domingo, 23 de junio de 2013

Km 47,748: The unbearable relativeness of kilometers and the mortality of crabs

The internet warned me about this. Driving in Costa Rica isn't easy.

Despite what I could define as driving expertise as a consequence of thousands of hours spent driving in Mexico City, sorting out gargantuan traffic jams, floods and potholes, I am just a amateur in Costa Rica. We have spent the last two days in a driving destruction spree that, in addition to the increasing lack of precision of the metric system the closer you go towards the coast, are likely to push me to having a stroke before the week is over.

It all started when Luisandoval and I landed in San Jose and decided to take some money at a bank. I parked the car and was kindly asked by the guy taking care of the parking lot to move the car to another spot. So I did, and he kindly asked me to move it again so that it was facing the other way around. So I did, but then failed at my first attempt at backing up into that space. By then I had lost my cool and in my second attempt, I backed up into one of the traffic cones that was marking the edges of the parking space, caught it in one of the back wheels and essentially destroyed it in his face.

With some money in my pocket and some shame on my face, we left the bank and headed towards Puerto Limon and from there to Cahuita, on the caribbean coast. We took a road through the jungle, in between the mountains, which was initially wonderful as the mountains looked beautiful covered with mist. The stuff of movies: centenarian trees surrounding the road, waterfalls by the sides of the road and enough green everywhere to make your eyes hurt. However, things started turning sour when a tropical storm hit us and the road filled up with slow-moving vehicles headed in our same direction.

After an hour of driving behind trucks through the mountains at 60 km/h, desperately wiping the windshield every half-second or so, we saw a sign: "Puerto Limon 87 km". At this speed, we would be there in an hour and a half, so well before sunset. We felt encouraged and drove another fifteen minutes, listening to music and chatting. There we saw another sign: "Puerto Limon 87 km". This seemed a bit strange, we were pretty sure that we had gone further at least 10 km since the last sign, but perhaps we were mistaken. We played some more music, drove on another 20 minutes and then saw another sign: "Limon 87 km".

We weren't driving in circles nor were we on the wrong road, so what was wrong? Is the metric system in Costa Rica different? Do kilometers become longer the closer you are to the coast? Were we caught in some sort of Costa Rican Bermuda Triangle? We turned the music off and continued driving for ten more minutes and then finally saw the next sign: "Puerto Limon 85 km". We had probably driven more than 2 km since the last sign but after 45 minutes of being 87 km away from Puerto Limin, the spell was broken and we seemed to be getting out of the Triangle. We were looking forward to our next sign, which came up five minutes later; "Puerto Limon 87 km".

After 87 neverending km of curves and dusty traffic jams, we arrived to Puerto Limon around sunset. I decided my nerves were sufficiently wrecked for a single day and Luisandoval took over the wheel. He was in for a treat: if I had had a hard time driving on a main road during day time, he would have to drive on a smaller one at night. This supposes two extra difficulties: low visibility due to lack of illumination and the herds of crabs that take over the road at sunset.

It was an unavoidable crab genocide. Thousands of them covered the road and while Luisandoval did his best to avoid running them over (unlike the car ahead of us, who was a crab-killing maniac and made sure to get as many as possible), we eventually closed the windows to stop hearing the crushing of shells.

One hour later, we finally arrived to Cahuita. Tired, stressed and psychologically scarred from the experience, we're ready to enjoy the Costa Rican caribbean "pura vida".

domingo, 16 de junio de 2013

Km 45,665: Twenty four hours of tacos, earthquakes and tequila

Most of my delayed flight was spent in a coma, from which I only rose when we were coming close to Mexico City. Flying into Mexico City at night is a spectacular show; it would seem as if a never-ending cloth of light stretches out to the horizon, covering mountains and valleys. Light drips down the streets and avenues like blood through arteries and veins, bringing Mexico City to life.

Migration, luggage, customs and, after nine months of absence, an endearing re-encounter with my parents who were exhausted from a two hour long wait at the airport. In honor of stereotypes, our first stop was a taquería to eat some tacos. Having spent the previous night awake in a party and the entire day and most of the evening sleeping on the airplane, I was in circadian confusion and, by the time we went back home, I dragged myself to bed, laid my head to rest and closed my eyes. I felt so excited to be back in Mexico City, it almost seemed like I was shaking.

