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Perils of Polly: Cats and dogs? Here, it's raining frogs

Posted: Friday, March 04, 2011

Editor's note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote "Perils of Polly." She also wrote a series of "Peril" columns in 1998 about her Australian adventures. Her perils continue in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Photo Courtesy Polly Crawford
Photo Courtesy Polly Crawford
Polly Crawford dons mud boots for a jungle trek into Carara National Park in Costa Rica, in search of the elusive scarlet macaw.

My hands once again were white-knuckled as I gripped the steering wheel. I drove on, into the darkness, leaning forward into the windshield, the torrent of rain nearly obscuring my vision. The windshield wipers flopped back and forth as fast as they could. It wasn't fast enough.

I was once again engulfed in a torrential downpour in Nicaragua, only this time it was night, and I was responsible for my front-seat translator and two of his friends frozen in fear in the back seat of my miniature rental vehicle.

My translator, Arlen, said, "Maybe you should pull over."

Blackness obscured the "shoulders." I remembered from driving during the day there were no shoulders. "There's no place to pull over," I answered, navigating the rivers of water streaming across the road.

And then, I began to see them. At first, only one or two of the giant frogs hopped onto the flooding pavement. I swerved to avoid them. And then, there were frogs everywhere. In the headlights, I could see dozens hopping across the road and I began to weave, trying desperately to avoid them. When the lightning flashed, it looked like they were swarming the road. Finally Arlen had had enough. "Do not kill us all over some stupid frogs!" he grunted through clenched teeth.

I still weaved once in a while, but finally accepted the fact that I was now a frog killer.

Finally the thunderstorm began to let up, and the frogs thinned out. I had survived once again. Back in Rivas, I dropped off the friends and went to our hostel, bade Arlen goodnight, and flopped into bed for a well-deserved relief for my nerves.

The next day Arlen hopped a bus back to his hometown, and I was on my own. I dropped off my car at the border, walked the mile across to Costa Rica, now not so muddy, and climbed aboard a bus to Liberia where I rented another car.

Behind the wheel, alone, I relaxed. While Nicaragua was known for its corrupt police who stop unsuspecting tourists and demand cash for ridiculous infractions, Costa Rica didn't have that notoriety. So it just seemed a little friendlier -- a short lived misconception.

As I was tootling along the highway -- a fairly decent one -- I noticed the speed limit fluctuated quite significantly. Sometimes it would be 60 kph, sometimes 90, and sometimes 120 kph, and there didn't appear to be any noticeable difference in the landscape. I had no idea why the speed limit changed, and while I tried to watch out for the signs, I mostly tried to travel the speed everyone else was traveling.

On one particular countryside straight-away, however, there was no other traffic. I was happily buzzing along at 120 kph. Then I saw the flashing light. Everyone knows the leap of the stomach into the mouth feeling. Oh-Oh. I pulled over.

The cop did not speak much English, so with my limited Spanish, he finally conveyed that the speed limit was 90 kph, and I was traveling 120 kph. I agreed with what I was traveling, but had no knowledge of the 90 kph drop. Of course that didn't matter. I could take the issue to the courthouse the next day, or I could pay the $90 fine right then and there. Of course the cop knew what I was going to do. I dug into my backpack, and totally emptied out all my cash, and it totaled $95. He took the $90, smiled, and went on his way.

Ouch, but oh well. It's just a travel expense. The cop probably really needed to feed his family.

I pulled out my map. The nearest town was Puntarenas, where I would find an ATM machine. It looked like a cool place to go, anyway, at the end of a long causeway, and my Lonely Planet guide said I might see some scarlet macaws.

I drove around, looked around, didn't see any scarlet macaws, got my cash, and got some food from a store. Back to Lonely Planet. Dark was closing in, and I needed a place to spend the night. I pulled into the Restaurante Ecologico Los Cocodrilos. I quick glance showed I was their only guest. A smiley man led me back to a little cabin. When he opened the door, a rat scrambled from the front of the room into its depth. "Ahhh," I shook my head, "No me gusta el rato," I said slowly, trying to convey I didn't want to spend the night with a rat.

He looked at me sideways and gave a belly laugh. Then he opened the door of the neighboring cabin. No rat scrambled away, so I pulled in my bag.

I ate dinner at their restaurant and made arrangements to meet a ranger at the Carara National Park the next morning. This was where I was supposedly guaranteed to see scarlet macaws.

When I arrived, the ranger handed me a pair of knee-high mud boots and grinned. "Hope you don't mind getting muddy," he said jovially.

Oh-oh. Now what was I getting myself into?

Check back next week for the next installment of Polly's perils.



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