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05 March 2010

The Nauseating Bus Ride and the Beach

9:10 AM. Thursday, March 4, 2010.

Last night we ended up walking to a nearby sports bar nearby in Escazu (called Big Dog's or something). I tried Costa Rica's signature beer - Imperial. We had an amazing buffalo chicken pizza and nachos shared among the four of us. Fernando insisted that we take a taxi back because apparently there's a high crime risk (I felt completely safe, I couldn't see what he meant). I've felt much less safe in LA or even SF.

Sleeping at Fernando's was great - he provided us with blankets/pillows and was incredibly hospitable. It's amazing how people surprise you when you couchsurf.

I didn't bug spray myself before bed, though - I got bit on my right hand and behind my left elbow. The buzzing of the mosquitoes apparently woke Christina up. We awoke around 7 and were out by 7:45. A quick stop at the bank and a quick bus ride into the centro got us to the bus station by 8:15.


9:45 AM.

I'm on the bus as it winds through the mountains. I'm surprised how brown the hillsides are. It is the dry season, but I still expected swaths of verdant forests.

Ohhh I may be getting car sick. Hold on.


4:25 PM.

Okay. Finally some time to write.

After leaving Fernando's, in the morning, our bus got us to the center of the city quickly and easily. So we had breakfast at a small restaurant just across from the bus station (which is named "Coca-Cola"). I had traditional Tico (Costa Rican) fare - a plate of rice mixed with beans accompanying a sauteed steak with onions. And a cup of Costa Rica's amazing coffee!

I don't drink coffee. I try to avoid most forms of caffeine and sugary drinks. But coffee is simply what you drink in Costa Rica. And for good reason: It is unbelievably good! It tasted natural and fresh, and had none of the bitter, metallic-ish taste that I often find in coffee. And there was no need for cream; I just had it with a little bit of sugar.

There was a bathroom nearby - it cost 50 colones (~$0.10) to use. I didn't really have to go...

So central San José - first impressions: It's definitely crowded and definitely Latin America; compared to Panama City, San José is more of what I expected of Central America. It also seems really difficult to navigate - the streets often have no names (Bono must have been singing about San José!). It's not a big metropolis on the scale of London, LA, or Tokyo but there are apparently about 4 million people in the greater metro area - so maybe the size of San Diego? Except more Spanish, obviously.

In any case, we caught our bus to Quepos/Manuel Antonio. It was just under 4 hours total, and about 30 minutes into the ride, the bus began winding through the rugged mountains. I was really full from breakfast (to my body, it was still 6am when I ate that steak). So I began feeling nauseous. It lasted for nearly 2 hours, the winding up and twisting down the mountain roads. I soon developed a minor headache as well.

There was a rest stop halfway through, where I had a small orange juice. After that, the caffeine from the coffee had begun to wear off and I was able to take a small nap. Falling asleep helped me get through the rest of the ride. I awoke and we were on the other side of the mountains, in the hot and humid coastal plain. There were miles of fields of African palm trees filling the views on both sides of the bus. The trees are cultivated to make oil. Christina and I discussed computers.

It wasn't long until we were in Quepos, a small town with plenty for the tourist. Another 10 minutes and were at the stop for our hostel, and we walked back along the road for 5 minutes or so. The bus driver was apparently yelling at me for opening the luggage compartment without his permission. I couldn't understand a thing, and he didn't even sound angry to me! I carried one backpack forward, one behind. It was easier, but I was still really sweaty after the walk.

We checked into the hostel, Christina said hi to the owner Conrad, who recognized her from her earlier visit, and we dropped off our stuff in the room. A quick change and we were headed down to the beach, splitting a "taxi" from the bus stop with a dreadlock-sporting couple. I have now taken as many taxis in the past 2 days (5) as I have in my entire prior life.

We got to the public beach, which is right before the entrance to Manuel Antonio national park (which is named after... some guy named Manuel Antonio?). It's a relatively short strip of beach with touristy restaurants along the main street. We stopped for a smoothie and a tuna burger. The beach was next. It was nice and the water was just the right temperature. I bobbed and flowed with the gentle waves. Unfortunately, it was humid so I didn't really dry off afterwards. The sand just stuck to me all over; the sea water on my skin was soon replaced with my own sweat. Yuck.


Back to the hostel. It's really nice. There is a large balcony with tables and hammocks for you to just relax in and take in the incredible view. In fact, we came back to take in the sunset.

There are two others sharing the hostel room with us - Cecille, who's Belgian, and Valon from Kosovo (but now living in Zürich). Christina and I went to the supermarket to buy supplies and food for today's park day (sandwiches and juice). But first, we sat on the balcony of the hostel, having a beer each, and watched the sun set over the water. It was quite pretty, even with some clouds around. So after getting our food supplies, we met with other hostel-mates and went out to dinner. Joining us were Valon, Elena (from Chicago) and Patrick from New Jersey. We ate at a hotel just down the street from the hostel, but it was a harrowing walk downhill: There are no sidewalks here, so you're hemmed in between the edge of the road (with traffic whizzing by) and the edge of a ditch. The hotel restaurant was nice - it's outdoors on a snazzy patio, and the food was great - I had mahi mahi (and I love how it's not over-salted like all our food in the States). The cocktails were even better :) I taught Elena how to convert from Celsius to/from Fahrenheit (drew out a chart for her).

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