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Published: November 11th 2019
JOHNNY'S JOURNEYS: COSTA RICA 1999
July 29, 1999 (Thursday)
One of our dental assistants, Sandy Smith, gave each of us a small wooden cross necklace to wear
for the trip. We shall give them to the Ticos (Costa Rican people) later. We said our good-byes to family
members as we left the LaQuinta Inn in Metarie, LA. We are soon at the New Orleans airport and will
be on our way to Central America.
Our first stop was in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Some passengers left... others got on. Then we had
a relatively short flight to San Salvador, El Salvador. The lovely airport in the capital city was new. One
hour later we were finally heading to San Jose. We all breezed through Customs and all our luggage,
equipment and supplies arrived. It took less than 40 minutes to load the bus. Standing by two members
from my home church in Montgomery, Alabama I pointed to my watch: 9:10. That is the street address
for Perry Hill U.M.C. Our destination is the nearby city of Alejuela, where we will stay the night at the
Centro Metodista Center. Of course, I left my carry-on bag on the bus. I just hope it will be on there
tomorrow. After a short meeting, we look forward to visiting the bunk-beds.
July 30, 1999 (Friday)
I woke up 4 or 5 times. Oh, the excitement of being back in Costa Rica! Breakfast is served at 7:30.
We enjoy watermelon, papaya, pineapple, pancakes, bacon and fruit juice. There are 53 in our group.
This is the largest dental team Gerald Freeman has ever led. There are 6 dentists, 4 dental hygienists
and a lot of helpers.
Our bus left Alejuela around 9 a.m. And I was relieved to find my carry-on. Heading east for 16
miles, we had a nice visit in the city of Cartago. It is the 3rd
largest city in the country and served as the
capital of Costa Rica for 250 years. Our Lady of the Angels Basilica is a stunningly beautiful Catholic
Church. Originally built in 1639, it was partially destroyed by an earthquake. The current building
dates back to 1939. There are thousands of “pilgrims” in Cartago this week, as the country prepares for
the August 2nd
feast day of the Virgin of the Angels. There is an “ancient” cobblestone road that looks
better than some roads we've seen. There was time for a trip to the Santiago Apostol Parish Ruins. This
is the unfinished building ruins which were badly damaged by an earthquake in 1910. It was never
completed and is now a tranquil site for lovely gardens.
I bought some pastries for a snack; including a 5-pack of doughnuts with pink icing. Well, they sorta
crunched like cookies... but still good. We then had a little of a perilous ride through winding mountain
roads. There was a small land-slide that slowed us down. We saw coffee plantations, banana plants,
huge aloe-vera plants, and living fences. Barbed wire was strung to different sizes and types of trees,
plants, bushes and shrubbery.
Turrialba! Home sweet home! This town of 35,000 is up in the mountains. Our group checks into
the Hotel Wagelia. Bob Simpson will be my roommate. At lunch, I bought a casad. It consisted of rice,
fish, black beans, fried egg, tortilla, salad and yellow plantain for 1735 colonies ($6.20)
Quite full from lunch, I went back to the room and slept for an hour. Then all our crew went to the
work site to set up for Saturday. After a little while, a high school band started practicing. There must
have been 30 drums and a dozen cymbals. We enjoyed watching them march down the street. Then it
was a 4 block walk back to the hotel. The Wagelia has shiny tile floors and a lovely courtyard.
At 7:11 I went to check the supper menu. After my large lunch, I thought I would go sort of light
tonight. So, a group of us went to Pop's and I had a 3-scoop neapolitan banana-split. And I'm in bed
by 10 p.m.
July 31, 1999 (Saturday)
Up at 6:30. It was so pleasant to have my shaving kit with me today. Breakfast was served at 7:15.
There was the traditional black beans and rice, corn tortillas, papaya, fried egg, pineapple and a thick
(unknown) fruit juice.
8:00 and all of us were at the work site, eager to serve our new Costa Rican friends. It seemed like
half of our patients today were 11 year old girls. The dental patients ranged in age from 6-65. I will be
Dr. Charles Smith's dental assistant this week. I was also his asst. two years ago in Playa Coco. We
complete a few dozen extractions and bunches of fillings. I even got to operate the blue laser gun.
