CARLOS AND ALEXIS' TRIP TO COSTA RICAFrom San Francisco to Costa Rica
The preparation for the trip was a bit stressful as I had a million things to do in preparation and just about an hour before leaving for the airport my luggage's zipper completely broke and I had to scramble to look for another suitcase! I ended up taking two small cases instead of one. As we got on the plane at midnight, it was a small, narrow plane going to Dallas Fort/Worth and the seats were tight and uncomfortable. There was an older man seating on the side in front of me, this dude spent 80% of the overnight trip reading a damn fiction book and his light was so strong that all of us around him could not sleep a wink. I tried to sleep while playing my sleep mp3's in my iPod but it was the only light that was turned on in the plane and it was impossible to sleep. I was ready to skin him alive!!! I am so glad that the song "We are not gonna take it anymore" did not play in the iPod at that moment.
The trip from Dallas to San Jose was much better, the only thing is that there was a Tica older woman that talked, and talked and talked. Sometimes, the conversation would be interesting but at other times, her prejudices would surface in the conversations as she advised me to be extremely careful and would not recommend traveling to the Caribbean coast as there were too many Black people there! She also complained that there were too many Nicaraguans and Colombians in Costa Rica and that they were ruining the culture and society there, as she would say that they were the cause of all the social problems in Costa Rica.
Trying to get the rental car at the airport was a struggle, a clear case of Mercury going retrograde in the heavens. The car rental was not $300 but almost $900 because according to all the rental places, the government required everyone to purchase a very expensive insurance. I went from place to place and ended up at the original car rental service.
We rented an SUV- a Hyundai with 4 wheel drive. As drove away towards Quepos and left the airport, Alexis and I realized the obvious- Costa Rican traffic signs really suck!!! There are hardly any signs that direct the traffic and we ended up taking a wrong turn and it took us a total of 30 km to find our way to right road. It was hot, there was heavy traffic, lots of heavy trucks spewing huge clouds of black exhaust fumes. It was not easy driving here and getting used to a new stick shift transmission.
Once we took the correct road to Quepos, we went thru a winding tropical forest mountain road- curves, narrow turns, huge trucks, passing cars at the worst turns- then the iPod began to play the Beatles song "The Long and Winding Road". Alexis mentioned that the smart memory for shuffling the songs has a mind of its own. On the side there many vendors selling fruits and vegetables- the biggest avocados that I have ever seen, larger than a grapefruit- pineapples, mangos, bananas. The signs were hard to find, it was like a treasure hunt looking for clues on the road. As we passed Jacó, the coastal road was full of pot holes and the pavement was almost completely gone. The bridges are older than 50 years and have not been maintained for years. A couple of days after we passed the famous Quepos bridge, a large container truck fell thru the wooden planks that make up the floor, and fell all the way into the river, and Quepos could not be reached for 2-3 days until they repaired the bridge.
We finally arrived at Quepos after driving on a long straight road where the only visible thing were the huge oil palm tree plantations. The oil extracting processing plant coughed up a large black cloud that polluted the entire area. Some of the worst pollution that I have ever seen.
Quepos is a small town with about 2-3 blocks with lights and restaurants in downtown gringos are all around- surfers, old hippies, street walkers. We reached the house and it was very nice, we went to eat at a local restaurant and had my first typical plate of "casado" fried chicken, rice, beans, cabbage salad, and fried plantains- it was totally delicious with an Imperial beer- the most popular beer in Costa Rica. We went back to the house and totally collapsed from exhaustion.
June 20, 2007 Quepos and Manuel Antonio
After deciding to sleep late and to have a lazy day in Quepos we drove to here we went to Manuel Antonio National Park. We drove to the park on a 13 km road that was winding up and down the mountains to the coast. It was a hot morning, it was humid, the land is lush and green, radiant of life. There are portions of the road where the forest is almost swallowing the road as it turns into the beach. As we parked our car on the side of the road, a woman came to talk to us and asked for us to pay 2,000 colones ($4) for parking.
We walked for about 3 blocks that were lined up with street vendors selling jewelry, masks, pottery, and many other crafts. A shop owner in Puerto Viejo later told me that some of these crafts are not actually from Costa Rica, they are brought from Indonesia and sold to the tourists as Tico art. I saw individuals making their arts and crafts in different parts of Costa Rica but their products are not sold in the boutiques and souvenir shops in the tourist areas.
