American Diaries: #GLAadventure’s Bittersweet Memories From Costa Rica

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We arrived at the border just after sunset, with adrenalin still gushing through our veins. It took just an hour to clear the Nicaraguan border, since they didn’t need to check our equipment piece-by-piece. We felt like we were really on a roll, but this endorphin rush didn’t last very long.

As we drove into the Costa Rican side of the border and parked outside the customs office, we encountered a sullen customs official who informed our local fixer that our cars wouldn’t be allowed into the country. They had banned the import of right-hand drive cars, effective immediately, and there was no way he could let us through. Lady luck, it seemed, had finally deserted us.

We couldn’t turn back to Nicaragua, because – since the time we entered the country the day before – apparently they had also instituted the same law. We had no choice but to surrender our cars to the customs department, and leave them in their yard for the night. By the time we got the paperwork sorted and cars dropped off, it was past midnight.

We rented two cabs – one a pick-up truck to carry all the equipment – and headed to the coastal town of La Cruz for the night. It may have been only 20 kilometres away, but it took over an hour to get there since the roads were pretty much non-existent. With our cars abandoned, the mood couldn’t have got more sombre if we had tried.

The next morning we awoke to gale force winds, but at least we had the Pacific to lift our spirits. Ouseph and I decided to take a nap on the beach while our fearless leader, Poro – the director of this leg of the #GLAadventure – and our fixer tried to move mountains to free our machines. They failed!

This time, we hired a minibus to take us to the nearest city – Liberia – so that we could rent two cars in order to at least stay mobile. The plan was for one team to keep going to San Jose, the Costa Rican capital, while the other backtracked to the border to have our cars loaded onto a truck to be taken to the Costa Rica-Panama border. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans…

We drove out of the parking lot of the rental agency in our two Suzuki Vitaras and straight into a McDonalds parking lot. We had barely unwrapped our burgers when someone called us outside. Apparently they saw someone taking two bags out of one of our cars. And so it was – on one of the busiest street corners of the city, in broad daylight, with security and CCTV cameras watching – we had been robbed.

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Just when we thought, things couldn’t get worse!

The rear three-quarter glass had been broken, the door opened, and a camera bag and another knapsack had been stolen. With it, the passport and wallet of our cinematographer was gone as well. The police were immediately on the scene. Apparently the security guard had taken a loo break, and there were no immediate leads. At the police station, they dusted for prints but found none. To view the CCTV footage they would have needed a warrant, and seeing that it was now 5pm on a Friday they weren’t especially keen on getting one. And so it was case closed.

The nearest Indian Embassy was in Panama, but they were incredibly helpful. They initiated the process of issuing a temporary passport as soon as they got a copy of the police report. We were able to have the Mercs loaded onto the truck and have them sent to Panama without being present, and replace one violated Vitara with another that had all its windowpanes intact. Thank god for small mercies.

We then drove to the capital San Jose, and made it just in time to get a much-needed stiff drink at the bar of the hotel before it closed for the night.

The next morning, passport size photos and original forms were couriered to the Indian Embassy in Panama, and we headed to Caribbean for some much-needed R&R. As we drove through lush Costa Rican rainforest, we tried to get our minds off being Mercs-less, and also missing some camera equipment, a laptop, and, most importantly, a passport of one of our crew. We drowned our sorrows in some wonderful Costa Rican hospitality and Caribbean spirit at the beautiful beach town of Puerto Viejo.

The next day, a Sunday, we visited the local sloth sanctuary, which is actually highly recommended, and got some surfing lessons as well. And what a rush it was, riding the waves – even it was only for a few seconds. Adrenalin and endorphins, just what the doctor ordered once again!

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And now it’s time to give our rumbling tummy something to gorge on!

The next day, bright and early, it was time to backtrack and head back to San Jose once again. We had a meeting with a man by the name of Carlos Rodriguez – a man who virtually single-handedly revived racing in Costa Rica. He bought the La Guacima race track, just outside San Jose, to save it from going under – and only recently sold it to the La Nacion newspaper.

At present, he’s racing in the brand new Costa Rican touring car championship. They run space-frame chassis, built in the US (much like NASCAR), that are clothed in silhouette bodies to resemble standard road cars – such as the Chevrolet Cruze, Suzuki Ciaz, Hyundai Elantra, and the like – while the underpinnings are all the same. Every car on the grid is powered by a 5.7-litre Chevy crate engine that produces 350bhp, and sends that power to the rear wheels via a four-speed race transmission. The racing is loud, close, and the driver makes all the difference. At the same time, the OEMs get great publicity – so everyone’s happy. And it won’t break the bank either – a stroke of genius if you ask me. Now, if only the OEM’s in India wouldn’t be petrified to race each other on the track – or at least pretend to do so – we could actually create a great looking and sounding race series that offers close racing and provides a great spectacle.

With our cars abandoned, the mood couldn’t have got more sombre if we had tried. - Dhruv Behl
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