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Costa Rica Christmas

by melo Thu Dec 25th, 2008 at 10:46:11 PM EST


What fun to check in with you all from so far away!

It's 24 hours since we arrived here now, and I thought I'd put up some pix, and share some first impressions.

Baby, won't you follow me down

The flights were on Iberia, and after booking with them, of course I went looking for customer reviews, which in this case was terrifying, as there was barely one positive one!

So when the trip went smoothly, and there was only one 2 hour delay, it was a huge relief, especially when the baggage arrived within minutes of of our getting to the carousel.

Tip to self: don't bother doing the review thing, it just makes you tense up for nothing!

If I had read them before booking, I would never have dared fly with them, and as it was, they were great, (especially when great mostly meant they let me take my guitar on board with me).
The transatlantic flight was 11 hours, and pretty grueling, but I was prepared for that, and drank a Belgian beer at the airport at Madrid, so conked out cheerfully for the first three hours of the flight!

Madrid airport was very nice, roomy, not too officious, and very clean and well maintained. Unfortunately there wasn't enough time for Metavision to make it all the way there from her place with the public transport system, but we had a lovely chat on the telephone, and since on the way back we have 8 hours in Madrid layover before flying back to Rome, I'm hoping we'll have time to go paint the town a mild pink at least, anyone else in Madrid then is invited too, maybe there'll be an ET'er or two in the 'hood round then...

The plane was pretty aged, the material peeling off the back of the seat in front of me, but it held together and the flight was pretty uneventful, (in a good way, lol).

Enough turbulence down on the ground without needing any more Whee Factor at 10,000m...

The food sucked of course, and the service tended towards the curt side, but hey, it was the cheapest flight on the web, so all things considered, kudos to Iberia, may we have the same good fortune returning in mid January!

The best part was before arriving at 6pm Costa Rica time, the plane rode the sunset for a good hour and a half, heading due west into it, thus prolonging the soul-stirring colours, bathing the awesome cloud formations below us as we flew over Cuba and Panama.

I'd thoughtlessly packed the camera in the checked in baggage, so wasn't able to get any pix of this long descent through chromo-therapeutic layers of peachy, melony, papaya co loured clouds when arriving at San Jose, but I will certainly never forget it. I've seen some lovely sights from 'the plane' before, but this blew me away completely. Just lucky to come in west, that time of the evening. There's a mountain road going west from where I live, to Cortona, which can give the same delight, if you get the speed and timing right.

San Jose airport is a 15 minute ride from the town, and after picking up our stuff, we got an 'official' taxi to downtown, where I'd booked a fairly comfortable, 3* hotel in the town centre to cushion the jetlag-culture shock that would greet us. Neither I nor my partner had ever been to Central or S. America before, so we wanted to ground, before taking on the more adventurous parts of our holiday!

As the taxi wove through the calles near the hotel, our hearts sank... the garbage was piled up in the streets, (if not to Naples or Mumbai levels), and the area looked extremely dodgy, to put it mildly.

The hotel Santo Tomas was charming, slightly dowdy and period, but holding up gallantly against the seedy forces just outside the gates. We happily showered in somewhat sulphurous smelling water, and celebrated the novelty of our surroundings, and the relief the trip this far was over. My mandolin came out unscathed from deep in my checked-in suitcase, which I had had wrapped by some new-fangled device that encased the whole thing in many layers of cling film, (biodegradable, natch!) This made me feel a lot more secure about the zippers failing, or wandering fingers...

S.O. dropped off early, but I was still running too much adrenalin, so decided to take a stroll into the city.

This was a bit sketchy feeling, as there was a plethora of 'characters' to navigate, some of dubious gender, but most available to welcome me to the city. Being Christmas Eve, I wasn't sure what would be happening, so wandered on towards the casino, where I was informed that I could change a few Euros. This after the hotel manager looked at the Euro banknotes as if they were from Mars! This should have been a warning, btw...)

Coming rapidly in unannounced from left field, someone thrust a map into my hand of the city. I thanked him, finding myself next to an energetic looking man of about 60, with a pronounced limp. He was very ingratiating, and when I told him of my desire to change a €50 note, effusively assured me that it would be easy, and to come with him. Which I did, and we proceeded to try at least 15 establishments, all run by good friends of his, who all looked at the strange object with the same unfamiliar disbelief shown by my hotel manager.

This had a suitably humbling effect, The Mighty Euro taken down a peg, and its bearer realised how far away he was from home, and decided to call it a night. There wasn't that much to see, a listless wind picking up some volatile garbage, a few homeless sleeping in cardboard on the sidewalk, a half-block away from the gleamimg skyscraper Marriott hotel, lots (and lots and lots) of the old familiar sights of a globalised Surly New World of KFC, Wendy's and compagnia bella... A few folks had something to sell laid out on the ground, but were not looking too full of Christmas cheer.

