crossbar. They spun past us and through the river at a point further upstream from us, barely wetting the bike tires. John leaped from the car and ran to where the bicycle had crossed—sure enough there was a shallow ford in the river. He whooped loudly enough for the cyclist to wobble as he attempted to turn to see what the mad gringo was screaming about while maintaining his balance. We were on our way!
Over the crest of the next hill, the view greeted us; glittering sunlight on a wide stretch of clear ocean. We shook the dust from our hair and grinned. This looked like just the adventure we’d been searching for – and I got my cool, refreshing drink after all!