Remote community struggles for lack of a promised bridge

My husband and I have lived in Costa Rica for four years working as private school teachers. During this time, we have grown to love this country and its citizens.

For our fall break, we opted to go to Drake Bay to enjoy our vacation. We chose to fly, as opposed to drive into the area because we heard the roads were rough and were only passable with SUVs because it was the rainy season.

The flight there on Nature Air was great, but when we were getting ready to land, we realized part of the gravel runway was flooded. The pilot skillfully accommodated, and we had a fairly smooth landing, except for a few large potholes on the runway. We didn’t realize our adventure was just beginning.

We were escorted to the Nature Air hub and told we may want to change clothes. Confused, we asked why we would need to change clothes. The reply was that we would need to ford the river on foot because it was swollen and impassable due to heavy rains.

We arrived by SUV to the river’s edge and unloaded our bags, preparing to cross. The problem was that there was one small, feeble woman who would not be able to cross the swiftly moving water. One of her sons hefted her to his shoulders and began the crossing. The water grew deeper and deeper until he was waist deep. He was battling to keep his mother on his shoulders safely through the strong current. My husband and I were also struggling through the strong waters to keep our balance and hoist our luggage above our heads to keep our clothing dry. Finally, after many minutes and much deliberation, our group made it across. Everyone was safe and accounted for.

This incident made me wonder what life was like for the locals in Drake Bay. What happens when tourists fly in and can’t cross the river? What happens when power or Internet is lost and repairmen can’t arrive to repair the damaged lines? What happens when hotels or restaurants cannot receive the necessary supplies or when the EBAIS cannot receive the medication? I would soon find out.

We checked into the Jademar Hotel, one of the few still open in the area during the rainy season. The rain was heavy throughout the day, so we decided to go to the bakery across the street to sit and relax. While walking up the ceramic tiled incline, my husband slipped and fell . . . hard. He cracked a bone in his back and a bone in his right forearm. It wasn’t a life-threatening injury, but we wanted to get back to the San José area for his medical treatment. We spoke to Nature Air and changed our reservations to fly back to San José the next morning.

The next morning, we ate a wonderful breakfast of omelette, gallo pinto, and freshly baked bread at the bakery. We went to schedule our ride to the air strip only to be told the flight was cancelled because the river was uncrossable. Our other option was to take a boat an hour up the coast to Palma Sur and fly from there. The only problem was the boat had left 30 minutes earlier. We were essentially stuck in Drake Bay for another day.

We needed to find a medical clinic to hold my husband over until we could get back to San José. Our hotel administrator,  Johnny Obando, was so helpful. He tried calling the doctor who worked at the local EBAIS, only to find out he was out of town. There was no pharmacy in town and the EBAIS was closed.

What do the locals do if there is a medical emergency? That river is their lifeline to civilization. When it’s uncrossable, they are literally stuck. Why has the government not built a bridge for this area?

After talking to Mr. Obando further, I found out that 80 percent of the hotels here have to close this time of year because the tourists cannot get to the area easily. He told me if the power or Internet fails, the locals have to wait for days at a time to have the problem resolved. Can you imagine being a hotel owner who cannot provide power to your guests? Can you imagine being a restaurant that cannot provide food to your customers? It would affect your ability to make money to provide for your family.
All of the hotels and stores here have to go on a cash only basis because they cannot rely on power or Internet.

These are basic needs and our government is not providing for the basic needs of its citizens. There is always road construction in San José and bridges being repaired or replaced, but Drake Bay is part of this country, too.

My husband and I were not able to fly out that first day. We had to wait until the next day (two days after the accident) and catch a taxi to the river’s edge, where we once again forded across it. We walked another 600 meters to get to the airstrip and caught the Nature Air flight back to San José. Once back to San José, we were able to get medical and dental treatment for my husband.

Mr. Obando said the government has been promising to build the bridge for years and even started once or twice but ran into problems. He said they now have equipment two kilometers away and will maybe start again soon. But we are in the rainy season, and for Drake Bay, that means a lot of rain and possibly a lot more waiting for the bridge to come.

*Ms. Waters lives in Escazú.

By Tracy Leann Waters*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

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