Lunch was served from 12:30 – 1:30. And we finished working at 5:20. We were all walking back to
the hotel by 5:30. We accomplished quite a bit of good work today. I tried to call “home” but could not
get an outside line.
After a hot shower, 30 of our group went to Lena's Restaurant. Some of last years group wanted to
go back for the rotisserie chicken. I ordered half a chicken (pollo) and french fried potatoes. It seemed
like everyone was ordering a coca-cola or diet-coke in 16 oz. bottles. So, to be different, I ordered a
GRANDE coke. I was surprised to receive a LARGE chocolate milk. . Well,
something was lost in translation. Delicious for $6.40.
Back at the hotel, we had a devotional at 8 p.m. There were some soul-stirring songs. Since I had
gone to Pop's last night, I led a group back there tonight. There were 26 of us! I had a large blackberry
yogo-shake for 70 cents. Returning to the room, I caught up on my diary and was in bed at 10:15.
August 1, 1999 (Sunday)
I called home about 7:00 this morning. I sang “You are my sunshine” to Bethany. The family is safe
and sound... and I soon join the others for breakfast. It's now time to walk the 4 blocks to our work-site.
I arrive with several others and start preparing to see lots of teeth today. Dr. Charles and I worked
pretty much without a break from 8:00 – 12:30. And what a selection of good stuff they had prepared
for lunch today! There was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, tuna-fish sandwiches, tomatoes, cheese,
spam, vienna sausages, guacamole dip, chips, pretzels, peanuts, watermelon, papaya, cookies, iced tea
and fruit punch. We are well fed!
We did not see quite as many people today, but the extractions were bloodier. The dentist and I lost
two assistants, who couldn't stand so much blood. We got back about 4:45 and I took pictures of the
lovely hotel courtyard. We are going to the Methodist Church tonight at 7:00 for an evening worship
We all rode in a bus, for the church was on the edge of town. We first got a tour of the church
parsonage, which was completed just last year. Four of the church children greeted us with a hug. The
service was bi-lingual and lasted about two hours. It was very nice, with lots of singing. We got fairly
emotional a few times. The Ticos were so grateful for the many trips Gerald Freeman had led in the
past few years. This was the second dental team trip. At the end of the service tonight, we each got up
and went around to find a local person to present our wooden cross to. I chose a 19 year old woman
who we treated on the first morning. Where's the bus? We walked about one mile back to our hotel.
About 10 p.m., I joined John and Becky, Pam and Marge for a trip to the LaGarza Restaurant. I had
a chicken casada and two frothy limonade-waters for $5.30. As we returned through the Central Park, I
was fascinated by an army of leaf-cutter ants. In bed at 11:15.
August 2, 1999 (Monday)
This is my 27th
birthday as a born-again Christian. For breakfast this morning we have plenty of
pancakes and fruit. This turned out to be a typical workday with my favorite dentist, Charles Smith. We
worked on patients from 8:00 until 12:30.
The afternoon shift was from 1:45 – 4:45. To conserve power, we turned out the lights on the stage
and worked by sun-light, a little rain-light and a small flash-light. We served many people in the city
The bus left at 7:00 tonight and we ride up to a mountain restaurant. There is a fabulous view from
the Turrialtico Hotel and Restaurant. As we looked down at the lights of the city below, there was such
a warm and golden glow. Beautiful... a sight I'll never forget. For supper, I had a thick fresh-water fish
fillet, red beans and rice, fried plantain, steamed veggies and a glass of ginger-ale for $8.95. Wow!
On the return trip to our hotel, Wendy made an announcement about the white-water rafting trip. We
really enjoy listening to her strong English accent. The all day rafting trip would be $45. I voiced some
concern about taking my good camera. Shawnea graciously furnished me with a disposable, waterproof
camera. Very nice of her. Lights out in the room at 10:15.
