I grip the handle on the back of the seat in front of me, the blood has stopped flowing below the knuckles and they are turning white from my death grip on the plastic handle screwed into the vinyl seat. Our driver seems intent on killing us as he desperately tries to make up time lost in a traffic jam. Based on his speeds he apparently has no concern for life inside or outside his white minivan. I am searching my mental map of the area, trying to remember where exactly the road ends and he will undoubtedly have to slow his reckless speed. Surely he won’t be able to keep this speed on the half washed out gravel road that we grew to love on our last trip.
Turn after turn I think to myself, “it has got to be around this next curve”, that is as long as we don’t roll this van. Finally, he slows up, however, it’s not for the anticipated bumpy gravel road, but for the town. Shock and terror now fill my thoughts, this time unrelated to driving, but rather the death of one of my favorite towns.
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Ohhh no, They Paved the road…
Has there ever been a place that you connected in a deep way with, a way that makes you want to keep the place a secret so you don’t risk destroying it? If I had a place like that it would be this one.
On our first trip to Central America, several years back, we spent a few nights on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica in the town of Puerto Viejo. A small cluster of beaches connected with a rutted gravel road where the main means of getting around was a two-wheel beach cruiser. Either side of the gravel was lined bright green vegetation, thick with palms and banana trees.
It had a feeling of being undiscovered. A feeling of a diamond in the rough. It was a place that was a must on our RTW itinerary. We had to go back and re-live the good times we had here the last trip. But it was different, way different.
I have asked myself this question many times about the places I have been: Is it the place that changed or was it me. Sure, physically the town had changed with the addition of some pavement, but I think it’s more than that. I think we have changed as travelers.
The first time I was here in Puerto Viejo I wasn’t a budget traveler, I was on a 10 day vacation to a country I had come on a whim to travel with friends. I didn’t know it at the time, but that trip would help shape the life of travel I now live.
As changed as we are as travelers, the road had something to do with it. We recently returned to Puerto Viejo to find a very different place. Fresh asphalt replaced pothole-filled tracts. Quiet stretches of beach roads are now filled with the sound of construction crews building new properties.
Worst of all, the budget traveler barely has a place here. We have come to realize you’ll never have a first time in a city again, the exploring, the way you connect, all of the other ‘new-itities’ that come with a new-to-you destination. For us Puerto Viejo posed the question, can you ever go back, can you return to a place you loved, and love it the same the 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th time.
Puerto Viejo ended up being a city that we just didn’t have a good time on our RTW trip. It was different, we were different.
So, what to do when your favorite place gets a paved road? The town will be forever changed, there is no going back. So my suggestion is to go forward. Forward to the next destination with a bumpy gravel road, and a good vibe.