So far, so good. We had cleared the city limit of San Jose and the darting and swerving of rush hour traffic. This was not like Chicago. Chicago drivers are kittens let out of their cage. San Jose drivers are Dobermans after a pork chop.

And the motorcycles. So many of them. Splitting lanes like reverse tight-rope walkers.

“Good lord! That guy almost lost his left arm,” I said cringing. Near-amputee experiences were happening all around us.

“They drive here like how you’d want to drive back home, but would get pulled over and ticketed for reckless driving if you actually did,” said Kirk.

“Ya, maybe how you’d want to drive,” I replied.

The night before, two very trusting Ticos graciously offered their only car – their uninsured car – to a couple of gringos who wanted to take a trip to the ocean. A trip to the ocean was no afternoon jaunt; it was 350km there and back to the our desired destination: the beach town of Manuel Antonio. And since Natalia and David’s short vacation time was up, Kirk and I were going it alone.

“Don’t stop for nothing,” David warned us the night before. “Keep your camera, your phone, hidden. If the guys see that, they run up to your car and point a gun at you, and say ‘Give it to me.’ You can’t do nothing.”

“Make sure you check the tires after you park somewhere,” advised Natalia. “If they see you are a tourist, they slash your tires, and when you come back and try to leave, they rob you.”

“And the police,” David continued, “if the police stop a Tico, they just let ’em go. But you, they see you a gringo. They say, you pay a fine. $100 maybe, maybe more. In cash. They pocket it. If the police stop you, say you speak no a Spanish.”

Feeling significant elevation in our personal threat levels, we remained on edge even through San Jose’s suburbs. Finally, after passing the third and final toll booth, the highway thinned down to two lanes and the traffic lightened up. We relaxed and absorbed the passing environment.

We admired the fence-building practices of Tico farmers. Why use dead wood that needs to be replaced over and over when you can grow your own live fence with a handful of seeds?

We drove for another hour or so, passing miles of palm tree farms hanging in the sky like rows of green fireworks.

A semi-truck heading in the opposite direction flashed his headlights. “Was that meant for us?” I asked Kirk. “Maybe there’s police up ahead?”

Rounding the bend, we saw the reason for the warning.

Loose livestock frequently roam New Zealand roads too, but instead of cows, the runaway culprits are sheep.

It was nearly noon, and even with the windows rolled down, the car was heating up. We longed for cool sea breezes and a bathroom break. Some food wouldn’t hurt either. Preferably casados from a soda, a Tico diner, near the ocean.

We turned off the main highway a few kilometers before Jaco – the big tourist-saturated beach town we visited the previous week – in favor of Playa Herradura, which turned out to be a bus stop and a few sodas settled on the edge of a dark-chocolate beach, with fishing boats floating in a bay the color of liquid peacock feathers.

Just perfect.

Seated at a table just across from perfection, we enjoyed a cold Fresca while we waited for our order to arrive. ☼

Next up: Two Gringos in Manuel Antonio…