August 3, 1999 (Tuesday)
I'm up at 5:40 and very excited about the day. Breakfast at 6:30 was corn tortillas and a thick omelet
plus fruit and juice. The bus pulled away from the hotel at 7:11. Are you ready for an adventure?
We shall be riding on some winding mountainous roads for awhile. Just outside the city, we pass by
C.A.T.I.E. It is the Center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education. It's an
environmental center for thousands of plants in Latin America and the Caribbean.
There is so much lush, green scenery as we continue riding. There are banana plants, fir trees, pine
trees, bamboo, coconut palms, ferns, living fences, coffee plants and bushes on hillsides (usually with a
shade tree overhead).
About an hour later, we stopped and waited for 3 vans to take us down to the river. I pet a horse at a
nearby stable. I hope I get a chance to ride one in Costa Rica one day. On one van, 18 guys and girls
were riding on the roof. In my van, I rode with Emily, George A., Pam, Pate and a few of the guides. It
took about 20 minutes down a steep, winding dirt road to arrive at the Pacuare River. There were about
30 folks from our dental team that will participate today. I chatted with 4 Belgians who are also on this
Loco's Tropical Tour. The guides gave thorough instructions and then we're fitted with life-vests and
Sharon from Colorado is our raft guide. She had a few years experience back home on the Arkansas
River. Joseph and I were up front, while Pam and Erin paddled from the middle. Eighteen miles!! I will
repeat. EIGHTEEN MILES!!! There were four Class-IV rapids on this route. The categories are I= easy
up to VI= you don't survive...
Twice on this raft ride, we passed underneath a metal cable, where the indigenous people would sit
in a metal chair and pull themselves across the river. Also, we crossed under a metal foot-bridge. I even
saw a railroad trestle above as a small 3-car work-train passed overhead as we rafted underneath it.
I see green, lush green, thick and abundantly green, overwhelmingly green green.. Get the picture?
This is awesome! Our guide told us which class # the upcoming rapids would be; either II, III or IV.
She would give us the Spanish and English name. Cool. After just ten minutes, we were all completely
soaked. Not even one square inch of dryness for my glasses. What a beautiful and glorious trip. We
passed by 15-20 waterfalls. Four were quite impressive. And we had the COLD and wet thrill to paddle
through two of them! Refreshing!
Going through our second Class-IV rapids, Teddy and Dr. Charles were thrown out of their raft. The
6'5” state trooper, Teddy, was trapped underwater by the weight of Dr. Charles. He could not breathe
for a short period of time. Teddy looked scared to death when I lugged him into our raft. Then, I pulled
Dr. Charles Smith into the raft. Wow, my adrenaline kicked in to help both of them up. They were both
exhausted. In five minutes, we went ashore for lunch.
The guides flipped over one of the rafts and placed a tablecloth on it. Now, it was a buffet table. Lunch
was chicken sandwiches on whole wheat rolls with lettuce, tomatoes and white cheese; chips with bean
dip and also salsa dip; small squares of broccoli and rice casserole; watermelon, pineapple and bananas.
For dessert we had little brown squares of coconut flakes, syrup and a third unknown ingredient. I used
a mossy rock for my table. We also had coke and fruit juice. For a nice touch, each food container had a
flower placed atop it.
Now we have nine more miles of cold, wet FUN. It even rained on us for half an hour. Experienced,
we navigated the rest of the rapids pretty well. After passing through a nice stretch of white-water, we
would give the rafter's salute. All oars “smack” in the middle of the raft, like we are giving a toast.
Toward the end of this four hour trip, we reached a smooth stretch where most all of us jumped into
the river and swam half of a mile. We went swimming through a pretty canyon. So exhilarating..
this was a trip of a lifetime! I thought I needed a souvenir tee-shirt. It reads: I Survived the Class-IV Rapids
of the Pacuare River.
There is another pretty mountainous ride as we return to Turrialba. I change my clothes and go to
work at the clinic from 4:45-5:45. I held a flash-light for Joetta, the hygienist. Then it was back to the
Wagelia Hotel for supper. I had another chicken and rice dish.
