Category Archives: transportation

Losing that “new” feeling

I feel like I am getting accustomed to being here and am losing that feeling I had of everything being new.  It’s not that I won’t always be a foreigner here, that is not going to change.  But I feel like I know more or less what to expect as I go through my daily routines.

This has advantages and disadvantages.  The advantages, of course, are that I’m not needing to go through my day on a constant state of high alert, watching and paying attention to every single thing just to get by.  That was mentally taxing and made for some silly mistakes!

When you are needing to pay strict attention to everything, sometimes you miss the obvious.  Your brain just can’t process everything at that level of intensity.  But there is so much to take in at the beginning that you do your best.  You have to watch out for big things like where you live and how to get back there, and little things like what a telephone sounds like when a call is going through compared to not connecting.  Big things like which way to look to see if traffic is coming your way, to little things like how to keep your coins and bills organized when you’re working with a new currency.

One of the first things I needed to do here was to buy shampoo and conditioner, because I had only brought enough to get me through the first couple of days.  At the time, I was proud of myself because I had figured out the location of a supermarket that I could get to on my own.  But when I walked in, I was instantly mesmerized by all of the different products that were there and how they were organized.  Both the similarities and the differences were fascinating.  I walked up and down the aisles checking out everything.

What it meant, though, was that I accidentally bought two bottles of shampoo instead of shampoo and conditioner!  It’s not that I didn’t know the word for each, they’re pretty much cognates.  I think it’s just that once I was finally doing a familiar task, like grabbing a product off the shelf (after quite a long time reading labels, comparing brands, and figuring out prices), my brain gave itself a little break and went into autopilot.  I grabbed the bottles that were side-by-side on the shelf, not even noticing that they were both identical.  Since I have heard that conditioner doesn’t help much here anyway because of the humidity (and the desire to get out of the shower as quickly as possible), I have just been going without conditioner.  But I have more shampoo than I need!

The early days were filled with those kind of mistakes.  Right before I left, I had listed to a This American Life podcast that had an old episode with David Sedaris, when he was living in Paris.  He said something like being a foreigner means suffering countless little humiliations as you go through your day.  It means altering what you do sometimes in favor of routes, products, or people that are easy, familiar, or nice.  This is exactly what I felt like at first, and I had to remind myself that it was totally normal.

Riding the bus had me in a constant state of high alert.  I had this borderline panicky feeling that I was being whisked off at high speeds to parts unknown.  This was made worse because I didn’t know what the different places were called, or where any one place was in relation to another.  Even if I asked somebody, I might get an answer that was full of locations that means nothing to me.  I had to remind myself all the time to relax, because even if I was on the wrong bus and heading in the wrong direction, I could always get back on a bus heading the other way, or at worst get in a cab and get back home that way.  But I studied, studied, studied all of the landmarks as they went by, and then went home and studied Google maps.

Compare that to yesterday.  I had to get out to Sabanilla, and then to Pavas, and I hadn’t been to either place before.  First of all, I counted it as a victory that I knew I needed to get to Sabanilla at all.  The student’s “cantón” was listed as Montes de Oca.  And even though I haven’t been there before, I knew enough to look at the “address” to find a more specific location.  In this case, the house was within a kilometer of the iglesia de Sabanilla.  And every little town has a catholic church and a park more or less at the center.  So I was heading towards the center of Sabanilla, clearly.  Google helped me out, because somebody had uploaded a picture of the church so that I would recognize it when I went by (we were likely to go past several different churches, and they don’t all have signs).

So I knew that I would need to get downtown and board a bus to Sabanilla.  I couldn’t see any Sabanilla stops on the map, but I knew it was close to San Pedro, and I was familiar with those buses.  Also, the local buses that are going to a similar part of town all tend to leave from the same general area.  So I went to the San Pedro bus stop.  I noticed that none of the buses on that block said Sabanilla, so I asked the bus monitor guy.  Sabanilla buses were around the corner – easy!

I am getting familiar enough with the area that I can watch for my own landmarks,  I recognized San Pedro, of course, and knew enough about scale that I had a sense of when we should be getting into Sabanilla.  Because of that, I hadn’t asked the driver anything when I got on the bus, and wasn’t needing to count on anybody to tell me when to get off.  I did have a minor feeling of panic that maybe the bus wouldn’t go past the church (which is utterly silly, since that would be the center of town), or that I had missed it somehow, but I was able to push that feeling aside fairly easily and trust that I knew what I was doing.

