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!