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Costa Rica, Day 5: Jacó to Tamarindo (A Love Story)

I’m currently at Pura Vida Hostel in sunny, beautiful Tamarindo, Guanacaste province, Costa Rica. It’s late Saturday night (1:30am, more precisely), and I’m locked out of my room. Can’t make this stuff up, folks.

See, my bunk mates and I were all lounging in the common areas of the hostel, so I suggested we keep the sleeping room door open to get some circulation through the room. AC in hostels is rare or possibly nonexistent, especially in multi-bed dorms. Even in the hot, steamy tropics.

Anyway, the problem is they all decided to go out partying and locked the door with my key inside the room. Ok, fine. I can sleep outside if I have to. But the other fun thing is the bathrooms are INSIDE the dorm rooms. Ah, yes. I was told Cost Rica would be an adventure! They weren’t wrong.

So, since I have lots of time (presumably) before my bunk mates get back, I thought I’d start the blog chronicling my journey from Jacó to Tamarindo.

Saying goodbye to Playa Jacó today for sunny Tamarindo

Saying goodbye to Playa Jacó today for sunny Tamarindo


Started my morning today at cuatro y media (4:30am). I actually woke up at 4:11 with NO ALARM. Crazy. I took a shower before bed so I could just pack up and go in the morning. I had the security guard, Franco, call me a cab at around 5:25 or so.

I keep hearing how the taxi drivers here try to rip off gringos, but I’ve seen none of it. My most expensive taxi ride at this point was around $4 USD. This one was the cheapest, at 1250 colones, or $2.31 USD.

The driver dropped me off at the bus stop at around 5:40am, so I had a bit of time to kill, but not enough to go anywhere, so I just stayed put and waited. Soon a dude rolled up in a cab, full beard, chest tat, earrings, speaking English to the taxi driver. I asked if he was American, and when I heard him talk a bit more, I detected a French accent. French Canadian. I’ve met lots of Canadians on this trip, and lots of Germans. More than US Americans, actually, on both counts.

I chatted up the dude, and found out his name was Etienne, and he was on his way to Monteverde to see the cloud forest. I was on my way to Tamarindo, but we both had to stop in Puntarenas and get on a different bus.

While we were waiting, I saw a Tica waiting for the bus as well, sporting a sharp Polo that said “GraphikArte” on the chest, and beneath it, “Diseñador Gráfico”. I asked her is she spoke English. I realize I punked out, but the conversation I wanted to have with her, I wasn’t prepared to have in Spanish.

“Perdon, señorita,” I said. “Habla Inglés?”

“Yes, I do,” she said with surprising confidence.

Most people here, I’ve noticed, even if they speak English pretty darn well, usually smile sheepishly and say, “A little. Not much.”

I told her I noticed her shirt and that I’m also a graphic designer. We exchanged introductions, and I found out she goes by Lidia (she goes by a different name on Facebook. I assume one of them is not her birth name). She told me she has a day job and owns her own graphic design business in Jacó, which she works on in the evenings. Gotta respect a work ethic.

She was on her way to Puntarenas as well, so she, Etienne, and I all boarded sitting in seats close to each other. It’s nice having someone with whom you can communicate well to help you when taking the bus, because it can be pretty confusing in Costa Rica. And I’m finding out the Spanish I have learned so far is woefully inadequate to have any real conversation with a Tico (informal name for people of Costa Rica – Ticos: males or mixed gender, Ticas: females).

The bus made a surprising number of stops between Jacó and Puntarenas, and a surprising number of people got on the bus at each stop. Not very many got off the bus, either, so it filled up fast. Soon every seat was occupied, and the aisle was full of riders standing. Apparently a lot of people needed to go to Puntarenas. It is a major transit hub for the country, so I guess it makes sense. Anyone going to Liberia, Santa Cruz, Tamarindo, Monteverde, and even some going to San José had to go through Puntarenas.

Puntarenas wasn’t much to look at. In such a beautiful country, it was kind of an eyesore, actually, as much as I hate to say that. Old buildings, dirty streets…it had an overall industrial feel, and not in a cool, urban/boho/hipster kind of way, either. In a crappy/dirty/port city kind of way.

Its saving grace was the trees that graced the shores on either side of the long, narrow peninsula, and the few that made the streets a bit less unsightly.

When we got to Puntarenas, I gave Lidia my card and told her to look me up on Facebook and I promised I’d like her business page. Etienne and I de-boarded and looked for someone we could ask where to catch our connecting busses.

