I took a short break from Angel Valley Farm B&B for five days to do a Pacific Coast road trip. I traveled with new friends Joe and Jen (not quite married yet), and Jen’s Uncle Ed. Joe and Jen started on July 4, managing “Vida Tropical,” our sister B&B in Alajuela, near the airport. Jen’s Uncle Ed is considering retiring here.
There are some pictures interspersed throughout this entry of the road trip.
We did the entire trip by bus. Let me talk about the buses here. Yes, Central American buses can be brutal. Having had experience with buses in Guatemala and even less pleasant countries, I was not sure what to expect here in Costa Rica (CR). I have, however, been pleasantly surprised. They are clean, on-time, and you can go from one end of the country, north to south, or from the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean to the aqua blue of the Caribbean Coast for under $4!
The buses here do not have air conditioning, but they are not hot, especially if you open your window (and you must open your window because in most cases the windows are too dirty to see clearly out of!).
We took the bus from here in San Ramon to San Jose, and then caught a direct bus to Manuel Antonio (pronounced “Manwell Antonio”), our first stop on the mid-Pacific coast.
The bus station in San Jose is quite a scene! Called “Coca Cola” because there was a Coca-Cola bottling plant there 50 odd years ago, is an interesting place. Situated next to an all-purpose bazaar selling everything from vacuum cleaners to chickens, it is a bit of a sketchy area, filled with people inside and out hawking their wares. Several taxi drivers wanted to drive us to Manuel Antonio for $100. Why I ask would I want to pay that much when the bus ride was only $2.50? I just don’t think the bus station in the gritty part of San Jose, where the lower middle class and poor are traveling from, is the place to find customers willing to pay more than 40 times the bus fare
for an air-conditioned taxi!
I love living like a Tico and it’s much cheaper.
A very odd display at the Coca Cola bus depot was the plethora of American ex-pats hanging out there. Definitely a fringe element whether in CR or even the U.S., these guys were easily going back and forth between English and Spanish dealing with various minor crises with the local merchants. I don’t get why ex-pats would be hanging around the inner-city bus station in a hot, dirty and generally rancid area? Well, on a positive note, several of these vagrants knew (or claimed to know) Manuel Antonio, Quepos and Jaco (“ha-co”), well. “Quepos is good for fishing but a dirty town.” “Jaco, great surfing but too built up now.” “M.A., too gay.” Etc. etc…..
We arrived in MA about 5:30pm (6 hours since our start) and Joe, Jen and Uncle Ed disembarked complete with lunch meat, cheese and bread to last for weeks.—they like to bring their food or cook on the road rather than eat out—and immediately gorged on their cancer sticks, while I chatted with the local “runners” about hotel accommodations. One young guy actually said he remembered
me from last trip to MA in December, and I believed him because he mentioned my friend Gamma, a tour guide there (who I saw later that night).
I really like MA. It’s rustic but sophisticated enough to attract diverse and interesting people, along with tourists of course. Being the off-season, our hotel, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, complete with cable TV and air-conditioning (a must for me in humid climates), was a great deal. You just have to love a town that has a national park complete with sloths and monkeys butting up against the white sand beaches. MA also has a butterfly farm, several spas, and plenty of bars and clubs. Some R&R for two nights there was definitely worth the long bus ride!
Belch, Belch, Belch!! Get the picture? Even though Quepos is a popular tourist destination (though it was a ghost town when we arrived on Sunday with everything shut down) just 3 km north of MA, I do not see the attraction this town supposedly holds. Yes, it’s on the water and it is supposedly a good jumping off spot for deep sea fishing, but it does nothing for me. It’s dirty,
Loved swimming here!
feels dangerous, and the streets are littered with young women and men plying their trade, mostly themselves, not to mention any kind of drug one could imagine.
I was in Jacó briefly about five years ago, and what changes occurred since then! Jacó is the quintessential surfer town with surfer dudes of all types from all places. When I first visited, while even then a surfer’s paradise, it was basically a two- or three-block strip of road with small buildings fronting the beach. It remains that way, only now it is about 20 blocks long with many more hotels, typical tourist traps, restaurants and so on. That said, it retains a terrific laid back type of feeling with little pressure to buy stuff or otherwise be motivated to do something.
