I can feel the tires loosing traction under us. The river that wants to engulf us has now risen higher than the door handle and is splashing violently against the window. I look at Catherine and hope that it will not be the last time I see those eyes. I quickly grab her hand and faintly whisper “I love you.” Our hearts jump out of our chest with every slip of the wheel or angry splash of the mighty river and I think to myself that this must be the greatest cab driver in the world.
I met Mario in Costa Rica in May of 2004, right at the beginning of the rain season that will last until October, and rain quite heavily during those months. My girlfriend, Catherine, and I were in the middle of a month long adventure that spanned both coasts of the beautiful country. The day we met Mario he picked us up in his cab. Mario was a Tico (native Costa Rican) who was of average size and around 35 years old. We told him that we were traveling north along the west coast from a small village of Drake toward our destination, the tourist friendly Quepos, he agreed to be our guide to our destination. Traveling by taxi is one of the best and most affordable ways to travel the majestic country of Costa Rica. It works out to about six or seven dollars per-hour of driving.
I had never seen rain come down so hard and at such a steady pace before in my life; of course I grew up in San Diego, home of 350 days of sunshine a year. Catherine and I have a limited knowledge of the Spanish language, so the sound of rain pounding on the cab roof made our attempt to translate Mario’s small talk, which was, of course in Spanish, difficult. Never the less we managed to trade broken pleasantries as he whisked us along the soaked road. About an hour, and six dollars, later is when we realized that the rain would be more than just a minor inconvenience.
A small car began flashing its lights and driving straight at our, surprisingly stylish and large S.U.V. taxi. We stopped and the man in the small car pulled up next to us and told our cab driver that the roads ahead we impassable because a flood had turned a low point in the road in to a raging river. Concerned, we asked if there were any hotels between here and the flood point. Mario said no. What were we going to do?
Mario then did something thing that I am convinced no North American cab driver would ever do. He said that we could stay at his house, with his family, until the storm passed. We were shocked but desperate so we accepted. He drove up to a modest looking house that was situated on a fairly large field. As we entered we were greeted by his wife, Marta, who appeared much younger, perhaps 22 and their new born child David (pronounced Da-vee-d.)
The hospitality was amazing. Marta cooked us a traditional meal (chicken with plantain, rice and vegetables) while Mario prepared a bed in the guest room for us. At one point I saw Mario grab a large machete off the outside wall and I paused with concern before I realized he was going to use it to cut a mango to make juice for us.
We watched the news while we ate and the reporter said that the rain was beginning to subside. Mario decided that we would take a chance with his trusty S.U.V. cab and fight through the mighty river. We agreed with more than a hint of trepidation.
We came up to a flooded spot on the road which I though must have been the river we were concerned with. I held on tight as Mario didn’t even slow down. We made a thunderous splash as we powered through, the vicious impact of hitting the water caused Catherine and I to lurch forward into the back of the front seats, I felt fast-flowing river pulling us to the left and the engine straining to get us to safety. Mario did not look concerned. The mighty cab established a foot hold and blasted through to the other side, we all took a deep breath.
After passing through the seemingly dangerous river we felt a little more confident in our brave leader. Like so often in life bad news is temporary, and so is good news, apparently that was not the river we needed to be concerned with. Despite our fear of the impending monster we pressed on down the soggy road with determination and a lust for life that can only accompany the excitement of the unknown. The powerful adrenaline-fueled feeling we were experiencing shifted gear as our cab downshifted and slowly approached ‘The Monster.’
The newly formed river was a raging force of choppy, splashy and very angry-looking water. It had been created by days of pounding rain and poor drainage systems. It was 50 feet wide and was flowing from our right to our left with a mighty force due to the slope of the terrain. There was a line of about 20 cars in front of us and as we approached we saw a very strange site: a bull dozer with several teenagers hanging off it crossing the river. Apparently they were charging the equivalent of 20 U.S. dollars to tow vehicles across. “Quite the young entrepreneurs” I thought as we pondered our possibilities.
The young men were pulling cars across in both directions, so the wait would be long if we were to accept their offer. Mario, our cab driver, looked stressed, probably thinking that he wanted to get back to his young family sometime today. We still had a couple hours to go to get to our destination even after we crossed “The Monster” plus he would have to come back across to get back home. He then made a decision: let’s go for it.
He didn’t hit the river with much speed. Perhaps he thought the river might just take a fast moving car and turn it into a fast moving metal raft. As soon as we eased in I could feel this incredible pull; I knew this would be a very treacherous undertaking. As we got a few feet in the water level was literally above the base of the side window; how that cab didn’t instantly get flushed into the abyss is beyond me. We were moving faster to our left than we were moving forward, the engine was roaring like a desperate and depraved lion scrambling and scratching in an effort to not fall off the edge of a steep cliff. At one point I actually felt the tires come of the loose ground and the whole cab drift downstream. We must have hit a bump in the landscape and somehow regained our footing. Mario furiously stomped on the gas and with one last desperate effort we gained enough ground to get past the halfway point and continue to power through the other side. I think Mario was still feeling the rush after we breeched the last of the river because his foot was still powerfully pressing the pedal to the floor. We shot out of the water and went careening uncontrollably over a small hill toward a group of slightly amazed onlookers. He came to his senses and narrowly brought the vehicle to a halt as a few of the onlookers scrambled behind their cars. We were approximately 75 feet further to the left of our starting point.
Two minutes later our stunned silence was broken by a collective laughter, the type of laughter that sounds more relief-induced than humor-induced. We made it to Quepos a couple hours later without incident and then we thanked Mario with a handshake, a smile, and a forty dollar tip. He was the greatest cab driver in the world.