Friday, July 06, 2007

The Victor Abroad, Part I, 6/12 : Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

I'm pretty sure this is San Jose.

I suppose I'm being a hypocrite by writing a sort of travelogue of my recent trip to Costa Rica, after I condemned travelogues as one of my least favorite forms of written communication. However, in my defense this little series is created so I won't have to keep repeating tales of my trip when I run into people I know. I can just refer them to the site and they can get all the details themselves. Also, this won't be just your average travelogue, if I'm going to write about something it will obviously have a distinctly Victor angle to it, which aside from my trademark spelling and grammar errors will be quite different from most other travel blogs....hopefully. That being said I'm laying down a few rules:
  1. There will be no extraneous background explanation of locations or sites. I'll give a name and a little extra but if you want more, you're on the Internet, look it up.
  2. There will be no extraneous pictures. Aside from the map I'm limiting myself to about one picture per location (usually with me in the foreground). In the somewhat frequent instances where I forgot to take pictures, I'll just steal one from someone else's site like the image above.
  3. Some of the names of people have been fictionalized, mainly because I forgot them.
  4. As the days go by I might forget certain details of my trip so I may make them up. Try to guess what's real and what's false.
  5. I may lose interest in completing this series of entries so, fair warning, this whole series might end abruptly at any time (kind of like a mid summer replacement).
So without further ado:

My journey begins on a Tuesday morning around 8, Terminal 4 at JFK airport. It was kinda freaking me out that I, with my limited grasp of Spanish and the metric system, was actually there and would be outbound to Costa Rica in about an hour. Airports are one of my favorite places in the world. It's one of the true measuring sticks of a civilization. How large, advanced, and complicated one's airport speaks volumes and I was standing in one of the most prominent examples in the world, enjoying my overpriced bottle of concentrated orange juice and Snickers candy bar ($3.82). I'll randomly list the prices of things since I made a hobby of trying to account for every dollar (and colones) I spent on my trip. Hey, it always gave me a reason to write in my travel journal and give the illusion to the ladies how much of a sensitive, literate, guy I was.

Overall, I was mainly excited to get the stamp on my brand spanking new passport. Not counting my birth in Korea, I've traveled out the country only once in my life (a trip back to Korea in third grade) so all this was quite novel and exciting for me. I was a little disappointed at the cavalier attitude towards stamping that the customs agent had when stamping my passport. It was smudge and totally off center and on some random page in the middle of the book! I'd like a little uniformity and order in my stamps so I can proudly look back at them. As the trip went on I would find out that customs agents couldn't give half a crap about orderly stamping and by the end the book was a jumble of randomly stamped pages.

My flight was with TACA Airlines, apparently it was a large consortium of Central American airline companies that served as the official airline to the area. I never heard of them before, but they were cheap and according to a little background research didn't crash too often. My flight was to have a one hour stop in El Salvador before a short skip into San Jose, Costa Rica. The entertainment for the 4 hour plus flight from New York to El Salvador was suppose to be an episode of "Without A Trace" and a screening of "Pirates of the Caribbean 2", however due to turbulence we didn't get to see any of them (no big loss here). There was free drink service, a meal (some sort of egg...or huevos breakfast meal), and two servings of "Aerochips" (a sort of plantain chip that I found delicious).

When I arrived at the airport in El Salvador, I heard "Say You Will" by Foreigner, pretty apt for the occasion. Forget sold out shows, platinum records, or industry honors, the true measure that an artist has actually "made it", that they've left an impression is if one of your songs is being played in the middle of the day in a random foreign airport. The El Salvadorian airport was as modest as the small Central American country itself. It was a single terminal with a handful of gates, a few duty free shops, a snack court, and a couple of Internet kiosks. I didn't get my passport stamped but I did use their bathroom, which fulfills my personal requirement for having claimed to have visited a country. The short one hour connection to Costa Rica played a random episode of "Friends". The guide stated that these flights would either show that or "Two and a Half Men", I guess the former was the lesser of two evils. We also had one serving of "Aerochips".

