Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Compiled E-Postcards From Costa Rica

E-postcard #1

As always, excuse my inability to deal with the remapped Spanish keyboard.

The best laid plans and all that. The rainy season has been especially bad this year. We arrived in San Jose to find that the bridge to where we had planned on spending the first few days of our trip was washed out. Daughter-in-law Terri's and David's place. So a bit of a jumble and we found a hotel in San Jose. Yesterday we spent a morning in the hotel spa getting the flight kinks out and getting ready for the 3 hour drive to the house, only to find that we could get to a small town, Jaco, about halfway only. Anyway, we booked into a hotel here (Jaco) and arrived yesterday early afternoon.

Heavy rain is pretty near continuous. There were landslides on the way here, one quite large. Clearing them seems to be a continuous process. Cars are waved through one at a time; I think to reduce the deaths if it starts up again. There's a spotter placed on the road who gauges the condition of the mountainside above the road and waves you through. Our taxivan driver booted it across and we got here.

Though we can't go any further and judging by the condition of the river on the edge of town may have some difficulty getting out in any direction. The rivers are all HUGE and brown when normally they are tiny and clear. One river we crossed was solidly 500m wider than the bridge over it and 2 to 3km away the land was still underwater in spots. Crocs in short supply, just hope none washed into a village. TV is nothing but news about the emergency and shots of buses sliding down hills and bodies coming out of flooded homes, villages under mud and water. Boulders washing down hillsides and taking out cars and buses.

General observations> good roads, way better than Nicaragua. Obvious wealth disparity. Lots of walled compounds for mostly US residents. The countryside no more prosperous looking than Cuba we think, though more people have cars and there are higher/end shops for tourists and US residents. Cleaner and way more prosperous than Nicaragua. Clean generally. Little roadside garbage and little sold in plastic. Lots of glass bottles, including for water. Lots of obvious sex tourism. Checkout at the San Jose hotel, fairly high/end, was a line up of middle/aged men with very young women.

Jaco is a tourist trap, all tawdry and wall/to/wall surf shops filled with stoned young Americans in bare feet, even in the rain. In other words a wonderful spot to be stuck in. Am quite enjoying this bit of mild adventure. Terri travels a little more towards the high end than we do; she's being a great sport about it though. Just a bit of panic and some reluctance to get out of the van when we arrived *we're staying at the hotel Geri and I picked out for when we had actually planned to be in Jaco later in the trip. The Poseidon Hotel a bit above a backpackers spot, though they do have a dorm section for the younger crowd. Much fun and I think Terri has started to quite like it. It helps that she has hit it off with the bartender. Cute tiny pool. Have literally seen bigger hot tubs, but it has a three/seat swim-up bar. LOL. And we had fun last night naming and playing with David's huge skin tag at the bar. His 'mini me'. Made an impression I think.

The Bible *otherwise known as the Lonely Planet( describes Jaco this way "something of a wasteland in regard to cultural offerings, but it’s a great place to get hammered and do something you'll most likely regret in the morning". Kinda sums it up and make for great people/watching.

Losing Hydro now and then a bit of a concern if we're here for an extended stay. The power lines over the river on the edge of town were under pressure from a large tree that had been washed off the riverbank In fact a big chunk of the retaining wall was peeling away from the river bank. If it comes downstream in one chunk we'll lose hydro and the bridge at the same time I think.

But the extra moving of the luggage without benefit of hotel assistance has David and me vying for the right to title our memoirs My Life as a Bellhop.

The beer tasting is going well. Pilsen is tops to date. Imperial the most popular local beer but a bit heavy and no aftertaste to speak of, so a second choice. This stop is kinda like a snow day for grown/ups. We can hang, read, drink beer and eat really wonderful fruit and seafood guilt/free because there's nothing we can do about it. The math test will just be rescheduled. LOL

For the folks who live here though this looks to be something of a major disaster. Hard to describe the rain. Mostly a steady rain it now and then suddenly turns into a downpour. Woke at 0200 this am to the sounds of rain 'drops' the size of golf balls bouncing around. Thought it was continuous thunder.

