Cuba & Costa Rica Blog
About this blog
Written by Cuba and Costa Rica expert Christopher P. Baker, this blog will update readers on life in these two diverse and exciting countries.
- Last blog post on Costa Rica and Cuba
- First-ever group motorcycle tours of Cuba successful
- Cuba’s Mariel port readying for Panama Canal expansion
- Musings on wildlife encounters on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula
- Cuba’s Steam Trains puffing their last gasp
- My top five thrilling activities in Costa Rica
- Cuba’s fun February festivals include Harleys, Books, Cigars
- Five top volcano viewing experiences in Costa Rica
- New road along Costa Rica / Nicaraguan border mired
- Cuba’s Hotel Campoamor at Cojímar to be restored?
- Cuban revolutionary Celia Sánchez honored in new book
- Christmas challenge for Costa Rica’s sexually abused girls
- Costa Rica opens Chinatown in downtown San José
- David Soul films Hemingway’s car restoration in Cuba
- National Geographic Expeditions receives license for Cuba tours
Fording rivers in Costa Rica has its limits!
Every few years, unusually torrential rains give a bad rap to the term "Green Season," the moniker preferred by the Costa Rican Tourist Board to promote off-season travel. In normal years, Costa Rica's wet season (May-November) is no big deal. The sun shines most of the time. Hence, I usually tour the country to research each update of my Moon Costa Rica during the rainy season, when hotels and roads are less crowded. A mid-size SUV (such as a Suzuki Vitara) is usually sufficient to get the job done. Not so 2008 –the rainiest year in Costa Rica's history! Talk about torrential. Phew! Last year's wet season didn't seem to want to let up. The daily newscasts featured landslides, washed out bridge, and inundaciones (floods) by the score. After just a few days in the country it was obvious I needed to trade my Suzuki Vitara for something bigger... like a chunky Mitsubishi Montero, courtesy of U-Save Rent-a-Car.
I love playing Indiana Jones in Costa Rica. In fact, the part of every research trip that I look forward to most is fording (vareando, in Spanish) the rivers of southwest Nicoya and the Osa Peninsula. There's nothing like a tricky river crossing to get the adrenalin coursing. But fording these rivers in wet season is no child's play. It's easy for visitors to get themselves into serious trouble. And 2008 proved the point. In the course of 48 hours in early December, I witnessed two vehicles washed downriver and a third swamped by water. The latter, a Toyota Yara sedan (!) driven by a hapless German couple, had barely dipped it's nose into the Rio Carbonero when it went under in the same river had almost claimed my Mitsubishi two days before. What were they thinking? A sedan! The first rule of thumb for exploring Costa Rica (even in dry season) is never attempt it in a sedan.
Many unwary visitors to Costa Rica simply misjudge their river crossing, swamp the engine, and have to be towed out (there's a reason you'll often see tractors parked near fordings). Do not expect the rental agency to be sympathetic!
Here are a few rules to follow when fording rivers:
First, wade across on foot to guage the depth and velocity of the river. It's not just the depth that counts. Cars are often overpowered by the force of the current. Look for the tire tracks of other vehicles to help guage the best way across – it's not always a direct route across.
Second, keep the windows down and the doors unlocked. If you get washed down river, you'll want a quick escape route.
Third, enter the river slowly. Many drivers charge at the river, causing a wave that rides over the hood and drowns the engine. But keep your foot on the gas, as losing traction can be the kiss of death!
A little common sense goes a long way. Not least, you have to know when to turn back. It's easy to let bravado get the better of intelligent thinking when faced with a choice of turning around. If you feel like you've no option but to tackle a really tricky river, wait until some other vehicle arrives. It usually does (locals usually know the best routes across). If the other vehicle has higher ground clearance, it can cross first and permit you to gauge your chances. I also ask other drivers to wait to help me out in case I get into trouble.
I made it through the rivers this year (... but I also turned back on three occasions). Still, I couldn't escape the mud... but that's another story.