Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Travel Story-The Road From Cobano

© 2009 Donofrio
Montezuma, Costa Rica

The Road From Cobano...a travel story about the Nicoya Peninsula in western Costa Rica and the tiny coastal village of Mal Pais.

The Road From Cobano
 Story and Photos by Craig Donofrio

The crevassed, dusty road from the village of Cobano to the ocean was just as bad as I remembered, and I was all the happier for it. As our four-wheel-drive taxi slogged along, crisscrossed the dirt track, and dodged gullies and potholes, I took comfort in the fact that this was still the only way to the beachfront hamlet of Mal Pais.

Over the past decade, Costa Rica has become a popular destination for European travelers, American ex-patriots, eco-tourists, surfers, and (potentially most troublesome for me) spring-breakers. Troublesome, I say, for fear that throngs of drunken frat boys would somehow “discover”, descend upon, and destroy the culture and tranquility of this Central American paradise. Happily, at least for now, my selfish fears seem to be off-mark. Of course they are. Why did I think for a moment that these indigenous Costarricenses, or Ticos (who thwarted attack, pressure, and colonization from the Spanish, Dutch, English, French and Americans) and their natural barriers and obstacles (mountains, jungles, volcanoes, terrible roads and seasonal monsoons) would succumb to Americanization or globalization at the hands of a seasonal migration of college students looking to party?

Mal Pais is located in the remote southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula in western Costa Rica. The peninsula is bound by the Gulf of Nicoya to the east and the Pacific Ocean pounds the western shore. The Nicoya is blessed with two distinct yet equally enchanting seasons. From November to May, the region basks in relentless tropical sun with little or no rainfall. There is barely a puff of cloud cover to break up the dreamy, blue sky. This sun-drenched dry season bakes the clay and volcanic earth into a crumbly powder. Vehicles then cloud roadside foliage and houses with the dull-brown layer of dust.

The first rains trickle through May. They increase steadily in frequency, duration, and intensity until a monsoon-like crescendo from September to December. As the landscape transforms into a lush, chromatic rainforest, the rains and their runoff also make local roads treacherous or impassable. Likewise, those rains also account for the scarred, rock-strewn surface of the dry season. The 14 kilometer trek from Cobano to Mal Pais is one of those roads and one of the main reasons this pristine coastal community has remained improbably under-developed.

A four-and-a-half-hour flight from New York to San Jose, a 30-minute prop-plane flight from San Jose to Tambor, a 20-minute ride from Tambor to Cobano, and then comes the "fun" part. Although the dirt bike track (disguised as a road) that leads from Cobano to Mal Pais took our van 55 grueling minutes to navigate, all the travel stress ended abruptly as we arrived at the end of the road. Playa Carmen, the main stretch of surfing beach in Mal Pais, awaited us; a fair trade for our travels. Large glassy waves, groomed by offshore winds, were visible through a veil of palm fronds as we turned left towards our rental house for the week.

To be Continued...


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