Tyler’s Trek Driving from Utah to Costa Rica Part 1
The following post is part 1 of a series of posts chronicling Tyler’s drive from Utah to Costa Rica. Everything is written by him, and sadly even after his wife nagged him endlessly to do so, there are no videos or pictures. But he is a talented writer so…enjoy!
Have you ever played the game ‘Would You Rather’? It’s the game where someone proposes two hypothetical, and often horrifying or gross, situations and you have to decide which of the two options you’d rather do?
For example: Would you rather jump into a swimming pool filled with double-edged razor blades or roll around naked on a floor of rusty fish hooks?
Would you rather eat scabs or lick a sewer grate?
Don’t tell me you haven’t played the game before because that’s just lying. You know you have.
So let me ask you, what would you pair with….
Would you rather drive your vehicle alone 3500 miles across international borders through Latin American countries where people tell you that you’ll be kidnapped, murdered, and get your eyes poked out all in the span of 10 days or…..
What do you pair with that one?
Well, I’ve just done it.
Just a couple months ago I set out in our stylin’ 2008 Dodge Caravan full of our worldly possessions and our two dogs to do just that.
I’m not going to lie to you. I was excited to see a good chunk of North America but the prospect of being alone and driving 12 hours a day for close to a fortnight also sent shivers down my spine.
Had I had the time to slowly just drizzle down the map I may have been more excited. But the fact was, I was on a schedule and I wasn’t going to be sightseeing. Everyone was telling me stories about drug dealers, kidnappers, how to hide my cash in my orifices to keep it safe, and how to properly offer bribes to local authorities along the way in the form of girlie magazines and cold hard cash.
Truth be told, I didn’t know what to expect.
My wife has asked me to chronicle my journey so, for better or for worse, the following series of articles will tell you my journey and just how you can drive from the United States to Costa Rica if you are so inclined.
Day 1- Salt Lake City to Tucson, Arizona
Day 1 was easily the hardest for me. I’ve got four little daughters ages six and under and I was about to spend two weeks away from them.
My oldest, Abby, was especially a wreck and every one of her tears tugged at separate heart strings I wasn’t aware existed.
Before I left we went on a walk and she was bawling her head off.
I tried to ‘trick’ her into not being so emotional.
“But Abby, I was just gone on a business trip two weeks ago. You didn’t miss me that bad then, did you?”
I thought I had her check-mated with that one. Little did I realize that she had somehow learned time relationships in her spare time.
“Dad, that was three days. This is two weeks. What is three days compared to two weeks?”
Good point. I didn’t know that she knew the difference between two weeks and three days. Thank goodness I had hidden my latest issue of ‘Getting Kidnapped In Mexico Monthly’ or she might have had even more reason to be crying. By the way, check out the classifieds. Their blindfold with matching gag emblazoned with the U.S. flag is definitely worth the extra pricing for next-day shipping.
We packed the van full. I carried my clothes and many of the schooling items we were planning on needing for the girls. I left enough space for the dogs (Rocco our Rottweiler, more on him later, and Honey our mutt.)
I opted to forego the orifice option and hid several thousand dollars in chunks of cash around the van. I put two weeks worth of snacks on the front seat and off we went.
The first day was obviously easy driving. I made my way from Salt Lake to Tucson and the majority was on major freeways that were well maintained and mostly free of busy traffic, save for passing through Phoenix around rush hour.
I pulled into Tucson late, found a lousy hotel, snuck the dogs in, and went to bed.
Day 2- Crossing The Mexican Border
Before embarking on this journey I had done plenty of research. I had purchased books on how to make the drive, talked with other families who had done so, scoured online forums, and consulted with purveyors of mystical knowledge (read: street hobos).
What everyone told me is that the border crossings are some of the worst parts of the trip. I read experiences of five hour border crossings, getting ripped off, big bribes being petitioned by unscrupulous border agents, and more. Every account told me to get to the border early and prepare for headaches.
I set out early from Tucson and made it to Nogales within an hour or so. I got gassed up and prepared myself for leaving American bureaucracy behind in favor of Latin American red tape.
Feeling a bit of trepidation I slowly inched through the border only to find that not a single American border agent stopped me. So I just kept going. I found myself in Mexico and I immediately thought something was wrong as I hadn’t had to do anything, show any ID, pay any bribes, or get kidnapped even once. I started driving through this confusing Mexican city (luckily with GPS) and found myself leaving the town behind. I thought I’d somehow won the border lottery and found a loophole.
“If only those idiots had passed through this border,” I thought, “then they wouldn’t have had such a problem passing through.”
My smug elation was short lived. Apparently those crafty Mexicans decided to put their border hassle on the OTHER side of this town. Oh well.
Arriving at the border on the opposite end of the town I found that none of my travel books had prepared me for what to do. I had read descriptions of the process but, once confronted with the actual geography of the border, I didn’t know what to do. I saw multiple signs and lines and wasn’t sure which way to go so I simply parked the car and went where I saw the bulk of the people going.
I won’t bore you with the details but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Within an hour my passport was stamped, I had permission for the vehicle, some sort of insurance, and I was on my way.
I understood that I was supposed to get some sort of permission for the dogs but, frankly, no one asked me if I had dogs and I didn’t feel like disclosing that. I figured that if I was stopped later I would simply confuse these yokels with a Spanish alliterative tongue twister… “Pero el perro es para mi, pero para poder ponerse el perro, blah, blah, blah…” you get the point. You tell me how some Mexican policeman was going to follow all those ‘p’ words. Answer, he couldn’t, and out of respect he would have allowed me to go on my way.
So I just started driving after getting the permissions and saw two lines. One if I wanted to declare something and another if I didn’t want to declare something.
