Monday, June 06, 2005

Honeymoon: Getting to Malpais

[Previously on Elm Street: we discover the distinct lack of charms of Tabacon.]

After a damp night’s sleep, we lit out at 7am for the long [~6 hour] drive to Puntarenas, where we were supposed to take a ferry. The first part of this drive involved going around the north end of Lake Arenal, on some really, really bad roads [and I’m used to bad roads from Ghana, so that’s saying something] that were pretty much devoid of vehicles. Part of the scenery was nice, though:




In my usual uptight way, I started worrying about what would happen if we ran out of gas, or broke down, while we were in the middle of nowhere – given the amount of traffic on the road, we would have had to wait hours for somebody else to come by. I was somewhat distracted from my fretting, though, by some unexpected roadsigns, like the one for a “German bakery”; given the putative bakery’s location and hence the amount of business they would get, I figured they could probably get by with baking one loaf of bread a year. We also came across a fer-de-lance, a snake whose ideal position is about a million miles away from you. This one was made somewhat less threatening by the fact that it was dead [flattened by a car, from the looks of it], which, to me, is the ideal state of being for poisonous snakes that are within a few feet of me and not in a cage. Not that I have a phobia of snakes -- I've played with pythons owned by my friends and even wanted to buy a snake of my own at one point, but that particular pet portfolio expansion project ran into the parental "Not while you live under our roof" veto. I'm just not a big fan of venomous snakes, which is why I didn’t want to come particularly close to the fer-de-lance even in its flattened state, and so initially just drove past it. About a mile down the road, when it was obvious that I wasn’t planning to stop, Christina asked “Why aren’t you stopping and turning around ?”, in a tone that implied “... you Nimrod”. Exhibiting my flawless grasp of logic, I explained that a) it was a venomous snake b) it was dead c) we’d already passed it and, to reiterate, d) it was a dead, venomous snake and hence I saw no reason to turn around. This chain of reasoning had the predictable effect: none at all. Christina was jumping up and down with excitement and eager to prod it with a stick and go take a closer look at it. After I’d failed to talk her out it, and had turned around and driven back, I decided to be a chivalrous male and let her get close to it first – “ladies first” and all that. After she’d poked it a bit and pronounced it thoroughly dead, I finally sidled over, looked at it for about 5 seconds and pronounced myself satisfied. Here, look for yourself:


Once we made it out of the hinterlands around Lake Arenal and were back on a real road, the rest of the drive went smoothly. We got to the ferry dock a couple of hours before the ferry was supposed to leave, so we had some time to kill. As we were sitting in the car, an elderly man who spoke English with a Carribean accent came up to us and started to warn us about the “snakes” who were apparently hanging around licking their lips [yes, these snakes had lips] just waiting to make an illicit profit off unsuspecting tourists like us. He, on the other hand was, of course, on the side of Justice and Good and, for a small fee, would be happy to watch our car for us. We just nodded politely, agreed with him that it was terrible to be surrounded by such evil, locked our car and wandered off to find something cold to drink and a shady place to sit. This was only partially successful -- we ended up sitting around in a rather hot bar, wishing we were somewhere cooler:

When the ferry arrived, we got to experience the rather innovative ticket-buying system that was in place. There was no way to buy tickets in advance, you had to wait until the ferry had actually docked, at which point you had to run to stand in line at the ticket office, while, at the same time, the line of cars started driving onto the ferry, past somebody who was checking tickets. What this meant was that you a) needed somebody else to drive your car and b) the person driving the car had to point you out in the ticket-buying line to the person checking tickets, in order to be allowed to drive on board. Maybe this was a system designed to weed out the people who were just unfit to be on the ferry, to make sure only the Chosen People got onto the Ark going to the Promised Land. After that bit of excitement was successfully navigated, we were pretty happy to just sit on the ferry and have somebody else deal with getting us to where we needed to be.

The distance from Paquera, where we got off the ferry, to Malpais, our final destination, was about 40 miles, of which the first 20 miles were on decent roads, and the last 20 miles were once again rally-worthy, so by the time we finally arrived at our hotel, we were very ready to be done with travelling for a day. We stayed at “The Place”, a name which I think was either chosen out of hubris [“It’s -the- place to be”] or laziness [“We’re too lazy to come up with yet another name that’s some combination of the words seaside, beach, sun, surf etc, so let’s just call it ... The Place”]. Even though we’d arrived several days before our actual reservation, we didn’t have any trouble getting a bungalow, since, it being the rainy season, there were very few tourists around. The bungalow we got was pretty nice, especially compared with the Tabacon resort horror show we were just coming from, so we settled down to sleep thinking we were about to start having fun on our honeymoon.

Somewhere, somebody was laughing.

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