Ah, the tropics–lush greenery, swaying palms, and afternoon rainstorms. I landed in San Jose, Costa Rica Thursday afternoon. I was intact. My big backpack was intact. All was good in the world. I took a cab downtown to the Don Carlos Hotel. I decided to stay somewhere a bit nicer than a hostel for my first few nights in order to allow myself some alone transition time. The goodbye back in Chicago was pretty hard—it all hit me and I was a blubbering mess. And no one wants a weepy roommate to ruin their vacation.
My friend Claudia had brought wine and paper cups to O’Hare Airport to toast me and my trip. It couldn’t have been a better send off at three in the morning—when my plane departed. We even got to see four young Latino guys handcuffed to each other being deported back to Guatemala. They were having a grand old time laughing and carrying on and would probably be back in Chicago in a few weeks.I found that rather interesting and of course the producer in me jumped up to ask the TSA agent some pointed questions on the matter. She didn’t know much except it was quite common on these night flights. Well, lucky me, the guys were all on my flight seated in the back row (now in open airspace and therefore uncuffed) so every time I got up to go to the bathroom I was eyed up and down and then it just didn’t seem right to make small talk with them.
The hotel I stayed at in San Jose was just $50 a night and gorgeous. Even though that is pretty cheap for what we are used to, it’s more than I plan on spending. Most hostels are $10 a night per bed. When I told some about my ‘round the world plans, their first comments were ‘how are you going to afford that?!’
Many don’t realize how cheap world travel can be. For example, for dinner yesterday I had a cold Costa Rican “Imperial” beer, an appetizer of yummy bass ceviche, and some jamon y queso quesadillas. My bill with tip and tax (which here is nicely included) was under $10. And Costa Rica is by far not even the cheapest country I will visit!
The city was pretty rough around the edges and not so safe. The hotel staff warned us not to go out after dark. I walked around some during the day and encountered lots of stares and cat calls. I’ve read about the “machismo” way in Central and South America. Plus my blue eyes, and light skin and hair don’t allow me to blend in very much.
The downtown was dirty, hot and muggy and filled with people. The sidewalks were either non-existent or crumbling and motorists definitely have the right of way here—not pedestrians. But I did not come here for the city. I came to Costa Rica to see the luscious landscape of volcanoes, rainforests and beaches and of course the wildlife. So my second day here I took a full day tour of some of the more interesting spots just outside of the city. Our first stop was the 11,000 foot high Irazu volcano. It last erupted in 1963 on the day President John F. Kennedy actually arrived in Costa Rica. The dry and gray ashy landscape seemed rather moonlike and the crater was filled with a nuclear looking bright neon green lake.
Driving through the Orosi Valley, the tour guide told us of Costa Rica’s biggest industries. Numero uno, thanks in very small part to me, is of course tourism. Surprisingly, number dos is technology. According to our guide Intel has a plant here. Number three and up are all agriculture—coffee, bananas, pineapple, onions, potatoes, and squash. Another stop we made was the beautiful Lankester Gardens.There are more than 1400 varieties of orchids in Costa Rica and Lankester Gardens has no fewer than 800 of them! Lunch was at a beautiful restaurant with a huge outdoor patio over looking a lush green valley.
So, my first day in Costa Rica was a little lonely, but once I got acclimated, I was feeling fine and by second day I was already making new friends. One of the things I’m most excited about on this trip besides actually “seeing” the world is meeting all kinds of different people and characters along the way. It’s people that really touch your soul more than just the places. On my second night in San Jose I met Michael in the hotel lobby bar. He was a graying, bearded business man from New York City looking to invest in an agriculture company down here. He was the kind of New ‘Yawker’ that was successful, but not altogether polished or cultured. He was a bit ‘nebishy,’ but awfully friendly and was easy to talk to. We had dinner together at the hotel and were joined by red-headed Olga. A Russian gal with piercing eyes who came here on a whim to meet a not-so-attractive beer bellied man named “Jimmy” who she’d met ‘online.’ Hmmm. Maybe one of those Russian brides-want-rich-American man sites? But too bad for Jimmy because she made it very clear she didn’t like him. I think her wrinkled brow, tongue sticking out of mouth, and thumbs down gave it away. Don’t need to speak Russian to understand that.
The next night Michael and I went to dinner down the street at a place called Café Mundo. It was a great neighborhood Italian restaurant in a Victorian house setting. It really was a surprise in scruffy, dusty San Jose. Michael was an interesting guy—married and divorced 3 times, lived all over the world, and surprisingly lost his son to the Iraq war just a few years ago. In the middle of our Caprese salad he said this was his first “date” in a while. What?
I did not hesitate to blurt out, “No, this is NOT a date.”
“Oh but I figured you could call it a date,” he said. “Wow. You wasted no time correcting me.” He replied, rather shocked at my directness.
“Nope.” I said. “You can definitely not call this a date. The word ‘date’ comes with all kinds of connotations that do not pertain to two new friends doing dinner together.”
I didn’t say out loud that he was also two years older than my father and therefore just a wee bit too old for me. But apparently this would not have mattered to him as he later revealed his last “affair” was with an African 18-year-old girl in Zimbabwe.
He also later asked me if I smoked dope or knew where to get some in San Jose. This guy was getting odder by the minute. Since I could count the number of times I have on one hand, I don’t think I’d be good at scoring him his favorite weed here in some back alley of south central San Jose (although it would be another interesting way to get a mug shot and would of course make for good blogging!). He said he liked to smoke it everyday. Oh Yeah, I guess he did say he was in the agriculture biz! Although I was adamant about it NOT being a date, I graciously obliged when he paid for the check. See, there’s another way this could be a cheap trip around the world—my trip is getting cheaper by the minuto!