Sure enough, some of the businesses started having “Sabanilla” in their name, and after a few more minutes the church came into sight.  Then, the landmark that I had decided would be my cue to get off the bus.  I was there!  I did need to call the family to get directions from that point, but I think that’s par for the course when visiting anybody around here.

Getting to Pavas later was a similar experience.  I knew what direction it was from downtown, and figured that the buses would leave from the area of the Coca Cola bus terminal.  So I headed over there, and asked when I got close.  Again, I was a block away from the bus stop when I asked.  On the next block, there was a line of people at the bus stop.  I asked the woman in front of me, and it wasn’t a Pavas bus, but a Lomas bus.

I still don’t know where Lomas is, because I haven’t needed to, but I know that I’ve seen both bus lines in the same general area, and I also knew that the place I was going wasn’t that far away, so they probably split off after my destination.  With that knowledge, I was content to just get on the bus.  I could always get back off if I needed to.  But the woman wanted to check in.  I wasn’t trying to get to downtown Pavas, was I?  I described my destination by the closest landmark I knew, and she nodded.  As I had suspected, this bus would work just fine.

So, it’s not that I don’t need to do my homework as I am planning my trips for the day.  I still study the maps at home, just not as much, and I bring my notepad with little notes in it so that I have a reference when I need it when I’m out.  But once I am out and about, I don’t need that super high level of concentration to do what I need to do.  I am not as likely to sit down on a seat with gum stuck to it because I am so busy studying the dynamics of bus seating that I am paying attention to every little thing about the bus other than the condition of the seat.

That’s not to say I don’t miss my stop sometimes.  On Monday I went past my home bus stop by accident, and it’s not the first time I’ve done that.  When it’s dark and rainy and the windows fog up, sometimes it’s hard for me to tell the difference between the stop where I need to get off and the one right before it.  And getting off too soon means that I have to walk past a busy gas station with lots of cars turning in.  So I waited, and ended up going too far.  That’s a pain because I then have to walk back down and up a hill, and over a bridge to get to where I need to go.  But it’s also not the end of the world either.

Of course, now that I’ve said all of this out loud, I may be setting myself up for getting completely and hopelessly lost.  That’s the way things work, right?  Overconfidence can lead to trouble!  Today, I need to head to San Rafael de Arriba, and I am pretty sure that I know how to get there, even though I’ve never been.  We will see!

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Monteverde

So it turns out that you can go all the way to Monteverde without ever setting foot inside the actual forest.  You also don’t need to know any Spanish, or even have any Costa Rican currency.

I knew something was up when I was at the soda by the bus station and there was a guy in there who was attempting to buy coffee using only English and paying with US dollars,  Then I walked over to the bus station, and it was Trustafarian central in there.  I don’t think that there were any Ticos waiting to get on the bus at all.  I’ve been talking to people around here about my plans to go to Monteverde, and while everyone agrees it’s a great place to go, nobody I’ve talked to who is from here has ever been there themselves.

So I was standing there feeling all superior to all of these rich backpacker kids from the US who didn’t seem to know or want to know about Costa Rica, they were just here to party.  But then I realized that it’s probably pretty hypocritical of me.  I mean, I am a tourist, too.  Just because I have a job to do when I’m here doesn’t make what I’m up to fundamentally different.  I mean, it shouldn’t be my place to judge, and they are bringing tourism dollars to the economy here, right?  But still, they were getting on my nerves.  How much of that was because the very act of going to Monteverde sort of lumped me in with them, at least for the next few days?

We got on the bus, and I dozed off for a bit.  When I woke up, we were at the same rest stop that we had stopped at on the way to Santa Cruz!  The bus driver announced that everyone needed to get off, and that we’d be stopped for 15 minutes.  One of the girls who doesn’t speak any Spanish is trying to ask the driver in English how long we’ll be stopped for.  He says, “quince minutos.”  She is asking in English if that means five minutes, and telling the driver all about needing to pee.  He just kept repeating “quince minutos.”

OK, I get that learning a language takes a long time, and that there are a lot of ways to get by when you’re traveling even if you don’t speak the language, but seriously, how much effort would it have taken to learn to count to 15 in Spanish before coming to a Spanish-speaking country?  That’s the attitude that was getting to me- the girl was acting like it was everybody else’s job to cater to HER, without her making any effort to figure things out for herself.

