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Chasing an Eclipse

Costa Rica
April 6-10, 2005

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What started out as loose talk around the Thanksgiving table between my nephew Dan and I ended up as a long weekend road trip through southern Costa Rica, driving south over mountains and through valleys on Highway 2, in search of a solar eclipse at 4:02 p.m. on April 8.

Along the way, we ate a lot of arroz con pollo, tracked the battle between Imperial and Pilsen for the hearts and souls of the beer drinkers of southern Costa Rica, explained ourselves to policemen at five highway checkpoints, lost my favorite hat, hung out with conmen and prostitutes at the Panama border, kayaked at Golfito, listened to many hours of mixes on the iPod, trespassed in a closed wildlife preserve in search of monkeys (didn't see any!), broke the toilet at a $10-a-night motel room, and saw a lot of pretty countryside.

Ten minutes before the eclipse, we stood in the pouring rain at a fried food stand at la frontera explaining our purpose to the friendly pimp who ran the show at that corner. "Eclipse?" he laughed and pointed at the black rain clouds. "Maybe if you were in Puntarenas," he told us in Spanish. We gave him 1000 colones ($2.50) for his trouble and 1000 each to the two toughs who had watched our car for us, then made our way up the road a bit where, at 4:06, the sky darkened, a weird yellow dark, which lasted 4 or 5 minutes before brightening.

Then we headed north again.

The day before we had left, I had talked with a colleague who had just returned from a family vacation in the northwest of Costa Rica, bustling with zip lines and lodges with balconies overlooking fiery volcanoes. "The whole place is set up for tourism," he told me. Maybe I'll find out next year, when I take the family to that region. But I'm here to tell you that the south is not.