The devotional was held from 8:00 – 9:00. Then it was time for another trip to Pop's for ice cream. I
walked with Wendy, Joseph, Erin, Dr. Bob and two of the teenage guys. Twenty folks from our mission
team were already standing in a long line. Tonight, I ate coconut ice cream in a sugar cone. In bed at
10:20. There was so much to be thankful for.
August 4, 1999 (Wednesday)
Up at 3 a.m., looking for the Tums. Too much good food, I suppose. Up for good at 6:30. I decided
to skip the big breakfast this morning. So I just drank a large glass of juice. I was able to take a few
pictures of the downtown area as I walked to the clinic. I'm thankful for a clear sunshiny morning. 21
miles in the distance is Turrialba Volcano!
I arrived at the work-site at 7:50. This is our last day. There were dozens of folks waiting to see us.
The morning just flew by. Lunch was served from 12:30 – 1:30. D.T. Asked me to say the blessing.
There were several extractions we performed this afternoon. By 3:45, I had my picture taken with Dr.
Charles and our last patient. We treated 500 patients this week! It does not seem like we were in
Kenner, LA 7 nights ago. It took about an hour to pack and clean up. I left at 4:45 for a nice hot shower.
The bus took all of us back to the work-site for our 6 p.m. Dinner. The Costa Rican Methodists had
prepared supper for us. There was rice and meat, chips, fruit, cookies and juice. Then at 7:00, local
church folks came in for our farewell service. 5 teenage boys and 5 teenage girls dressed in their native
costumes and danced for us. They also put on a little skit. Chris and Shari sang.
Each one of us was presented a hand-made cloth plaque with our name on it. We took turns, one by
one, going onto the stage, to receive it. They applauded each one of us, for all our help this past week.
This was so nice. There was a small devotion and a little more dancing. John and Becky B. and Pam
made their presentation: a bicycle for the pastor. Their Mobile church, South Brookley, had bought the
bike for the pastor's 25 mile trip to a satellite church, once a month. Then I went up on stage and was
given the microphone. David H. translated as I presented a Spanish version of the JESUS video to the
pastor, Eli. I had tried for a month to order the tapes... and they arrived just two days before I left. (The
other four videos were given to our missionary leader, Gerald Freeman to give to pastors around the
country). I wonder how many lives will be touched by these videos??
D.T. Holden gave the benediction, but nobody wanted to leave. I went back up onto the stage (where
four dental chairs had been for the last week) and had a few pictures taken with the dancers. What a
wonderful night, full of warm, fuzzy feelings. Like being on the mountaintop, you just did not want this
feeling to end.
It was a joyous sight to see the little children, scampering around, eager for an autograph. I even
signed 3 autographs myself. That was a first. What an appreciative, loving people we have served here
in Turrialba. We have built a “bridge” and will remember them in our prayers. It was hard to say our
good-byes. As I was leaving, a woman and her husband, with their three children, gave me a hug. We
then headed out into a gentle rain.
We loaded onto the bus for a short ride back to our hotel. Shawnea encouraged the driver to drive by
Pop's first. And most everyone got off the bus there. I bought a more' yogo-shake (blackberry yogurt
shake) for $1.90. I then had my photo taken with David Majors and Joetta Davis (the Perry Hill crew).
A short walk of four blocks and we're back at Hotel Wagelia. I get caught up on my travel diary. Bob
and I turn out the lights at 11 p.m. And the rain begins to fall again.
August 5, 1999 (Thursday)
I woke up in time to hear the bells of the Catholic Church chime three times. Then I'm up at 5:45.
Our bus needs to be completely packed so we can depart at 8:00. I tried to call home; until I heard the
last call for our bus ride.
We had a lovely ride in the mountains, looking out at the rich green valleys below. For 20 minutes,
we were delayed by a minor landslide. We then stopped for a short snack break in Cartago.