Getting Mario to give up on his dream of changing euros into Colones, the local currency, was very difficult, and things took a slight turn for the worse, as his tone become more whiny, and at one point he said he was sick and needed to go to the hospital, but didn't have the cash. I asked him if it was not true then that Costa Rica had a free health system, and he said he still had to pay half, which would come to $30 american. He then lifted his pants leg to show an open ulcer on his lower shin that looked pretty bad, his ankle was swollen to double size.

Being grateful for his help in trying to welcome me to a new country, I decided that I would give him the $, and this was eventually realised by the hotel advancing me the money, and billing me.

Very glad to hit the bedroom, I showered again, and slipped in next to my honey, who had remained blissfully asleep during my whole 2 hour saga!

Today was Xmas, and we were up and exploring by 7am, first having papaya for breakfast, then hitting the near-empty streets, which looked much more salubrious by daylight, and i got a chance to enjoy some of the gingerbread colonial architecture dotted about the town, such as this

stunning I found, and this one,
which has the Marriott evilly looming over it...

Under a pile of what appeared to be just more of garbage, i was taken aback to see a person sleeping or dead, i'm not sure :(

It's not third world like India, but it's definitely pretty shabby, and while there are no open sewers or mangy dogs, there is the ubiquitous garbage. Cops are everywhere, looking pretty nonchalant, keeping an eye on the chaos, but using numbers rather than the thug factor to keep things humming along.

The city centre has a very nice park, filled with flowers and statues, where i found a small grove of paperbark trees, old friends from Hawaii, I haven't stroked in years.

The climate seems very pleasant, breezy, cool at night, but very warm in the midday sun. The people came out this evening and thronged the main avenue, they seem fairly happy and smiley, many families, many teenagers, quite normal as crowds go, nothing spectacularly unusual.

I picked up a copy of 'The Howler' a newspaper running since 1996, and read a couple of interesting tidbits: Oscar Rias, the president, was pushing to up the residency requirements from $500 p.m. to $2000, while Panama, adjacent to the South, was practically genuflecting to attract more foreigners, no income tax or land tax for ten years, tax free import of a new car every 5 years, and Nicaragua similar.

He has also decide to re-open an open-pit gold mine, which I gather is not good eco-news...

So far, the trip has been (mostly) a very pleasant experience. San Jose will not win any beauty contests, but as usual, a bit of effort will show the jewels in the dust, a waitress with a heart that made me feel really good, in her caring and attention, as we mangled Spanish in our efforts to order a meal... a song of an unseen bird cooing out from deep in a banyan, the sassy cool of the young bloods on the prowl, the brave joy of the young nubility, turning the corner to adulthood.

The people are mild-natured and friendly, unhysterical. I have not heard a voice raised in anger these whole 26 hours since arrival.

The avocados are fantastic! Black beans and rice the main dish, and I had a fab salad of shaved cabbage, corn, cilantro,and a few other ingredients my jet-lug brain will not remember...

Onward we go...Saturday we arrive at the Retreat, ay 5000 ft, and Sunday starts the songwriting workshop, which I am looking forward to tremendously.

All in all, a distinctly odd way to spend Xmas, but interesting and above all novel, after 6 winters in a row beating the cold in Umbria, while friends and family blandished me to join them in sunny climes, and i didn't feel a need.

Then, all of a sudden, this came along... and I knew I should do it.

So here we are.... 'Pura Vida' is how the locals greet each other, it's their 'aloha', or 'ciao'

So 'Pura Vida' to you all, I hope your Xmas's were fun, and all will have a prosperous, increasingly alt-powered, ET-inspired new year!

Want part 2 later?
. Whatever for? 0%
. No, i've read rough guide 0%
. I work for the San Jose tourist board, so you'll be hearing from our libel lawyer 16%
. 'Hell no, you think i'm derm?' 0%
. mucho mas macaws & monkeys, and can the blurb! 66%
. see any windmills? 16%
. Costa _where_? 0%

Votes: 6
Results | Other Polls
I'll mix Costa Rica and Parisienne coffees tonight in my search for the perfect plongeur brew.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 05:25:55 AM EST
thanks sven, i hope you can sleep afterwards.

plonge, plongeur, plonk...


"A fool with a tool is still a fool." - Abraham Verghese

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 06:22:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Very interesting...I really would like part 2 and more photos...much more photos, please...Have a good time!