We went our separate ways. I found out that my next bus didn’t leave for another hour and change. This particular public bus was a slower route because it picked people up at several stops in almost every town along the route. I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be in Tamarindo until late afternoon, probably after dark.

A boisterous young guy was walking around trying to get people to take taxis. I think the drivers are paying him a cut of their profits, but who knows? He asked me where I was going and I told him Tamarindo. He said it would be “more better and cheaper” to take a cab 18 km to the Pan American Highway and catch the coach bus from San José to Tamarindo, which was a direct shot. I was apprehensive at first because it would cost me a lot of money at the regular price. The young, enterprising Tico asked me how much I could pay for it. I told him 10,000 colones, or around $18.50 depending on the exchange rate at the time. He found me a driver who would get me there on time for that price. He stuck to his word, too, even though his meter went over 10K colones. I appreciated that. My most expensive taxi ride, but worth it.

The main reason I took the deal is because I shaved about 3 or 4 hours off my travel time by doing that. The bus with all the stops would’ve been one of at least two more buses I’d have to take – Puntarenas to Liberia transit station, Liberia transit station to the airport, and the airport to Tamarindo. BUT the coach bus on the Pan American Highway was a straight shot into Tamarindo with not nearly as many stops.

The taxi dropped me off at the bus stop and there were a handful of Ticas of various ages waiting. I couldn’t tell if they were family or if they were just chatty. It seems people don’t have that much to talk about unless it’s with family. The youngest spoke a little English. She moved over, offering me a spot in the shade, which I appreciated since I’d gotten a bit too much sun in Uvita.

I told her in my crappy Spanish that it was my first time in Costa Rica, and that I loved what I saw so far. She asked in her broken English (which I found endearing and cute) where I was from. I told her I lived in Minnesota, then proceeded to try way too hard to explain that it was on the west edge of the Great Lakes, which I did in English, so I’m pretty sure she has no idea where I’m from.

The bus arrived and we boarded. I took a seat across the aisle from the young, pretty Tica who was likely now very confused about where I live. She put in earbuds and fiddled with her smartphone for a good duration of the trip. We made a stop shortly after we departed Puntarenas. I wasn’t sure why, but she looked over at me and explained in Spanish that we were stopping to eat. I found that odd since we’d just taken off minutes ago. But I’ll take the win. i hadn’t had breakfast yet anyway.

I got off the bus and moseyed into the soda (do people still mosey?) and approached the bus driver, who was already seated, and somehow already almost half done with his meal.

“Perdon, señor,” I said. “Cuanto minutos aqui?”
(“Excuse me, sir. How many minutes here?” Did I mention I’m not a Spanish whiz?)

He told me 15 minutes (in Spanish, of course), looked at his watch and corrected himself. TEN minutes.

“Diez.”

I hurried to the counter and asked the line server if she spoke English. She did not, so I tried my best to order in Spanish. I ended up getting some scrambled eggs, chorizo, greens salad (apparently, they don’t use dressing in Costa Rica. Just an observation, not a complaint), some chicken stuff that was remarkably similar to chicken stew we make here in the USA, and some fried plantains, which are incredibly delicious. I’ve made it my unspoken goal to have them at every meal while in Costa Rica. Total for the meal was 1750 colones, or $3.24 USD. Unbelievable. But I’ll take the win.

Back on the bus, and pretty Tica was back in her seat, earbuds firmly inserted in her ears, and fiddling with her phone.

Somewhere along the trip I fell asleep, and awoke to the sound of one of my bags crashing to the floor, its contents spilling out. Brilliant. Now there are kiwis, floss picks, my toothbrush and Heaven-knows-what-else rolling and sliding all over the floor of the bus.

When I finally regained my composure from the embarrassment, I settled into a quiet near-sleep again. I decided to finally introduce myself to pretty Tica.

“Perdon, señorita. Como se llama?”

“Yansi.” She replied (guessing on the spelling. I’ve seen it spelled this way and with a J, but based on how she pronounced it, I’m guessing it’s a Y).

“Me llamo Donovan,” I said back. “Encantado.”

(Encantado is “Enchanted” or “charmed,” literally, but culturally, it’s the same as, “nice to meet you.”)

We went through Liberia and soon were in Santa Cruz, where we pulled into a transit station filled with ticos catching busses to wherever. Those few moments we were stopped, I noticed how unbelievably hot it felt in that city. Being in the transit station where the air wasn’t moving didn’t help either. Yansi began fanning herself with her hands.