Also, it’s not like you’re going to be able to set your clock by a bus driver’s announcement of how many minutes we’d be there anyway.  It’s not like he was setting his stopwatch.  It’s good to keep an eye on the bus and on the driver, just in case.  Plus, you can figure out a lot by just watching the group and seeing what people do.  If they’re going through the line to get a full meal, chances are good that you’re not going to need to rush.  I know I said that there’s weren’t many Ticos on the bus, but that did start to change gradually, as we had picked up quite a few passengers at random stops along the way.

I had booked a package deal at a hostel that included two nights in a private room (with private bathroom), and two tours- a night walk through the forest, and a morning canopy tour, for $99 total.  The hostel turned out to be exactly what I was hoping for.  It was laid back and friendly, with some shared cooking, eating, and lounging space.  Wouldn’t you know it- the “quince” girl and her friend walked in a little bit after I had checked in.  But in this case, the private room saved me.  Most of the upstairs rooms had older couples and was a bit mellower.  For example, there was a couple from Italy staying next door to me.  And, unlike the US party kids, they were of course fluent in Italian, English, and one of them was also fluent in Spanish, the other had some conversational Spanish.

I spent the afternoon walking around trying to orient myself to town.  It was clear that I was in a tourist town.  Just walking around, I heard more English than Spanish spoken, and everything was priced in US dollars.  For example, the $99 hotel really was the price in dollars.  Since I only have Costa Rican colones at the moment, they had to convert their price from US dollars into Costa Rican colones to charge me.  It was like that all over town, except at the supermarkets.  Dollars seemed to be the “standard” currency.

In the evening, I had my night tour of the forest.  A lot of the “Monteverde” activities turn out to be run by private companies, and aren’t actually in the Monteverde forest reserve itself.  The companies have deals with all of the hotels so that you can book your tour (with pick up and drop off at your hotel) right at the hotel.  It sure is easier than walking around trying to figure out bus schedules and everything else, I must admit.  It also means you can get pretty good package deals when you combine your room with one or more tours.  But, I’m sure it also means that the hotels are getting kickbacks of some sort from the companies if they funnel more of their guests to one company or another.  And there are signs up all over the place warning you that you’ll get ripped off if you try to go anywhere else to book your tours.  Book here! (so we get the commission!)

But whatever.  I only have a couple of days, so I am going with the flow here.  The night walk and canopy tour that came with the hotel were both mentioned in my guidebook at had good ratings on trip advisor.  I felt like those were the two “main” things to do in Monteverde, and with the limited time I had, that it was a good choice.

So I wasn’t too surprised that the night walk took place at a privately owned facility that wasn’t in the official forest reserve.  And, after having walked around all day, I also wasn’t surprised that the guide was giving the tour in English.  Of the maybe 4 groups that were out at the same time we were, I think one of the groups had a Spanish tour, the rest were English.  But our guide knew many of the animal names in German, too, so he threw those in for the German couple in our group.  And at least I knew enough Spanish to be able to eavesdrop on what the guides were saying to each other on their walkie talkies.

My camera is just not able to take good photos in the forest after dark, but I will say that we got to see a ton of animals.  Most importantly- I saw a sloth!  Not up close, of course, but definitely a sloth, hanging on a branch, eating some leaves.  So that was really exciting for me, because I do think that they are really fascinating creatures.

The next morning was my canopy tour.  And here is where my naivety really showed.  I had thought that a “canopy tour” with ziplines would be a really good way to see the forest.  After all, most of the life in a cloud forest isn’t on the ground floor, it’s up in the treetops.  So naturally, in a canopy tour you’d use ziplines to travel from treetop to treetop, checking out all the cool things to be found in a forest, right?

Hah!  Apparently ziplining is all about the adrenaline rush and the thrill seeking.  The forest didn’t have a lot to do with it.  I’ll probably do a separate post to talk more about it, because it was fun, but also maybe something that I don’t need to do again now that I’ve tried it once.

So I was in the van on the way back from the canopy tour, and I realize that I have nothing else scheduled, only a half day left in town, and I still haven’t been inside the actual “Monteverde” forest!  I had fallen into the tourist trap instead!  I don’t know if I’ll ever have a chance to get back up this way, so I wanted to fix that!  The problem was, I didn’t know anything about the bus schedules or how to get up to the “real” forest.  My guidebook also mentioned that you DO want a tour guide, because otherwise you may just end up clomping through the forest without even knowing what you’re looking for or how to find it.

