All Systems Stop.

The bridge over the Quebrada Honda

We live up in the hills, some forty odd kilometres from the capital. The main road is a two lane double yellow line affair, so getting caught behind a heavy goods vehicle on the way home can add several minutes to the journey time. On the descent from the hills the road crosses a river..the Quebrada Honda….via a single lane bridge which was installed some seventy years ago and which has recently been closed as the various coats of paint applied to it over the years have done nothing to repair the underlying structure which has finally been recognised as dangerous.

Bus passengers have been aware of this risk for years, from observation of their driver crossing himself before crossing the bridge.

There are not many main roads in Costa Rica outside the conurbations, so the authorities’ bland statement that those wishing to reach the capital should use alternative routes was greeted with a less than cordial reception.

Given the lack of local employment people in this area are forced to go to the capital and its suburbs to find work….the morning and evening rush hours resemble the London North Circular at its worst as cars, motorcycles and buses jam the roads, so how was this mass of humanity to be assisted?

The bus company running from the capital to the coast on this road just stopped all operations, leaving those on the other side of our little town without any public transport whatsoever. That was until the local battleaxe, with the power of the church behind her, made forceful representations which restored service from the town to the coast.

But from the town to the capital?

No problem. The company running that service announced that they would run buses to the bridge, the passengers would then dismount and walk over to the other side where another bus would collect them for the onward journey.

Fine, except for two minor details.

Firstly the two ends were not co ordinated, which led to queues of half a kilometre waiting for a bus to arrive.

Secondly, the company charged two fares…….one to the bridge and another for the onward journey which amounted to more than the original fare for the complete journey.

Enter the battleaxe once more and the fares were revised……though the queues remained. An enterprising gentleman set up a business selling snacks and drinks until denounced to the authorities for having no licence to do so.

For Costa Rica, things moved swiftly. It was decided to install a Bailey bridge with a pedestrian walkway alongside while works were undertaken and a contract was awarded with a limit of twenty days to complete the project with an immediate start.

Except that the waterboard said that they did not have the necessary machinery to dis and remantle the waterpipe under the bridge. A thing about the size of a drainpipe. Par for the course for their local office. The mayor of the neighbouring canton invoked the powers of his office and contacted the national boss of the waterboard. Pipe dis and remantled in short order. Pity the same dismantling could not be applied to the local boss.

The walkway was quickly installed, and open to pedestrians and motorcycles – though it was necessary to remind riders to dismount rather than roaring through on full throttle. So some of the traffic was catered for.

Cars and lorries, however, had no such luck.

Deliveries were disrupted as lorries had to go from the capital to the coast on the laughingly called motorway – a two lane road with heavy tolls – then turn back on the old main road to reach the town.

Cars – and those lorries who thought they could get away with it – were left with the alternative routes.

Despite paying taxes which go to road maintenance, country roads are best approached with caution at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. To be fair, the neighbouring council started upgrading immeditely, while ours, of course, did not as the machinery needed was, as always, under repair.

The choice of alternate routes was stark. There was a paved road to the capital which meandered through the mountains, though ‘paved’ did not exclude potholes resembling archeological sites and yet another dodgy bridge…..apart from adding an hour at least to the journey.

There was a road just before the bridge on the town side which led up into the hills by the windfarm which disfigures the landscape and then down into the capital’s suburbs which offers wonderful views of the valley below, except you would be too busy trying to keep the car on the track to notice them.

Closer to home is the road which meanders cross country…one branch leading north to the motorway and the other east to the capital. It is a dirt road and whichever branch you take it involves crossing a rickety bridge bearing a notice prohibiting its use! Safer to drive through the river beneath it – at least, it is before the rains start if your car does not have a snorkel.

A further option is to drive through the indigenous reservation. The road is good through the village, and not too bad for a dirt road afterwards, if you can see where you are going for dust.

However, members of that community have got the hump at the road being used and have taken to laying heavy branches across it to impede traffic.

Don Freddy, caught by one such branch, announced that it was a pity that the conquistadores had not done a more thorough job, which, while it might be politically incorrect, sums up the general view of the matter.

So, as we were not obliged to go to work, how did the bridge closure affect us?

Badly, as Higher Authority had six hospital appointments in the space of the twenty days!

The Japanese tin box did not appreciate jolting over the dirt roads, and its engine has fallen apart, necessitating a trip to the garage – or in our case the local mechanic who is zillions of colones cheaper and a whole time zone faster. We hope to keep it going until Leo is officially declared handicapped – process bogged down for months because of Covid excuses – at which point we get a tax exemption on buying another car, so fingers crossed that he can do the job.

Still, the twenty days are up…the pedestrian walkway has been removed….our troubles – car permitting – are at an end.

If you believe that you will believe anything. This is Costa Rica.

The bridge has been installed, certainly….but the ramps are insufficient to support the weight of buses and lorries. Apparently ramps were not mentioned in the contract….

Now, the roads department has recently been involved in a large scale corruption scandal, so voices were immediately raised questioning whether this omission was down to incompetence…or something else. How long would we have to wait until there was a resolution?

Another week…another month….?

Much to everyone’s surprise, machinery is in action at the bridge today…the twentieth day….building up the ramps. I suspect that the mayor of the neighbouring canton hs got things moving again…but no one seems to know for sure.

Now all we have to do is to wait for a proper replacement bridge to be built……..considering it took three years to replace the one between us and the town I won’t be holding my breath.