But then I realized, I was. And so was the bed. And the ground. And then the cars honking outside warned me that the entire city was shaking due to a trepidatory earthquake. The Papalote Children's Museum of Mexico City has taught me several things, including how one can safely rest on a bed of nails and how bubbles work, but one thing that really stayed with me (and will essentially haunt me the rest of my life) is the danger of trepidatory earthquakes. As an innocent and sweet nine year old, I went to the Museum and found a stand where you could build a house with wooden cubes and then simulate an earthquake. I made a house and simulated an oscillatory earthquake (moving horizontally). My house held for a good 20 seconds before crumbling. I then made another house and simulated a trepidatory earthquake (moving vertically), which didn't last more than a few seconds. I tried again, a different design, but it fell again almost instantly, teaching me that trepidatory earthquakes are far more destructive than oscillatory ones. Although there are a few man-made buildings and structures out there, capable of resisting oscillatory earthquakes, no engineer has been able to come up with a design that could resist a trepidatory earthquake. In other words, if you're in the middle of a trepidatory earthquake, in all likelihood the building is going to shake in an up and downwards motion until it collapses, crushing you underneath it.

In my mind, at least.

But as soon as I realized there was an earthquake, I jumped out of bed and ran around in panic, staring at the hanging lamps to see if they were moving, while shouting to wake up my parents. We waited off the earthquake under the frame of a door while a few neighbors ran outside bare feet in their pijamas. There is much debate about what are the correct earthquake safety measures. In school, we were taught that in the event of an earthquake, we had to crouch and hide under our desks. However, the urban legend says that rather than being a life-saving measure, this is a sentence to death as rescuers are said to have found entire classrooms of children crushed to death under their desks after an earthquake. The somewhat dubious triangle of life theory says that one is to crouch next to a sturdy and tall object, so that when the ceiling or the sky falls on it, it will leave a small triangular space under which we can hide. 

The only thing that is clear to me is that the 1985 earthquake and all the entailed destruction left behind a scar in the collective consciousness of all Mexicans. As soon as the earthquake is over, we all need to make sure that everyone else is alright, leading to the collapse of all telephone lines and networks. Facebook and Twitter are actually the fastest ways to discover if the earthquake was felt in other areas of the city and what kind of damage did other people suffer. The National Institute of Seismology has caught on to this and within a few minutes tweeted that we had just experienced a 5.9 earthquake on Richter's scale. Other tweets confirmed that it had initially been trepidatory and then changed to oscillatory and that no major damages happened in the city. Still, hard to go back to sleep with your eyes peeled.

The next morning was spent at the market. While my parents bought fruit and vegetables at the market, I spent a few minutes inspecting a stand where esoteric articles and magic herbs were sold. We came back home with a full load of mangoes, papaya, mamey, peaches, bananas, apples, pears, strawberries, melon, watermelon, plums, jicama, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, avocado, asparagus, cucumber, celery, pumpkin flowers and nopales (see food porn, below).

And finally, we went to the terrace to sip some tequila.

sábado, 15 de junio de 2013

Km 42,654: Washington's half-baked stories

I'm sitting in a waiting room at the Washington Dulles airport, waiting for my flight to Mexico. The aircraft has only just landed but needs to be cleaned and inspected before we can board. Another 45 minute delay or so.

It's been almost a year and 50'000 km since I started writing this blog. Even though I have been a neglectful blogger and didn't update as much as I would have wanted to, I have enjoyed the traveling as much as the writing and hope to be able to continue for another couple of years (or more). There are a number of half-written stories sitting in my drafts, waiting to be finished and published for once and for all.

I hope that the next few weeks will bring a lot of belated updates from places visited in the last few months (Udine, Geneva, Paris) but also a few stories from new places visited (Mexico, Costa Rica, Spain and my big fat greek wedding in Athens), not to mention new adventures with Julia during the Vierdaagse. So, stay posted.