I’m sitting shot-gun in a relatively new Toyota riding through the mountainous outskirts of the Central Valley of Costa Rica on my way to work. At first glance all I see is green, green to the left and green to the right. Green everywhere except for the black asphalt highway and the cars zooming past us. I pay little attention to the scenery, after all it’s just trees, and my coworker and I are in the middle of a conversation comparing current and past English-language teaching methods while Cher sings in the background. Once the road trip chatter dies down I have nothing else to do but turn my gaze outside. I stare aimlessly reflecting on the past week’s events: moving to a new country, finding a place to live, and entering a new work environment. Somewhere between analyzing my feelings of nostalgia for home and excitement for the next few months I start to realize that the green scenery around me isn’t just green but various shades of green. On one mountainside alone you can find hunter green, a light green, emerald green, olive green, and baby-poop green; and that’s not including the valley or the summit, both currently out of my line of vision. As the car makes its way through the serpentine highway the blanket of green is interrupted only by the jagged rock mountain side.
I hold my breath as we drive though the exposed rock surface. There mountains have a nasty reputation of suddenly loosening, sending rocks tumbling down and onto the highway below. Not too long ago my coworker, the same one I’m riding with at the moment was on another assignment driving along this very highway when a rock the size of a soccer ball came tumbling down the mountain and landed right in front of his car. With that anecdote fresh in my mind and the fact that we’ve had heavy rains for the past few days I peer up; my stare divided one half searching for a fault in the rock surface and the other half pleading to mountain, “please don’t let go at this exact moment, hold on just a little longer.”
We make it through the mountains uninjured and there is a collective sigh of relief in the car. Our car winds its way down the mountain and the road opens up to the sea. Being from New Jersey I have seen the ocean before but never like this. The majority of the Jersey coastline is relatively flat and the drive from the Parkway to the actually beach is long and filled with shops, hotels, and traffic lights. The car, well actually every indicator of civilization is sandwiched between two immense forces of nature. One the left side I have the immense Pacific Ocean and on the right the mountains I just managed to escape. There isn’t much room between sea and mountain, just enough for the beach, the highway, and a single row of hotels and restaurants. It’s the first time since I’ve arrived in Costa Rica that I’m reminded that us humans are completely powerless against the unmeasurable magnitude and force of Mother Nature. I can remember having this realization twice before: when I crossed the Andes by bus during winter on my way from Chile to Argentina and when I watched Super Storm Sandy destroy my home state. This time though, it isn’t direct fear I feel but rather awe. Costa Rica has gone through extreme pains to ensure that they balance their beautiful raw natural landscape with the every evolving 21st Century world. In an effort to make transportation easier they’ve carved serpentine highways into the mountains (and here a word of advice: driving through Costa Rica is definitely not for those who easily get car sick, and this is coming from a person who normally does not gets car sick). They’ve created beach towns ripe for ports and businesses on narrow strips of land with only one way in and out.