Whenever we talk about our initial trip to Costa Rica, it usually begins with the tale of our first day in the country, which all too quickly bled over into the first night.
The drive from San Jose to our rental home between Marbella and San Juanillo is stressful and difficult for those not accustomed to the driving habits of Ticos and the varied conditions of the narrow, potholed roads.
On the way, we stopped for groceries in Santa Cruz in a supermarket that trafficked in all sorts of exotic goods that required investigation and photographing from uneducated gringos. Our research told us that was the last major market before we reached the house, another solid hour’s journey. We loaded up a cooler and the small trunk of our cobalt-blue Daihatsu Trelios with a week’s worth of food and sundries. The oddness of it all meant that we stayed too long and found ourselves behind schedule, destined to arrive after nightfall.
Our GPS had been perfect up until that point. Guiding us between marked highways and the ubiquitous “Unnamed Road” that we were constantly making left turns onto. We had visual markers to watch for; but in the dark, with no street lamps, those markers never materialized. So, we plowed on, trusting the all-knowing one we called “Samantha,” a robotic voice that bossily called out directions from our windshield.
At some distance past an important piece of missed signage, indicating yet another left turn, “Samantha” finally did instruct us turn, in what we all presumed would be a shortcut.
This new road was a single lane, bordering a fenced pasture and felt more like a driveway than a major thoroughfare. Up we plowed, headlights alternately flashing on the thickets of thin trees and the massive holes in the red dirt beneath us. Eventually, it leveled out. And that’s when we saw it.
There was a cow in the middle of the road.
At least, I assumed it was a cow. Growing up around the ruby red heifers on my grandparents’ ranch in Moultrie, GA, I had never seen a beast like this.
The ghostly visage standing before us had hare-like ears that drooped long in front of the shoulder. The animal’s scarred, dirty torso was thin and bony, a neglected carcass that seemed incapable of movement. Its eyes were black and wide, showing no signs of thought, much less a soul.
And it was not afraid.
Lit from the twin lamps at the front of our rental car, this bovine angel of death was straight-up spooky. But as disconcerting as this predicament seemed, it got worse. Quickly.
The animal we would later identify as a Brahma cow wasn’t grazing or sleeping or moseying about its way. It was belly-deep in water, a still lake that stretched directly across our path, as far as we could see in either direction.
In the dim glow, we couldn’t determine how much water we would have to traverse, or even where the road joined on the other side. We were defeated. A tight three-point turn and we headed back down from whence we came in a drive of shame that we never forgot.
Eventually, we did make it to our home. But first there was an uncomfortable drive through a very active small village and several more wrong turns. By the time we saw our property manager’s flashlight waving us down the driveway (in response to our frantic phone calls), Camille had cried herself into a hard sleep.
The stars were not bright enough to illuminate the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean; but we could hear it. The door successfully unlocked, we tucked our exhausted girl into her new bed and then I stripped down and threw myself into the pool.
Costa Rica. We were home.