Why is it that with some people, everything they do is adorable?

Sidebar: I’ve noticed this week that Ticos have a lot endearing mannerisms, not just the young, pretty Ticas.

Speaking of endearing mannerisms, I noticed a couple of times on the trip that Yansi pulled out a tiny compact mirror, opened it and applied lip gloss. You’ve just been sitting there, Yansi. Is it even possible your lip gloss got messed up? Oh, Ticas!

When we finally approached Tamarindo, Yansi turned to me and with a stern, serious tone began to tell me that she’s getting off the bus, but that since I’m going to Tamarindo, I need to stay on the bus, because my stop is coming up soon, but she won’t be here to help.

“Ten minutes more. Then you get off.” she said in her terribly cute broken English. “Tamarindo.”

“Ok,” I said. “Muchas gracias.”

The bus stopped and she stood and started toward the door, then paused and turned around.

“Bye!” she waved and smiled at me.

Pretty sure I love her.

Between my crappy Spanish and her crappy English, our attempts were just un-crappy enough so that we understood each other.

A few more minutes passed, and the bus driver pulled over on a dusty street in front of a high-rise condo building and called out, “Tamarindo!” I stood, gathered my stuff, got off the bus and stepped out into the street.

My modus operandi so far for reaching a new city has been: 1) Get off the bus, and 2) Find an internet cafe, or a soda or restaurant with WiFi, so I can look for lodging.

Luckily, Tamarindo offers plenty of options for WiFi because it’s a mecca for tourists. Along the two main streets in town, you’ll find recognizable businesses like Sharky’s Restaurant, Longboard BBQ, Eat at Joe’s, Subway, Coldwell Banker, Budget Car Rental, etc. as well as a few Costa Rican places.

I found Mandarina Tropical Juice Bar and set up shop. They share a WiFi connection with an adjacent hostel and surf school. I jumped online and searched for hostels in Tamarindo and found a handful that still had beds available for the night. The best and most reasonably priced was Hostel Pura Vida, which is where I ended up.

A nice Eastern Eurpoean fellow by the name of Thomas checked me in and showed me around, gave me keys, wrote down my passport number, and answered some questions. I haven’t paid him a cent yet. Not sure if that’s common, but I found it odd.

This hostel isn’t super swanky like the last one, or boho-zen-jungle lodging like the one in Uvita. It’s ok, comfortable, and very affordable.

There are two kitchens at Pura Vida. This is near the one furthest away from the front gate. i don't think anyone has used it yet

There are two kitchens at Pura Vida. This is near the one furthest away from the front gate. i don’t think anyone has used it yet

As with all the hostels I've seen the common areas are cool, and the rooms are just places to store your crap and sleep

As with all the hostels I’ve seen the common areas are cool, and the rooms are just places to store your crap and sleep

The kitchen I'm pretty sure no one's using

The kitchen I’m pretty sure no one’s using

After checking in, I met some other folks here, then gathered up my things and brought my clothes to a laundry service. It would be a bit before my clothes were done, so I wandered across the street to a little open-air food court and grabbed some tacos at Taco Tico, a little shack owned by an American who had his arm in a sling and sported a pencil thin, shaped gotee. He had graying hair, cut short and was balding on top. He wore shades and a floral print Hawaiian shirt and called me “man.”

“How you doin’, man?”
“Sure thing, man!”

I was half-expecting to hear a “brah” in there too, but to my disappointment, it didn’t happen.

Perhaps my Midwestern upbringing was coming through, but when he brought me my tacos, I had a twinge of guilt because he only had use of one hand. I wanted to get up and help him, but I let him do his thing so as not to make him feel like a charity case.

After picking up my laundry, which was dried and folded and bagged for me, I went back to the hostel, grabbed my camera and started heading for the beach. It was after five, so it was almost prime sunset time.

When I got to Playa Tamarindo, the sun was still pretty high in the sky, but there weren’t many clouds and as sunsets go, it wasn’t the most interesting, but I did get some nice shots.

Tamarindo4Poster

TamarindoBeachMountains

TamarindoBeachRock

TamarindoPlayaFlag

TamarindoPlayaSign

TamarindoColorBoat

TamarindoCoral

TamarindoOrangeBranch

TamarindoPinkSun

TamarindoBeachBlue

TamarindoBeachCouple

TamarindoTowelCouple

A playful tico couple having some fun on the swings

A playful Tico couple having some fun on the swings

The money shot. A surfer girl under a Tamarindo sunset

The money shot. A surfer girl under a Tamarindo sunset

This is the magic of Costa Rica.

