Although not quite settled, we were already experiencing all the aspects of the Tico lifestyle before the wheels of our Airbus even left the Florida tarmac. We knew travel would be difficult as we planned to arrive 3 hours early, after a quick pit stop at Dunkin Donuts of course. The minute we pulled into the rental car return lot and began unloading our two vans, 2 guitars, 18 carry-ons, (one a personal item), and 18 checked bags, we could tell by the glares and stares it was going to be a long day, as we had planned, but we did not anticipate it was going to be as long as it turned out to be.
After a lengthy, question filled check in with four carts of bags in tow, we headed on over to the lovely TSA screening line, a line not unlike line for Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure, and laid out much the same. As we waited in line, my hands full of passports and boarding passes, I heard over the loud speaker ” every person must carry their own passport, regardless of age”. I knew instantly that was meant for us. They had already spied us and we were on their radar. Several of our bags were unpacked,ransacked, searched and semi-repacked, several of our bags were re-sent through screening, and one bag got left behind, momentarily. If we could just get on the plane.
Finally, an hour behind our projected schedule we arrived at gate number 5 with 45 minutes to spare, just enough to run our family through the bathroom. It then turned out our 45 minutes kept growing until it blossomed into an extra 90 minutes. One and 1/2 hours late we boarded our plane, one of the first groups on. As the last of the passengers boarded, the pilot duly notified us that we had to wait for a log to get signed off, a process that should take 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes a little more than an hour. He also informed us that our flight would be about an hour and 1/2 longer than usual due to weather.
We eventually did take off, and more often than not we wished we had not. I have flown on dozens of aircrafts, hundreds of thousands of miles, I even spent a year working as a FLIR operator aboard a King Air, and not counting small aircraft, I have never been on a bumpier ride. My seatbelt earned its keep, struggling to keep a 20o+ pound man from crushing his head against the air mask release compartement.The most enjoyable part was watching people race to the back to get to the air toilet between the red ding of the seatbelt light. It was like a game of red light green light. More than one of them introduced themselves to me and my aisle seat on a personal level, but not on purpose. Little did we know our day was just beginning.
De-boarding, or un-boarding went rather smoothly. The passport line resulted in me being scolded by the agent for bringing all my family forward without permission. Next time I will do better, I promised. I already knew I would be hiring skycaps, because hiring a Costa Rica skycap is like getting an express pass at Disney, right to the front of line. I only had one question thrown my way by the custom agent, with a puzzled head slanted look, “senor, just how long are you staying in Costa Rica?” After moving on, the next adventure was attempting to put two skycap’s full Home Depot style flat trailers into their mini-sized shuttle van. Two skycaps, three Thrifty car employees, one dad and 25 minutes of stacking, un-stacking made it all happen. All of us dripping sweat, tugging pushing and pulling bags in every direction. There was not an empty square meter in that van, including the driver’s seat.
Being a smart traveler, I not only had a GPS but I downloaded a special iphone app with an updated CR map. I even pre-progammed our route. So after an always long painful stop at the rental car counter, and multiple reminders that I was renting 2 cars we were on our way. My new App loaded and ready Tracy following our gold van closely behind in her small SUV. Unfortunately I had forgotten that when I programmed in the route, that it was from the center of San Jose, the biggest most difficult place to drive in all of Costa Rica, with two cars lanes combined about 70% the size of one lane in America, and no shoulders. Only 3 kilometers away from the center of “the hood” in the pouring rain, did I realize what I had done, with Tracy in tow, guitars and suitcases on her head,I quickly re-programmed and headed out of the pit. Twenty minutes out of way, we retraced our steps communicating via walkie talkies (that was cool).
Two hours into our rainy trip we stopped for a bite to eat at a nice road side Soda, all looking for our second meal of the day 13 hours into the day. Cheeseburgers all around was the plan. Unfortunately they only had enough bread to make three cheeseburgers. So fish n chips and spaghetti it was. We then waded back to our van in ankle-deep puddles and continued on our journey home. Three hours left to travel in the dark rain. Unfortunately, I failed to listen to the App when it said to turn left, and I slammed on my brakes, and deftly rolled into a rare 2 meter shoulder causing Tracy to come within literal inches of smashing into my van. She slammed on her brakes and veered into the opposite lane, her tires slid sideways on the hot wet asphalt as she fought to control her SUV, while battling a guitar case thumping her upside the head. Thank the Lord there was no oncoming traffic. Thank goodness the agent talked me into the “full” insurance at a “discount” rate. At that moment, I kind of wish we didn’t have the walkie talkies (they weren’t very cool). The next few minutes were not fun. Praise the Lord there was no damage, and other than my pride for being so foolish, we were able to continue on.
Other than being totally exhausted, the rest of the trip went rather well. We only had to pass about 15-20 vehicles, narrowly missed about a dozen pedestrians and bike riders, and ran over lots of frogs (they looked funny jumping into our headlights). At around 9:30 we arrived at the gate to our residence and met Felic, a very nice guard who could not speak a lick of english, nor would allow us access to our new home. Fortunately our new friend Danielle soon came to our rescue and after two shuttle rides, a late roller coaster style plane ride, a scary dark wet unfamiliar two car caravan, we had a place to lay our head for the next ? years.
