2011.05.06 – San Jose, Costa Rica
Nothing like flying down to Latin America with high hopes and backpack full of stuff and flying back to the US after two weeks with a temporary passport and the clothes on your back…Sometimes that is how “vacations” just work out..
As usual I booked my flight but did not have any specific plans nor did I know what the hell I was going to do once I was down there. I got a book out about Costa Rica from the library the night before and read a little about the country but nothing really stuck out in my mind as a “must see” and I was too busy with work to give it much thought in the prior weeks leading up to the trip. I left Denver on Friday May 6th, 2011 and first flew to Atlanta then down to San Jose, Costa Rica on Delta. I figured I would check into my hostel and get some ideas on what to do once I was there.
However, I did pre-book my hostel and a ride from the airport once I got to San Jose, so I wasn’t going into a completely clueless situation upon my arrival. On the flight down I had my usual apprehensive traveling feelings of not knowing what I was going to do once I got there but this usually happens on every one of my vacations. I’m usually always filled with self-doubt and anxiety on the flight down, especially when I travel on my own, but it’s usually dispelled early on when I get into the “traveling-groove”.
Luckily it didn’t take long to get into the flow of things, actually about 10 minutes. I got off the plane in San Jose and immediately met this dude from France that seemed strangely, “Colorado Style”. He was all geared up in skate clothes and with a crazy Australian accent. He was a ski instructor in France and spent the other half of the year in Aussie so we hit it off and were both staying in the same hostel so we joined forces. He told me he was headed to Tamarindo, Costa Rica in the morning and I had no plans so I committed to follow.
2011.05.09-10 – San Jose, Costa Rica
After such a nice relaxing time on the beach in Tamarindo, my trip got all screwed up on Monday May 9th when we left with the intent to cross the border into Nicaragua. We caught a late-morning bus from Tamarindo to Liberia, Costa Rica where we were to change to another bus to get to the Nicaragua border.
When we got to the bus station in Liberia we were both starving and stopped at a restaurant inside the station to eat. Although we were hungry and somewhat out of our element, we were still conscious of our bags as we ate. We placed them to the side of us, against the wall, within a foot from our table. While sitting at the table this guy was lingering around us, mumbling some Spanish which seemed somewhat strange but we didn’t think much of it. Just as our food came, my buddy gets up to go check the bus schedule and the random guy in the restaurant comes around to sit at a chair behind me. He taps me on the shoulder and asks me another question and I turn to answer him. What I think happened, as I turned to respond, was that the guy had a street kid run into the restaurant and grab my backpack.
When I realized it was gone, I ran out of the restaurant and down the street to see if I could spot someone with my bag but in reality it was hopeless. I combed the streets for a bit and eventually filed a police report, in Spanish, about the incident. I do have to admit that I was pretty proud to file that report in Spanish though. I nailed every question the lady asked me. She must have been a little impressed. I guess that’s what hours of watching Telemundo will get you.
After I filed the report I ran over to an internet café, called the US Embassy and canceled my credit card. Stupidly I had everything in my backpack. I lost my ipod, camera, passport, Colorado drivers license, credit cards, two of my favorite shirts and my best pair of Nikes. The guy also racked up my credit card for $600 in the span of two hours before I managed to cancel it. Luckily though, I had one very important thing still in my pocket, my bank card, and with this I was still open for business and in the end, its all just material possessions.
I was pretty bummed out about the whole thing, especially with this happening so quickly into my vacation, but shit happens. I wasn’t completely sloppy. I was just caught up in a sting. My buddy was great about the whole thing and stuck with me even though he could have gone off to Nicaragua. That night we took a bus back to San Jose and Costa Rica Backpackers Hostel so that I could get my temporary passport from the US Embassy in the morning. I was doing most of the Spanish communication for us and I could have got by on my own, but it was nice to have someone with me for support.
We got into San Jose that night and I bought my buddy’s hostel for the night for being so loyal. The next morning I got up around 6 AM and got a cab to the US Embassy to get my temporary passport. The trip to the Embassy actually went smooth as hell. They treated me really great there, letting me cut to the front of all the lines and expedite my process. I didn’t have any ID but obviously two words out of my mouth and they could tell I was American so it wasn’t a big issue to prove my citizenship.
I got my new passport and cabbed it back to the hostel. I had nothing except the clothes on my back and a toothbrush I bought the day before. I had contemplated returning to the US but luckily my friend talked me out of it. We formulated a plan and took a 2 PM bus to Santa Elena, Costa Rica, this small town up in the mountains known for the cloud forest and zip-line tours. Before we left, I went over to the mall in San Jose and bought some cheap imitation Quicksilver and Billabong t-shirts to hold me over for the week.