Tamarindo has been great. Lots of tourist traps, yes, but friendly people are everywhere from everywhere. I’ve met lots of Germans, Swedes, Canadians, Brits, as well as Latinos from Cost Rica and elsewhere.

Today has been a fantastic day! I’m loving Costa Rica and it’ll be really hard to leave on Tuesday.

 

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Costa Rica, Day 4: Uvita to Jacó

Rain from Playa Dominical all the way to Jacó

Rain from Playa Dominical all the way to Jacó

Day 4 has been primarily a travel day. I left Uvita early in the afternoon, around 1:30 after checking out at Hostel Cascada Verde. It was raining, so I had the hostel caretaker, Julie, call me a taxi into town.

La Casona is a great Tico soda with outstanding food ridiculously cheap

La Casona is a great Tico soda with outstanding food ridiculously cheap

I was a little early and a bit hungry, so I went across the street to Restaurante La Casona, a great little Tico place where you can get a delicious filling Casada with chicken, rice, black beans, greens salad, potatoes, and fried plantains plus a drink for about five bucks USD. If you’re ever in Uvita in the Puntarenas Province of Costa Rica, go there. There’s also a handy bank with an ATM and a sweet little well-stocked grocery store just across the street with some of the best fruit I’ve ever seen in a store before.

Verdict: Uvita area, definitely recommended.

I caught the bus up to Jacó around 1:30 in the afternoon. The drive was beautiful, and mostly rainy. I arrived at the bus stop in Jacó, once again in a torrential downpour. I went into an open air soda (basically the same as what we call a cafe or diner in the US), and tried to figure out how to get online to find info about the hostel I’d booked. But alas, no WiFi at this particular soda.

As an interesting cultural sidebar, Costa Rica has WiFi almost everywhere. Same with cell coverage. But if you ever come here, PLEASE make sure you disable international data roaming BEFORE you arrive, or you will be charged out the nose for it. Your data usage will spike and your provider may flag your account and suspend your service.

That said, use WiFi. It’s literally almost everywhere there’s a building, business or residence. Almost every hotel and hostel has it, and most is fast and free if you’re staying or paying. If you don’t see a sign that says “WiFi Aqui” (WiFi Here), just ask.

Back to my arrival at Jacó. This particular restaurant did NOT have WiFi. Great. I landed at the one restaurant in all of Costa Rica that doesn’t have WiFi. So I wrote down the name and (sort of) address of the hostel and got into one of the red cabs that was sitting out front.

Red cabs. They’re the legit ones. In the USA, they’re yellow, mostly. Here, they’re red. If someone offers you a taxi that’s not red, decline and walk away. No questions, no arguments. They’re not legit.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country with sweet, amazing people all over, but there are a few (who WILL find you) that only see you as a wallet with legs. They will try to get as much money out of you as possible. I’ve heard this is a problem in Jacó and Tamarindo, but I’ve only experienced it in San José so far. And Puntarenas, too, but I’m getting ahead of myself, because I’m still in Jacó.

The cab took me straight to the hostel, which took about 1.5 minutes and a about two bucks USD. The driver didn’t take the scenic route to squeeze more money out of my as I’d been warned. I’ll take the win.

I grabbed my bags and checked into Room2Board Hostel & Surf School. This place was nuts. Sleek, ultra-modern architecture, brand new building, open air reception, pool, bar, and just a short walk to the beach.

Reception area at Room2Board

Reception area at Room2Board

Room2Boards cool bar right next to the pool

Room2Boards cool bar right next to the pool

Designed by an up-and-coming architect, Room2Board is brand new and rivals the amenities of many hotels

Designed by an up-and-coming architect, Room2Board is brand new and rivals the amenities of many hotels

Open air meeting room that stays completely dry and comfortable in the rainy season

Open air meeting room that stays completely dry and comfortable in the rainy season

After checking in, I went to my room and another boarder was already in the room. I’ve been staying in mostly mixed dorm rooms with several beds to keep costs down. Private rooms are more expensive. I certainly didn’t mind, though, because this boarder was a cool (and VERY pretty) school teacher from inner city New York named Julie. After chatting for a bit we decided to go to the beach to check out the sunset. Unfortunately it was a bit too cloudy for anything spectacular, but I still got some great shots.