Today's plan> walk in the rain long enough to wash yesterday's clothing, hang it to dry and then have a fish lunch, retire for a movie and then try the hotel's rooftop bar as there may be folks who hang there who haven't yet seen our little show with David's skin tag.

They deserve to, of course. And so they shall.


Starting to see lighter clouds and it hasn't rained in a few hours, so there's some hope. At least with the rain stopped there's a chance for some work to be done on the bridge we need to cross to get to the house, or, conversely, less of a worry about landslides if we decide to head back to San Jose.

Even if the bridge gets done soon there's no hydro or water at the house so plans remain a bit up in the air.

One thing for sure, being unable to walk around in the evening because we're tired of being rained on by then and having only a choice between a hotel room and a bar is having an effect both on our budget and our livers. When we have a better sense of whether the house is still an option we'll have to look at how to plan out the rest of the trip. Returning home early might be an option, but we of course took the cheapest tickets we could buy and so at the very least we'd be looking at an extra charge for the change. And with the tourists still apparently leaving in droves there might not be seats available in any case.

Some entertainment last night from a young US man down the outdoor corridor/balcony from us. He was going on at length to a Tica *female Costa Rican ( about how crude Americans are when shaving their nether regions, at least in comparison with Ticas/Ticas. It all seemed kind of innocent, not at all as if he was trying to get into her pants. Kinda cute really.

Fingers crossed please...


Since last I bored you all to tears we checked out of our hotel and, thanks to Terri and David, moved to the condo spot they had planned for their visit here next week. This will be a great help to us in trying to keep the damage to our budget under control as they've graciously and generously given us one of the bedrooms. The up side to the cost of this trip as it has developed is that we need no longer worry about having to fuss over whether we can afford to head to Cuba for x-mas. We can't.

Much different experience in the new spot. Modern condo overlooking the beach. All mod-cons and such, the washer and dryer being particular treats as when travelling we normally do laundry in a sink and hang our unmentionables all about our room. Adds a homey feel when far from the nest. :-) Something which at least a few of our fellow castaways don't do much of, judging by the stink of them a few days after the bridge and highway were washed away. Or perhaps they had sent their luggage ahead and were stranded with nothing but the clothes on their backs. I should have asked. :-)

Pools and an attached casino. An OK but rather pricey restaurant as well. But with a view across a garden and onto the beach which would make it worthwhile on a nice day. Clearly meant for US tourists as the prices are in USD, the thermostats in F, the TV channels mostly US, and all instructions etc. in English.

We went shopping yesterday to stock the fridge here. Two things worth noting. One an orange-flavoured beer (which I am ashamed to say I quite like), the other the prices. Not much less than what we would expect to pay at home except for the meat which was more expensive. Tourists and ticas with shopping lists in English at the Super Mercado. An open-air market at the south end of town that's clothes and fresh fruit and veg that we walked through but didn't shop at.

A shame we never got up to the roof bar at our last hotel as I'd plans for using a pen to add a face around David's skin tag and introduce it as Jimmy Durante (really his idea, though he has been talking about a tattoo for the same effect, only permanent).

Speaking of tattoos, it goes with the 20-something tourist population here I suppose, but the town has a number of tattoo/piercing joints. Even the middle-aged surfer chicks and dudes, of which there are many, are well-decorated. Also over-tanned and looking generally dissipated. Enervated. Dehydrated. Well-toasted. Under-embalmed.

The younger set is seen early in the day lying about or sitting on curbs clearly suffering from ecstasy hangovers. Until about noon there are almost as many of them as there are stray dogs roaming the streets. Which is saying something.

The older folks seem to go for different drugs as there are signs at every pharmacy (many of them here, way too many for a town of perhaps 4,000, half that permanent at most I should think) advertizing the fact that Viagra and it's various imitators can be purchased here in volume, at low, low, low (or so they say) prices, and all without a prescription.

No one has offered to sell me any weed. Unusual I understand.

