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HomeGetting AroundRoad trip! Driving to Costa Rica — from Arkansas

Road trip! Driving to Costa Rica — from Arkansas

SINTON, Texas — Two thousand, eight hundred seventy-eight miles — that’s the number Google generates when I map San José, Costa Rica, and click “Get Driving Directions” from Little Rock, Arkansas: 2,878 miles, or if you prefer, 4,632 km.

My brother and I embarked on this drive today. We made it to Sinton, Texas, 623 miles (1,003 km) in 11 hours.

Google says we’re looking at 58 hours of driving, which divided by a little over eight hours of driving per day would take 7 days. But we think we’ll make it in six.

Hope, Arkansas, birthplace of President Clinton.
Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

A week and a half ago, on Saturday, May 23, I was driving from Nuevo Arenal to San José when my phone rang and my son informed me that my mother had died.

This came as a terrible shock, since she had not been ill and was thought to be in good health. She apparently had a massive heart attack while sitting on her couch at home in Camden, Arkansas, with her two cats.

Compounding my loss was the fact that my father died only 10 months ago — in fact, his death was what sparked the epiphany that led me to quit my job, sell all my stuff and move to Costa Rica.

I called my brother Paul, who also lives in Costa Rica, and he had already heard the news. By 6:20 a.m. Monday, Paul and I were on a plane to Little Rock, and by 4:30 we were greeting our aunt Linda in Mom’s apartment.

Paul Collar takes the wheel for the first leg of the journey.
Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

By Friday, the rest of the family had arrived: my sons, Paul’s sons, Linda’s ex-husband and their two children, my first cousins.

Mom was cremated according to her wishes, and a memorial service was held Saturday at Victory Church in Camden. Paul and I both delivered eulogies, as did two pastors who had known and loved Margaret Ellen Berg.

Mom was extraordinarily well prepared for her own passing, with a bulletproof will that left everything to Paul and me equally, with her cremation prepaid, and with explicit instructions on how to find and claim all her assets, including a bank account, a brokerage account, a safe-deposit box and a car.

Nice car.
Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

Accessing the first three turned out to be a breeze, as Mom had already made us co-owners of all her accounts (and left a note telling us exactly where the two safe-box keys were).

The most complicated piece of business turned out to be the car. It’s a 2012 Nissan Altima with roughly 40,000 miles (64,400 km) on it — immaculate, in superb condition and paid for.

Of course I thought we would sell it and split the proceeds. But Paul had other ideas.

Houston that-a-way.
Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

Paul drives a 1987 Toyota Hi-Lux pickup truck with 350,000 miles (563,000 km) on it, and I drive a 1999 Suzuki Grand Vitara with 140,000 miles (225,000 km). Both are 4-wheel-drive vehicles that can traverse just about any road in Costa Rica.

But these are the kind of vehicles affectionately called “beater cars” — highly functional but not much to look at, and not big on bells and whistles.

Paul has been saying he’d like to buy a “city car,” a 2-wheel-drive sedan with a little more cachet, comfort and style. Well, the ultimate city car had just landed in our possession.

Now entering Texas.
Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

So Paul started hatching a crazy plan: Why not just drive Mom’s car to Costa Rica?

There are several good answers to that question.

No. 1, there’s the whole beheading thing. Mexico, you may know, lies between Arkansas and Costa Rica, and it’s not the safest country in the world. In fact, reports of mass murders, disappearances and beheadings in Mexico are sadly common (though these reports rarely involve Arkansans driving to Costa Rica). Honduras also lies between Arkansas and Costa Rica, and Honduras is the murder capital of the world.

Karl takes the wheel in Carthage, Texas.
(Courtesy of Paul Collar)

No. 2, Costa Rica’s import duties on vehicles are painfully high — 52% for cars up to 3 years old, 64% for cars 4 to 5 years old, and a punitive 79% for anything older.

No. 3, as already mentioned, Costa Rica is a lo-o-o-ong drive from Arkansas, it will take a week, and at times it will undoubtedly be boring (unless we get robbed, kidnapped or beheaded).

But on the plus side, Mom’s car would be much more valuable in Costa Rica than in Arkansas, and we could never buy its equal there for what this one will cost us.

A brotherly selfie.
(Courtesy of Paul Collar)

And while the drive from Little Rock to, say, Veracruz, will be long and not very scenic, by the time we get to central Mexico we will have hundreds of miles of stunning scenery ahead to enjoy. At least that’s what Paul says, and he’s done this drive before.

So we decided to do it. After jumping through the many hoops required by the Arkansas Department of Motor Vehicles to title, register and insure the car in our names, we received our last critical piece of paperwork at 11:30 a.m. Thursday and hit the road.

We arrived in Sinton, on the outskirts of Corpus Christi, at 10:30 p.m.

Houston, we have a ... arrived!
(Courtesy of Paul Collar)

As for the whole beheading thing, we’re hoping that’s extremely unlikely. Our heads are not worth anything to anyone unless they’re still connected to our necks.

Paul and I look so much alike we’re sometimes asked if we’re twins, and we both recently shaved our heads.

Paul likens us to the bald, murderous Mexican twins from “Breaking Bad” who almost killed Walter White’s brother-in-law. Our joke is, we look so scary the beheaders wouldn’t dare mess with us.

Yeah, let’s hope that’s how it works out.

Follow our daily updates on this journey — the good, the bad and the border crossings — at Contact Karl Kahler at


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