2011.05.11-13 – Santa Elena, Costa Rica
We got into the mountains which was the perfect place for me to be in my current state. The town was really small so there was not a big chance of getting robbed and I really didn’t have anything to take anyway. The weather was much cooler and more relaxing and the hostel we were staying at was great. We stayed at Sloth Backpackers just off the main road run by two sisters who were great hosts. The hostel was small so it was pretty much like staying at their house but we had fun as a group. I was starting to feel better about my trip and I justified my stolen belongings by telling myself and others that it was a donation to the needy people of Costa Rica. I had plenty of laughs about it throughout the trip, especially with only a green plastic grocery bag as my backpack.
The first day in Santa Elena we took a walking tour of the national park and just relaxed and cooked dinner that night. The second day we booked the zip-line tour which was pretty awesome, definitely worth doing when you go to Santa Elena. The last day at the hostel I was in the bathroom when I started to feel the whole house shake. I was thinking it was a truck driving around outside but it kept occurring for almost 45 seconds or so before it stopped. It turns out that San Jose was hit with a 6.0 magnitude earthquake. It was the first earthquake I have ever felt, pretty wild.
2011.05.14 – Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
The next two days were somewhat of a mess. I had intended to get to Jaco, Costa Rica but didn’t quite make it. My buddy had to go back to San Jose to grab his surfboard from the hostel and I figured that I would just go to Jaco on my own and meet him there since it was closer from Santa Elena. I took an afternoon bus from Santa Elena to the port town of Punta Arenas, Costa Rica. When I got off the bus in Punta Arenas it was dark, maybe around 7 PM or so and I found out that there were not any more busses going to Jaco. This was typical of this trip and this country so it wasn’t that big of a surprise for me to hear. There was a guy from Canada on my bus and he was intending on taking the night ferry to the town of Santa Teresa which was a beach town on the Nicoya Peninsula and since Punta Arenas wasn’t exactly the best place to stay I figured I would join him and come back in the morning for the bus. The ferry was cheap, only a $2 ride, so it wasn’t a big deal to go to the peninsula and come back.
The ferry ride was really cool at night because you could see the shadows of all the land masses around the bay but it felt like exploring a mysterious land, sort of like island hopping in Greece. The ferry was enormous so there was plenty of room to mosey around and get comfortable. The Canadian guy and I went up to the top deck and met a group of Germans who were also trying to get to Santa Teresa. When the ferry docked we realized that there were no busses and that Santa Theresa was a 45 minute cab ride and there were no legitimate cabs to be seen. After about 15 minutes of haggling with the locals for a ride this Mitsubishi Montero cab rolls up, large enough to fit, me, the Canadian, the three annoying Germans and this random Costa Rican lady for $10 apiece. We accepted the offer and made it to a hostel in Santa Theresa for the night. Like everywhere on the cost of Costa, the temperature was hot and humid as hell and the night brought no relief. It was a miserable sweat-fest in the hostel that night in bunk-beds with a bunch of traveling, snoring weirdos.
2011.05.15 – Punta Arenas, Costa Rica
I woke up the next morning and immediately wanted to leave Santa Teresa. I didn’t really like the hostel or the vibe. Maybe it was the weather or the fact that I wanted to be back with my group of friends but regardless one night there was enough. It rained hard the night before so the next morning was super humid, all the roads were muddy, the garbage in the town stunk and in general I just felt kind of disgusting. I rented a surf board that morning and hacked it up a bit for some exercise and caught another afternoon bus to the ferry and back to Punta Arenas. I realized once again on the ferry that I was going to get into Punta Arenas too late for a bus to Jaco but that was fine with me because the first time I was there I met a girl at a restaurant outside the ticket booth that I wanted to see again and try to have her go out with me that night. The boat ride to Punta Arenas was yet another $2 good time. I got on the boat at 5 PM so the weather was cooling off. The boat was loaded with people but the atmosphere was festive. There was a bar and they were playing a bunch of Salsa, Reggaeton and Bachata music so it was more like a party boat. Anywhere in the US this would have been a boring ferry ride with a bunch of uptight, bland people waiting to get to shore but like everything in Latin America this boat was a party.
I was actually kind of happy to stay in Punta Arenas because it was not on the “gringo trail” in any way and it was a good chance to escape the hostel experience and practice my Spanish. I went to the hotel and bought a room from the old lady that owned the place. I think she was kind of leery of me or something wasn’t right because after I went to the convenient store she asked me to return my key which was strange because I spoke entirely in Spanish to her and already paid for the room.
