Thursday, October 8, 2015

To the Pacific coast

We left Manzanillo and headed back to San Jose for the night. Rather than trying to cross the entire country in one day, we reserved a hotel in the capitol and made a two day trip out of it. As we were making our way north, the kids were getting hungry and we started looking for a place to stop for food. I sort of randomly pulled off the road into the parking lot of this place: Caribeans Coffee & Chocolate. Sara had really wanted to visit a chocolate plantation the whole week, but it hadn't worked out. What a treat this place was! They had a large 'chocolate tasting lounge' with dozens of their chocolate bars out for taste testing, a coffee bar, and WiFi. We ended up spending a couple hours hanging out and eating (and drinking) chocolate and checking email.
It was only about 150 miles from Manzanillo to San Jose, but it took us most of the day with stops for fruit and barbeque. As a result, we arrived right in the heart of the city at rush hour. Traffic was insane, bumper to bumper, trucks, motorbikes weaving between cars, pedestrians walking in traffic, horns, lights, exhaust, chaos..... The GPS got mixed up at critical times and thrown off by one-way streets. Eventually we found our hotel and I pulled up on the sidewalk to check in. There didn't appear to be any obvious parking spots, so I asked the lady at the front desk where I should leave my vehicle. She said just to park it on the sidewalk in front of the hotel and it would be fine. It seemed a little sketchy, but I wedged it in between another truck and a wall and locked it up for the night. The room was great and it was nice to take our first hot showers in a week.
In the morning, we got up a little early so we could eat breakfast and get on the road. We were hoping to catch the 11am ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya from Puntarenas to Paquera. As we pulled off the sidewalk and out into traffic, I noticed that the cars were all coming toward us where they had been divided the night before. When we worked our way further into the city, it became apparent that there were some strange traffic patterns going on. At one point, we were stopped at a traffic light behind a little old lady in a car, with a city bus behind us and a taxi beside us. I looked across the intersection at the front grills of 4 lanes of traffic headed right at us! The light changed and it was clear there was nowhere to go. Cars started driving around us and people were yelling and pointing at their watches and shaking their fists. The little old lady just froze and stayed stopped at the light. The bus made a left turn and worked it's way through traffic. The taxi to our right, drove up on the sidewalk and made a right turn. I figured it was the safest thing to do and drove down the sidewalk too! We later found out that some major streets in the city change at 8:30 in the morning from two-way traffic into one-way traffic.... good to know!

We ended up driving on a toll road that was in great condition, but required stops every 10 miles or so to pay tolls. As we got closer to the ferry landing, I thought that we should probably fill up with fuel as we weren't sure about availability where we were heading. I pulled into a large truck stop type of gas station and told the teenage kid running the pump to fill it up. He was friendly enough and asked if I spoke Spanish. It was pretty clear I didn't speak much so he told me you say 'Juno regular' to the attendant when you want to fill the tank. We paid him and hurried off to catch the ferry. About 5 miles from the station the engine started coughing and losing power. A sick feeling came over me as I thought back to his phrase, 'Juno regular'.... I got out and took the gas cap off and sniffed it, sure enough, it smelled like gasoline, not the diesel that our vehicle ran on. He had missed the large 'DIESEL ONLY' sticker on the filler door and gave us 1/2 a tank of regular gas!  We sat there, in a semi-truck pull out on the side of a busy highway, and freaked out a little bit. We eventually used the cell phone the car rental company had given us to call their emergency service. The guy from the rental company said we had to return to the filling station as it was their fault and they would fix it. I wasn't too sure about that, but be turned around and started driving back the way we had come. We made it about a mile back and the engine died for good. I managed to pull to the end of a highway on-ramp and got as far to the edge as I could.

At this point, I figured there was nothing to do but hike back to the gas station and get help. I started off on the 3 mile hike along the busy road, not really sure how far back I needed to go. Eventually, I saw a young mother with a baby in her arms, waiting for a bus. I had the receipt from the gas station and asked her how much further it was. She looked it over and gave me a very confused look and made me understand she didn't know. I kept walking and soon came to a fruit stand where the vendor told me to wait and went to get his English-speaking brother, a 65 year old toothless gentleman chopping weeds with a machete in the field out back. I showed him my receipt and asked how much further to the station. He looked it over and said it was from a station on the other side of the country! Apparently, the station was one of a chain and they were using a receipt book from another location. He said there was a station about one more mile up the road and I thanked him and headed out. It was very hot and humid and the road climbed several large hills. I was completely drenched in sweat at this point and had streams of it running down my face. As I walked up the final hill to the station, I could see the teenage kid still manning his pump and staring at me with a puzzled smile on his face. Once I showed him the receipt with 1/2 a tank of regular and told him our vehicle was diesel, he suddenly lost his ability to speak English. Soon a manager was summoned, and then a phone call to the station owner. Long story shorter, after a ride back to the stranded vehicle (and my family) the station employees and owner spent 2 hours draining the tank, adding a few gallons of diesel and instructing me to follow them back to the station. Once there, they filled the tank with diesel, had me sign a form and sent us on our way! No additional cost......

We had missed our ferry, but made a later one and had a great ride across the Golfo de Nicoya at sun set. Amazing scenery as the setting sun lit up a passing thunderstorm over the mountains. Once the ferry docked, we began the frenetic drive down the coast to Cabuya, trying to see as much in the fading light as possible.

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