Costa Rica - Pacific coast ...and more stories

Trip Start Sep 08, 2008
Trip End Feb 28, 2009

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Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Puntarenas,
Friday, December 19, 2008

After a few days of mountain weather, we were ready to go back to the beach. We splurged the rest of my mum's vacation on the Pacific coast where it was a hot and humid 33C with clear blue sky and beautiful beaches. We spent some time in Jaco which used to be a quiet surfer town but has since been taken over by foreign investors and is pretty much built up. Costa Rica in general has a huge American influence with influx of expats, US retirees and foreign travellers. It has become the tropical backyard of Gringos, as they like to call the Americans.
We then moved down the coast to Manuel Antonio. The whole coastal way is scattered with hotels and the town itself is even more of a tourist trap filled with street vendors but also home to a beautiful national park. We spent an entire day in the park enjoying the most beautiful beaches, hiking in the dense jungle and spotting animals. In fact, our lunch even got stolen by coatis while we were on the beach. There were sloths, monkeys, iguanas, agoutis and I am sure many more that we did not spot. It was now time to drive to San Jose and for my mum to take her plane back to freezing Europe...meanwhile I was stuck for two days in San Jose.
Indeed, I was simply hoping to show up at the airport to accompany my mum and get a same day flight for anywhere in South America. It did not happen that way due to my plan not taking into account one very important piece of data: it was Christmas time which meant all the flights to wherever were fully booked! At the airport, I was told that I would get cheaper flights by calling instead of buying at the airport. So I got a flight on the internet but for two days after. Ideally, I would have liked to go to Guayaquil, south of Ecuador but the flight I found was for Quito... and with a connecting flight in Lima, which was not a problem seeing that I had the luxury of time. And I am sure there are worst things than being "stuck" in Costa Rica for two days: especially since I hooked up with some friends that I had met in Nicaragua. They had been living in San Jose for the past two months so they knew all the best places to go and see. I had a great time and took advantage of being in a capital by visiting museums learning more about the country's history and culture.
In general, Costa Ricans, Ticos, as they call themselves, are extremely friendly and helpful. Costa Rica is the most developed and stable country in Central America. The president Jose Figueres Ferrer abolished the military and transferred the army budget to education. He also granted full citizenship and voting rights to women, Blacks, indigenous groups and minorities. His decrees taxed the wealthiest, nationalized banks and built a modern welfare state. All this has been done in 1949 at a time when other Central American countries were still at war.
Last but not least, I also took advantage of the big city by going to see a doctor because I did not come out totally safe and sound from the Guatemala jungle hike. To make it simple, I caught a 'larvae migrans cutaneo' in my foot, which as its name indicates is nothing else than a worm growing and migrating under your skin. It was not pretty to see -I have included one picture for you to get a better idea- and was starting to be painful after a while. I first thought it was a bite of some sort but then I could clearly see the shape of the worm. Luckily, or unluckily, it is a quite common thing in Central America and I only had to swallow drugs to kill it and get rid of it. I was ready for a doctor to cut my foot open to take it out and was relieved such a painful experience was not necessary, even if I secretly wanted to face that worm that had been living inside me for a few weeks.
By then, I was ready to leave Central America and eager to get to South America. The journey there was full of surprises. First of all, the security norms did not appear to be nearly as strict as say in the United States. For example, while in the aiport terminal, I guess I went the wrong way and ended up in a plane with only a bunch of trash piled up and ... the cleaning lady. It was a weird feeling to go straight ahead and be on an empty plane that was obviously not a place I should have been in. Also during take off and landing there was no enforcing of the routinely no electronic items, nor having the seat back up, the armrest down, the window blind open, the table up and the bag placed well underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead lockers. So, as I like to live life dangerously, I did everything that is normally forbidden in other countries; such as having my seat reclined listening to my ipod while taking off. What I still do not understand is that how something that can be dangerous for American people is not dangerous for Costa Rican people. Shouldn't they all follow the same security norms? Or else what kind of security are we talking about?
While talking about security issues, this was the reason why we were not able to land in Quito; the visibility was reduced. In order to wait for the weather to clear up. we instead landed in....Guayaquil! When the pilot announced that we could not land in Quito and would have to go to Guayaquil, all the passengers sighted with anger...while I put on a big smiley face...wasn't Guayaquil the place I was trying to reach to begin with? That was awesome, as long as I could recoup my backpack from the plane. Well, it ended up that I could not no matter how much I sweet talked every single person who was working in the airport at that time of the night, it did not work. I then wondered if my bag was really in the plane anyway.
The problem about waiting in Guayaquil was that when you already waited two days in Costa Rica and seven hours in Lima, you do not really feel like waiting at Guayaquil's airport, especially when the flight was scheduled to land in Quito at midnight, which means that I was about to spend the night on a bench at the airport. At 3 am, we got a 'refreshment' and a 'snack' nicely offered by the airline and at 5 am, we got upgraded to the VIP lounge, which with a fully booked plane was no longer a VIP lounge. Needless to say that all the seats were taken, all the coffee was drunk and the cakes eaten in seconds by my fellow passengers walking through the door. I can only imagine how the 'real VIP'  people felt when they walked in to spend some peaceful and quiet relaxing time! Finally at 6 am, we boarded the plane but only to wait another two hours before we could make our way to Quito. Let's be positive, I did not like the idea of arriving in dodgy Quito at midnight to look for a place to stay anyway, so 9 am was a more reasonable time to get started.

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