I walked down the street and found another hotel which was actually better and run by a guy who didn’t give a shit how late I was out. After I got the place I carefully walked down the street, because the neighborhood was pretty shady, and sat down to have a beer at the only decent restaurant in the neighborhood and rounded out the night there.
2011.05.16-17 – Jaco, Costa Rica
That morning I finally caught the illusive bus to Jaco from Punta Arenas. I had to stand the entire two hours because it was completely packed with people and being the gentleman I am I gave up my seat to this mother and daughter. I made it to Jaco and within 15 minutes I ran into my friend on the street. He showed me the hostel and I checked my plastic bag of toiletries and t-shirts in my room and hit the beach. My time in Jaco was mostly spent trying to surf, chilling during the day at the hostel or a bar and avoiding the sun, and cooking food at night.
The last night in Jaco we went out to surf around 4 PM, when the sun was low on a beautiful night. I had been surfing a couple times before but I can’t say that I have ever caught a wave and usually came out of it more discouraged than happy about the sport. As was my normal practice, I was a little closer to shore, waiting for the waves to crash and riding out the whitewater because it is a much easier way to practice technique. I had a couple of waves really push me forward but I wasn’t able to stand up when all the sudden a big one crashed, I rode it out, and poped out ahead of the wave with nothing else to do but to jump on my board. It was awesome! I had about 30 seconds of surf before losing momentum. Now I understand the addiction of that sport because I was really amped up the rest of the night after catching
2011.05.18-19 – Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
The morning of the 18th I bailed out of Jaco and headed down to Manuel Antonio National Park with this girl from France and this other dude from Spain. I stayed at a nice little hostel called Casa Linda which was close to the beach and the beach in Manuel Antonio had to be the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. The backdrop looked like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean (even though it was on the Pacific side..)
2011.05.20 – San Jose, Costa Rica
I headed back to San Jose in the afternoon. I was really starting to get frustrated with myself and this country. To really pour salt in my wounds, the ocean also decided to join the party and take some of my stuff. The day before, I had just bought a beer and sat down at this table when when this big wave came in and swept my flip-flops out to sea. I guess I figure that I was just not supposed to have any material possessions on this trip and that everything was meant to be donated to Costa Rica.
My plan for Friday night was to go into the city center and stay the night there before leaving for Denver the next day but along the way to San Jose the bus made its first stop at the airport. This was an opportunity so I thought I would give it a shot and see if I could fly back home since my trip was basically over and I was sick of wearing the same clothes for a week and a half. I quickly said “Adios” to my Costa Rican friend, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and ran off the bus with my plastic bag of clothes and toiletries. Actually I like to bid farewell to people like that when I travel. It’s short, quick and unexpected and leaves no room for emotional goodbyes.
I went to the ticket counter inside the airport and found out that there were not any Delta flights until the next morning. I had considered staying the night in the airport but that would have been stupid and miserable since my flight wasn’t until 1 PM. I took a bus to Heredia, a town close to San Jose, and got a cab to this place that was recommended in my Lonely Planet. I walked into the hotel but wasn’t really digging it and didn’t really want to spend my last night in Costa Rica in a boring hotel watching TV by myself. I walked out of that place and took another bus to the center of San Jose. When I got to the center it was getting nightfall which meant a gringo walking the streets alone was a bad idea. I took another cab to Pangea Hostel and got a bed there for the night. Pangea was actually really nice, the rooms and bathrooms were super clean (for the first time in Costa Rica) and it had this restaurant / bar on the roof that had an awesome view out onto the city. That night I had a beer and a huge ass burger and fries to treat myself to a semi-successful vacation. It was a good way to finish off the trip and a relaxing, self-reflective night.
2011.05.21 – San Jose, Costa Rica to Atlanta, Georgia
I got up early and caught a shuttle bus from my hostel to the airport to fly home. Everything went pretty smooth but when I got to Atlanta they were looking for people to give up their seats in exchange for a $400 voucher and a night at The Comfort Inn. I had no problem taking it since I wasn’t going to get into Denver until almost midnight and didn’t feel like dealing with anything at that hour. It was a nice little freebie and kind of like karma or whatever evening itself out since between a new passport ($135), ipod ($70), Canon Elph camera ($100), random clothes and a new backpack, everything ran to about $400 in replacement costs. So I guess I broke even on the whole deal and you better believe that I am going to use that $400 to fly back down for a second round with Central America in the very near future.