Costa Rica!

Trip Start Apr 17, 2013
Trip End May 05, 2013

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Where I stayed
Casa Mariposa

Flag of Costa Rica  , San José,
Wednesday, April 24, 2013

My mom and I got up before 5am to get to the Atlanta airport to board our flight to San Jose - Juan Santamaria Airport in Costa Rica!  

We took Spirit Airlines, a barebone economy airline that charges for basically everything except the use of bathroom and 1 personal carry-on.  The roundtrip flight cost was basically half of what other airlines, such as Delta, was charging, so we figured, why not. 

The flight was short and fairly entertaining. We sat in the way back, close to the bathrooms and a group of tattooed-up bros... they were all boozing and really loud and rambunctious.  They even started sending up beers to girls a few rows up (who were incidentally also tattooed up and rambunctious).  These kids were probably headed to Jaco or the likes. We didn't see any young, wild crowd for the remainder of our trip.

We saw a lot of hills on the way down. To think we would be climbing the highest of them...!

The customs was a breeze. We withdrew some colones from the ATM in the international arrival area, which gave us an official exchange rate instead of the rip off rate at the exchange booth. We passed a sea of cab drivers and bright red, new cabs... walked around the parking lot to take a red TUASA bus. 

The TUASA buses come very frequently. The bus was nice and nearly empty with tiny overhead bins. The driver kept the door open, so there was a nice breeze.

It was only 510 colones per person (~$1, instead of the $25+ taxi ride to San Jose). Unfortunately, I only had 10,000 colones bills from the ATM... the bus driver had NO change and just started driving without giving me anything.  He pocketed 10 mil! I was like, wait! He was like, you wait, I get change... He stopped several times to ask other bus/taxi drivers for change but was not successful to until much later.  The ride to San Jose center took about 25 minutes.  I felt bad and gave a sausage and granola bars to the driver and also the guy next to us who helped us out in English. They were delighted by this. Food = universal language!

San Jose doesn't have a central bus station but rather several bus stations scattered all over the city. So we took a short taxi ride from TUASA to the Tracopa station, next to Plaza Viquez.  Tracopa offers inexpensive intercity rides in their nice, bright green tour buses. You get assigned seats, and the buses stop once or twice in long distance rides.

When I asked about the next bus to San Isidro de General, the ticketing lady said there was a bus leaving at 1:00pm and 2:30pm. It was 12:55pm...! So we decided to just skip lunch and get on the bus leaving in 5 minutes.  It was 3500 colones/pp (~$7, 3 hours). 

Off we went on our 3 hour journey. The bus, again, was nearly empty. It was clean and comfortable with a big overhead space as well as an option to store luggage under the bus.

We sat on the left side for the view. The first 2 hours was ok, but as we approached the valley, the environment started changing more dramatically. We were in the Costa Rican mountains with a view of valleys.

 We got to San Isidro and bought outgoing tickets for Sunday since Lonely Planet warned us these buses are often full (it was not the case..). 

We ambled a few blocks over to el mercardo central. Having backpacks was key.. would not have been able to do all this bus travel with a suitcase! We scoped out a few places for a fruit smoothie, or batido. The prices ranged from 700 colones (~$1.40) to 1500 (~$3). We tried a strawberry mango one at a clean place and oh my, it was DELICIOUS. Made only of fruits and water... oh my gosh, SO GOOD. I'm drinking smoothies everyday for the rest of the trip...

Then we wandered around the market attached to the local bus station. My mom pointed out a little soda (restaurant) that was relatively crowded. Her thought is that the more crowded with the locals, the better the place. We tried cascado con pescado; we got a plate full of rice, black beans, salad with deliciously fresh red tomatoes, spaghetti and lightly fried fish. The fish tasted like chicken. Overall, we were very content with the dish, and as we'd find out, market foods were the cheapest!

The bathrooms in the terminal were impressively clean... suspiciously clean... and we came out to this old guy jiggling a cup of change outside. He was not a beggar but a dude collecting fees for the bathroom! 

After hanging around for another hour and people watching, we boarded the last segment of the day: a local bus to San Gerardo de Rivas, the town at the base of Chirripo mountain.

Now this bus, people paid the driver directly when they got off. Not much room for luggage, so ours went in an extra seat. The road was unpaved and narrow... it took an hour and 15 mins to truck along the 20 km to Rivas. I was wondering who all was going to Rivas, which I heard was a town of something like 300 people. There were a lot of young, relatively trendily dressed, clean folks who definitely weren't going to Chirripo. They got off one by one at random stops along the way. At the final stop- soccer field in Rivas- just two people got off with us. 

After confirming the direction with the driver, Mom and I started walking uphill. The street lights and full moon helped for a little until the road diverged, and the one toward Hotel Uran led us into darkness. 

Now it was almost completely dark. We could hear a river... Even with our flashlights, it was EERIE. We were pretty spooked out. 

The road winded and we came across a fence gate and saw a silhouette. It freaked us out and I shined my light on it-- it was an old white man standing behind the gate looking right at us. His hands were gripping the gate like a prisoner. And he would NOT move!  Didn't even flinch at our flashlights, no smile, no nothing! We flickered the light 3 times before he moved slightly. This sent us scurrying uphill, really spooked out now. 

There was nothing for another few minutes.. a bridge.. still no lights.. we became less and less sure Casa Mariposa, the guesthouse I made a reservation with, was ahead of us in this darkness. 

We came upon a small tomato farm and a house and knocked, conscientious of the relatively late hour (8:40pm?). A young man came out and kindly informed us Casa Mariposa was uphill, very close. Soon afterwards, a truck drove past us and asked if we were lost. That was nice... unlike the old dude who spooked us out!!

We were elated to arrive at Casa Mariposa. A college volunteer showed us around briefly. It seemed like a very environmentally friendly, low-key place with many rules to keep it so. For instance, there are at least 5 options of disposing your garbage-- the least preferable being the waste basket since the garbage up in that area is only picked up once a month. 

The ubiquitous cricket sound added to our good night's sleep.
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