So we spent a few days on the surf—not surfing mind you, rather wading—because the water was terrific! There were great waves with an almost dangerous undercurrent but not quite enough to knock over this increasingly burly, aging body of mine. The only problem I had in Jacó was in getting my laundry done. I had run out of clean clothes by the end of our
trip and decided at $3, it was worth having someone else do my laundry. Well, I drop off my clothes in the morning the day BEFORE leaving so I could pick it up that evening, about six or seven hours later, then I’d leave the next day. The nice, non-bilingual lady in the tiny lavendera, so small she didn’t even have a washer or dryer (I guess they outsource in Costa Rica too) told me the laundry would be ready at 5:30pm. She even wrote it on a piece of paper for me as I’m still learning how to say the time in Spanish. What she did not tell me is that it would be ready at 5:30pm manana. After much haranguing with her, and my frustration with her lack of English, and more importantly, my lack of Spanish, we negotiated, or better, she told me that she’d have it back by 9:20am the next morning (yes, I also found 9:20am to be an odd time). So, of course, it was ready by 10:30am and I made my bus at noon. I learned a good lesson though—manana really is manana.
A great time at Costa Rica’s Pacific beaches overall!
Nice town for sure
Meanwhile back at the Finca (farm)…..
The rest of this week’s entry is an assortment of interesting or to some perhaps, meaningless items, but all the same of interest to me (and it’s my blog damn it!).
EARTHQUAKE! Okay, tremors. As I write this from my local and favorite (okay, the only one) bar and restaurant, “Mi Rancho,” just across from the B&B, I watched with mi amigo/bartender Andres, the set of TVs on the wall, the ceiling fans, and not to mention the rather sturdy wood bar I’m at, shake rather violently! Earlier, at the house I was in my office and all of a sudden the desk and wall unit I built shook. Amazing to me as I’ve never felt a tremor before, I immediately called my neighbor Paul and sure enough he confirmed it was a “pretty good one at that.”
Getting the house upgraded or getting much of anything done here suggests the proverbial, “two steps forward, one step back,” for sure! Take the recent problem with my laptop computer. I came back from the beach to discover my laptop was not working—and Beth swears she did nothing. I suspected immediately that
Had quite a few beers here!
the problem was with the power cord as the AC transformer was just not warming up as it should be when functioning properly. Here is how I got a new power cord for my laptop:
1. Visit all five “computartard” stores and “electrico” stores in San Ramon, being endlessly referred to the next store by each, with the final shopkeeper telling me, “Go to San Jose.”
2. Being as bright as I think I am, Beth and I drive to Escazu instead, an upscale suburb of San Jose with tons of Americans and good stores, figuring I’d find the power cord there. “Go to the Multiplaza in San Jose,” I was told at three different stores. Oh well, so much of ingenuity, and we headed to San Jose.
3. San Jose. Given the limited street signs and my very poor sense of direction, I could not find “Multiplaza,” even though I had been there twice before. Okay, we’re up to about 3.5 hours searching for this damn cord though Beth was remarkably patient about it.
4. PAYDIRT! Traversing the ridiculously crowded streets of San Jose, I see Mecca ahead of me, a sign on a shop that says, “Toshiba authorized dealer,” the brand of my laptop. We walked in a very nice bi-lingual man in his 50s called his son/business partner and one hour later, I had a power cord (two of them actually, one for backup, and yes, $300! Import taxes are mucho heavy here). While waiting for the power cord, Luis showed us where the “soda” (CR equivalent of a diner, which I LOVE) was down the street—“my mother loved this place,” and “at $2, I don’t know how they do it so cheap; it’s cheaper than eating at home!” After lunch, we met Luis’ well-dressed and well-mannered son, and his wife, who is a dentist and runs the dental clinic next door. Hey, why not have a dentist next to a computer store right? Luis’ wife was lovely also and spoke fluent English as well, and told us she had family in San Ramon. They are going to try to hook us up with a landscaper in San Ramon which we desperately need. All and all, while lengthy, our sojourn to San Jose (and Escazu) was successful!
