Trip to San Jose
Monday, November 23rd, 2009
When you live in Costa Rica occasional trips to San Jose are part of life. The main airport for flights in and out of the country is in Alajuela, just outside of San Jose. And unlike the USA, where you can buy almost anything you want anywhere you are, in Costa Rica we go to San Jose to go shopping. San Jose has an “Eppa” store – which is just like Home Depot. Many of the things we use every day in our homes are unavailable anywhere else. And for electronics, computers and nice clothes, there are several big malls.
Although I am not a city girl, I like visiting San Jose now and then. It is a fun trip and a nice change from the beach life here in the Caribbean.
Isabel, Norman and Nico, from Vida Tropical, ready for a Feliz Navidad.
When I’m in San Jose I have a place to feel at home, too. Last Saturday I took a trip to San Jose to take my daughter to the airport, for a temporary respite back in civilization. I spent a day shopping for my new home, while I was in the big city. That night I stayed in Alajuela at the lovely little B&B, Vida Tropical. It is a bright and cheerful place only minutes from the airport. It’s hard to find a place that is clean, safe, friendly and cheap. At Vida Tropical, a nice room with a shared bath is only $35.00. And even though you do not have a private bathroom, it feels very private. My room was on the second floor and I had the place all to myself. There are only four rooms on the second floor and four on the first. It’s a small place so you get lots of personal attention.
Vida Tropical is owned by a Colombian couple with a little boy. They are both fluent in English and Spanish. Norman was born in Colombia but raised in New York. I like that. He understands the culture I come from and can help me understand the Latin culture better. Isabel grew up in Colombia and met Norman while he was there visiting. The way Norman tells it, he was smitten the moment he saw her. They married and decided to try their luck at business in Costa Rica. First they opened a little Mexican restaurant called Jalepeños. It was so successful they decided to try the B&B business, too. I eat at Jaleneños every time I’m in Alajuela. Really good food!
That night Norman and Isabel offered to take me out Salsa dancing at the Fiesta Casino right across from the airport. Saturday nights they have live music and fantastic professional dancers. It was a blast!
The next two nights I spent in Heredia, another town bordering San Jose. This gave me time to do more shopping and I also met a recently arrived expat, Ron. He’s taking Spanish classes, learning all about Costa Rica and, like lots of other Gringos, looking for a Tica girlfriend. Apparently the choices are many. Ticas like Gringos. Ron dates a few new ones every week. Ron is only just learning Spanish and often his girlfriends know no English, but that doesn’t stop them. Half the fun is figuring it all out.
My main reason for hanging around the San Jose area for a few days after I took Chelsea to the airport, was to be interviewed by Andy Browne for his fun and informative web site, Boomers Offshore . He says I represent a unique segment of the southward bound population, as a single woman creating a vida nueva (new life). Andy and his wife Fran represent, perhaps, a larger part of the expat population. They’ve come down here to live more economically. Andy told me in Costa Rica they live on 60% of what it cost them to live in the USA.
Andy and Fran have lived just outside of San Ramon for about eight months. It’s a mountain town, forty five miles northwest of San Jose, They plan to move soon and try another part of the country. This is a smart way to learn about Costa Rica, so they can decide where they want to be, long term. It was a pretty drive up winding roads to the windy hilltop where they live. Andy and Fran are warm and congenial. I felt right at home with them. They’ve made many friends – both Gringo and Tico – since their move to Costa Rica. It’s great to see how they have carved their own niche in this new world. They made me feel relaxed and welcome and the interview went very well. It will be shown on Boomer’s Offshore in a few weeks.
That afternoon, after the interview I wanted to head back home, but first I would look for a new convertible top for my car. The old one was much worse for wear and the sun baked plastic windows were barely transparent. I heard about a guy in Tibas, a San Jose suburb, who had a new one. After stopping for directions every four blocks, I found the place – a little hole-in-the-wall upholstery shop run by a nice man named Gerardo. He’s been in business there for twenty five years. Although it was not cheap, he gave me a discount and did an absolutely excellent job, leaving me with a much better quality top than I had before. And he didn’t get mad at me when I counted my money wrong, was one hundred dollars short and he had to take me to an ATM to get more. By the time I left I had seen his house, learned about his family and met his niece and her American husband, who kindly checked road conditions for my trip home.
Tibas is not really the kind of place you would want to stay, at least I didn’t. So at 7 p.m. in the rainy darkness, I started toward home with the plan to make it over the mountains to the Caribbean slope and stay the night in the town of Guapilies. It was a tedious hour and a half, driving thirty five miles an hour up and down around zig zags and curves, with jake brakes blasting behind me. This was the high rain forest. At times the fog was so thick I almost had to stop. But I pressed on, reminding myself to relax and breathe.
By the time I got to Guapilies, I was starving and exhausted. I hadn’t taken the time to eat all day. I drove around the town twice and finally called my friend, Gina, for directions to the hotel she and I had stayed at a year ago, Hotel Wilson. It had been inexpensive and negligibly acceptable and they had secure, guarded parking. I needed that, my car was full of stuff from my shopping trip.
The clerk and his assistant were more than accommodating but that did not make up for the lousy room. Here, I was definitely not at home. The place was almost full, so I had to take what was available. It was the worst hotel room I have ever had. Actually the room was not that bad, for a cement box with a window and a door. But the bed was a bio hazard. The smell didn’t really hit me till I lay down on the mattress. And what a smell it was! I amused myself by coming up with it’s exact description, while I lay awake in the middle of the night, assuring myself that I would survive. Imagine the fragrance of an old shoe – the deep interior of an old, recently worn, shoe. Add a good measure of dirty, wet dog smell, some dank dingy mold, the shirt off the back of the man who lives in a cardboard box in New York City, a touch of sewage sludge and there you have it. I’d brought in my new sheets, bought for my home in Puerto Viejo and used them as a contamination barrier. So I didn’t actually touch the mattress. In fact I tried not to touch anything in the whole place. The fan helped dissipate the smell and when I lay perfectly still, it was tolerable. Unfortunately, due to the thinness of the foam I lay on, I felt its supporting platform and had to turn over frequently. I developed the technique of burying my head in my pillow each time I turned over and keeping it there until the smell subsided. Thank heaven for melatonin or I would not have slept at all. I was up and out of there the next day, at the crack of dawn.
After a nice breakfast at the Guapilies bus stop, (TRAVEL TIP: Bus stops in Costa Rica are great places to eat with good, cafeteria style food – quick, cheap and all home made.) I enjoyed a pleasant drive to the coast. Words cannot tell you how much I appreciated sleeping, that night, in my own, clean, comfortable bed. Although not an exciting adventure, this trip to San Jose was eventful and humorous. It really made me appreciate having a nice bed in my new Caribbean home.