Community leader Rafael Eduardo Arguedes is an active participant in Foro de Monteverde, which updates followers on the status of their initiative for improvements on a narrow stretch of road leading to Monteverde. In this interview, he discusses (in Spanish) the importance of better infrastructure.
MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica – The walls of thick green forest and miles of mountainous vegetation distract from the bumpy and dusty road to the laidback, cloud-forest town of Monteverde.
Founded by Quakers in the 1950s, Monteverde is one of the top tourist destinations in Costa Rica. About 180,000 visitors a year travel there, according to Danny Ramirez, president of the Cámara de Turismo Monteverde (Tourism Office). That’s about 25 times the number of residents in the area.
The main road leading from Puntarenas and up through Guacimal has a 17-kilometer stretch that has driven residents and business owners to work together to demand a better road.
The road will be getting a serious makeover in the coming months, thanks in large part to demands and protests by the locals.
“Monteverde wants and needs a new road,” said resident and activist Rafael Eduardo Arguedes.
Three different routes lead to Monteverde: Las Juntas, Tilarán, and the Guacimal. An approximate four-hour drive from San José, this is the road most taken by visitors.
The stretches of narrow, eroding road have caused cars to fall off to the sides and roll down the mountain, said resident and business owner Susu Gray.
There were eight collisions and five rollovers on the Guacimal in 2012, according to the Monteverde Cruz Roja.
There are no reports about accidents because Monteverde doesn’t have a newspaper, Gray said. “It’s all word of mouth, but you do hear about it.”
The roads aren’t wide enough for two buses to pass by each other, so one has to fall back. Gray said that the roads continue to get narrower because of erosion, and make her feel unsafe.
“I’m always very wary. I hold onto the steering wheel tighter and look over the edges,” she said.
The unpaved roads kick up a lot of dust, causing respiratory problems for the locals, Arguedes said. He said there are no hospitals in the area, only clinics, so in emergencies, “the roads complicate our lives.”
The recent economic downturn caused a drop in tourism and added to existing concerns about the road.
The roads have to improve for development since Monteverde’s economy depends on tourism, said Gray, who runs a nature guide business with her husband.
“One of the biggest complaints we get here are about the roads, and they ask for a better route. That is definitely a main issue,” said Monica Arguedes Villalobos, employee of Sky Adventures.
No one knows what impact the dirt roads have had on deterring visitors, who still flock to Monteverde in large numbers.
Naomi Hall fields questions at the Cámara de Turismo Monteverde, located in a small cabin-like building on the corner of the main street next to the popular ice cream shop.
“The tourists that come here are very valuable because they show interest in this area,” she said. “People that come here are valuable because they’re choosing to come here and take the extra effort to come to Monteverde regardless of the roads.”
The price of paving the road is estimated at a one-time $16 million investment, in comparison to the now $1 million the government is supposed to spend to maintain the ballast roads once a year, Arguedes said.
The roads should be maintained twice a year instead of once, and each repair costs approximately $200,000, Ramirez said. The Guacimal “is a route that because of the topographic and environmental conditions, the ballast doesn’t work,” he added.
Officials from the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad (CONAVI) did not respond to interview requests, emails and calls from EcoChronicle regarding road conditions.
In the past two months protests raised national attention. In June a 150-vehicle caravan protest took to the InterAmerican Highway to demand improvements to the Guacimal road.
The caravan drove through the 17-kilometer stretch at a slow pace, what Costa Rican’s referred to as tortuguismo – turtle-like – causing traffic jams.
“The people feel an obligation,” said Arguedes. “The people can make an impact.”
The Facebook page of Foro de Monteverde confirmed that construction to pave the road will begin sometime this month. Asphalt should be added after the rainy season ends in November, Arguedes said.
Jorge Arturo, resident of Alajuela, was in Santa Elena July 7 for Ecobike Monteverde, a 25-kilometer bike trail along the perimeter of Santa Elena. His white bike short-suit was covered in mud. The bike riders trekked through two kilometers of the Guacimal at the very end of their trail.
“The trek is very hard and pretty, it’s a beautiful zone,” Arturo said. “But the Guacimal should be asphalted.”