As much as I didn’t trust them, with time being limited, I decided to get the hotel desk to help me get to the forest.  I asked them about getting to the Monteverde reserve, and was told that I could get a bus at 1:00, return at 4:00, and would be able to hike around the forest on my own during that time, because there were no guides available.

Or, I could go to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest reserve.  For that one, there was a bus leaving in 5 minutes (at 10:30), and I could stay all day and come back at 4:00.  Plus, there was a 2.5 hour guided tour available.

Given that those were my only two options, I chose to go for the Santa Elena Cloud Forest.  It was still a forest reserve, not some fancy “OMG Awesome Extreme Adventurezzz!!!1” company, and the ecosystem would be the same.  Maybe I fell for a line at the hotel desk, but I did get to go out and into the forest.

My tour ended up being a private tour with the guide, because nobody else had signed up for it.  This also meant that even though it was supposed to be a group tour of the forest in English, that the guide was more than happy to do the tour in Spanish since I was the only person.  It also meant that we could cover more ground than the “usual” 2.5 hour tour, because we weren’t waiting for people who were unused to hiking up and down switchbacks or dealing with roots and mud.

But, it did sort of put me on the spot.  Usually in those sorts of situations, I will fade into the background and let other people from the group take the lead and do most of the talking.  But here it was just me, so I had to keep coming up with interesting stuff to say.  When really, it wasn’t like I was dead set on seeing any one particular thing.  I just wanted to enjoy the forest.  So, I alternated between asking questions about the forest and the things we saw, and sort of chit chatting with the guide.  He was from Liberia, Guanacaste, but after growing up in that more arid environment, was enthralled with the idea of a forest that could be “eternally green”.  He also was more interested in animals, particularly the mammals, rather than plants, although as a guide he did know what could be found in the area pretty well.

And it was gorgeous.  The air was one big white cloud, but it was cool enough that it felt soft and friendly, rather than muggy.  It was raining a sort of misty rain the whole time, but that’s what raincoats are for, right?  We did not see a lot of animals.  Daytime really isn’t the best time for most of the forest critters, anyway.  We did see several birds, although I don’t know birds well enough to even remember which ones!

Mostly, I was just impressed by the different kinds of plants and flowers that grew around there, compared to the forests in Oregon.  The one similarity is that both forests have a lot of ferns.  But in the cloud forest, there are giant ficus trees.  Moss grows all around the trees in all directions, because the sun’s rays don’t change with the seasons here.  There were long vines hanging from the trees, too.  Leaves are giant, and bright green.  There were also quite a few orchids, although not many of them are in bloom at this time of year.

By the entrance, they had an orchid garden where I did get to see a few orchids in bloom.

And that was it!  Time to head back to my hotel and get a little bit of downtime before getting up to catch that 6:30 AM bus back to town!

The bus ride back was mostly uneventful, BUT, the funny thing is that we were at the rest stop this time along with a “Tralapa” bus (which you might remember from an earlier post).  That bus left before us, but we passed them on the road a little while later!

Coming back into San Jose felt really good.  I’m getting familiar enough with the city that I do feel sort of grounded here.  I just feel like I have a better sense of the “flow” of downtown, of how to move through the crows, the cars, and the streets.  I’m also getting a sense of what routes I prefer when walking from one side of downtown to the other.  So, overall, the feeling is much more relaxed and comfortable than it had been in my first few days in the city.  Hooray!

The road to Monteverde

The road to Monteverde

The road to Monteverde

The road to Monteverde

The road to Monteverde

The road to Monteverde

My room at the hostel

My room at the hostel

View from the hostel window looking down on to Santa Elena

View from the hostel window looking down on to Santa Elena

The upstairs kitchen

The upstairs kitchen

My first try at cooking green plantains. Success!

Nice common areas!

Nice common areas!

More hostel view

More hostel view

Some kind of deadly viper

Here is the platform that I jumped off of. They said it was something like 40 meters high.

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

This lead sort of reminded me of a giant Totoro leaf.

This leaf sort of reminded me of a giant Totoro leaf.

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

This little berry is apparently some kind of tomato relative.

What the postcards don’t show you is how tiny the frogs actually are.

And the orchids are tinier.

And the orchids are tinier.

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

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Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

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This is called a “school millipede” because it looks like a school bus.

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

The insects had chewed enough of the leaves to make a cool lattice effect.

