Take My Car, Please! My first year in Costa Rica, I bought a 15 year old Jeep from a guy in Tibas. It had a removable rag top, extended back end, no radio and was a dull purplish gray– the color of a bruise. In the year I owned it, I never saw another Jeep anywhere on the road that resembled it.
The Jeep had been assembled in Costa Rica, by a company that went out of business in the late 1970s. Locals called it a Curvito. I wasn’t familiar with the word ‘Curvito’, but later decided it meant either “Jeep that makes a mechanic shake his head in dismay’’ or “Jeep that’s replacement parts are nonexistent”.
At the time I had been very proud of my purchase. I had been in country only about 6 months, but my Español had advanced to the point where I successfully negotiated the price and payment of a vehicle.
I was so proud of myself that I completely overlooked the amazed relief on the seller’s face when we completed the transaction, and I handed him a big bundle of red notes–the 1000 colon note that was, at that time, the highest denomination of paper money in circulation.
A year later, I decided to sell it. This was pre-cell phone, pre-internet Costa Rica. Those days were like ancient history compared to today, with cell phone service available in the vast majority of the country. But back then, I lived about a 20-minute drive from the nearest pay phone. One of the various retired older alcoholic Americans I knew had a house with a landline phone in San Isidro del General. He loaned me his phone number so I could place an ad in La Nacion.
I simply put, “Se vende 1977 Jeep” and the price and phone number. I spent the weekend at his house, fielding inquiries and trying not to drink too much. But I had a half dozen calls that expressed interest, including a wealthy Texan who assured me that he was ready to buy it sight unseen, and that, aw shucks, if he didn’t buy it, he had an off-street parking area where I could store it until I did find a buyer.
The following Monday morning I headed out at 4am toward San Jose. I dressed as I always did for San Jose– jeans, print shirt, light windbreaker/rain jacket. As I reached the top of Cerro del Muerte, still in darkness, I wondered what in the hell I had been thinking an hour earlier. Lightly dressed, in a rag top car with no heat, I shivered in agony.
Of course–there was a reason they named this 10,000-foot peak the “Mountain of Death”. There was no place along the road open at the early hour where I could stop and warm myself. I shook and gripped the wheel as I drove, screaming for the sun to break over the mountain to my east. “Ex-Local Man Freezes to Death in Tropics’’– It would be the head-scratching headline in the papers back home.
Maybe even a Darwin award candidate. When the sun finally peeked over the ridge, I concentrated on feeling its warm rays reaching me, saving my life.
By the time I reached Cartago at the base of the mountain the temperature was 12 Celsius, which felt downright balmy. I made it to San Jose, to the offices of the Texan. He greeted me excitedly. When he came down to look at my Curvito, his expression changed–my car was all hat and no cattle for him, I could tell instantly. Maybe it was the ugly color or the frayed rag top.
Maybe it was the extended back end. Maybe it was because it was a freak in the Jeep family and did not look like any other Jeep on the road. He hemmed and hawed and said he would think it over. And dadgum it if he didn’t also forget about his promise to let me store it there.
Over the next 2 days I paid to store my car in a 24-hour parking lot near La Sabana Park. All of my other prospective buyers reacted similarly to the Texan once they got a look at it.
Apparently, all Jeeps are not considered equals, especially if they are called Curvitos. Two mornings later, I drove back over the Cerro del Muerte at an hour that minimized the risk of death by exposure. The Curvito was mine, for better or for worse, well into the 21st century.