San José, Costa RicaMarch 21, 2017 in Costa Rica
Errr, remind me where we are again...
The Rich Coast, not to be confused with the Rich Port (Puerto Rico) is rumoured to be exactly that. We approached with caution, sound research and a firmly closed wallet.
By now we've already tallied up a healthy number of bus trips and we've got a few border crossings under our belt but we nailed this leg of the trip so well I think we did a movie style slow-motion-to-freeze-frame high-five when we got to San José. Here's how it went down.
It started with us waiting for our free hostel breakfast which had failed to meet it's 7.30am promise. At 7.55 - after much discussion as to when the bus left and what the time of day actually was - we grabbed our bags, bolted out the door and round the corner and jumped on the back of the bus which was literally already moving. Phew! We even got a seat! We were dreading heading back to Rivas which would involve retracing our steps but we found a bus that would drop us on the road side where we could wait for a different bus headed for the border. We had no timetable for said bus, but luck was with us and two minutes later it showed up whilst we were enjoying our stale bread for breakfast. We didn't get a seat, but the driver knocked 20 minutes of the target time and we were at the border by a shade after nine. Nailing unreliable public transport with efficiency like that is about as common as a blue moon so I was a very happy man, despite resenting our hostel for their lack of punctuality with our morning meal! A delightful start to the day and it only gets better.
We had very low hopes for the border. We've read horrible stories about delays of up to three hours, scams and unnecessary bus bookings for proof of a departure date. Observing numerous tour buses and a line of trucks longer than the road itself had us fearing the worst. It was not to be. We marched through both borders in moments, stopping only for a final bag of plantain chips and a double take on one immigration officer holding his hand in a gun position to the back of another's head! (obviously the Nicaraguan officers). 9.45am: Costa Rica - the streak continues! We changed our money (the hustlers at the border actually offer pretty good rates), popped into el baño and bought our bus tickets to San José. A 7 hour express, double decker, air conditioned coach departing at...10am! I boarded that bus with the biggest grin I've worn in a while, fitted myself nicely into my seat (for once!), reclined (!), and dozed off. We got to our accommodation in San José well rested and easily in time for dinner (even got a lumch stop!) - all for only AUD$17 including border fees. That one is going to be hard to beat, no doubt.
Costa Rica doesn't belong with the rest of Central America. It's much too green, much too developed and, in general, much too rich. It was definitely a shock to the system. The grass looked edible, the buildings were glazed and looked like they'd been designed, roads were paved, and cost of our dinner that night made home seem cheap (real western food, after all this time, was absolutely worth it)! Accommodation surprisingly, was indifferent (USD $10 pn).
The only reason we were in San José was for a yellow fever vaccine, as I had been too unprepared to get one before I left NZ and Colombia won't let you in without it. Cat again was on form, and found one Clinica Biblica which promised to offer the jab if they had it in stock. At the time of inquiry they did not, which was an understandable cause for concern. Expecting a long wait, we got there early yet we were in and out before you could say higgilty piggilty for a crushing USD$100 (not sure what you pay back home?). The only catch was that we had to cross town to pick up the official certificate from the Ministry of Health but that too, was trouble free and now we had an unexpectedly free day in San José!
San José reminds me a lot of home. Everybody we spoke to wrote it off including one incredibly grumpy British lady in our hostel who made a point of expressing her hatred for the city, the beaches and travelling in general to the extent where Cat and I really began to question her decision to leave the comfort of her couch, where she had clearly been spending some serious time. Despite all this, I thoroughly enjoyed it - you don't need long, unless you plan to partake in the numerous but very expensive day trips to out-of-town destinations. We enjoyed free buffet breakfasts, some delicious pulled pork sandwiches and coffees, the National Museum, nice cafés and a spot of shopping for our journey south to Patagonia in a month, for which clothing-wise we are (still) drastically unprepared. Cat especially. And ironically timed with her complaints of the 'cold' - a 17 degree low and a touch of light rain. If I'm worried for her, I'd hate to think what she's feeling herself. Time will tell.
The national museum was located in an old fort and unfittingly had a butterfly enclosure behind the walls. Very odd. We were just getting started in the museum when an unfriendly security guard gave us the boot as it was closing time...4.20pm. An early day for them I think. To the contrary, we actually had very friendly experiences with everyone we encountered in San José - surprising considering the hostility we were expecting from another Central American capital reputable for crime and violence.
Our accommodation (Trip On Open House) was actually really great for the price. Free buffet breakfast (did I say that already?), hot showers (our first since Guatemala), Netflix, good wifi, pool table and reassuringly situated directly opposite the president's house! My only qualms was that I couldn't fit square-on between bunks and we had another blooming powercut mid-mince-cook on an electric stove.
Well worth the stop, even if it was just for a vaccine. Hopefully we haven't missed out on too much else! Next stop Turrialba, and our streak continues with another perfectly timed uber to bus connection (yes they have uber!).Read more