The insects had chewed enough of the leaves to make a cool lattice effect.

Santa Elena

Santa Elena

Of course I couldn't pass up the chance to get a dulce de lehe crepe!

 

Getting out of the city

This week was my first time venturing out of the city, and it was a great adventure! There is one student in the province of Guanacaste, in a city that’s about a 5 hour bus ride from San Jose. I wanted to get out to visit her, especially because it sounded like her host brother had been away in San Jose for part of the time, and I wanted to make sure that she was doing well out where she was.

We have an account that we can use for travel, but need to be fairly frugal to stretch it as far as we can. I didn’t want to invite myself to stay in the family’s house, so I planned to head out there on Tuesday, have one overnight in an inexpensive hotel, and come back the following day.

So on Tuesday morning, I caught the bus out there. There are two bus lines with service to that city. One was listed as “4-5 hours”, the other as “4 hours”. I couldn’t find much information about either company online, so I assumed that, everything else being equal, the 4-5 hour one was likely the better bet. That bus line was “Tralapa”, which reminded me of “Trololo”. That should have been a warning!

Anyway, I got on the bus, headed to my assigned seat, and all was going well until we stopped to pick up a few people. A guy sat down in the seat in front of mine, which instantly fell into me. It turned out that the seat was broken and that there was no way to hold it up! I used my bag to sort of wedge a little bit of space for my knee. It was a full bus, so there was nothing to be done. Luck of the draw.

Then it started heating up. Guanacaste is known for being very warm. I don’t know if it’s cooler in San Jose because of the elevation, or just the mountains holding the clouds in, or something else, but it was getting hot now that we were out in the country!

Without AC and a full bus, hemmed in by people and my bag, I really felt like I was in the tropics. There was a window that I could open, but then I got the full blast of wind in my face. At first, I was opening the window when the bus was stopped (cars, construction, people getting on/off, or WTF why are we stopping again), and closing it when we got going. Finally I figured out the trick of leaving the window open but the curtain closed. This let the air in, but it didn’t blast you in the face. I did still spent quite a bit of time looking out the window to see the scenery, even with the wind.

We had one stop by a little cafe, which was a nice chance to stand up and cool off a bit. I got some plantain chips and a soda, and got to catch just a little bit of that day’s world cup match before heading back to the sardine tin. (It turns out later that the locals call this bus line “Tralata” because you are packed in like you’re in a can, or “lata” in Spanish).

When I arrived, the family called just as I was getting off the bus to ask where I was. It turned out that the bus line I had taken was so bad, they didn’t even think to ask if I had been on that one, they just assumed I’d taken the good bus and would be there (an hour earlier) in the other station. Oops! Live and learn, I guess. The other bus line is faster (though their itenerary is more honest, which is why it looked like the longer line on paper. I think it’s even cheaper, too. I suspect that it costs more to run old, broken down, less fuel efficient buses.

After getting a quick tour of the town, I got the the family’s house. I instantly felt more relaxed after a couple of weeks in the city! They live just a few minutes out of town, but on a farm where they grow watermelons, cantaloupe, and corn. The cantaloupe and corn were just ready for harvest.

The family offered to let me stay there, which was so kind of them. They wanted to take me to the beach the next day, and since I wouldn’t have the hotel expense, it made sense for me to stay 2 nights so that I wouldn’t have to rush back. I did want to be back in San Jose by Thursday, because I wanted to connect with some of the more local kids before they headed back in to school next week (the past two weeks are the mid-year vacation for students here in Costa Rica).  Getting in at night isn’t a good idea, because getting from the bus terminal to my house is either expensive (by cab), or sketchy (a combination of walking and city bus).

The next day, we took the bus to Playa Conchal, which was about an hour and a half away. It was hot, but there was a breeze, so it didn’t feel too bad! And Conchal was gorgeous! The sand is made up of small bits of white shells, which are lovely, and the water is very clear and light blue.

I am not usually much of a swimmer at the beach, but the other really nice thing about this spot is that the waves are hardly there at all. I knew that the water would be warm, but after getting used to Oregon and California beaches, I didn’t realize that the ocean could be so calm! You could go out into the water and float if you wanted. It was so relaxing!

Of course I hadn’t packed a bathing suit since I had only been planning on staying for the one evening, but again the family was so hospitable and I had borrowed one from the mom. Their warmth and generosity was just so wonderful!