The weather is supposed to brighten somewhat and a day by the pool with an audio book would be a very pleasant way to get some vitamin D. Which given the weather is one medicine in short supply.

Did I mention the sex shops? Do I need to? Or the razor wire. Most especially the razor wire around the daycare centres (several, must be free or subsidized or intended for tourist families; the former I suspect). Normally I find signs of that kind of security unpleasant, but if that's what it takes to keep the little buggers inside the fence, I'm all for it.

On a brighter note, there are a fair number of electric cars rolling around and at least two places that rent them. And the largest and largest number of election signs about the place are for the Greens. Lots of hummingbirds all over the place. Great cheap food at simple roadside stands/restaurants called sodas.

Worst news: the water remains brown and rescue operations continue across the country in spots. Still looks like we have little or no chance of getting to the house. Jaco has its tawdry charms, but even I will have exhausted them in another day or two I think. My iPod is loaded and we've some books with us, but if we remain stuck here for too much longer without pool/tanning/reading opportunities I expect we'll either have to pack up and head back to San Jose early or we will find ourselves reduced to simple card games and funny-noises-using-body-parts contests.

Something to look forward to. I've always been a dab hand with a moist armpit and a supple palm. !Hasta la victoria!

Best news of the week: Geri bought a baseball cap during the momentary appearance of the sun yesterday. It has a bottle-opener built into the brim.

Bought a Costa Rican cigar. Very nice. The Cubans I normally smoke are more expensive here than in metro Cobourg. Priced for US tourists I suppose. Sit still in a bar long enough and a nice man will try and sell you a box or ten of Cubans. Well, something resembling a cigar in a Cuban box at least.

Bye for now. If this is annoying any of you and you want off the list, do feel free to say so.


Bit of a gap there that you all likely appreciated. Terri´s house had no internet access.

We checked out of the condo complex in Jaco and headed to the house, passed a lot of road and village damage on the way. In some places the road was closed for several days because a landslide came across it on the way to inundating a village. Mud to mebbe waist height in people´s houses. Though on the way back in the same places the cleanup looked nearly done and furniture etc was up on roofs drying.

Some pretty serious road washouts, one near the house left a telephone pole hanging in space and required a significant shift of the road to one side.

The house great, very comfortable and all, but we got perhaps an hour of sun all week, right up to the day we left when of course it was bright and clear. Lots of hummingbirds, the odd toucan, iguanas and best of all, one litre bottles of beer. Best feature: plastic thatch on the rancho by the pool.

David and Terri drove us back to Jaco and we hopped a bus from there. Met a nice Dutch fellow who helped out, not least by letting Geri have his seat at the front of the bus to help with motion sickness.

Bus had no AC but the windows opened and the driver kept the door open most of the way. Better than AC really. Food vendors got on and off along the way, walking the aisle with a cooler and bagged goodies. Occasional reminders of Cliffside trips by bus in Italy when driver mopping sweat, drinking water, talking to friends, and, oh yes, driving. Lots of babies crying too, including me when we teetered on the edges of cliffs. Tica friend of the driver was I think making fun of me, not realizing that me leaning out to the left and well into the aisle was all that was keeping us from falling a zillion metres to the bottom of the cliff on our right. lol

With so long passing since my last postcard I am reduced to random notes:

1. Muni and cantonal elections under way. Seems like about 50% women candidates. Most signs are for the eco party and the libertarian party.

2. Lots of religious signage and big new prod churches.

3. Garage at Jaco condo had almost as many Hummers and Range Rovers as hookers.

4. David´s driving has improved.

5. Ceviche, apparently the national dish, is addictive (raw fish marinated in citrus, herbs added).

6. Canadian colony near Terri’s house. Surprised how much of a strain an English-French-Spanish conversation was.

7. Bus did 105km in 2:45. Very scenic, much fun, highly recommended.

8. Howdy honking not as du rigueur here as Cuba but still pretty common.

9. Kids sell fish by roadside like kids sell lemonade at home.

First impressions of San Jose (last time here were in the Best Western): it´s a hopping town. Lots of street vendors. And if Jaco a tawdry bordello kind of town, San Jose is like something out of film noir.

