Going the Wrong Dirrection – From Panama to Costa Rica

Here I am … in Costa Rica … third time this year. Why you’d ask? Well, since I thought I would go to Nicaragua to volunteer for three months, I left my backpack with a lot of crap in San Jose and had to go back and get it sorted out.

A lesson learned: “Don’t think you will stick to your plan when you travel. You will always meet someone or decide to do something more exciting than you thought you would.” And do not think that you can travel with two backpacks. It’s impossible.

I almost thought the voyage back to Costa Rica was a waste of time and money if not a four-day trip with my dear Mexican friend Mar to La Cruz, salsa en la calle and getting my life a bit organized.

So far La Cruz has been a cherry on a cake of Costa Rica. It’s located in Guanacaste, almost on the border with Nicaragua and has the most beautiful virgin beaches I have ever seen in my life. No cement, no tourists, no McDonalds. What can be better?

The first day Mar and Marina woke up at 7am and went to explore la mar de la Cruz. We walked about 30 km through sun and sand, small rocks and big boulders, saw cows and horses, poor villages and expensive hotels. We bathed and tanned, had beer and water, ice cream and tortillas, beans and tomatoes until we got to the very end of the peninsula: El Jobo.

It was about 5 pm and we were tired and ready to take a bus back to La Cruz. Little we knew that the beach and the village had the same name and were pretty far apart and the bus wasn’t any near where we were. On the beach we saw two Tico guys drinking their Imperial and enjoying reggaeton.

– Excuse us – we said. Do you know where we can catch a bus?

– Oh chicas, you are pretty far. The bus is about 30 min from here.

So we walked, walked, and walked. It felt like we walked about 5 km when we run into an older Guanacastecan worker.

– Excuse us – we said – is the bus stop far from here?

– Oh, about 30 min.

We kept walking. When we finally got to a bar and had a Coke, a bartender said we were about 30 min away from the bus stop.

So we kept walking. On the way we met a crazy cow who somehow got out from the razor-ribbon fence and was running around the road. I don’t think I have ever been so scared of a cow in my life! Her eyes were all over us and you could tell she was pretty far if we were to take off and run. As a biologist, Mar suggested we get to the other side of the fence where the cow was. And that what we did. While we were sliding to the other side of the razor-ribbon barrier, carefully watched by a crazy cow, the same worker was passing by in a car and asked if we needed a ride.

Tired, dirty, and smelly, we gladly accepted and climbed in his old SUV. 5 min later we were happily eating ice cream and waiting for our bus. After a good cold shower, we headed to the town that had a fiesta! Arriba!

Next two days were spent in Liberia, waterfalls, and Playa de Coco. If you can avoid those places, please do, but we were happy we went.

The last few days were spent packing and re-packing. I will never again travel with so P1020906much stuff and two backpacks. It’s crazy. I had to donate cloth to a poor cleaning lady that helps Catalina around the house and mail my backpack back to Oregon.

Tomorrow morning is a busy day. My visa for Colombia should be ready at 8am and then Mar and I are taking off to Panama City from where….. Colombia here I come!

 

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Zapatero

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This morning I woke with a hope of going to a farm with the girls. We were supposed to meet in the morning in Heredia but due to lack of internet connection and absence of cell phone I ended up taking an hour bus trip and coming back. It has been a month without a cell phone; a pretty cool, ancient feeling. It makes you communicate better, plan things more effectively and think ahead of time. Sometimes it works but sometimes, like today, it didn’t.

I took the bus back to the center of San Jose. Sundays in Costa Rica are dead and empty days. The majority of stores are closed, people are either at home or church. From time to time, here and there, there are little gatherings and music.

On the way back home I stop by supermarket Christal to get a crispy baguette. When I arrived, Catalina told me that the guy on a bike full with a bunch of stuff in front of our house fixes shoes for only $2. I was hoping to fix my newly bought sandals that lost its hills cover in the first two hours of walking. Caramba! ***With his permission I took a picture. 

It’s always like that: anything that doesn’t happen always brings something else, even cooler.

Cartago and Volcan Iguazu

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On Friday night the girls came over to go out dancing.YES! We finally went out to a local club Pepper’s and danced. FOR REAL! There were guys who could dance, there was a life band that played cool songs and the place that could support it all. We danced till 2:30am and left with a satisfied soul full alegria. Why does dancing make me so happy??? 

