LA FORTUNA, Puntarenas — We were driving back to our hotel after a day of ziplining when traffic came to a total stop on the highway next to Arenal Volcano National Park.
My son Jordan, leaning out the passenger window, said there was a big tree across the road and men with machetes walking around it.
I shut off my car and got out to inspect the problem. The incessant rain and wind had toppled a tree across the road, knocking down a telephone pole and three phone lines. The tree appeared to have two trunks, each about 8 inches in diameter.
There was an ICE truck on the scene, meaning there should be experts on hand, but so far the only thing happening was men with machetes walking along the tree cutting off the leafy epiphytes clinging to it, the better to see their target.
Soon a man climbed up onto the tree, which was suspended roughly 6 feet above the ground, and began hacking at it with a machete.
The hacking went on a long time.
There was only one vehicle in front of me, a white van driven by a Spanish-speaking woman who never got out. To my surprise she revved her engine and drove right under the tree with the machete man on top.
I saw my chance and moved my car up to the tree, but unlike the woman in the white van I asked permission: “¿Puedo pasar?”
The man I asked was reluctant to answer, but he finally said that the tree with the man on top could fall down any minute. So I decided to wait and see what happened.
The longer this lasted, the more people got out of their cars. I was amused to see that the majority of the people who gathered around the fallen tree appeared to be expats or tourists (though it was the Ticos who had the machetes).
Someone produced a big rope, and an expat with limited Spanish said the five of us could pull on the rope hard enough to break the tree — which we tried, without much luck, chiefly because the rope was tied too close to the spot that was halfway chopped through.
Then another expat who spoke great Spanish showed up and said he had a Toyota Land Cruiser that could break that tree no problem.
The Land Cruiser came forward, the Ticos tied the rope to a ring on its underside, and the man put his vehicle in reverse. It backed up until the rope tightened, tightened, tightened — and then the tree broke.
But our work was hardly done. There was still half a tree sticking across the road, and the three telephone lines were now suspended in the air. Also, what was left of the tree had fallen several feet, so the window for making like the white van and driving under it was now closed.
A guy on a motorcycle decided to brave it, and he had to physically lift the telephone lines over his shoulders to get under them. Good thing they weren’t power lines, as the man from ICE had assured me.
By now we had 20 guys standing around, including a big family of tourists with three teenage boys, so we decided to try pushing the tree, and then pulling the tree, and then pushing it again. We made progress by centimeters at best.
Back to our winning strategy: the Land Cruiser. It went into action once more, now tied to the second trunk, though this one did not break nearly as easily as the first. The vehicle’s tires started to spin at one point, but it recovered its traction and to everyone’s relief the tree finally snapped.
I ran to my car, since I was first in line, and drove through the newly blazed trail.
“In the United States, I would have had to sit in my car and wait for other people to solve the problem,” Jordan reflected later. “Here, I could get out, get my hands dirty and help everyone get where they were going a little faster. It’s good to be in Costa Rica.”
Contact Karl Kahler at firstname.lastname@example.org.