Jan
08
2009
1

I’m OK

Just heard about the earthquake today in San Jose, holy crap. I was just there two days ago! 6.2 on the Richter. Very scary – dozens dead, even more missing, over a thousand stranded or homeless. Wow, that was a close call. My heart goes out to all of those people.

This would be a good time to give you my new phone number, which will be good for the next couple of weeks while I’m here in Panama: +507 6583-0980.

Written by in: Costa Rica,Panama |
Jan
06
2009
0

San José, Costa Rica

I’m feeling the pull towards South America. Maybe it’s the geography all beginning to look the same, or wanting to make sure I have enough money left to see S.A., or the fact that it’s been downhill since Guatemala (that sounds dramatic.. all I mean is that each of the successive countries have been great and all, but not the level of fascinating people and varied geography that Guatemala has to offer.) Whatever the reason, I’m pushing South. I probably could have seen more of Nicaragua and enjoyed it, but I’m pressing on.

I knew from the beginning that I would probably skip most of Costa Rica simply because it’s so expensive and touristy, but I’ve recently been reading other reasons to skip it. Although it’s considered the Switzerland of Central America, having been a democracy for 100+ years and never succumbing to the civil wars of it’s neighbors, it’s now experiencing some troubles. Perhaps because it’s the tourist destination for over 2 million North Americans per year, there is rising crime. Development is progressing unchecked, to the point where the infrastructure is pushed to the brink. Water tables are being tapped dry, sewage is being dumped in the ocean next to formerly pristine beaches, security is bad, scams galore. It’s ironic, since the solitude and unblemished nature is what attracted tourists in the first place. Greed takes over and destroys.

It’s a busy time of year to be traveling. The minibus from Leon to Managua had a live rooster on it which crowed a few times at first, but was amazingly silent the rest of the trip. Maybe they slit it’s throat, who knows. The kids amaze me too – you’ll go through a 10-hour bus ride with little kids who remain so calm and quiet the entire time. I think we spoil our kids, somehow encouraging them to whine and cry. There must be some reason they’re so well behaved down here.

As for the bus from Managua to Costa Rica, I was lucky to get the last seat on the last bus (out of five per day!), simply because I happened to buy my ticket a couple of days prior, in Leon. My theory is that most of the people traveling now are Nicaraguans home for the holidays who are now going back to their jobs in Costa Rica, because the pay is better. I was the only honky on the bus.
The scenery on the journey was beautiful as usual. We passed an enormous wind farm, which made me happy. Those turbines are ginormous. The border crossing was alright, Costa Rica makes it pretty easy. Once again, the bus conductor took all our passports, paperwork, and money and disappeared for a while to sort it out. Great, better him than me. After we got through the Nicaraguan side and were waiting to enter Costa Rica (you need to go through the rigamarole twice, for both exit and entry stamps), he came on the bus and asked if people would like to contribute towards a tip for the border official in exchange for getting us through faster. A big cheer went up, we all threw money in the bag, and.. waited.

I’m fascinated by all the vendors and money changers that operate in the no-man’s land of the border zones. Here is a photo of one, along with a picture of the border official handing back our stack of passports before we could get back on the bus.
I’ve done pretty well at not having much currency left over as I cross into a new country. Oddly, banks in neighboring countries don’t take each other’s currency. You either have to convert it to dollars before you leave (but then you have nothing for the journey), or convert with the hecklers at the border, who don’t give a good rate. Just have a gander at the math I’ve been doing on a daily basis: 1 U.S. Dollar equals 18.8 Honduran Lempiras, or 7.75 Guatemalan Quetzales, or 518 Costa Rican Colons! It’s like the old days in Europe. There has been talk of unifying into one currency in C.A., but who knows if (or when) that will happen.

I’m in the capital of Costa Rica (San José) at the moment, just here for a couple of nights to break up the journey between Nicaragua and Panama. It’s a modern city with a lot to offer. There are a lot of theatres, unfortunately they are all dark this week. I went to their contemporary art museum which I give an ‘A’ for effort, even if none of the exhibits resonated with me. There are three modern dance companies based in the same complex. I also saw a poster for a screening of The Metropolitan Opera, live in HD. Weird but cool I guess, if you love the opera but can’t make it to New York – HD is the next best thing. Except they were charging $25!

National Theatre

National Theatre

I never know what to make of security warnings, but people stopped me on the street on two occassions to warn me not to walk where I was headed. And I was right downtown, near the CBD! One of the people wanted a tip in exchange for walking me through the ‘bad area’, pointing out all the muggers and drug dealers. I figured it was worth the buck for the chat if nothing else. Apparently there are areas of town where you can rent guns by the hour! (actually, there is a four-hour minimum. Not sure if they take a deposit, major credit card, or check ID). The regular beat cops walking the streets wear full-on bullet-proof outfits, which gives you some idea of the situation. But through it all, the streets are full of  people shopping for their Chanel purses and trendy shoes. Life goes on.

In general, the prices seem to be about twice that of neighboring countries, or comparable to a small town in the U.S. The main market downtown is wonderful. Much cleaner and less chaotic than markets in neighboring countries – tile floors, brightly lit. There are dozens of tiny lunch counters, like you might find in Asia. Some of them are only 6′ x 12′ with stools all around; the food is prepared up a ladder and sent down by dumbwaiter. I’ve had a couple of great meals at these places, all for super cheap. Fish soup, ceviche, typical breakfasts of stirred eggs with rice and beans, plaintains.

Wanting to hang with people, I found a gringo country & western bar! Which turned out to have an Italian tranny bartender, completely making my evening. Chatted with a drunk vietnam vet who had a book on Banksy, one of my favorite culture jammers.
Tomorrow it’s off to Panama!

Cool & creepy

Cool & creepy

Irony

Irony

strange fruits

strange fruits

Naturally, Jesus is in the market!

Naturally, Jesus is in the market!

Progress

Progress

Written by in: Costa Rica | Tags: , ,

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