I’d never hitch hiked before (or since). But for some reason, in Costa Rica, I felt emboldened to try it not once, but three times to get from place to place. Here are my stories of hopping into the cars of complete strangers.
It might be the big rental car scene that tourists subscribe to; or maybe the fact that we found the public transport very hard to figure out. But somehow, I found the nerve the stick my thumb out on the highway.
Matapalo beach to Puerto Jiminez
The first time we tried hitch hiking, we were on the tiny Osa Peninsula, home of the wildlife-infested Corcovado National Park.
Our hostel, the Celvante Jungle Hostel recommended a few things to do outside of the town, Puerto Jiminez, a nice enough place, but not terribly exciting. We decided to check out isolated, Matapalo beach, 14km outside of Port Jim.
Cindy and I took a taxi, a beat-up, rattling Land Rover (whose bonnet lid launched alarmingly with every bump, of which there were lots) with a few others; Gil the guitar-playing, wandering Israeli, Natasha of many languages from Montreal, and Ben from Bonn, the clean-cut, well-spoken German scientist/traveller.
The taxi cost forty bucks, a high price for a short distance, but OK between 5 people.
After we swam and sunbaked, we decided to return to the hostel via hitch-hike, a method suggested by the guys at the hostel (albeit with caution).
15 minutes walk down the road, we signalled our first car with five thumbs in the middle of the road, and it pulled over. What luck!
It was a sparkling new Toyota Rav 4 with a couple from San Jose driving; young, well dressed and excitable. He was Panamanian, she Costa Rican.
In Spanish, Natasha explained that all 5 of us needed a ride to Port Jim, and under well-styled hair and expensive sunglasses, he agreed with a Cheshire Cat grin.
Crammed in the back seat and boot, the driver rocketed down the long gravel road like the car was on fire, explaining casually that it was a rental, and he had the right to thrash it.
The air conditioning was blaring and the tyres ate rocks, flinging them with violent clangs against the underside of the car. He asked where we came from, and as we listed our five different nationalities one by one, he agreed with a disinterested “yep”.
When it came to me and I explained I was Australian, he burst into excited talk about beaches, about surfing, and a sister who was moving there. In Puerto Jiminez, we skidded to a halt as the dust cloud slowly caught up. We got out, thanked the driver, and he took off again in a blur.
Cabuya to Montezuma
Only 4 or 5 kilometers seperated these small towns on the Nicoya Peninsula, but Cindy and I were fully loaded with our backpacks. I had a sleeping bag under one arm, and Cindy carried a plastic bag with some of our food supplies; mustard, oil and vinegar.
We definately didn’t feel like walking. The bus was infrequent and the road was hot and lung-chokingly dusty, so we agreed to hitchhike again. In no time, a 4WD came along and out came the thumbs; another tourist couple pulled over for us.
Inside were an oddball couple from Pennsylvania or thereabouts, they were in their 50s and were a portrait of a funny old married couple, riffing and bickering playfully in their thick east coast ‘New Joy-sey‘ accents.
They drove slowly, and discussed at length where to place a leaking thermos of coffee as Cindy and I made small talk. Driving along, we pointed out the Higueron tree for them to admire. They seemed new at travelling; they had never heard of Lonely Planet and were shocked to discover that all our stuff was in our backpacks.
We arrived in Montezuma after a while and they discussed parking options in great detail. We jumped out and thanked them, watching them walk away in befuddlement, cameras around necks.
Puntarenas to Santa Elena (and onwards to San Jose)
We got as far as Paquera, on our long journey from Cabuya all the way to Santa Elena. It was a bus – ferry – bus journey to take all day. The morning went well, and we arrived at the ferry terminal early and ordered a banana pastry for lunch.
To our disappointment, however, we saw the wait for the next boat was 2 hours and we would long miss the connecting bus, leaving us stranded in unexciting port city Puntarenas. We took a bite of the banana pastry; it was filled with shredded beef.
Continuing our good luck streak with hitch-hiking, we approached a few tourists with cars asking for a ride on the other side of the water, eventually meeting Eduardo, a Brazilian surfer/doctor headed the same way as us.
On the other side of the ferry ride we disembarked and met up with him again driving off the car ferry. He was young, finishing his Costa Rica holiday and travelling solo for his last few days. The ride to Sanata Elena took a few hours and was offroad toward the end; we were grateful to have a private car.
We jumped out at Santa Elena, thanked Eduardo and took his facebook details. When we decided to leave for San Jose 2 days later, we met Eduardo for a beer in a local bar and discovered he was leaving that same day, and he offered us another ride for our last leg.