A few Nicaraguans vendors were going after any tourist that they could get their attention to sell them the ceramic vases that they brought from San Juan de Oriente. As we moved further into the street, the aroma of roasting chicken filled the air, a makeshift kitchen had been erected on the side of the road and a few women were cooking and selling "casados" to the tourists. We continued to move towards the end of the road and went to the beach, it was a beautiful place- mountains covered with the lush foliage of the rainforest edging a series of beaches of white sand.
We walked along the beach looking at surf and the rock formations. We walked for a while and then we got another dose of the roasting chicken and went to have another "casado", and it was totally satisfying to the taste buds. We sat next to this couple from Texas that have retired in a mountain close to Dominical further down the coast. The man kept talking about how great Costa Rica is and that his favorite food was "Chickarronis". He was actually referring to "Chicharrones" the tasty fried pork treats that are eaten with yucca and cabbage salad. After eating we continued to walk around Manuel Antonio and later went back to the house in Quepos. As we were on the road, we stopped at a market in Manuel Antonio town and as we were ready to leave, a heavy storm came down real hard! The streets were flooded and thunder and lightning were exploding in the heavens. It was an impressive sight! I got totally wet running to get in the car and as we drove to the house we had to maneuver around the flooded roads.
June 21, 2007 Manuel Antonio National Reserve and Park
We left the house at mid-morning and drove to Manuel Antonio National Park. We arrived to the end of the road and then there was a murky-looking shallow lagoon, it was not very appealing to just cross that dirty water, so Alexis and I decided to try to retrace our steps and try to cross the water at another point, but as we turned around a Nicaraguan man had put a boat to help us walk across the entrance to to lagoon.
We went around and finally reached the entrance to the park. We were shocked to see a sign that was posted away from the edge of the lagoon that read: "Aqui habitan cocodrilos- prohibido bañarse" crocodiles live here, no swimming allowed!!! We were lucky, I didn't see any crocodiles but the guard at the gate assured me that alligators were there and it was not safe to get in the water. Either way I was relieved by the fact that I did not encountered any of them close by.
As we walked into the park dozens of iguanas moved around on the ground in and around us, some were small but others were relatively large- there were blue iguanas and other varieties here. All of the sudden we were surrounded by young gringo and European tourists being taken around by a guide explaining how to deal with insects in the jungle and how to look for monkeys up in the trees.
Most of the tourists here in Costa Rica are young people on summer vacation and come in large groups as exchange students or just to surf the great waves in both coasts. Many of them come from the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Australia and Italy. As we moved away from the tourists, Alexis and I spotted a few white faced capuchino monkeys up in the trees, they were playful as they bounced around the branches playing with each other. They were swift and balanced in their movements as they danced around the trees.
As we continued on our hike, we took the Mirador trail- a 3 km stretch going up to the top of a very steep mountain covered with thick and lush jungle. The trail was tough and it was slippery because of the rain from the previous night, some of the most difficult sections had long sections covered with high stone steps, as we climbed it felt as we were trying to conquer the tallest and steepest Mayan Pyramid in Central America. The trail was covered with lush vegetation and tall trees, birds, butterflies, red crabs, red ants, lizards and so many other types of insects, as well as the sloths that we could not find.
The sounds of the forest would reach deafening levels as the monkeys, birds, crickets and cicadas competed to play the loudest songs of the jungle. The views at the mirador were just awesome, it was worth the climb as we were able to admire a view of the cove from the best possible angle at the top of mountain trail!!! The way down the mountain was easy and hardly took any effort, we only had to watch for our balanced steps down the hill. We took another trail leading
to the Playas Gemelas trail and found a rocky beach where Alexis realized that he had some bad blisters in his heels, that were aggravated by wearing shoes without socks and the water on the trails and the creeks that we had to cross.
As we walked away, we both slipped on the rocks and offered our blood to the forest spirits- as I was falling I tried to hold on to a tree and it ended up being a spiny palm tree! It sure hurt as I grabbed the palm tree, I had burning splinters all over my hands, and it hurt like hell. The palm tree (Bactris gasipaes) grows its needles to protect itself and its fruits (pejibaye nuts) from insects and other animals. The pejibaye nuts are sold all over Costa Rica and are considered a delicacy, I did not like them as they are dry and powdery with hardly any taste. They are usually roasted or cooked in soups, stews or baked in breads, or eaten raw.