More on that later though.

Last bit: thanks Shelly for the suggested great little hotel. We have a mango tree right outside our door. Only problem is getting lost on the way to breakfast. 35 room hotel but many windy corridors with little gardens and common rooms all over the place Best $35 a night hotel since India I think.



Dying for a nap, so again in point form:

1. Fine debate yesterday re. the pros and cons of various guide books in the hotel´s internet cafe. LP wins again. Steves’ got toasted for being too US-centric (even the Americans found it hard to use re measurements and such. Book says miles, road signs say klicks). Frommers gets pooh-poohed for suggesting Quality Inns and Motel 6s.

2. Couple from Perry Sound made the mistake of driving into town. Older folks, find buses etc. intimidating. Kid on motorcycle rides alongside for a few blocks, stays right with them. Then leaves. Suspect number two then shouts from a car that the kid slashed their tires. They stop and get out to look at the tires and suspect 3 really does slash the tires. Suspect four plays the good samaritan while the car is emptied as she distracts them. Passports and all, and they go home tomorrow. Mebbe. After they got to hotel had to park on street and now have more damage. Another reason to get some fun from the bus.

3. Hotel breakfast fab, setting, in a courtyard garden, really nice. Homemade jams etc. really good. $9 extra over basic room charge to have two. Carambola (starfruit) juice to die for.

4. Geri peeked in the higher end rooms that were vacated today. Next time, if there is one, that´s what we´ll shoot for. Not that there was anything wrong with the one we got. But these like garden suites.

5. Hotel crowd are mostly LP types. Surfers through to seniors with multipocket vests. Mostly Scandinavian, bunch of Canadians, one or two US couples. Lots of birdwatchers. Can birdwatch over breakfast or in several of the hotel common areas. Funky mini rainforest run by retired hippies a few blocks away. Bizarre. Urban weird. Blotter acid has a lot to answer for, though this actually quite nice.

6. May have to trash my ´CR-no army since 1948´shirt as a border fuss with Nicaragua has ´cops´out looking a lot like infantry and arriving with their own helicopter gunships and artillery. Too bad, one nice myth gone...

7. No booze in three days now. No DTs either, so guess I´m good.

8. Holiday Inn on a nice plaza. Chock-full of middle-aged men from the US looking for sex. Sad.

9. Noticeably cooler here compared to the coast. Nice mornings, rainy afternoons.

10. Shopping fun, but abysmally so in the touristy bits. Cheesy. CR snow globes, t-shirts made in China etc. Regular shopping more expensive that I would have thought. No artisans in the artisan market. Just guys hawking Cuban cigars to Americans for twice what I pay at home.

11. Tica/Tico goths kinda fun to look at. Sweaty. Spoils the effect.

12. Lots of beggars.

13. Local bakery fab. Great pastries, sweet and savoury. Lots like it around.

14. Pensions discussion post-breakfast. US now at 72 for full benefits. >Didn´t realize. Oddly, same person lamenting this then trashes French for protesting increase in their retirement age.

15. Areas around the Mercado Centrale and the bus terminal are just hopping. Lots of street vendors etc. Smells a little off-putting though. But best part of central SJ for camera work.

16. Cast iron school building from the late 1800s.

17 Lots of razor wire, but beats Nicaragua in that there are no or few guns. And only cops have them.

18. Lots of ´great man´ statues and parks. No women.

19. Street-level air pollution a killer.

20. Whopper houses with whopper walls, lots of rag-pickers with carts with bike wheels with no rubber on them.

21. TV offerings on local channels a global collection of shows featuring breasts and old men. Old men with bad dye jobs.

22. Our corner store has a corner within it where the family running it lives and eats etc. Kinda of odd to be looking for beer (hey, I said I hadn´t drunk any, not that I hadn´t wanted to, it’s HOT here kids) and walking down an aisle and finding yourself in some one´s kitchen as they are having Sunday soup.

Bye. That´s it from CR

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