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My Week…by Krista

Updated: Nov 9, 2019

Surveying the damage of last week.

Three days and nights of torrential downpours were taking its toll on us. The news reports from neighbors informed us that we were the recipients of 2 or 3 different tropical storms and the end of our personal deluge was not yet in sight. The local rivers were swollen and the muddy embankments had collapsed into the roads in some areas. Nevertheless, we had to make the 3 hour journey to San José over the “Mountain of Death” (and that’s its name on the good days) to pick up Joel’s sister from the airport and a bag of our equipment that someone was delivering a few hours later.

Joel and I dressed in our sturdiest rainy season gear and packed the car with supplies – food, machete, flashlights, umbrellas, and whatever else we thought we may need if we found the road to be impassable. Stopping by Curtis and Michelle’s to inform them of our plan, we heard even more dismal accounts of what the trek over the mountain would be like. Over lunch, they prayed for our safety and then we headed out on our adventure.

We didn’t have to go far before we saw what everyone had been talking about. The rains had washed away the land in some places and the roads were covered in slippery mud. In one place, a tree was covering almost the entire road, having been uprooted. We drove through the heavy rain slowly in our little 4-wheel drive car, windows down and wiping the inside of the windshield as it fogged up constantly.

After about 45 minutes, we came down the hill and saw a line of vehicles stopped on both sides of a large metal bridge. You could see the river currents rushing rapidly from a long way off. The water was rising to the level of the houses closest to the bank. As we drove up, people were yelling and pointing so Joel stopped the car, grabbed his jacket and umbrella and walked with the locals across the bridge to the other side. There they could see what those on the far side of the river had been pointing to – the force of the waters under the bridge were rapidly disintegrating the support of the bridge and all that was left was a deceptively smooth and seemingly safe layer of asphalt hiding the tumultuous mess below. It was obvious that the bridge would soon collapse if the rain continued to raise the water.

Coming back to our side of the bridge, many of the men stood around contemplating what to do. The largest city in our area was just beyond the bridge and there was no other way to reach it. If the bridge collapsed, that would likely cut off the supplies of food to our area for at least a few days without being able to reach that town. And, given the lack of supplies that the tiny villages have on this side of the bridge, that could be a real problem. For a couple of the men, their families lived in that town, so they weighed the risks and decided to cross the bridge. We watched intently as they returned to their parked cars, waited for the people to clear the way, put their car in gear and bolted across the faulty bridge, thinking their sheer velocity and momentum would carry them across if collapse occurred. Aside from the obvious, the only problem with driving quickly over the bridge was that immediately on the other side, a huge mudslide was washing the land into the road with great force. So, as soon as one sped over the river, he would have to come to an abrupt halt, put his vehicle into 4-wheel drive and maneuver around the fallen trees and brush and through the slick mud. Joel watched on that side as two cars were pushed by the mud into the deep ditches.

Meanwhile, Joel and I contemplated what to do. If we took the chance of crossing the bridge, which seemed at least passable at this point if we stayed to one side, we had no guarantee that we would make it the rest of the almost 3 hours over the mountain to the capital. Since mudslides were becoming such a great problem, perhaps we would get stuck somewhere on the mountain overnight.

Finally, men from the electric company drove up in their notoriously competent vehicle and all of us in the lineup of cars watched to see what they would do. They are known for being able to reach the most unreachable destinations in Costa Rica so we knew they would have an accurate report of the road situation ahead. As they exited their truck, Joel and I walked over to ask them what they thought the chances were of us reaching San José. “No way! The roads are closed. There is no way,” they answered firmly. Turning around and looking at the collapsing bridge and realizing this was not yet considered a “closed” road, I secretly wondered how bad that route must actually be! “The mountain sent a huge mudslide and no one will pass one way or the other for 5 days.” So, that probably means 3 weeks, I’m thinking.

We asked about taking a long route around the other side of the country that normally takes 5 or 6 hours. “It’s not possible. The bridges have been destroyed and a ferry is taking cars across in areas where the road is underwater.” And then we heard our third and final route (who knows how long that would take on a normal day!) was also destroyed. We had been so excited to make the trip into the capital and bring home the first member of our family to see our home here in Costa Rica, and we knew a bag of our equipment would be waiting for us at the airport, but there was literally no way to get there. Not having any other options, we returned home.

If we had had previous experiences with mudslides and collapsing bridges, we would have known that schools shut down and all work comes to a halt as whole villages wait in their homes for the rain to stop. Dressing in warm rain gear, neighbors go from house to house to check on each other and inspect the damage that leaking roofs are doing to kitchens. Or to see where someone’s yard has now washed down into a river below. It reminded us of an icy snow day in Oklahoma. We returned to our friend’s home and I baked a cake with Michelle while Joel and Curtis stocked up on gear and drove through local villages to see the damage and look for people they could help. Joel’s most famous rescue of the day was pulling a truck out of the river with his little Russian-made car! That night, we began making arrangements with friends in San José to meet his sister and our equipment at the airport.

The next day, Joel and Curtis tried again to make the journey, knowing better what to expect, but they found it would not be possible again that day. They saw lines of people waiting for water, bridges washed down river dangling below other bridges, cars that had been swept away by the floods, houses destroyed and people facing destruction of all sorts. We heard reports that we were cut off on all sides and that if anyone needed to leave the area, the government would send a helicopter, but without a special permit, cars would not be allowed to try to drive on some of the main roads until they had fixed the most dangerous areas.

Knowing for certain that we could not reach San José this weekend, we felt a bit helpless and disappointed, but we could see it was out of our hands. Keeping in touch with a small bus company, they alerted us when they had received a permit to cross the bridges on the long route around the mountain, and we made arrangements for Joel’s sister to travel with them, bringing the bag of equipment as well.

Finally, the sun came back and began drying out the land and letting the workers clear the roads and on Sunday, we were all together, listening to each other’s adventures, walking on the beach, until it started to … rain. #gallery-175-2 { margin: auto; } #gallery-175-2 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 33%; } #gallery-175-2 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-175-2 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

Notice the bulldozer on the top of the mountain in the 9th photo and how small it is compared to everything else! Those boulders in front are as big as trucks. And we know someone who lives below this whole disaster of a road!

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