The distance to travel between the village of Nosara and the town of Tamarindo in Costa Rica is less than 70 kilometres, but it will still take more than two hours in a 4X4 on the dustiest, desolate, middle of nowhere, rocky roads with potholes the size of small vehicles.
On a map, they call the road Hwy 160. If you can imagine a cottage access road in its worst shape after a long winter, you'll get the idea. You use your wiper blades for the dust, not the rain. Drive more than 40 kilometres per hour and you are asking for it. I learned that the hard way and found myself changing a tire on my first drive. So on today's journey to Tamarindo, I took my time. This road is cut through a jungle so you can well imagine my surprise seeing a young lady hitchhiking, thumb out, in 40-degree heat, where the closest town was miles in either direction.
"Should we pick her up?" asked my wife Cathy. I already knew the answer was yes, just from the sheer guilt I would feel driving past someone who couldn't be much older than one of our daughters in a place where nobody should be standing. That's how we met 24-year-old Natasha, a recent graduate who started her adventure seven months ago by hitchhiking all the way from Argentina. Her journey so far has taken her through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica - more than 8,000 kms all on her own.
"Where are you heading?" we asked. "To Tamarindo" she said. She hopped in the back seat and two hours later, we dropped her off at her hostel in town. She told us that this had been a very lucky day as she had budgeted for a 10-hour journey and figured she'd have to be in at least six cars to get to her destination. We learned she is an avid photographer, that she has a cooking background, and has been volunteering at animal shelters along the way, where she gets room and board in exchange for helping in the kitchen.
So, I'll just say that there's zero chance I would pick up a hitchhiker anywhere in Ontario, believing the only reason they'd be hitching was because they were murderers, rapists, or have just escaped from prison. You'd have to be an absolute madman to pick up a hitchhiker (mind you, the parallel of getting into an Uber is not lost on me!) Yet here I was, in a foreign country, picking up a young traveller. We could have been killed! It could have been a trap!
I mentioned this encounter to my daughters who texted me back that Natasha must have a death wish and how stupid were we to pick her up? I countered that I was feeling a new energy, learning that the spirit of wanderlust and adventure is alive and well in our tech-addicted world. Maybe Natasha is the new Jack Kerouac who will create a reimagined Millennial Beat generation with her stories from the road.
As usual I was getting ahead of myself when daughter #1 mused: "Maybe I should hitchhike from Oakville to Argentina?" NOT ON YOUR LIFE! ARE YOU KIDDING? And that's exactly what she knew I would say. There's an irony in admiring the adventure and courage of this young lady thumbing her way through South and Central America, yet in no way would I ever be able to sleep if one of my own daughters was on a similar adventure. There's something wrong in that. The hypocrisy gets even worse knowing I would not be so against the idea if I had a son. But with daughters? No way.
We didn't get Natasha's last name, but I did ask her if she has had any dangerous or uncomfortable situations along her journey. "Not one," was her response.
With today being Valentine's Day, it's a nice story to celebrate the idea of loving not only someone special, but also to appreciate the love for oneself, love of adventure, and love of taking risks and opening up to new ideas. Natasha is sure doing just that, and so far, she seems to be on a great path that will take her...who knows where. But she's clearly enjoying every minute of it.
Cathy Thomson (left) and Natasha