JacoBeachLeft

JacoBeachPalmsJacoBeachHiRise

JacoSilhouettePalm

I took a shower and got to bed fairly early for my 4:30am wake up time. I had to catch a 6am bus to Tamarindo, which will be another blog post.

I’m writing this in Tamarindo, as I’m a day behind. Tomorrow’s beach pics will be a lot better, but the hostel pics aren’t as exciting as the last two places. But Tamarindo’s pretty cool, if a bit touristy.

Stay tuned for more Costa Rica adventures!

Costa Rica, Day 3: Exploring Uvita

HammockStairsWhen I arrived at Hostel Cascada Verde just up the hill from Uvita, Costa Rica last night, it was after dark. The surroundings weren’t very easy to see because it was dark, but I could see the hostel was pretty amazing, with indirect lighting everywhere, travelers of all stripes lounging in hammocks, making snacks in the kitchen, surfing the internet on their device of choice, and an international boho vibe that was almost palpable. I met two couples from Germany (one being the owners), a young lady from London, one from Texas via Virginia, , a Costa Rican American who owned a hostel in Drake Bay, and one of his volunteers (who were my bunk mates), and there was Felix and Mariell (from Germany and Sweden respectively, pictured below).

I woke up this morning around 6:30 without an alarm of any kind. I let the monkeys, toucans, quetzals, macaws, cicadas and frogs be my alarm. I stepped out of my room and freaked out. I can’t lie. I could see now in full daylight how INSANE this place is. This is the magic of Costa Rica.

Felix from Hamburg, Germany, and Mariell from Gothenburg, Sweden. You should be here.

Felix from Hamburg, Germany, and Mariell from Gothenburg, Sweden. You should be here.

Here are some pics of the hostel and the surrounding grounds.

Second floor deck overlooking the jungle.

Second floor deck overlooking the jungle.

Breakfast bar in the huge open-air kitchen

Breakfast bar in the huge open-air kitchen

El baño. One of a few that we all share

El baño. One of a few that we all share

Open air dining room with the jungle just a few feet away

Open air dining room with the jungle just a few feet away

Bovis from Germany typing away on his iPad

Bovis from Germany typing away on his iPad

Lauren, a staff volunteer at Jaguar's Jungle Hostel in Drake Bay doing some morning yoga. Time: 6:39am

Lauren, a staff volunteer at Jaguar’s Jungle Hostel in Drake Bay doing some morning yoga. Time: 6:39am

The showers. Everything in Costa Rica is colorful

The showers. Everything in Costa Rica is colorful

Hammocks right on the edge of the rain forest

Hammocks right on the edge of the rain forest

After geeking and freaking out about my accommodations and surroundings, I grabbed some breakfast, consisting of the sweetest, juiciest cantaloupe I’ve ever put in my mouth, a few slices of starfuit, a couple handfuls of raw almonds and those mini bananas you can find on occasion in the higher end grocery stores. However, the ones I’ve tried locally in Minnesota don’t hold a candle to these fresh, sweet, creamy, delicious little beauties.

I think things just taste better in Costa Rica. It’s a whole new theory I’m working on.

After breakfast, I went back to my room to upload and touch up the pics I’d taken. Felix peered through my open door and asked if I wanted to accompany Mariell and him to the waterfall. I said I just needed to finish what I was doing and join them. So I continued playing with my photos while they started out for the falls. A few minutes later, I finished up and headed out as well.

There was little restaurant at the trailhead leading to the falls where I paid a modest entrance fee of $1 USD or 500 colones.

There's a restaurant at the trailhead leading to the falls at Cascada Verde

There’s a restaurant at the trailhead leading to the falls at Cascada Verde

The trail to the falls was a bit less…shall we say…manicured than I expected? It wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle, but maybe I was expecting different. There were tree roots jutting up on the path and several places where there was a pretty substantial drop when stepping down the path toward the cascade.

I finally arrived and found Liz (the Londoner) and Danielle (the Texan-Virginian) sitting on a rock near the lower pool. After several failed attempts to communicate information to me (the sound from the falls drowned her voice), Liz gave up and I continued toward the pool just beneath the falls where I found Felix and Mariell.

The lower pool beneath the waterfall

The lower pool beneath the waterfall

The Falls at Cascada Verde

The Falls at Cascada Verde

Felix getting splashed by a refreshing cascade of warm Costa Rica water

Felix getting splashed by a refreshing cascade of warm Costa Rica water

The river below the falls

The river below the falls

After wading in the pools, navigating the rocks, a bit of swimming (the Europeans only – I opted out), and taking lots of photos, we decided to head to the beach. The following pics were taken on the way there. It was a pretty long walk. It took us around an hour to get there.

