Q. We plan on driving to Costa Rica from Virginia in October, as we have a 4-year-old Labrador retriever that we don't want to have fly in an airplane's cargo section. Will this drive be a fabulous adventure or a total nightmare?
The trip will likely be a fabulous nightmare. For one thing, Costa Rica is more than 4,000 miles from here, and the flawed genius that is the U.S. interstate highway system ends at the border.
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For another, “it's definitely a dangerous trip,” said Derek Dodds, proprietor of a Web site whose name – www.drivemeloco.com – is as apt a description as any for such an excursion. Dodds, a California surfer not content with the waves of Malibu, began making the trek south in the '90s, whereupon he discovered “there wasn't any info on driving to Costa Rica.” So he wrote “The Gringo's Guide to Driving Through Mexico & Central America,” an e-book you can purchase on his site for $10.
There's also lots of free advice on driving to Central America at Dodds' site, by him and his fellow travelers, and to this free advice we'll add our own: Don't drive to Central America. Still, we understand that for some there is romance in the road less-graveled, that maybe you don't like to drive at night anyway (“That's when people start to run into dangerous situations,” Dodds said), or in your garden-variety sedan (“You need a vehicle that is prepared for horrible roads”), or with insurance (“You can only actually get insurance in Costa Rica and Mexico”).
No insurance? What if you're stopped by the police in, say, Honduras or Nicaragua?
“On my last trip, I carried a stack of Playboy magazines,” Dodds said. “When you drive through a lot of the smaller villages, if the police see the U.S. plates, they will pull you over, thinking you have something valuable,” at which point you should be ready to bribe them with cash or Hefner. (“They probably enjoyed that more than money, because the magazines are harder to get.”)
As for your Lab, on the short list of things you can expect authorities to ask for along the way are a veterinary certificate attesting to the dog's health (Guatemala) and an on-site vet examination of your canine at the border (Honduras).
And then there's the little matter of the poor thing enduring what sounds like an interminable six-country road trip. It's a long time for humans, too. On the plus side, you'll really get to catch up on your Playboys.