21 Jun 07 – Copan, Honduras
I don’t have much to say about Nicaragua…
24 Jun 07 – Playa Coco, Costa Rica
Bad news first. I broke my camera in the Copan Ruins, Honduras. More on that update later, but it was just a really really bad situation. I have been ok so far without it, though, mostly because rest of Honduras and most Nicaragua don’t really have any ruins and things to take pictures of. I went to Lake Nicaragua and the water was murky, and the sky cloudy. But now that I am in Costa Rica, it is starting to bug me. I will try to buy one in the capital here or in Panama City.
So this is where I need to try and ship my car. I met a guy named Alvaro by total accident yesterday, and he happens to know people working at Costa Rica’s Shipping Customs Agency. He gave his friend a call today, and will get a better idea tomorrow, Monday.
I dropped off Fiona the other day. She had been traveling with me for 10 days. It’s nice to have some company, but it’s also nice to take this trip alone. I almost missed traveling alone, which is ironic since I very much feared the same while leaving California.
Right now, some things have built up to stress me out a bit.
1. Shipping car from Caldera, Costa Rica to Guayanquil, Ecuador. I can probably get through customs fairly easily, but finding a ship to get to Ecuador is another matter. Then I gotta rendezvous with the shipped car by flying over there. Then I need to get the car off the port, which I heard is much harder than getting it shipped in the first place. I do not have Carnet de Pasaje, which they supposedly got rid of as a requirement in 2004. If not, I need to get a letter signed by the US Consulate office, telling Ecuadorian port authorities that I will not import my car to their country. If that still doesn’t work, then I have to ship the car back to Costa Rica and drive back up to California.
2. Finding a replacement Digital Camera. Digital cameras are expensive here. Nicaragua and Honduras were going to charge me $300 for a crappy Kodak digital camera I found out I could get in the US for $100 online. Costa Rica definitely has a bigger selection, but is still twice as expensive. Might wait till I get to Panama City, and get a camera to take to Panama Canal.
3. The front brakes on my car are worn out. I mean it’s on the verge of completely burning out. So I carefully drove to the nearest beach town, Playa Coco, which I am in right now. The parts for older Mercedes is very, very hard to come by. One of the mechanic shops I went to yesterday had a guy named Jesus, who I believe told me that he will be going to the capital city San Jose to pick them up on Monday. I need to call him on Tuesday morning at 9 AM. If he was unable to get it or plain forgot, I need to get in touch with one of the shops in the States to FedEx me the parts, or I need to drive 6 hours to the capital myself. Hopefully, all of this happens before I ship my car, but shipping the car right now is #1 priority and would take precedence.
26 Jun 07
I got my worry number 3 fixed on the 26th. Considering how low I believed my brakes were and how there are virtually no pre-1990 Mercedes in Costa Rica, I am relieved that I was able to fix the problem to continue on this journey. I am keeping a fairly thorough journal, but I won’t be sharing too much of that. I doubt anyone will read all or any of it, and I would like to keep a lot of these experiences private for now. But the following is an abridged version of that particular day.
Since I haven’t had a camera for the past week, I have no pictures to upload. But the following journal entry will be better than any picture if you take the time to read it.
Today will always be remembered. Always. As such, it was the first day that I truly regretted having a broken camera. But perhaps it’s for the best; it could have demystified the surreal experience.
On the 23rd, I go to a couple mechanics and ask them for Mercedes brake parts. There aren’t any in Liberia, Costa Rica. But one mechanic named Jesus says he’s going to go to the Capital at San Jose, see if he can’t find it, and return on Tuesday. So I decide to wait for 3 days by driving to the closest beach. I just take my chances without looking at the map, and head towards whichever beach the car wants to take me. I reach Playa Coco. It starts raining really badly at this point, and I’m walking around, looking for a hostel, tired, wet, and worn out.
I met Alvaro then on the 23rd. I was looking for a cheap hostal to stay in, and he points me towards a good one, right on the beach. I get to know him pretty well over the next few days. He’s Swiss, and he’s also done one of these road trips before. He started from Switzerland and drove through Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and off to New Delhi, India. He lived there for 7 years. He speaks 7 different languages, English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Hindi among them. He has lost contact with his parents and any extended family. His mother being Italian and his father being French, they’ve all been separated since World War II.
Today, I get in touch with Alvaro to make the call to the auto parts store at 9AM. Jesus wasn’t able to find the brake pads at the capital. He tells us, though, that we have a couple options. 1) See if any other similar brake pads fit the Mercedes model, and 2), he may be able to take out the brake pads and get the fibers made at a shop in San Jose. Which means that it would cost me a lot of time and money for the carrier to make it to San Jose, cut new fibers there, and carry it back, leaving me stranded on the beach. Being on the beach is nice, but when I’m in a time crunch, it’s not such a great feeling at all, especially when I’m already sun burned. Neither one is much of an option.