We got back in that evening, had a final dinner together, and we went our for granizados. Those are sort of like a milkshake combined with a snow cone- crushed ice, fruit flavor, evaporated milk, and powdered milk (we got the “dos leches” variety, I don’t know what other kinds there are). Yum!

The next day, I got up in time to catch the 3:15 AM bus. That had been the family’s suggestion since I wanted to be back in San Jose by Thursday. They only live 5 minutes from the bus station, so the suggestion was to pack the night before, get up and head straight for the bus, get on, and go back to sleep. By morning, I would be in San Jose and have gotten at least a reasonable amount of sleep.

I’m happy to say that it worked! The Alfaro bus was much more comfortable and friendly. Sleeping on a bus isn’t the easiest thing to do, but that combined with the sleep I had gotten before getting to the bus was enough for me to be ready for a full day back in the city. The nice thing is, I only had to do it once. Some of the people on the bus were clearly commuting to work that way. They got on and went to sleep, and as we got closer to the city they woke up, put makeup on, and were clearly preparing themselves for work or some other busy day. For me, it was just travel, not day to day life.

All in all, I am very happy that I had this opportunity to get out into the country!

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Because cake is so last week

More bus adventures for me today. First, I should explain how roads and addresses work here. For the most part streets don’t have names, and houses don’t have addresses. I mean, the streets do have names, and they’ve even put up street signs pretty recently, but outside of downtown, that’s not how people navigate.

If you ask somebody’s address, they will give you directions from a nearby landmark. Like “in Desamparados, from the Jumbo, 150m north and 250m west, brown gate” might be your address. That’s what it will say on your mail, even.

And don’t even try to find that on Google maps, because the landmarks that everybody uses won’t necessarily be listed that way in google. I don’t even think the Jumbo is called the Jumbo, but nobody knows what its real name is.

Today I went to visit a student who turned out to live fairly close by. I am staying in the part of San Jose known as San Francisco, and the student’s address was in Curridabat. Officially, even though that’s sort of the next town over, to get there by bus you have to go downtown and then back out. But the directions to her house mentioned the traffic light at the intersection of San Francisco and San Antonio. Hmm, I thought, that sounds pretty close to here, it would be silly to go downtown.

I mentioned to my host mom that I was thinking it might be cheaper to take a taxi straight there rather than to bus all the way downtown and back out to Curridabat, and she knew the intersection from the directions and told me where to catch the bus that went there.

So I went to the bus stop, but since the bus that came first wasn’t the one she mentioned, I wanted to ask the driver before getting on. The tough thing about that is that the buses have these sensors that count how many people get on and off, probably to make sure that the driver charges everybody. So if you’re not going to ride that bus, you have to stand way back below the sensor so that the driver doesn’t get charged, which of course makes it hard to hear over the diesel engine.

Now, where I was going was “the traffic light at the crossing of San Francisco and San Antonio.” But I was thinking that I should be more specific, because I was in San Francisco, and there are a lot of traffic lights. So I added “in Curridabat” to that description to make sure I was going to the correct traffic light.

This was a mistake, because the actual town of Curridabat is not where I was going, even though it must be inside the borders of Curridabat cantón. So the driver was telling me that he wasn’t really going that way, I might have to walk a ways afterwards. This sparked a discussion among everybody in the first 4 rows of the bus, who all had an opinion on whether or not I should get on that bus or a different one.

In the end, it sounded like I would at least get close enough to walk the rest of the way, so I got on. And this is how kind people are here. First, the woman who I was sitting next to explained a bit more about where I was going. Then, a man across the aisle also checked in to make absolutely, positively sure that I wasn’t expecting to get into downtown Curridabat on that bus, because the area where I was going to wasn’t close to there and was mostly residential (ie, probably not where most lost tourists are asking to go).

It turned out to be such an easy bus ride that on the way back, I decided to bring watermelons! There was a fruit stand not far from that intersection, and I needed watermelon for Friday’s picnic. The ones there were big and nice looking. I debated just buying one, but then I knew I’d still need to lug another one back home at some point, might as well just get it over with. I had already taken the bus with cake, how much harder could it be with watermelons?

I got to the bus stop, and the same bus and driver pulled up. Perfect! There were seats available, so having watermelon was not an issue. But I hadn’t really taken into account the walk back home FROM the bus stop, almost a mile, carrying the watermelons. That was a chore. Although it turns out that the same cars that will usually run you down in the intersections WILL stop for you and wave you on if you’re carrying watermelons.