In the next episode of our Costa Rica adventure I will tell you about our house, you won’t want to miss it. Pura Vida.
Today our GPS took us to a little town called Sarchi. It is known as an “artsy” type of place. I don’t know if I would call it artsy, but they sure do sell a lot of furniture. All the furniture is Cost Rican wood, and all the furniture is handmade, which I would call an art. It was beautiful hardwood and very affordable, about 1/3 of what it would cost back home. It seemed that every little house had some furniture for sale. The town is set in what I would call the definition of rolling hills. It was clean, quaint, friendly, beautiful and we really liked it. We had lunch there at a local little cafe, run by small family of four.
Again, the Church was absolutely gorgeous and in the center of the town. It also had a giant brightly decorated ox cart in the town square. The area is famous for its ox carts, and it shows. It as an area we would love to visit again, even if it is just so I can drive like a maniac through 90 & 180 degree turns, the one lane bridges and countless hills. Great times, especially in a five speed!
Then somehow, our GPS led us to another mall, one right across from our hotel, and another one. I wonder who is running the show here. But that was our goal, to explore and to learn what we like in this area. We like, Grecia and we like Sarchi, we do not like Alajuela, San Jose, parts of Escazu and Sana Ana. We do not like the traffic, which continues to be insane. It has made me a much more aggressive driver, which I am not sure is a good thing. Tomorrow morning we head off to Playa Flamingo, an are we know we like because we went there last year. I know one thing for sure, even though our GPS keeps taking us to malls, I would never, ever attempt to drive in this area without. Shoot, even with the darn thing I have to do about 13 U-turns a day.
Things we learned today:
There’s a reason the big beautiful tree right in front of the mall always has open parking. The reason, the birds use that tree as an outhouse with your car as the bottom of hole.
Thank God for GPS, and I mean it, but she absolutely cannot pronounce Spanish words.
In less than a year, we have returned to Costa Rica. This time we are in the central valley, last time we were in the Guancaste region. We did not experience this region last time, and we wanted to broaden our horizons, and in one day, we have broadened them. San José is a tale of two, no a tale of ten cities. It is, by far, the biggest city in all of Costa Rica with a population of about 1.5 million people in the regional area.
There are parts of San José that are reminiscence of the poorest parts of any large city in America, except that there are no building codes, so you can throw up whatever you want and call it a home. They build these homes right on the road, and although they cannot afford much, they can afford fences and barbed wire, oh and a big flat screen T.V.
The traffic is the worst I have ever been in, including cities like Vancouver, St. Louis etc. This is not normal traffic, nor is it normal driving. Last year I was intimated early on in our trip, driving from the big city of Liberia to Playa Flamingo, child’s play compared to this. Instead of a two second rule, there is a hand rule, you should try to be at least two hand widths away from the car in front of you, and that is at 80 km per hour. Further, if you really want to go fast, drive a motorcycle. It is readily apparent that motorcycles do not have to adhere to traffic laws,( all right, everyone pretty much ignores them, but the motorcycles are far more brazen). They pass in between cars, on the divider line ( where this is a divider line) they zoom in and out of cars, pass on the right, pass on the left, pass in between cars going the wrong way, completely ignore red lights, and often don’t wear helmets, yet the usually have a passenger. All this on four lane roads with no lines,no shoulders, pedestrians on the road, cars parked on the road, and the width about 1/2 of an USA highway. It reminds me of the video game Tron, except much faster. I am confident Evil Knevil wouldn’t attempt to drive a motorcycle in this town. My favorite was the motorcycle driver speeding, passing 4 cars into oncoming traffic and texting at the same time. Unfortunately, we were unable to get pics because I was 100 % focused on not dying, and Tracy’s hands were dug into the dash. I hope our insurance covers dash damage.
Just a few kilometers, or several hours aways, are slightly more sane areas. In fact the area of Escazu is pretty much like being in Amercia. It is much cleaner, wider roads, actual lines on the road, and even a few legible road signs. As you drive you see Applebee’s, Outback, Subways, and yes even McDonald’s. Funny thing is that they have some of their local flavor, and the local flavor is chicken, rice and beans. You can get them just about anywhere. The mall in that area is impressive, with many of the American stores, mixed in with some local selections. The prices seemed similar to Alaska prices, not that great.
We did manage to take a drive out to Grecia, a farm town in the hills of Central Valley. It was a great, quaint little town with very few english speaking people. As with most towns here, it had a huge Catholic church as the town center. We enjoyed visiting the area, and even had lunch at Pollo Crispy, which was very reasonable and tasty.
All in all, much like Anchorage, it seems to be a great place to visit, shop, and eat, but I don’t think I would want to live here. Too much traffic, too much stress, too many people, not enough beaches.
Things we learned today:
A month of pre-tanning does not prevent an hour sunburn.
Street signs are about the size of postage stamps, dirty illegible postage stamps.
A stop light combined with a stop sign is a common traffic sight, and just as commonly ignored.
Fumar o no fumar, still a vital question in Costa Rica.