Woke up in San José this morning, freaking out a little because I forgot to tell my bank that I would be out of the country. Since my phone only works with WiFi here (and for some reason, couldn’t connect at the hostel), I couldn’t call them from my phone. I waited around the hostel until I found a member of the staff and asked in my very broken Spanish if I could use their phone for a toll-free call. I called and got everything straightened out, so I packed up my gear and hit the streets on foot. First order of business: find an ATM, or as they say in Costa Rica, un cajero automatico.
It took some serious effort to find an ATM. I’ve read in numerous blogs and books that finding an ATM was as easy as finding your own nose, but to my chagrin, it was more akin to finding the elusive Yeti.
On my way through the overcast morning, I found some wonders that I was seeing and experiencing for the first time. Interesting trees, beautiful flowers, being a foreigner and a minority. And if you’ve never experienced that in your life, I highly recommend it, for the perspective if for no other reason.
Another thing that I was led to believe was easy to find is people who speak English. This proved just as hard as finding an ATM, maybe more so. What I found was there were quite a few who spoke English. At least enough to say they don’t speak English, and to say “okay” and “no problem.”
Once I finally found a bank with ATM that allowed me to use my Visa card, as luck would have it, I also found a guy who spoke English really well.
Before I go on, I do know quite a lot of Spanish, but all the Spanish I’ve learned didn’t help me much in a lot of these situations, and I felt like less of a tool just asking for someone I can talk to than if I’d stood there with my Cost Rican Spanish phrase book frantically leafing through the pages to find the appropriate phrase. Which ironically, was almost never there anyway.
At the young English-speaking gentleman’s suggestion, I headed to Mercado Central for breakfast after getting 100,000 colones, or the equivalent of about $185 US. For about $6 USD, I got gallo pinto (beans and rice with onions) con pollo (chicken), plátanos fritos (fried plantains), and batida en leche con guanábana y banana, a beverage like a thin smoothie made with milk, ice and the fruit (pictured).
After I left Mercado Central (“Central Market”), I wandered for a bit trying to figure out where the bus terminal was. The search once again for an English-speaking tico was on. Someone up there smiled on me once again, as a guy who spoke perfect English stopped me to share a few laughs and ask me what I was doing in Costa Rica. He knew how to get to the bus terminal and let me know it was within walking distance. Which was music to these gringo ears, as I had about 60 lbs of luggage and gear breaking my back. It turned out we had different definitions of “walking distance,” but as least I saved the cab fare.
I arrived at the bus terminal around 11am San José time and bought mi tiquete a Uvita. David (the gentleman who walked me halfway across the city to the terminal) had to leave for an 11:45 meeting, so I bought him lunch and he was off. There were two concession stands in the bus terminal. The thing is, in Costa Rica, even the concession stands have decent, local, somewhat healthy food. No crappy hot dogs and sloppy Joes here.
In the terminal, I met a young couple from Europe who spoke English. We became fast friends, realizing we were boarding the same bus. Felix (from Germany) and Marielle (from Sweden), I discovered, were well-seasoned travelers, but as clueless as me about the language and how to get around in Costa Rica. They’re neat.
We boarded the bus and took off, heading west on the Caldera Highway to the coast. The ride through the mountains near Atenas and Orotina was amazing, with lush, deep valleys and bigger-than-expected mountains. I didn’t get any pics from the bus, as it was raining and we were moving. It proved a bit too difficult to get a decent shot.
I got to see from the bus all the places I’ve read about for years – Jaco, Playa Hermosa, Quepos, Herradura, Dominical, Tarcoles – until we arrived at Uvita around 4pm, local time. We ran into a torrential downpour just past Dominical and it became more intense until we reached Uvita. Luckily the bus stop had a covered outdoor seating area at an open air soda, what we would call a cafe or a diner. Again, the food was super fresh, local, and delicious. I was starting to get hungry again, so I ordered food. Felix and Marielle were smart and actually brought empanadas on the bus with them, so they weren’t hungry. Those savvy European travelers.
When the rain let up – and when I say “let up,” I mean when it wasn’t pouring – Felix, Marielle, and I began our roughly 30 minute walk to Hostel Cascada Verde in the jungle above Uvita. We stopped at an ATM so the Europeans could obtain some colones, then to the mercado to get some snacks and breakfast for tomorrow. There was a Richard Branson-looking dude there, graying thick hair, salt-and-pepper beard who was asking us where we were heading. I’m not sure why because somehow he knew, because when I started to say it, he finished my sentence. He told us he could give us a ride in his “tin can” (actually a smaller-model four wheel drive SUV). He told us he lives just past the hostel on the same road.
Turns out the Richard Branson dude, Josh actually, was from California, and had us chuckling the whole 5-minute trip up the hill into the jungle.
We got to our hostel around 6:45 or 7pm, shortly after dark. The place is lit with indirect lighting all over. there are wood floors, several hammocks, open-air decks, private rooms, and a four-bed dorm, which I’m staying in for a whopping $11 per night. This place is insane! I’ll post more pics tomorrow when there’s daylight. It looks SO COOL at night, but I’m not sure how to capture it in pics yet, so…mañana. Not sure yet if I’m gonna just hike down to the beach and chill yet, or try to do something adventurous. Stay tuned, I’ll keep you posted