Next for us was a one hour ride to the IRAZU Volcano National Park. It is the highest active
volcano in Costa Rica. And on a clear day (but not this day) one can see the Pacific Ocean and the
Caribbean Sea. It has two cones or craters. The deeper one has an unusually colored green lake. It was
magnificent to view! I heard a comment about someones warm shoes. I placed my hand on the ground
and indeed it was quite warm. This was rather unusual since the air temperature was 52 degrees. Steam
was rising from some of the open vents. The last major eruption was between 1963-1965. This place is
surrounded by plants with huge leaves. Locals call them a “poor man's umbrella”. This was the second
volcano I've visited. I saw Arenal Volcano on a trip two years ago. There was an opportunity to drive up
to the Guayabo National Monument, but the steep road was just too muddy.
A little while later, the bus stopped in Cartago for lunch. We went to a Spanish mission which was
built around 1575. It was destroyed in 1841. After being rebuilt, it was destroyed by another major
earthquake in 1910. There was so much damage that Santiago Apostol Parish Ruins were never rebuilt.
In front of this church/mission is a cobblestone road. I then joined most of our crew for a few
cheeseburgers at a Burger King.
We were then bused back to the outskirts of San Jose to the Moravia shopping district. Able to shop
from 3:00 – 5:30, as the time really flew by. There was a very pretty courtyard behind a few buildings.
And I bought several nice souvenirs.
Our home tonight will be the Alejuela Centro Metodista center. And it is very crowded. I shared a
room in the last cabin with a group from Oak Ridge, TN. There are four bunk-beds per room. There are
two rooms on the left for men and two rooms on the right for women. Same directions for bathrooms.
In a little while the bus took us to Pizza Hut for supper. This time I had the traditional spaghetti with
meat-sauce and a vanilla milkshake.
About 8:45 we started our communion service. Gerald Freeman and D.T. Holden spoke, as did about
half of our group. We sang 4 or 5 songs, then broke bread for communion. The theme tonight was
“teamwork and service”. It was a very moving and emotional time. We all had tears of joy tonight. This
special time ended about 10:15. I then went to get some medicine for Gerald. His 3 year old daughter,
Joy, was running around. I told her that I had a 4 year old little girl. And that she was this tall. Since
she is not here, can I give you a good-night hug? Joy jumped into my arms and gave me a big squeeze.
I miss Bethany!
August 6, 1999 (Friday)
I got up at 6:30 and we had our team photo taken at 7:00. This was followed by a delicious
breakfast of pancakes and fresh fruit. My roommate Bob gave the morning devotional. Then D.T. gave
us our itinerary. They would go to a leather factory in the morning for a couple of hours. Then there
would be shopping in San Jose in the afternoon. That just didn't appeal to me. Some folks just wanted
to take it easy, stay at the Methodist Center, go back to bed, play frisbee or go swimming. I asked some
people where they would go. Wendy and Tyler wanted to see the museums. Well, me too!!
I went back inside to apply sunscreen; then the three of us left at 8:30. We took a taxi from Alejuela
to downtown San Jose. It was a 25 minute ride. I was the brave one and rode in the front seat. The very
first thing I did was to strap on the seat belt. The taxi drivers ONLY stop at stop signs if there is traffic
crossing ahead. Whatever the speed limit is, they are NEVER more than two car lengths behind the
next vehicle. The constant honking of horns and the whipping in ahead of others... my goodness. About
the only rule of the road is that the biggest vehicle “wins”. It was fascinating to watch motor-scooters
squeeze in between two buses. I would not drive a car in Costa Rica for a year's salary!
It cost about $12 for the three of us for our taxi ride. We were dropped off in front of a 15-story
building. Tyler went to get some cash. The Jade Museo is on the 13th
floor. What a gorgeous view of the
capital city of San Jose; especially looking out toward the mountains.
This is the largest collection of jade in Central America. There are about 7000 pieces of jade housed
here. The time frame was from 500 BC to 800 AD. There were hundreds of pieces of pottery, tubes of
sculpted jade, necklaces, and even a tooth with a jade filling. There were several volcanic rock 3 legged
seats where the jade was “rolled”. There are intricate etchings of designs, usually symmetrical, on these
volcanic rock seats. A simple bow and string instrument was used to carve into a block of jade. After
polishing, the final product was “set” or preserved with beeswax. After 90 minutes we were looking for
another adventure. Was so glad I had a chance to see this.
