26 November 2007

Finding Minor

Much of the purpose of this trip to Costa Rica was designed to get everything squared away so that construction of our little garage/apartment can begin on our property in Atenas.

We just couldn’t stay away from Atenas, so the first spare moment we had we drove over from Alajeula and walked all over our weeds (the only thing on our little lot.)

A meeting had been set up with our Architect/Civil Engineer/Construction Manager, Minor. In really good English, he had told me earlier that we should be at his office in the City of Grecia between 2:30 & 3:00 pm. Easy.

We had a great meal at a soda in Atenas and decided to strike out for Minor’s office in Grecia, a reported 10km away, about 1:30. Sure, we’d get there early but we could kill some time playing tourist around that mountain town.

“I think it’s up this way,” said Pat. Off I drove. And drove. “Maybe we should ask that guy.”

We pulled over and asked somebody at another soda and found out that we’d gone 4km past our turn-off. Back we buzzed and at exactly 3.9km, there was the described yellow flashing light. Drive drive drive.

“I don’t think this feels right,” quothe Pat. We stopped next to an old woman. We asked (in Pat’s perfect Spanish) if this was the way to Grecia and she looked absolutely baffled by such an impertinent question. Then she sucked it up and said, “Yes, this way will get you there.”

Lesson 1: “Get you there,” as a direction, contains no mention of “how long” it will take to get “there.” Don’t ever take a route that is described as “get you there.”

Pretty soon the road turned into something akin to the surface of the desert after the Battle of El Alemain. Progress was dropping from 50kph to 40, to 30, to …
“A bus!” I shouted with joy. And it was stopping to let people off out here in the wilderness.

We pulled up next to the stopped bus and asked him how to get to Grecia.
“Well, this will get you there but there are a lot of curves,” he said, tracing a great number of spiraling circles in the air. “But the main road is just back there with the sign to Palmeras.” We turned around. The clock is running, in case you haven’t guessed.

{Aside: Really regular-intelligence people usually remember to bring road maps with them when traveling around unknown roads in a strange country. It takes real brains to bring THREE maps in our luggage and leave them all back in the room.}

The “correct” turn-off was one of those roads that we had seen and wondered if we were supposed to go this way or that. Dropping down down down and then climbing virtually straight up (ox carts used to do this?!?) proved that some real engineering had gone into our Daihatsu engine. It never blew up once, even though any sane person would never put any engine through that kind of test. Up and down. Up and down. Potholes as big as a 500 lb bomb crater. “This road will get you there.” Tick tock. The clock is running. Maybe we should try to call Minor to tell him we’d be there at sundown.

Zoom zoom.

“This doesn’t seem right,” she said, again. Oh god.

“There’s a truck!” It was a farmer unloading grain or manure or whatever it is that you need a bunch of in the middle of nowhere and comes in huge burlap sacks in Costa Rica. We pulled up and Pat did her usual heroics with the Spanish language. Our farmer guy knew that we should go exactly 2km back and turn left. Unbelievable.
We went back and right where predicted – there was a road that we’d missed seeing the first pass by. We went up and down; up and down; up and down. The little engine really had a tough time cresting a couple of the hill tops. Through one little village after another.

Finally … Grecia. Our destination.

Earlier in the day, Minor had given me really clear directions on how to find his office: “We’re 1 block south of the Bank of Costa Rica which is on the northwest corner of the city park in front of the big church. Easy. (Not the real directions but close enough to convey the simplicity I was planning on.)

There’s the bank – the sun is over there so that’s west – let’s drive over there, uh, no – then it must be up there – uh, no – call Minor.

Minor and Pat talked on the phone and I made turns. Pat called out landmarks and pretty soon we’d seen every square inch of Grecia. We turned a final corner, headed back for the town square and Pat said, in English, “Oh, I see it!” Huh? Where?
We parked and walked to a corner where a hair salon and travel agency resided. I still don’t know what the heck she saw, but there was Minor to greet us. I looked up the street and there was the Bank. South? This is south? The sun is setting in the north today? Arrrrghh!

Lesson 2: Carry a compass. You never know when the Earth’s axis is going to flop over or the magnetic north pole is going to become the magnetic south pole so you’ll want to be the first to see evidence of this stupendous event.

We’d traveled probably a total of 50km to get here. On the way out of town, we spotted a sign, “Atenas – 10km”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. How’d we take half the afternoon to make the trip?” I wimpered.

We took the turn, hopped up and down a few little hills, bounced over a river, past the site of the horrible land slide that took 14 lives last month (an awful & awesome sight, still today), up one last incredible grade and we were … 1 block from the corner of our little street in Atenas. Sheesh.

Lesson 3: Since there are no street names and VERY few road signs once you get off the Autopista (Pan American Highway) take somebody with you that knows the way, the first time you go somewhere, “just down the road.”

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