Alvaro makes another phone call to his friend, who used to be the Director of Customs in Costa Rica. He says go to Grecia and not San Jose, which is about 30km closer than the capital. All the cars being imported to Costa Rica go there, and the town’s economy is driven by the auto sales. They’ll be able to cut me a fiber if need be in one day, not 4-5 like the other option.
Alvaro also happens to have a few friends in Grecia recommends me to an English speaking guy running an Air Condition repair shop. He should know the area well enough to help me or know someone who can. I say my good bye and take off, feeling hopeful but at the same time fearful of the unknown future.
I am not a guy that prays very much for anything. I feel like if I deserve it, I will get it. And if not, then I won’t get it. I always feel like I have to live up to my own expectations, which are much higher than what anyone would expect from me. And I never feel great about asking for help. I’ve always felt like I need to earn what I get.
Which is why it’s been a while since I’ve prayed. Why pray when you think you’ll get anything only based on merit? But being so worried about my own safety as well as the outcome of the entire trip, I prayed a simple prayer before I left at noon. I held the steering wheel while my car warmed up, and said, “Dear God, please be with me today. I feel so weak, and I need your strength now. Help me carry on with this journey.” And I drove off, feeling silly about what I just did. That was a very unorthodox way for me to start a day’s drive.
So I headed towards the mountains of Grecia. And when you’re talking about being on the only major highway leading up to the capital that’s in the middle of the mountains, you’re talking about a lot of trucks. A lot of trucks that go 15-20 miles an hour going uphill AND downhill. I feared that if I used up too much of the brakes too soon, I could very well end up tumbling down the mountains the next time I try to use the brakes that aren’t there.
I get to Grecia at 4PM. Even though I’ve been busy all day and hadn’t had anything to eat, I want to at least find the place to get the fibers cut tomorrow, so I search for the Air Condition repair guy. I find his shop pretty easily. I hop out of my car, tell him my brake pads are gone, and even before I start telling him about my options, he says that I probably need to get new fibers cut for it since my Mercedes is old and they don’t have anything like that around here. He tells me great directions as to how to get there, but I get lost. I ask a guy about brake repair shops. He doesn’t talk english at all, but he tells me to talk to his taxi driver. The driver talks in great english, and tells me I’m only about 2 blocks off from where I need to go.
The guy gave me perfect directions. I find the place within a minute. They look through a couple books as to exactly which parts I needed. And within minutes, I was holding the spare brake pads that I needed. I wasn’t just happy. I was overjoyed. I tell them in my broken Spanish that no where else in Costa Rica do they sell these parts. And they must have understood my reason for celebration, because the lady working the cash register tells me in Spanish that I will like the price even better. It’s less than 10,000 colones (<$20). No need to cut new fibers and pay a lot of money and wait. Just like that, the search was over.
Meanwhile, I catch a glimpse of her T-Shirt. I didn’t pay attention to it very much at first. It said GAP, something we’ve all seen plenty of times before. But written underneath it was something that stunned me.
G.A.P. God Answers Prayers.
Someone out there has always, always been on the lookout for me. At the end of the day, I haven’t always gotten what I necessarily wanted, but I’ve always gotten what I needed. And today, some one or some thing needed me to keep going on this long journey, so that I wouldn’t give up prematurely.
The story doesn’t quite end there. I ask her if there’s a mechanic around that speaks English. As soon as I call the number and ask for Stanley, the voice on the other side shouts, “Oh did you get the parts you needed?” Surprised, I said yes, I got the brakes, how did you know? And he replies, “I’m the guy that told you how to get to the brake store.” He was no taxi driver. He was a mechanic waiting for his customer at the ATM.
He drives about 5 minutes from his house/mechanic shop to come get me and I follow him in my car. He goes to run errands for 20 minutes, and inside is one of his best friends, Dan, who was born in Costa Rica but grew up in America and speaks perfect English. He’s been back in Costa Rica for about 6 years now, working in a company called Psych, a third party telephone customer service company that GE employees.
I park on the sidewalk/street and he fixes up my brakes within 30 minutes and charges me 10000 colones (less than $20.) Meanwhile, it’s getting dark, so I haphazardly ask him if I can happen to stay at his place for the night. I tell him that I have a sleeping bag and he can charge me whatever he wants. He replies, “Relax! My sister comes down here from Dallas every once in a while so we have a guest room upstairs you can stay at for free.”
I didn’t think much of it first, being in Costa Rica in the middle of nowhere. But this guest room is actually bigger than my mother’s own master bedroom, and quite possibly even bigger than a 1 bedroom apartment. It’s got comfortable beds, and the bathrooms are top notch, all comparable to the high-middle class American houses, and even has a balcony with a beautiful view of the Costa Rican hills. They have a swimming pool that separates the guest house from the main house. I take my first warm shower in a week. Stan, Dan and I all hang out playing Medal of Honor, Need for Speed, and Black on his Playstation 2. Stanley’s mom cuts me some fresh mangos, and Stanley picks up some beer and orders a pizza.
G.A.P. God Answers Prayers.
Today, He did more than just that.