Swinging on a branch that'll last

"If I had to describe you--I would say you remind me of the sun. You have the brightest inner light, a warm spirit, and a contagious energy. I'm sending you tons of love, peace, and happiness for your journey."

The three year anniversary of my departure to Playa Caletas, Costa Rica is soon to arrive, and it finally feels like an appropriate time to share some of my personal experiences.  For those of you unfamiliar with my story, I moved to Costa Rica for 3 months to work with a non-profit called PRETOMA, which stands for "Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas."  PRETOMA is the most actively successful, and respected sea turtle and shark marine NGO in Costa Rica, and has partnered with many other non-profits in the collective fight of protecting these two essential umbrella species in Central America.  They have been a prominent voice in their campaigns and are still an influential motivator in my life.  My experiences at Playa Caletas changed the foundation of how I experience and interpret marine culture as a developing biologist, as well as created an enormous respect and understanding for the ebb and flow of nature and human culture with respect to crisis and subjectivity.  My first few days spent in Costa Rica were chaotic and prompt.  I want to share my first two days and two nights in CR, slowly making my way by taxi, foot, and bus across the country to the Nicoya Peninsula--to the dusty, teak village of San Francisco de Coyote.

NOVEMBER 14-16, 2008

What to say about San José?  Maybe we should first begin with Costa Rica, in general.  My fight to CR from Miami, FL was meant to be delayed 30 minutes because the flight attendants were coming in late from another flight at another terminal.  We finally boarded at 10:00pm (we were supposed to depart at 7:50pm).  I was tired; in and out of sleep.  Surprised to find that every time I awoke, our plane was still sitting on the tarmac.  It wasn't until after 11pm that we finally departed, arriving in Alajuela by 1:15am, Miami time (it was 11:15pm in Alajuela).

It was too late to catch a bus to San José (and after what I saw tonight, I am glad that I couldn't).  I had no plan and no idea where I was going to stay that night, so I fumbled through brochures by the currency exchange desk to unsurprisingly pick the brochure that looked the most lush and green.  The decision was set on Hotel Green Day Inn, even though I had no idea how far away it was from the airport or how much it would cost for me to get there.

After being mauled by taxi drivers, I selectively chose the gentleman that seemed the least intrusive.  Two thousand colones later (CR currency coversion--600 colones/$1.00), which only ended up being $4.00, I found myself in a dark and quiet city in a taxi with a driver who was strongly urging me against my decision to stay at my fantasy green hotel.  We arrived on a deserted street in front of a unlit abode.  The taxi driver had instilled a bit of concern, advising me to stay in the car as he offered to knock on the gate for me.  I was lucky.  One room left in a two room occupancy, but everything seemed perfect.  I had one queen bed, one tv tray, one table with tv, one empty, free-standing closet (see?).  My door opened into the patio courtyard (the floor tiles were beautiful) that was open to the sky.  The property was shaped like a horseshoe and walled-in with barbwire.  I was to cross through the courtyard to use the bathroom and shower, which the following morning introduced the reality that the likelihood of no more hot showers would be had until I returned back to Okayama, Japan in January.

The next morning I met the couple who owned and lived at the property, their son, and 3 maltese.  They gracefully made me a lactose-free breakfast, and called the bus station for me to find what stop I needed to be at to catch the bus to San José.  I met Sofia, a Canadian whose journey was just ending in a few hours as we decided to waste time in town before flight out and bus in, respectively.  The groceries at the supermarket seemed poor and Sofia advised me not to try the mystery meat at the McDonalds.  I settled on cereal, saltines, and gumdrops from the supermarket, a stroll through the catholic churchyard, and the purchase of a few tagua nut souvenirs.  Before leaving, the couple equipped me with directions to the bus station and a map of downtown San José.  Several blocks later I found myself confused and unsure, crammed on a crowded bus with my two heavy duffle bags, next to some unenthusiastic gentleman that I could already tell hated me.  I had no idea if I was on the right bus, how long I'd be on there, or when I'd know to get off... or even how much it cost.  It feels like I've been a nervous wreck ever since I left Osaka, Japan yesterday... or was it the day before?  I don't remember.

Thirty tense minutes later, the bus stops and everyone that did not get off at the stops for the mall, the airport, the supermarkets depart.  I am confused and stay seated.  An Asian girl is up front speaking Spanish to the bus driver, and I become even more confused hearing the foreign language rolling from her tongue.  After about five minutes, I find that this is the last stop.  The Asian girl translates that "it's 640 colones," which I pay and promptly leave feeling belittled by my inability to remember how to say "hundred" in Spanish (by the way, it's cien and six hundred is siescientos, but these Spanish accents are foreign to me.  This is all foreign).

Where to go?  The map!  Six blocks away and I think I've found the bus station I am standing outside.  I see a park, a church.  Otra parque.  Iglesia.   Panadería.   Zapatería... and finally, Hotel la Posada de Don Tobías.  The hotel was supposedly located above a bus station I need the following morning at 6am (thank god!), and the room is $20.  I don't care, though I suddenly doubt I can live off $200 for my three month stay.  This place seems ok, but there are a lot of metal gates.  Gates into the hotel, gates into the office, even a caged device around the tv in my room.  There is a man hacking next door that sounds like death.  Internet, email, and two hours until darkness falls.

The gentleman at the desk advises me not to be out after dark, but I am starving and I take my chances in the city to find food.  To my surprise, there are scarcely any food stores in this part of the city.  I saw one guy eating ice cream, two fruit vendors, and one bread shop.  There are people everywhere; shoulder-to-shoulder.  I also ran into a guy smoking crack on the street, bums passed out on the sidewalks, druggies standing in a dope line, and guards with semi-automatics on the rooftops of electronic stores.  I also came across two sets of police breaking up trouble a block from my hotel.  My impression here so far is that San José seems quite dirty, scary, and poor.  And I have been advised not to drink the water as, apparently parasites are guaranteed.  I drank the water yesterday and have not experienced complications as of yet, which I can only assume is due to all the malicious bacteria already floating around in my belly.  But I am so relieved that I still have saltines and gumdrops.  I've been saving my protein bars for the six hour trek across the country tomorrow.

It's just started raining and the roof is tin.  The pitter patter is nice.  The rainy season is dying out and should be over in December.  I do not think that it is extremely warm here--only when lugging luggage six blocks through crowded streets.  I do hope that I do not get cold out there.  I don't have much.

November 17, 2011--we'll pick up where we left off...


_erica said…
Give me more!!!
Montreal Raul said…
This is very cool, reminds me of budget trips across the states, seedy hotel rooms, weird cheap food...cool story. Can't wait for more. Thanks for the link.

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