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 07:21:16 AM EST
thanks vbo, i'm sure pt 2 will ensue, thanks to your pleasure at the first.

i enjoy reading your work here very much, thanks or contributing.

"A fool with a tool is still a fool." - Abraham Verghese

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 01:18:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Costa Rica Christmas
the sassy cool of the young bloods on the prowl, the brave joy of the young nubility, turning the corner to adulthood.

You're a poet, even if you don't know it, and sure to write songs real cool.  Great to see you having a good time - and say hi to Metavision, the Maid of Madrid, for me!  (Rembrandt in the Prado is not to be missed)

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 08:15:42 AM EST
why thankyou, kind sir, your praise is balm indeed.

thanks also for the tip about the prado, i'd very much like to make that happen.

"A fool with a tool is still a fool." - Abraham Verghese

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 01:20:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're a poet, though I think that you do know it.

Second diary - or more - please.

By the way - two of those three statues seem to be eating/carrying bananas or something. Seems an odd subject for sculpture.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Sat Dec 27th, 2008 at 12:53:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No palm trees with Christmas lights?  Or it the tacky stuff limited to Florida?

Very nice diary, melo!

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 09:49:26 AM EST
yup, there's a bit of that, but my camera doesn't really want to go there!

you can see the cloven hoofprint of el norte everywhere i've been so far, but from what i'm reading in the local press, it's china C.R wants to jump in bed with, now uncle sam's having his drawers quartered.

i just read that the chinese gvt just donated 20 patrol cars to the police here.

there's a lot more where that came from...

it's more gaudy than gaudi, the kitschfest shiny angels, etc, but it's on the cheapo. it's a far cry from the third world, but this is equally far from being a prosperous-feeling country.

considering the poverty, the peoples' equaniminity is admirable. i look forward to getting as deep as i can into the experience as i can, within the time frame.

"A fool with a tool is still a fool." - Abraham Verghese

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 01:27:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Lovely diary, melo! Hope there will be more. I always wanted to visite South and Central America, but sofar it never worked out. So, I enjoy reading your impressions until I will make it myself.

And enjoy your holiday and the warmth. :-)

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 11:58:03 AM EST
thanks fran!

i have held back a long time also from central and s. america, there's a side that has always appealed, but a darker side that was too fascistic-seeming for my taste.

i think i'll be back, there's something i am feeling here that's very new and different.

the warmth is already helping my body feel lighter and more rubbery, joints loosening...

and the fruit! mountain apples, sapotes, hayden mangoes, oh, it's good to feel those special sugars and vitamins singing through the blood again.

when i lived in the tropics long-term, it was the peaches, apples and grapes, apricots and nectarines i missed, now i'm realising how much i missed tropical fruit.

s. jose is not at sea level, and i hear down on the coast it's seriously hot, perfect beach weather.

first a week quite a bit higher though, abd if it's this cool in S.J., i expect it'll be light sweater (or for ladies, shawl) temperatures in the evenings.

best wishes for a nice winter too, fran. i hear the alps have more snow this year than any of the last ten, and hardly any people visiting, because of the economy. do you like snow sports?

"A fool with a tool is still a fool." - Abraham Verghese

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 01:45:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ahhh, I envy you the fruits - ENJOY THEM!!!!!

It also looks like Costa Rica seems to have good internet access - as you seem to have no problem to post. Can you access from the Hotel or do you have to go to a internet cafe?

We do not have much snow where I am, but right know it has turned very cold - hights around -2°to 2°C.

I never was a great fan of snow sports, except for some cross-country skiing, especially in the Black Forest.

So again have a good time in the sun and I am looking forward to the sequel diary. :-)

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Dec 27th, 2008 at 09:05:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hi fran, yes the hotel we've been 3 nights has wireless 2 mps b-band, what a pleasure!

where we go next has dialup and it's sold by the hour, so i'll check in, but will probably wait to upload pt 2 until after jan 3rd. i shot 206 pix yesterday, so will have at least some decent ones.

we walked around and chatted to some very interesting folks today, the people are really growing on me. there's a certain mildness, lack of guile, and values that seem to have resisted the anglo germs.

for example, the taxi driver wouldn't take a tip, and not only, but when i inadvertently left the camera in his cab, called up the hotel before i even noticed it was missing, and was terribly reluctant to let me give him the equivalent of €7 by way of thanks.

the coins are really big and remind me of pirates!

we are grateful to be leaving the city tonight, the diesel fumes are making my chest ache and my nose run, but we have run into some really nice people here, and are getting more and more insight to the national character, the people are very talkative, and proud to tell us about their beautiful country.

there's a softness to their hearts that pulls the love out of me.

