My bad trip – do you know the way to San José? Take the chicken bus!

When Brie Veron and her friends book a ‘two-hour’ trip into Costa Rica, they aren’t expecting a 16-hour ordeal involving a shady cabbie and a dodgy curry

Nicaragua has been a party, so we’re excessively hungover as we cross the border into Costa Rica.

I’m travelling with two British friends, Erin and Claudia, to this beautiful nature park called La Fortuna, which is near the border, and to get there we have to go through a bigger town, Monteverde. The whole trip is meant to take two hours – the tour agency tells us we’ll be there in time for lunch.

But we get stuck in immigration for more than four and a half hours. The officials are just standing there, not letting us through. It’s so hot and we’re extremely unwell – it’s all pretty ordinary.

A woman practises yoga on a board in a lagoon in front of a volcano
The natural beauty of La Fortuna. Photograph: Jeffrey Arguedas/EPA

Finally we go to where a bus is waiting for us, then have to wait another hour before it’s full and we’re allowed to leave.

After three – three! – more hours on the bus it suddenly stops on this random road in the middle of nowhere. There’s nothing around, it’s just bare, flat – nothing. And the driver looks at me and says, “You! Girls! Get off here.”

We’re a bit shocked but think this must be where we’re meant to be. So we wrestle our massive backpacks out and the bus drives off and we look around. Directly across the road there’s one a sign that says how far we are from Monteverde – 142km. And the capital, San José, is 112km away.

But that’s farther south.

We’ve overshot our destination by 142km.

Then a taxi driver who has parked under the sign comes over and asks where we want to go. We’ve booked accommodation in La Fortuna, we tell him. He says it will cost us US$250 to get there.

Two hundred and fifty dollars?! We’re backpackers, of course we don’t have that sort of money. There’s no way we can afford that, we say, we’ll have to go another way. He tells us there is no other way, we have to go with him.

Brie Veron with Claudia and Erin in Costa Rica
Brie Veron with Claudia and Erin in Costa Rica Photograph: Supplied

It’s a joke. But it’s also 100% a scam. And we’re really stubborn – there’s no chance we’re getting into that cab.

So we wait there for 40 minutes until – hail Mary! – this “chicken bus” comes flying down the road. In these Central American buses, everyone’s cooped up – this one is crowded, hot and disgusting.

We stick out our hands and flag it down. It’s heading for San José – totally the wrong direction. But “Yep!” we say, “Fine. No worries.”

We hand over US$5 and stand on that cramped chicken bus for six more hours, all the way to San José. We pull over once and Erin eats a dodgy bus stop curry. And she gets horrific food poisoning that strikes the second we get off that bus. And I mean literally, that very second.

So we’re stuck in the city for a week while she is too sick to travel, and all desire to see La Fortuna evaporates.

Costa Rica. Not as romantic as it sounds.


As told to Nikki Marshall

The GuardianTramp

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