Blog #4: The Total Protection Package

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© M. Winston
Car Troubles

Less than an hour after landing in Costa Rica, our team made it to the Hertz rental car agency for the Guanacaste region, where we were all excited to see what kinds of vehicles the company had in store for our expedition. After some basic paperwork, the Hertz representatives pulled a couple of clean, SUV-type cars around front, and then asked Corrie what type of insurance she’d like to purchase.

Most of the insurance plans had large gaps in coverage, so Corrie opted for the “Total Protection Package,” which the representatives so endearingly called the “TPP.” As we loaded our gear into the vehicles, the reps continued to name off all the circumstances covered by the TPP. The potential disaster scenarios were endless.

Because one of the cars had a manual transmission—and I drive a stick shift at home—I became the driver. The first few days of driving at the Santa Rosa Field Station (see Photo #1 below) went by swimmingly, until what seemed like a harmless metal culvert jammed itself into the inner workings of the vehicle’s undercarriage.

The details are probably unnecessary, but suffice it to say the engineering behind this cheap metal culvert was poorly conceived, considering driving over it at 5 mph caused it to launch into the bottom of the car. Although dislodging it was easy, a few minutes later, a disturbing leak began trickling from the undercarriage, which prompted us to call our favorite Hertz representatives. When one arrived an hour later, he wasn’t pleased about the situation, but after all, this is exactly what the TPP is for, isn’t it? (See Photo #2 below.)

Later that day, the company delivered a brand new car of the same model, but with automatic transmission. Early the next morning, we left the field station (which is situated in dry tropical forest) to head to a section of wet tropical forest a few hours to the east (see Photo #3 below.) I’d like to take this moment to mention that I’m a good driver, I really am! That’s why I was elected to drive, despite the previous day’s little incident.

On the way back to Santa Rosa, a light drizzle began as I followed the car ahead of me. As we descended the rocky road, there seemed to be some sort of dragging sound underneath the car. Remembering a branch we had passed over moments earlier, I slowed down and asked Ben to take a look and see whether something had lodged itself underneath the car. Despite the very clear noise, everything appeared normal.

Things got a little more complicated at this point, as a herd of cows from the adjacent farm surrounded our car (see Photo #4 below.) Combined with what had become an intense rain, the cow blockade made it a bit harder to test what was wrong with the car. Yet, once we had pushed the cows out of the way and Ben had an opportunity to watch the car drive down the road, it seemed painfully obvious. The entire front wheel was wobbling alarmingly.

While we'd been troubleshooting our problem in the rain, the other car had driven some twenty minutes ahead without noticing our absence. Upon realizing this, the wayward team sped back along the rainy dirt road to see what had gone wrong. From a distance, Steffi saw the herd of cows and an object on the front of the car and assumed the worst—we’d run over one of the Costa Rican farmer’s cows. I think this speaks volumes about Steffi’s confidence in me as a driver.

As the other car got closer, the team saw that the “cow” was just Ben’s backpack, and discovered the laughable scene of a few of us trying to jack up the car in the rain. We’d thought that the wobble was from a loose wheel, but after Corrie crawled under the car, we discovered the entire control arm was broken. How it happened we’ll never know, but as we tried to drive the car to the nearby farm, it was clear that the wheel was about to pop off the axle.

I wasn’t sure exactly how the Hertz representative would feel about me after I'd reported two totaled cars in two days. As expected, he was a bit put off when he showed up to tow the car back to the shop. I tried to make conversation, but he didn’t seem too interested. Specifically, I don’t think he appreciated my comment, “Good thing we got the TPP.”

To get a look at the beautiful Costa Rican countryside and see the amusing details of our “Total Protection Package” adventures—including additional incidents that I don’t have room to elaborate on here—check out our “Video Journal #2: Crossing the Costa Rican Countryside."

More soon,
Max

© M. Winston
Casona Santa de Rosa
© C. Moreau
TTP Towing
© M. Winston
The Wet Tropics
© C. Moreau
Cow Blockade