Tuesday 21 February 2023 – Today’s story will be short on pictorial content, mainly because eight hours of it were spent in transit, six of them behind the wheel of our hire car. Which is now a lot dustier and only slightly more dented than it was at the start of the day.
Also, I’m getting some technical issues with WordPress which is making it difficult to upload images and video for these pages. I hope to sort this out in due course, but please bear with me for visual oddities for the moment.
Breakfast at the Xandari was as pleasant as yesterday and, as usual, accompanied by the hotel’s trademark background music – pop and rock classics but played acoustically on Spanish guitar. This treatment underlines how important the original sound of a classic piece is. Take the tune out of the context of its original sound and it can be really difficult to identify. Admittedly, it didn’t take too long to identify Hotel California, possibly because of the importance of that guitar solo at the end. But another tune was very familiar, but we couldn’t place it. Jane in the end got it – It’s A Kind Of Magic, originally by Queen. If you don’t hear Freddie Mercury’s voice, it’s surprising how difficult it is to place the song.
Anyhoo, some research by Jane discovered that the route we were due to take to our next hotel was likely to go via toll roads, something that our information from Pura Aventura hadn’t vouchsafed. Thus we needed some local currency, and the hotel helpfully suggested a local supermarket where we could find an ATM. Having checked out and eventually managed to get the car’s WiFi hotspot to provided some much-needed internet, we headed that way.
As we left the hotel, I was glad that I had been paying attention during our taxi ride in from the airport, as it demonstrated that road surfaces were potentially shocking and that it was quite acceptable to drive on the wrong side of the road to avoid the worst potholes. The short stretch of road to the supermarket simultaneously sharpened up my reflexes and gave me practice at the special slalom techniques necessary to negotiate the roads.
I managed not to crash into anything for the few kilometres to the supermarket, but my blameless stewardship of the hire car came to an abrupt end as I attempted to reverse into a parking spot and found an iron pillar instead. The car suffered only minor damage. My pride, much more.
Once I’d calmed down a bit (it really is just a minor scuff), we found the ATM and got some money our of it, but of course it was in reasonably large denomination notes, so we thought it would be a good idea to buy something at the supermarket in order to get some smaller change. This is how we came into possession of some gin and some tonic. This seemed to represent the ideal combination of utility and desirability.
The next several hours were spent behind the wheel. Our eventual destination was the Luna Azul hotel, but we knew that the restaurant there would be closed for today and so planned a late lunch at a nearby restaurant called La Luna.
The toll charges were small – in the region of 500 – 800 Colones, which is one or two dollars – and it turns out that we could probably have used a card to pay, but only at the expense of being the slowest car in the queue, so we stuck with paying cash to the people who were staffing the “Manual” channels and, barring a couple of minor wrong turns which were pilot rather than navigator error, it all worked fine.
By and large, for the most part of the journey, the road surfaces were OK, with only the odd pothole and unmarked speed bump to leaven the mix. There was some congestion to deal with, and the speed limit is a leisurely 80km/hour, so progress was steady rather than swift, through countryside that frankly wouldn’t have looked out of place in Spain or Portugal, except maybe for the occasional huge industrial installations which cropped up now and again.
Everything was going smoothly enough until we got past Nicoya, which, on the map above, appears to be not all that far from our destinations. This appearance is deceptive. At first, the road simply narrowed and became more sinuous, which meant that getting stuck behind one of the many ponderous lorries slowed progress even further. One lorry we were stuck behind for many a long mile seemed to be making a really strange screeching noise as it ground along, so we were glad that it went straight on when we turned off. Two things happened at this point. Firstly, the road surface turned feral, so that the pothole slalom that I’d practised earlier was now a matter of survival for the car’s suspension; and secondly we could still hear the screeching, which was really worrying. We stopped as soon as the appalling surface and prevailing traffic conditions would let us and got our of the car to see what the problem was. This was when we realised that the screeching didn’t come from the car at all.
It was coming from the power lines beside the road!
We had a short chat with the chap I had blocked in as we stopped to investigate. He said it was simply something that happened in February and March and had no further explanation of its cause. But, as you can imagine, we were somewhat relieved that it wasn’t a problem with the car.
Further on along this ghastly road surface, Jane suddenly commanded me to stop. Whilst I was having to concentrate grimly on the road surface, she had seen something surprising beside the road.
Monkeys were crawling along these electrical wires, and using them as a base to relax on! We later found out that these are Howler Monkeys. More on them later, I’m sure….
We carried on, with the road surface varying from quite reasonable to actively hostile. Much of it was dirt trail and wasn’t actually too bad
but progress was slow. In the first and worst section, we managed just seven kilometres in 20 minutes. The next six took 15 minutes. The practical upshot was that by 4pm, instead of arriving at our hotel, we had only made it to where we’d planned a late lunch, the restaurant La Luna. (There’s obviously some kind of Moon vibe going on in these parts.)
We were allowed to have a table provided we could finish within 45 minutes – this was clearly the time they were expecting the sunset rush, because the place is ideally set for cocktails or a meal as the sun goes down.
It’s a very fine place. We had a salad and a couple of drinks each before setting off into the gathering dusk to find our hotel, which we did, courtesy of Jane and Waze. The kindly hotel owner, Rolf, showed us to our room (rather nice – photos in due course) and clarified a couple of things that the Pura Aventura pack hadn’t made quite clear. By this stage, we were somewhat tired after a long day. Bouncing along over and around potholes is hard work, you know. So we settled in and awarded ourselves an early night.
We have two full days here in Luna Azul and as yet have no firm plans as to what to do with ourselves. I’m sure we’ll think of something (besides addressing our stocks of gin and tonic), so please keep coming back to see what we got up to.