As we left the park, we were approached a man they called "el negro"- A Nicaraguan vendor from Chontales, I had told him I would buy an icy cold coconut from him- "pipas" as they are called in Costa Rica. The coconut really hit the spot and was very refreshing. The man told us that many Nicaraguans were coming to live and work in Costa Rica because the economic situation has become unbearable for so many that they are forced to seek employment elsewhere. So "el negro" was part of a new generation of immigrants in Costa Rica that survive on the local tourism and bring their traditional arts and culture .
On the way we came across a group of 5-6 young Nicaraguans that were selling ceramics from San Juan de Oriente, one of them- Carlos- is a very funny character, he had tried to sell me his ceramics for a couple of days. I bought 3 pieces from him and told him that he would sell everything that he was carrying by the next day, he actually was surprised when it happened as it usually would take him a week to sell that many pieces. He was a persuasive and funny individual with a happy soul. He is from a working class barrio in Managua and comes to Quepos every few weeks with his sister and cousins to sell ceramics.
June 22-25, 2007
The days have been hot most of time, almost every afternoon we have heavy rains for a few hours and then it clears up. We had some beautiful days at the beach, it is warm, hot sometimes- perfect temperatures the beach is very nice and there are few people there during the week.
The weekend brought many people to the beach, many of them came from San Jose. I walked the 3 km Manuel Antonio beach and explored many of the surrounding areas. There were many hip people there, some would be sunbathing, others would be selling their goods, while others would be riding the waves. Many tourists were approached by the Tico, Nicaraguan and Colombian vendors and hustlers in the area. Everyone around is hustling something. Good vibes were everywhere here and every 5 minutes one could hear a Tico say "PuraVida!". The ocean winds would carry the smell of ganja in the air. Yemaya's blessings were all over us. Omio Yemaya!
Many interesting characters came our way while at the beach, people such as "el negro", the Nicaraguan man from Chontales, selling cold "pipas" at the beach. Then there was "Coqui" hustling drinks, beers and sodas for the tourists- he told me his life story about his wife, in-laws and surviving the life at the beach, everyday was a struggle for him.
He was young and as he brought us a round of beers, he sat there for over an hour sharing his life with me and asking for advice.
I remember the young woman at the grocery store did not like the close-up shot that I took of her and ask for another that she approved of. She was helpful and also liked Pops ice cream. Carlos, the young man with the ceramics was another one, he would always carry himself with a radiant smile. Then there was the older gentleman, a Tico that was recommended to us by the young man who rented us the loungers and the umbrellas.
The old man was selling towels and sandals, I bought two towels from him and talked about life in Costa Rica. He also would always remind me every time that we saw him that he had been in El Salvador and that he had visited Santa Tecla. We would see him everywhere, at the beach, in town, at the restaurants and even on the road. He always complained about the Colombians moving to Costa Rica and making life hard for Ticos. The young hip Nicaraguan at the art gallery in Quepos was sophisticated and wanted to show off on how well he spoke English to the gringas entering his shop. He had an excellent collection of Nicaraguan art and a few Tico art works.
One of the best conversations that we had was by the town entrance by the piers, where William Montero was showing some of his landscape paintings. We talked about his life as an artist and how he enjoys his life away from the city and the peaceful life at Quepos.
We spent many hours at the beach and Alexis ended up spending too much time in the sun got a very serious sunburn, the front of his legs and his back were totally red and it is quite painful. We had to spend a couple of days at the house and in town because of the sunburn but it was also raining quite a bit during the day.
The last night in the area we went to have a few drinks at the "Contra Bar" in the Bar El Avión. This is an old cargo plane and bomber that was purchased by the Contras and kept in a secret airstrip close to the Nicaraguan border. It never flew a mission because of the Iran Contra scandal and that its sister plane piloted by Eugene Hasenfus was shot down by the Sandinistas. Eventually the plane was bought about 3 years ago for a small sum of money and its fuselage was cut into a few pieces and brought to Manuel Antonio where it was converted
into a bar. The plane had to be cut as it would fit on the roads and bridges on the way to the Pacific coast.
The place was packed with tourists interested in seeing the howler monkeys that were in the jungle below and in the fantastic sunsets that can be seen from the bar.