Did I mention Cost Rica is really colorful?

Did I mention Cost Rica is really colorful?

BahiaRio

BahiaRoad

BahiaWaterBird

UvitaColorfulCasas

UvitaColorGate

UvitaCountryRoad

UvitaFloralGate

UvitaHostelRoad

And when we got there, it was worth the walk.

UvitaBeachHangUvitaHillHomes

We parked our carcasses in the shade underneath this almond tree

We parked our carcasses in the shade underneath this almond tree

UvitaBeachCouple

UvitaBeachLeftZoom

UvitaBeachMist

UvitaBeachVisit

UvitaEstuaryMist

UvitaHillHomes

UvitaIguanaLog

UvitaIguanaZoom

The three of us (Mariell, Felix, and I) got back to the hostel around mid-afternoon, changed, cleaned up, and relaxed for a bit before embarking on a trek down the hill to Sueños Tranquillos, a resort, bar, and restaurant. Turns out they served up some mean casadas. I had Casada con Lomito, while the Europeans opted for Casadas con Pollos.

If you’re not familiar, the casadas consisted of the meat of choice, frijoles negros (black beans), arroz blanco (white rice), chayotes (squash), greens salad with tomatoes and onion, and platanos fritos(fried plantains), which were off-the-chain delicious.

We came back to the hostel and started making plans for our next few days in this beautiful country.

Costa Rica, Day 2: San José to Uvita

HostelViewWoke 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.

ParqueSanJoseOn 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.

SanJoseBreakfastAt 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.

RainUvitaI 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.

HostelPalmPMWe 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

Costa Rica, Day 1: San José

Oy. I’ve been to FOUR airports today.

Started the day running late. Caught a later-than-I-wanted light rail to MSP airport. All went smoothly, however, so it was a wasted freak out. I picked up my boarding pass and got through security with an hour to spare, so I grabbed breakfast at D’Amico & Sons in the concourse.

At MSP, I caught my flight to ORD (Chicago O’Hare). Quick layover there and I was off to DFW (Dallas). By the time I reached Dallas, it was around 2:20 and I was starting to get hungry, so I grabbed a sandwich at a BBQ place. I paid $16 for a glorified Sloppy Joe served on a foam plate. Ouch. Have I mentioned airport food is expensive?

From DSW, I boarded what would be the last leg of my trip to SJO (San José). By the way, if you’re keeping track, that’s four airports in one day.

I think I’ve had enough of airports for a while.

Stay tuned to the blog for pics. Today was a travel day, so I didn’t take any pics. I thought it would be kind of a pain to dig out my camera when I’m constantly on the go.

I can’t wait til tomorrow.

Video

Manifest Foundation/Hug it Forward Bottle School Project

A life-changing opportunity to make a difference in the lives of kids in Guatemala.

Dike Patrol, Days 3 and 4

Yesterday was a pretty quiet day. Now it’s Sunday and yesterday went by without further incident, seemingly. I spent the day hanging out with my gracious hosts and their family, as travel is still not advised in most of the city. We waited for any further call for help and none came, so we relaxed, had dinner together, played some cards and enjoyed each other’s company.

We got word late last night that more volunteers were needed back at FargoDome in the morning to help fill a round of backup sandbags, so we planned to go to an earlier church service so we could get there to help earlier in the day.

This morning we woke to find out that there had been a breach in the dike by Oak Grove High School and four of the five buildings on campus have already been affected. Volunteers were mobilized quickly and by the time we got home from church, they were TURNING AWAY volunteers. The Dome was full and the breach, we were told, has been contained for now.

There is a metal wall built near Oak Grove that was built to hold back flood waters. There is supposedly a breach beneath the wall where water came streaming in at a pretty alarming rate. Before it could be contained, water had seeped into and caused damage in at least two of the buildings on campus, and last I heard, maybe up to four of the five buildings, including The Scheel Center of Performing Arts, the newest of the buildings on campus.

For now, I’m waiting to see if there will be room for more volunteers. The media has said they don’t want people to go to Oak Grove, and that volunteers should stay away, and there doesn’t seem to be other problems anywhere else with makeshift dikes holding.

I have to head back home to St. Paul, MN later today, but for now, there are TOO MANY volunteers.

What a great problem to have.