"A fool with a tool is still a fool." - Abraham Verghese

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Dec 27th, 2008 at 03:22:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
i have held back a long time also from central and s. america, there's a side that has always appealed, but a darker side that was too fascistic-seeming for my taste.
AIRC, a wise Costa Rican leader many years ago concluded that the biggest threat to Costa Rica was from its own military, so he abolished the military and relied only on police. I do not know if this is the case now or even if it is an accurate characterization of what happened, but this could account for an absence of many of the darkest shades of the dark side in Costa Rica.

One of my fondest memories is of a six week stay, mostly in a Microbus, in the mountains around Guadalajara, Mexico in 1967.  The people were wonderful and the climate was delightful.  When I developed an ear infection exacerbated by 3,000 m elevation changes, I was able to self prescribe and purchase an effective antibiotic at a pharmicia in Durrango, on the way down.  It was a fantastic country, now grown more dangerous and violent due in part to the illegal nature of the drug trade.  I still think moving to Mexico or Central America would be a delight, but my spouse is far less comfortable than am I with living in a country with a language different from ours.  I have some Spanish but she has none.  It can be very difficult for an older adult to learn a new language.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Dec 28th, 2008 at 02:57:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sure you'll get around to touring their scenic volcanoes.  Please post some pictures of the Poás, if and when you get there!  

...And don't pass up a taste of thirst quenching cas!

"Beware of the man who does not talk, and the dog that does not bark." Cheyenne

by maracatu on Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 05:20:59 PM EST
thanks maracatu, i will do my best!

"A fool with a tool is still a fool." - Abraham Verghese
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 07:50:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
hey maracatu, i had some cas for lunch today, it was outstanding!

we found a vegan restaurant, called 'vishnu', and had the best meal here yet, topped off with the tangy drink your link described, and yesterday i turned my partner onto 'spoon meat', the delicious white flesh of the still-young coconut, before its oil and fibre content matures.

pura vida!

"A fool with a tool is still a fool." - Abraham Verghese

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Dec 27th, 2008 at 03:26:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't pass up the chance to see the Poás volcano!

"Beware of the man who does not talk, and the dog that does not bark." Cheyenne
by maracatu on Sat Dec 27th, 2008 at 05:54:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm so glad it went OK!  Enjoy it all and I look forward to the return meet.  Send the details when you have time.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 08:55:48 PM EST
melo, this is great.  spend your time being there, and only give us a thought when there's a bit of down time.  muchas gracias, bueno viajo?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Sat Dec 27th, 2008 at 12:25:03 PM EST
thanks, CH, glad you enjoyed it.

i will be concentrating hard this coming week starting tomorrow, but will keep jotting down notes and snapping away for a second installment in 10 days or so.

what a country, i am tenderly amazed...

"A fool with a tool is still a fool." - Abraham Verghese

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Dec 27th, 2008 at 03:29:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I kept waiting to read about the part where you finally were able to unload the 50 Euro note by being mugged in downtown San Jose or one of its parks.  Glad it didn't happen, but be careful.  The best is outside the city, as I'm sure you've learnt by now. Lovely countryside and friendly people.  Coffee plantation tours are a treat if you like to get your caffeine that way. Pleased to hear more of your adventures.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sun Dec 28th, 2008 at 11:12:03 PM EST
I kept waiting to read about the part where you finally were able to unload the 50 Euro note by being mugged in downtown San Jose or one of its parks.

Of course, muggings only happen in those poorer countries....</snark>

It happens to tourists around the world, in NYC, in LA, in Miami you can be shot,... but it´s not a cliche to perpetuate.  In our dear north, the govts. are mugging everyone of us daily with the richboyz crisis, but that´s a ´free market mugging´ so it doesn´t count.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Mon Dec 29th, 2008 at 03:42:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You are correct Metavision, of course, and I didn't mean to imply that muggings only happen in poor countries.  I feel safer from street crime in most countries outside our dear North. However, there are places where I have learned to be extra careful and downtown San Jose just happens to be one of them. On the other hand, I have wondered around quite a few sseemingly peaceful places without experiencing serious crime only to read later of violent crime in the exact same location.

I am currently staying, for the first time, in a small fishing village on the north coast of Yucatan. The inhabitants are very poor and very law abiding. Canadians who have lived here for some time tell us that they come and go at all hours of the night and no one has experienced street crime in the village. I am more concerned about crime in the larger cities, such as Merida even though it has traditionally been a relatively safe city.

If you saw one of my earlier posts, you would know that I consider my hometown in the US to be very unsafe, as documented by crime statistics.  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 12:02:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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