I said to my self, “Self, let’s not declare a thing.” So I didn’t. In life if given the opportunity to declare or not declare never…and I mean NEVER, declare something. I’m fairly certain that ‘declaring something’ is nothing more than an idiot trap designed to make you admit, without duress, that you are indeed smuggling narcotics, guns, and tigers in your gas tank. Well, they weren’t about to get me on that old trick.
I drove through the other line, made no eye contact with the guys with machine guns, and immediately found myself in Mexico.
That first day was a dream. I got myself on the Mexican toll road and, aside from paying ridiculous tolls far too often, I found myself on fairly well maintained and fairly empty roads for several hundred miles.
I finished that first day in a cool little seaside town called San Carlos. I found a spot that rented campsites and little cabins and for the tidy sum of $25 or so and I had a spot to stay. Dogs were allowed so no need to sneak them in.
While the town was nice and quaint I was traveling on a budget and the spot where I stayed was the cheapest in town.
I must say, what it lacked in amenities it made up for in frightening stenches and scary cockroaches in and on the shower, toilet, floor, windowsill, and anything that was made of matter. I’m not going to complain, though. It was just for the night and frankly, I didn’t care what it was like.
Day 3- Mazatlan
The next morning found me awake around 4am or so. I’ve never needed an alarm clock and can’t remember a time that I’ve slept past 7am in my adult life. Having said that, 4am is a fairly easy time to wake up when your dog gets sick and kerfloffles right on the floor.
My first thought was concern. I immediately thought that he’d got Montezuma’s revenge. That thought passed, though, when I realized that Montezuma’s revenge was for white people from America, not black dogs from Eastern Europe. Luckily he wouldn’t get sick the rest of the trip but his escapade was good enough reason for me to get out of there. Don’t worry. I cleaned it up. Kind of. I mean, they issued me a half a roll of single ply toilet paper when I checked in…how was I supposed to do a great clean up job with that?
The next couple hours saw me breaking the rule that all the books told me not to break. Everyone says, don’t drive when it’s dark. I figured that there was no way, though, that I was going to just sit for two hours in a smelly hotel room so I just left.
Luckily I did fine and I was shortly introduced to the biggest danger Mexico has to offer. This menace has caused more damage, more pain, more suffering than anything you can imagine.
I’m, of course, referring to speed bumps.
Folks, Mexico is full of speed bumps. I’m not talking about parking lots at Walmart. I’m talking about cruising down a highway at highway speed only to see a sign that a town is approaching and, by the way, we’re going to assault your car with speed bumps.
Sometimes these bumps are marked with a sign, other times they aren’t. And the thing about Mexico is that the freeways don’t pass by the towns. They go through the towns. So every time you come to a new town, which was quite often starting on day three, you found yourself neurotic about hitting a bump at full speed.
Full disclosure. I hit plenty of bumps at frightening speeds. They don’t paint those suckers. You have to watch for slight variations in shadows on the road to see one coming and hopefully you can slow down in time.
So while I had about 450 miles to go that day to reach Mazatlan it ended up taking me about 12 hours.
Now when I say 12 hours I mean 12 full hours.
I never stopped for breakfast or lunch. I simply ate the junk I had in the car. Dinners I would only get in the towns once I had stopped for the day. There were no toilet breaks. Does Mexico even have public toilets? I would simply stop at the side of the road and the dogs and I would do our business. I think this detail embarrasses my wife but, seriously, I’m never going to see these people again. If they want to catch a peek I don’t care, it’s not like we’re going to run into each other at the Christmas social.
So my 12 hours driving was a hard and straight 12 hours. When I drive like that in the states I’ll normally log 850 miles or so. Not so with this type of driving.
I was lucky to be pulling into Mazatlan about 4pm after a full day.
I was very impressed with Mazatlan. I found it to be a beautiful town. Touristy? Yes. But there was still old world charm and the beaches looked amazing. The last fifty miles or so as you are entering into Mazatlan is breathtaking. It’s rolling hills painted with bright green jungle with flashes of the ocean off the starboard side. I wish I had a great camera with me. Had I, though, I would have made lousy time. There was so much neat stuff I could have taken pictures of along the way.
Pulling into town I realized, though, that I may have another problem.
All of the hotels looked fairly nice. This meant that a) They were going to cost more and b) there was less of a chance of them allowing dogs and even less chance of me sneaking them in to such busy spots.
I tried anyways. The first hotel I pulled informed me at the guard gate that they don’t allow dogs.
I authoritatively let him know that these were service dogs and according to Mexican law I must be allowed to pass.
For the record, I don’t know if there is any Mexican law regarding service dogs but I had bluffed dogs into Canada, Puerto Rico, and Spain like that in the past (oh yeah, I never told you but I’m a dog trainer and I’ve had clients all over the world) so I figured it would work here.
Once I got to the desk they had already been informed that I was bringing dogs and I was immediately denied. No, I was told, we don’t allow pets.
Thank goodness, was my reply, because these aren’t pets, they are service dogs and thanks to Mexican law I can pass with them anywhere I need to go. Oh really, I can’t come into your hotel? Does your boss know that he’s about to have a lawsuit due to you kicking me out? Are you ready for my lawyer and the reign of terror and horror he will unleash upon thine establishment (my Spanish is pretty good)? Oh you are? And I still can’t come in? Very well, good day.
I had similar encounters at two other hotels before breaking down, in a very manly way, and begging them for where I could go. They pointed me towards the other side of town and I was finally able to find a spot for about $60 that was right on the beach, gorgeous, and thanks to a liberal policy on pets was relieved from my litigious tirades.
I got a good swim in the ocean, a lousy meal at a spot I was hoping wasn’t too touristy (it was), and got myself to bed.
To be continued…