The Costa Rican airport was a bit fancier than the El Salvadorian airport, as it should have been given Costa Rica's leading standard of living and overall stability. It was still a long ways away from JFK, as evidenced by the fact we all exited the plane via one of those trucks with the stairs right onto the tarmac. I kinda felt like the Beatles arriving in...JFK.

My official backpacking backpack came in through checked baggage intact, I got my sloppy stamp from the customs lady and I was out of the airport a lot quicker than I had expected. It was around 3 pm after setting my watch back two hours, which was the time that the shuttle from the hostel I booked was suppose to pick me up. As I waited in the busy pickup area, I noticed that it seemed nearly identical to the pickup area at LAX, my last trip on a place. The architecture, the heat, the palm trees, quite similar. These superficial similarities quickly disappeared as soon as the daily massive thunderstorm/downpour (June was the beginning of the rainy season) hit. Also, LA, didn't have such aggressive taxi drivers that swarmed every tourist exiting the airport.

It was while waiting for my shuttle that I learned the first a few Costa Rica Truths:
  • Costa Rican Truth #1: Nothing is ever early in Costa Rica, especially buses. Things either happen on time or a half to a full hour late. This is either helpful or annoying depending on when you're trying to catch a bus, ferry, or train.
About a half hour into my wait a man walked by with a sign for Hostel Pangea, which was my hostel. When I went to him to tell him I was expecting a shuttle he told me that the shuttle had broken down and that I needed to take his taxi instead. The hostel actually explicitly warned me about such scams so I told him I would wait. He later called me back to a pay phone where he claimed the front desk at the hostel was on the line to verify his story. The hostel also explicitly warned me about that too. Thus I learned:
  • Costa Rican Truth #2: Ticos (the colloquial term from native Costa Ricans) are a crafty bunch and many are out to con confused tourists like myself. On the whole though it could be worse, the only thing you have to worry about in Costa Rica is rampant pickpocketing and conmen, unlike a place like Columbia where the wrong taxi could get you kidnapped by FARC rebels.
I held my ground and waited a little longer. An hour past and I found myself waiting along side a surfer from Australia (there'll be many Aussies on this trip) named Matt, who had been waiting for a friend of his to pick him up for a couple of hours. Eventually the real shuttle finally came and it was the same guy who tried to con me earlier that directed me towards it, thus leading to:
  • Costa Rican Truth #3: Ticos are generally a disarmingly friendly bunch. Most Ticos I've met have been eager to help for no reason whatsoever aside from being helpful. Growing up in New York is this a fairly alien concept. Even people who tried to rip you off or put one over on you, once you acknowledge it are totally your friends.
So I packed in my bags and my surfer friend decided to jump in at the last minute and try to get in contact with his friend at the hostel. It helped me out since he split the $14 shuttle fee in half. Going down the highway I noticed it was very much like any highway in America, billboards, car dealerships, I even passed a very out of place Denny's. Inner San Jose was basically like any other large city I've been to, crowded, a bit grimy, full of gridlock, confusing roads, tons of stores. I was far more comfortable in this urban sprawl then all that wilderness that surrounded the country. I dig city life, no bugs, plenty of dinning options. The ride through the meandering alleyways and streets of San Jose were infinitely confusing, I kept expecting to see the hostel after the next turn or crosswalk. The whole process took far longer than the ride into the city and it was mostly in awkward silence since Matt and I had already gone over the usual questions of who, where, and why. Finally, before the awkwardness suffocated us all, we came across an intimidating barbed wire gate that looked like it should have belonged in front of a junk yard. The driver got out, spoke through a view slot, and soon the gates ominously opened up and I had made it to my first hostel and the starting point of my Costa Rican odyssey .

I'm in San Jose, the star in the middle. That's the capital for all you aspiring cartographers out there!

No comments:

Post a Comment