As somebody from the US, it seems ridiculous to go out without GPS and with only a vague idea of where you’re going. But here, so far I have had fantastic luck with it, thanks to the kindness of just about everybody around me.

Bus Adventures

Let’s start with today, because otherwise I might never get started.  Hopefully I will be able to go back and fill in the previous week’s adventures as I have time.

Each day so far has involved some sort of challenge or something I needed to figure out on my path to being successful and independent while I’m here.  For the first couple of days, I felt totally helpless.  It was like I was a kid again, and couldn’t go anything for myself.  But since then, I have given myself some sort of challenge to work towards as I get the hang of things.  Or sometimes, like today, the challenges present themselves because there is something that I need to do.

Today my big challenge was to make it up to Barva, Heredia by bus.  To do that, I had to take a bus from where I am staying (San Francisco de Dos Rios) into San Joe, then take a bus to downtown Heredia, then from there get on a bus to Barva.

Also, I had to do that carrying a slice of cake.  I was visiting a student for her birthday, and there’s this really wonderful looking bakery on the way to the first bus stop.  So I decided to stop in and buy some cake to bring with me.  I got her a slice of chocolate cake with puffy frosting, which was just wrapped in a little plastic bag.  So now I have to get to Barva essentially one-handed.

Having one hand full of cake turned out to be a really good way to travel.  If am am just walking around downtown San Jose looking at stuff, I can feel like a clueless gringa.  But I discovered that walking around with cake somehow gave me legitimacy.  I was clearly going somewhere, with some purpose, not just gawking.  I had a mission- to deliver cake.

The other thing to know about the bus system is that there really isn’t any central organization.  Each bus route, I believe, is independently owned and operated.  So the bus into San Jose drops you off at one place, but then the bus to Heredia is somewhere else.  The advice I got was “get to San Jose, then ask somebody where the buses to Heredia are.”

This would be my third trip into downtown San Jose, and while I’m starting to get familiar with it, something about it just throws my sense of direction entirely off.  I kind of know the landmarks to look for, but can get turned around backwards so that I end up heading in exactly the opposite direction from where I need to go.

This time, everything clicked.  After figuring out who at the bus stop looked like they might know where the bus to Heredia would be, I asked, and somebody nearby gave me directions- get to the Banco de Costa Rica, turn right, and go a couple of blocks. “The Boulevard” would go the whole way, if I took that.

And while I do know the Bank of Costa Rica, my instinct of where is was in relation to the bus stop was once again completely backwards.  But the girl had been gesturing in one direction, so I went that way.  With my cake.

It worked!  I started passing familiar landmarks, like Central Park, turned to the right, and could see buses way down yonder.  And when I got there, they were even going to Heredia.  Success!

The bus to Heredia seemed like it took forever.  There really aren’t any signs that tell you where you are or how far until you get there.  When we got to the stop where everybody seemed to be getting off, I got off too.

Now I needed to get to Barva.  I had heard that the Heredia buses are all pretty much in the same spot, so I just walked around looking for one that said Barva.  Nothing.  I turned around and passed a line of people waiting on the sidewalk, and up pulled a brightly colored school bus with a sign for Barva in the window.  Perfect!

Since I was at the back of the line, it was standing room only when I got on.  And these are not smooth luxury buses.  Also, I still had cake.  I was supposed to call the student from Heredia to let her know when to expect me.  All I had done was given her the Tico time ETA which was, “I think I’ll be there some time in the afternoon.”  I tried to get my phone and the phone number out without dropping the cake, but the bus started moving.  I did get everything put back away without dropping the cake

But the buses here do have unspoken rules about who gets a seat.  I don’t know the exact rules, but definitely the elderly and people with small kids get a seat first. Women get seats before men do.  And people will get out of their seats if somebody gets on who has seat precedence.

So anyway, somebody got up, and as the only woman in that part of the bus, I was “next in line”.  This involved having the guy who was actually next to the seat move over so that I could go past him to sit down.  But I think having cake might have helped too.  So I got to sit down, put the cake in my lap, and make the call.

I had forgotten my camera, so no photos today, but Barva was really charming.  After being in San Jose for a week, it really just had a pleasant, small town feel to it.  I delivered the cake, visited a soda (a “typical” small Costa Rican restaurant), and walked around with the student before getting a ride back home.

Once again, I successfully accomplished my challenge for the day!