Monday 14 June 2021

Potholes and Wormholes

The Q welcomes Bob Normand as a contributor.  Bob is the author of the Golden Gringo Chronicles, a monthly newsletter about retirement life in Latin America in general.  In Bob’s words, “I had the good fortune to live my retirement in Costa Rica since September 2008.”

The potholes of Costa Rica
The potholes of Costa Rica

(QCOSTARICA) – Potholes (huecos – pronounced hwaykos in Spanish) happen in most countries and Costa Rica is no exception, in fact some like to think the problem is worse here due to lack of maintenance.

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That may be partially true as the country has limited funds compared to a fully developed country, and the heavy rainfall certainly takes its toll, but things are getting better. God knows that the road infrastructure here now is significantly better than it was only five years ago.

I live in a small town, Quepos, and the side streets, including the one in front of my apartment, is regularly spotted with potholes no matter how hard the street department tries to compact the gravel in the road.

They recently redid the sewers with bigger drainage pipe and rumor has it they might actually pave the street with asphalt (it’s one of a handful of downtown streets in Quepos that hasn’t yet received some paving). Will that solve the problem of potholes? Not completely, but it will help.

Potholes are formed by water, whether in northern or tropical climes. In the northern regions of the U.S. like Massachusetts, where I grew up, many potholes are formed when the wet ground under the paved surface freezes in the winter and then thaws in the spring and vehicle traffic cracks and displaces the pavement The effect is enhanced when the thawing is quick.

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In Costa Rica nothing freezes but we receive 4-5 times the annual rainfall than that of a place like Massachusetts; and it’s concentrated into seven months of the year (mid-May to mid-December).

The autopista General Cañas in 2012
The autopista General Cañas in 2012

One of the more famous potholes in Costa Rica opened up on the four lane General Cañas autopista (freeway) in June of 2012 not far from Juan Santamaria International Airport, causing major traffic jams in the area. This autopista is the main artery connecting the greater San José area with the main airport. It was the rainy season and a large drain pipe that ran under the autopista got clogged up with branches and other debris; then the overflow washed out part of the highway.

The MOPT (Ministerio de Obras Publicos and Transportes – the Costa Rican DOT if you will) estimated repairs would take three and a half weeks. A quick repair with a Bailey bridge to restore traffic encountered problems when the bridge collapsed under the weight of some heavy equipment. The span was eventually replaced with a new bridge; resurfacing on an “emergency” basis took 4-1/2 months.

When a pothole gets out of hand, they call it a sinkhole. The same forces are at work; underground water flow that undermines the surface and anything on top of it. Sinkholes have been known to swallow cars in the middle of the night, sometimes driver and car are never to be seen again. One sinkhole in Guatemala in May of 2010 opened up and swallowed a three story clothing factory. The hole was at least 200 feet deep and one man went missing.

So when I picked up a recent local press report with the following headline, I was immediately intrigued:

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“Bottomless Costa Rican Pothole Could Be Time Travel Portal”

Say what? A picture of a huge sinkhole was shown. I was captivated, and the article went on to say:

“Top physicists from around the globe will convene to investigate the bizarre phenomenon that was discovered at the bottom of a gaping pothole in front of the Taco Bell in Curridabat last week. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who will head the conference, believes it could be the universe’s first proven wormhole into a quantum world that links separate places and times. “THIS IS PERHAPS THE MOST ENCOURAGING DEVELOPMENT IN TIME TRAVEL.” Hawking said through his computer voice simulator. “WE MAY HAVE FOUND AN AVENIDA SEGUNDA INTO OTHER GALAXIES.”

It was the last bit about Hawking (a known theorist on wormholes who believes time travel may be possible) that finally made me understand that the article was a satire dreamed up by some spoof magazine called El Pejibaye, “Costa Rica’s Most Nutritious News Source”. The picture of the wormhole they used was the one from the Guatemala incident in 2010 so nothing actually happened at the Taco Bell in Curridabat. Shucks.

Before any more potholes in Costa Rica turn into wormholes we may be able to check their progress by use of a new technology. A company in Claremont, New Hampshire called KASI System Corporation has developed an infrared based curing system that’s mounted on a truck. The truck carries enough of it’s own asphalt for a day’s activity as well as a bank of infrared lights. It produces a cured asphalt that is more permanent and stronger than conventional methods and it does so at half the cost and time. Says their literature: “We can do a typical 5×7-foot repair in less than 20 minutes with no traffic disruption.” Dude, kool, especially the last part; that’s the American way, cheaper, faster, better.

A caricature poking fun at Costa Rica's potholes during the official by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2012.
A caricature poking fun at Costa Rica’s potholes during the official by U.S. President Barack Obama in May 2013. Click here of the report “The Happiest Country In the World” Will Keep Obama Away From Its People

Costa Rica often is a recipient of the generosity of other countries in the form of police vehicles (China) or Coast Guard boats (U.S.). If I were at the top of Tico politics I’d be asking please that the next batch of vehicles include a half dozen KASI Trucks. It’s not clear from published information what the unit cost of these vehicles is but just looking at the photo, my guess would be less than $200,000 each (basic time-travel transporter not included – ask for current market price). Chump change in international largesse.

I’m done – beam me up Scotty.

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We strive for accuracy in its reports. But if you see something that doesn’t look right, send us an email. The Q reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it’s accuracy.

Bob Normand
Bob Normand was born and grew up in Massachusetts, has lived in four U.S. states, Belgium and now Costa Rica for the last seven years. He graduated with a M. S. in Chemical Engineering from Villanova University and spent 17 years in marketing and strategic planning with two major chemical companies. Later he founded and operated several computer-related businesses as well as spent 15 years as principal in a business management consultancy which is now operated as the Institute for Smart Business Management.

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