Adjacent to the Jade Museum was an art exhibit from an Argentinian painter. I looked at all 25 of
these paintings. Most featured only two colors: blue and yellow. They were very striking.
Across the street was a public school designed by Pierre Eiffel (as in the Eiffel Tower in Paris). It
was built in 1910 and is located next to the Spanish Plaza. There is a lovely, shaded garden there. We
then walked to the nearby Youth, Sports and Culture Center. Part of this complex was built in the 1850s
and had been home of the national distillery of liquors. At that point, no other homemade liquor was
legal. Plus, it could now be taxed.
I strolled through a few streets and bought ice cream from a sidewalk vendor. Sat in the shade to
enjoy the ice cream and watch school children play soccer. Next was some window shopping before
going inside and bought a shiny stone bracelet for Janet.
We walked some more until it was time for lunch. Went into a small restaurant and decided to “go
native”. Had a chalupa with tamarind juice and yucca fruita. Today's chalupa was a tortilla with lots of
lettuce, cabbage strings, tomatoes and bean dip. About half-way through lunch, Bob Simpson joined us.
It started to rain as we left (surprise). All four of us went to tour the Teatro Nacional (National Theater).
Built in 1897, it is the finest theater in Costa Rica, if not Central America. There was a humongous
chandelier and a beautifully painted domed ceiling with small angels and cherubim. Maroon colored
velvet seats looked inviting. There are three levels to the balcony. Beside the marble stairwells are gold
guilded woodwork. Wow, this was so elegant.
Bob split away from our group and headed towards the Jade Museum. Next, we tried to tour the
Gold Museum; but it was closed for the day. Such a disappointment. Will eventually have to come back
here on a future trip.
Then Wendy, Tyler and I went to one of the central shopping markets. There was ample opportunity
to do some bargain shopping. I bought a perched parrot for Bethany's room. There were dozens of stalls
of raw food products and herbs. That was certainly an interesting hour. As we were leaving, there was a
Marimba band on the sidewalk.
Now its time to take a taxi to the National Art Museum. Unfortunately it was closed today to set up
a new exhibit. Oh well... there is a nice park right there with a lake and sidewalk around it. There is a
large swath of bamboo and a nice water fountain in the center of the lake. At last years International Art
Exhibit, an architectural display representing each Latin American country was donated and left to
”circle the lake”. We enjoyed watching ducks, a few fishermen and several trees I'd never seen before.
The three of us caught a bus from San Jose back to Alejuela for 60 cents each. Got to listen to
interesting stories about Panama, Easter Island, the Cuban refugees, scuba diving, whale sharks, foster
children and movie making on Jekyl Island, Georgia.
The bus dropped us off about three blocks from the Methodist Center. A quick change and then we
are off to supper. Our large group walked about eight blocks and stopped at a super market to buy some
souvenir coffee. We then stopped at a Chinese restaurant. I ordered a chuleta de cerda and received a
big 14-inch pork chop, smothered in gravy and onions. Of course, a little salad, french fries, plantain,
plus rice and beans. I drank a ginger-ale and topped it off with flan de coco. Yummy!
We arrive back at the Methodist Center at 9:00. I was able to call Janet and Bethany. In bed at 10:30.
This has been a wonderful day and a terrific trip!
August 7, 1999 (Saturday)
3:05 seemed way too early to rise and shine. After packing the luggage on the bus, we pulled out at
4 a.m. And by 4:15 we were at the airport. Then there was a two hour wait. I found a grasshopper to
play with. Check-in went smoothly and the plane left at 6:40.
Breakfast on the plane was black beans and rice (surprise!), scrambled eggs with tomato and fresh
fruit. Flying over the Pacific Ocean I saw a few fishing boats near the coast. There was lush green, hilly
land as we flew over the El Salvador countryside. There was a short wait at the newly remodeled San
Salvador airport. Then, there was a short layover in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. I had a few hours to
write postcards. By 1:00 Louisiana is below us. I'm going through customs at 1:17. Very pleased that
my luggage arrives with me. It is time for a happy reunion with Janet and Bethany!
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