Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Get Outta Here: Private Driver Mystique

I’m a sucker for private transport in a country. I’d much rather deal mano a mano with a local driver as he proudly shows me what is important in his world. We can have a customized conversation in a car, as opposed to a crackling microphone that interrupts my little snooze in the back of the bus.

Ah, but then there was Arthur, the gentleman who drove us three hours from Tortuguero to Arenal. Ron used the excuse he couldn’t understand his English, grabbed the back seat and promptly fell asleep. (Note to self: Book him on a bus next time.) So Arthur and me proceeded to strike up an acquaintance in a combination of passable English and mangled Spanish.

What I couldn’t figure out was why he kept quizzing me on the iguanas I’d seen so far in Costa Rica. What color were they? How big were they? Did I like them? We’d talk about other things, and then he’d return to the next round of “what does Julie know about iguanas?” I was beginning to think the dude was seriously unbalanced about these lizardy creatures or he was using a wrong word. Maybe he meant ice cream? That I could understand an obsession about. Or igloos. That would surely interest someone living in 90 degree temperatures and 90 percent humidity.

Meanwhile, he was driving like a bat out of hell. Costa Rica is a series of one-lane roads, many of them rock rather than paved, and still the locals pass each other without regard to common sense. He’d whip around a bus on a mountain curve, way over the speed limit, muttering under his breath about the stupid drivers on the road who didn’t drive safely. I thought for most of that ride I was back in a New York City taxi cab.

Suddenly, he pulled up in front of a restaurant, with a big grin on his face and promising me a surprise. Great! I’m thinking a Coke in a full glass of ice. That’s pleasant. Perhaps a doughnut, or a sandwich, or more beans and rice. Maybe it was just the fact I got to live long enough to make it to that spot. As I stepped out of the car, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the largest, ugliest iguana yet. Arthur laughed and yelled, “Surprise!” like it was a birthday party. Get outta here -- seems this restaurant owner loves iguanas enough to feed them daily, and thus created a stop where folks can hang out with the fat, lazy things. I’m talking 13 in one tree alone – and there were a lot of trees.

It took nearly 30 minutes to convince our driver we had seen our fill in the first 3 minutes, and then he talked about those iguanas for the rest of the hour trip to the hotel, quite proud of himself for showing us such an amazing site. Personally, I think Arthur was my better memory.

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