Food, Food, Semi-Glorious Food….
Mentioning the soda earlier, lets talk a bit about the food here (okay, we are not having a discussion, this is way one-sided huh?). First, for all you vegetarians and vegans out there, CR is not the best place for you unless you plan to garden extensively. Ticos’ staple foods are meats and starches. Speaking of starches, in EVERY restaurant I’ve been in so far, I have yet to have real mashed potatoes. I am certain they are not real because they taste exactly like the instant potatoes my mother used to whip up when I was a child. You will be lucky if you get one slice of a barely ripe tomato, a few limp pieces of lettuce or a little coleslaw with your meat. I love the food here but I need my veggies every so often even though they are not a pleasurable experience for me unless they are topped with “dipping sauce,” as my eight year old nephew Grant knows it. The “tipico” Tico dish is a “casado,” and it basically includes meat, rice, beans, coleslaw and a tomato slice. I love it though. For $1.66 at the local soda next to the horse feed/chicken feed/pest control store in San Ramon, you get a very filling dinner-sized casado. Even if you speak little Spanish, you can go anywhere here and ask for a casado and be confident it will have items you recognize and will likely enjoy. Okay, I admit the meat in a casado is generally an el cheapo cut of beef, but it’s almost always tender and well seasoned.
Back at the B&B, Beth is working on having all locally-grown and produced breakfast items. So far, we have fresh unpasteurized milk, more like cream actually, from a cow I see regularly—my God, what’s my life coming to!? We also have eggs from our very own chickens, amazing tamales made by our neighbor’s cleaning lady, mangoes, local sausages, and quite a few great juices, not to mention tremendously rich CR coffee. The breakfast will surely be selling point of this place (already is actually), which is largely why I am only one of the “B’s” in “B&B.” Hey, I’m great at organizing my bookmarks for my favorite Internet sites (hee hee) so I have my talents too!
The other day we had materials delivered to build a new chicken coop. We are building two smaller coops, one for younger, mucho-egg producing chickens and one for the older chickens, soon to be “chicken a la king” or some such thing (just kidding!). Actually, Chico and his college-aged son Mauricio are building it. I just watch and occasionally say “Buenos” or “perfecto!” You should always compliment your staff right? I like watching them work together as they appear to be a great father-son team. Chico points and his son does the work! Actually, Chico is a very hard worker, and at nearly 50, he is in the same shape as a 20 year old. I still don’t know what I owe Chico for his work since we arrived here, by the way, as he apparently doesn’t like asking (I’ve asked though), but at a buck an hour, he’s worth his weight in gold, particularly doing things I cannot do or I’m not interested in doing.
The point of the whole chicken coop story is not about the building of the coop, as interesting as it surely is; rather it is about paying the local “ferreteria” or hardware store for the materials. Even though they delivered everything we needed, you still have to go down to the store in person, suck up to everyone there, and pay your bill—in cash very preferred—and presto, you have an account on credit. They deliver stuff the same day whenever you need it; just go down there a few days later and pay your bill. One benefit of being a gringo is that you get credit rather easily, certainly much easier than a Tico can. Fernando, my neighbor, was very nice to take me there and introduce me around. By the way, Beth bought the best shovel in the store for a whopping $5! I swear though, while Beth was shovel shopping, Fernando discussed my bill with the clerk (in Spanish) for a full 15 minutes. Cash or credit!? How hard could it be? Well, I learned that the reason payment by credit card payment is so loathed here is that fraud is rampant in Central America and the banks that issue Visa cards and MasterCard’s, along with our friends at AMEX, charge merchants 7% or more on each purchase. I know from my US Airways days that the U.S. average is about 2.5%. So, I understand that, and yes, for now, the B&B is a cash-only business, dollars or colones, but that’ll change over time.
Wow, this was a long entry this time! I hope you enjoyed it. More next week!
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