Brush with a Hurricane
When I was little, I loved the book “I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Solew” by Dr Seuss. If you’re not familiar with it: there is a wonderful land, Solla Sollew, on the banks of the beautiful River Wah-Hoo where they never have troubles, at least, very few. But of course, the journey is weird and Seussian and generally not what it’s cracked up to be. This is how I felt this week.
I arrived in San Jose Tuesday evening after a 12 hour flight from Switzerland. My poor brain was jet-lagged and scattered, I had a reservation at a nearby hotel and plans to travel on one of the little prop planes the next afternoon to San Isidro de El General, the city nearest to our village. There is a subplot here involving the tracking down of my cab driver who left with my bottle of Swiss kirch in his trunk and eventually agreed to pick me up the next morning and return it to me – because this is the kind of thing that happens in Costa Rica – but I’ll leave that for another time. I arrive at the airport the next day; go through all the usual stuff and wait. Ten minutes before we are supposed to be taking off, a guy from the airline comes to tell me that we can’t fly into the city, the weather is too bad, but that we can fly into Quepos instead. OK. So I make the arrangements back and forth via text in my bad Spanish with my friend Rigo who was supposed to be bringing my car to pick me up, and in the process end up offering a ride to an older Tico gentleman who obviously is trying to make his own travel plans with less success.
We get on our teeny tiny little plane.
Across the aisle is a guy who is dressed and talks like a gay Indiana Jones. (James, in the event that you end up reading this since you took my card; I mean this statement in a flattering way as it’s got to be what you were going for and, if you’re not actually gay, sorry for the assumption. It’s the leather-pocket-half-vest that does it.) It became clear very quickly that, while the pilot was willing to fly into Quepos, it would not exactly be a smooth flight. Normally I really like this little plane: you fly low and get to see everything. But this time, the world outside the window was a wall of white and gray clouds as we fought through the streaming rain and were buffeted by strong winds. The plane tipped to a dizzying 45-degree angle twice in long arcs during the descent. I just wanted to get down. Indiana Jones barred his teeth in a fierce smile and said that was the smoothest flight he had ever had with this airline. I don’t know what the expression on my face looked like at that point, but we didn’t talk a lot after that…
I survived the flight and am now waiting at the tiny shed they call an airport for Rigo to arrive, along with the other man I have agreed to chauffeur. Rigo gets there and we all get in the car. It is raining so hard it is very difficult to see. Both men are chatting with me politely in Spanish until I have to say that, when it’s raining like this? I don’t understand you. Because the road is taking so much of my attention my poor brain can’t make out the words properly. Eventually the rain eases up a little but I come around a corner to see a huge line of cars stopped. Turns out a tree had fallen across the road just moments after Rigo had passed through to pick me up and now guys were out with chainsaws cutting it up so traffic could resume. As we sit there, the guy who I had given the lift to gets out of the backseat, comes over to my window, thanks me and says in English that it was nice to meet me, and walks off into the rain up the blocked highway. Bemused, I turn to Rigo to ask what just happened. Apparently he was texting with a friend caught in the same traffic mess and decided to go look for him further up the line. And this is normal because again; Costa Rica.
Once we begin moving, all goes well. We drive to our little village; I drop Rigo off and head down my road. To get to my house, I have to cross two bridges. The river is so high that it is rolling right over the second bridge – I can see the line where it comes over on the right, but cannot clearly see the left edge or tell just how soft and slippery the mud will be on either side. I hesitate. I take a picture and send it to Aidan asking if I should risk it. He says he would (of course he would), And, being Aidan, he also gives some practical advice: don’t stop once you’re in, hit the gas if it slips. So I back a little ways up the road. By now one of my neighbours has come out to watch. I roll down my window to see if he has something to tell me, but no, he says he’s just watching. Fine. I gun it.
Flashback: When I was about ten years old my dad and little brother went on a camping trip at a lake they had to 4×4 into. This was a pretty standard way to spend the summer in my childhood. On this particular trip however, my dad had tried to cross a river that was moving faster than he thought. It picked up the Suzuki and carried it out into the lake. This is the vision that is filling my head as I cross this bridge!
I get home. The power is out, the rain is steady. I go to bed early as it is pitch black and the wifi and cellular networks are down. The wind is howling and the rain is loud against the roof; I hear banging and crashes as the night wears on. The next day the rain continues without stopping, the power stays off. Rigo arrives on his quad to tell me the bad news; there has been a landslide on our road, no one can drive down it (though a quad can take a meandering path around), trees are blocking the way. Trees have also landed on the power lines and many are down in the street. In other words; don’t expect power anytime soon, and also you’re trapped here. I attempt to charge my phone in my car when I see that Rigo has a cellular signal (although spotty). When it won’t charge, I pop it open to fiddle with the battery as this usually fixes it when I come down here, only to have the ‘on’ button at the top literally fly off the phone. I spend the next few minutes searching for the darn thing and the few minutes after that realizing that I’m not going to be able to put it back together. Sigh.
The next day the sun is actually out and things begin to dry a little. I drive to my side of the 5’ high, 12’ wide wall of mud and trees that is blocking my road, walk up and around the side, get on Rigo’s quad on the other end and am therefore able to go to the store for a few supplies. I buy groceries carefully, not knowing when/if my fridge will be working and knowing that I will have to be able to carry whatever I buy over the wall. Once home I continue with the cleanup. I hack up the tree that has fallen across the stairway, making it impossible to pass and clean up the leaves that are everywhere.
Later than night the power comes back on and I am able to plug in my computer and find out what the heck has happened and let my family know I’m ok. They clear our road and the following afternoon my husband and kids fly in from Canada and everything is almost back to normal, with the exception of the fact that one of the bridges on the main highway that leads to the city has been completely wiped out.
Why go through the trouble of actually writing this all down? Many areas of Costa Rica have been hit much harder than our little village; people have lost their homes and nine have lost their lives. No, this is not to explain some trial I have undergone or any such thing. Hopefully it give you a window on a world different from your own, but also, it is a learning experience for me and other permaculture wannabe people.
One of the reasons we are here at the edge of the jungle is to live a more self-sustainable life. This is the first time some of our systems have actually been put to the test and it gave me a good indicator of what works well and what we need to improve on in an emergency scenario. For example, I am extremely grateful for our water system which was pumping from the river the whole time while many in the northern part of the country are without drinking water. I am grateful for propane stoves, a small supply of firewood, candles and emergency food supplies. I am grateful for fresh eggs.
I have learned that, while I am a tree-hugger by nature, I am fully capable of kicking a tree repeatedly until it breaks when my bow saw gets stuck in a knot and I can’t get it free and frustration overwhelms me. I have learned that I talk to myself when left alone and stressed and I need to get my head on straight (ostensibly I was talking to the cats and chickens, but we all know what that really means). I have really no clue how to make our finicky inverter work and need a lesson on it. I have learned that my neighbours have got my back.
At the end of “I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew”, our hero realizes that he can’t get into this perfect fantasy land and he has to make a choice; either go searching for the next big dream, or go back where he started. So he returns home, where he knows things might be hard, but with one small change: “But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have trouble with me!”
And so we get better.
Rather you than me! I’m glad you’re all ok. And I think I’ll stay in Canada.
Fair enough Nicola, though you’ll have snow soon and then will be envying me on the beach!