The girls spent the night in the house. In the morning we had coffee and bread with sour cream. Why sour cream? Because I thought I was buying Cheese Cream but accidently bought Sour Cream. The cream it was!

Than we took a bus to Teatro National to take another one from there to Irazu at 8am. That was a big stretch after a night of dancing. At the volcano we had about 3 hours to walk around, take pictures and eat a bunch of bready stuff. All we brought and bought was pasta, bread, tortillas, empanadas, and donuts.The bread tastes better with even more bread! YUMM!

In the afternoon we didn’t have electricity in the house. Cata and I went for a walk to the pueblo. There was a free concert by Chiqui Chiqui, the oldies band of Costa Rica. Everyone was dancing in cowboy hats and drinking a lot of Imperial. We watched people and headed to a little cute soda to get a strawberry ice cream cone. It was delish!

About Costa Rica

1. BUSES and PUBLIC TRANSPORT: The best I have experienced so far. You can get from the middle of nowhere to another middle of nowhere by any anything. It’s cheap, easy and the bus drivers drop you off by request. The taxis are super cheap and they are everywhere. Just look for the official ones.

2. DANCING: I haven’t had a chance to go out besides on the Carribean side but I haven’t danced with a single man who can dance. Peper’s Dance Club in San Jose is a good option and Merecumbe has fun dance classes

3. DIRRECTIONS and SLANG: There are no street names or numbers. When you ask a local how to get to a place it feels you are in a Vikings game. Not only can’t they explain how to get places but also talk to you in pure slang. Although, when you get to the final destination you feel like a HERO!

-agarre la lata (take a bus)

-agarre un pirate (take a taxi)

-la harina (Money)

-tomar yodo(drink coffee) There are bunch of other really fun one

4. FOOD: Rice and beans, empanadas for breakfast and cafesito.

5. MEN and WALKING ON THE STREET: My morning normally starts with roof workers yelling to me on theBuses and Taxis way to school “Buenos Dias Preciosa.” Other things I heard so far: “If the angels were falling from the sky that would be you.” “Que bonita!” “Hello Beautiful” etc… Basically if you wear anything about the knee length you are noticed. 
6. PEOPLE (TICOS) : Have beautiful smiles, very helpful, happy and nice. Love them!

7. RELIGION: It feels it’s everywhere starting from each and every bus to almost each and every conversation you can have with almost every local. “Gracias a Dios” is a widely common expression.

8. SAFETY: Keeping the bag in front of you and hiding the passport in a money belt are necessary. Walking after dark is unsafe. 7:30sh pm is the cut-off time for me. I am literally running from the bus to the house keeping pepper spray and keys in hands after my dance classes.

9. SHOES: Last for about 3 hours if bought new. The quality of streets are poor and the walking is intensive.

10. VOLUNTEERING: I spent 5 days volunteering at a kindergarten for low income families. The intention was to help with kids and teach them a bit of English. It ended up being a bunch of cleaning, swapping, and mopping. After day 5 I refused to come back and went to help world-based organization where we taught English to a few street ladies. That was a blast.

Limon and Cahuita

After meeting this really cool Haitian girl Christela at Volcano Poás last weekend we decided to take a weekend trip to Cahuita, the Caribbean town on the Atlantic side.

She planned and reserved everything. All I had to do was say “Yes, I am coming!” With a bunch of sweets, bread, and chips in our backpacks a super nice Mexican girl Mar, her mom Marta, and an American girl Ksenya occupied the back row of a bus. Five hours later there we were – in CAHUITA!

When we arrived to the bus stop a huge painting of Bob Marley inside a barber shop caught my attention. Red, green, and yellow colors dominated in the town. Foreigners and locals were riding bicycles. A light breeze of sea, smoked fish, and marihuana were flying in the air. And all we could hear was – REAGGAE. It was chill.

I love this place I thought. We headed towards the town to look for our hostel.

-What are you looking for? Asked a skinny black man in Perfect English.

-Secret Garden Hostel, we said.

-Follow me, I live next door.

***In my head I was thinking. Hopefully he is not going to take us to HIS Secret Garden. After a few weeks in San Jose I started to be very cautious about people, walking in a dark, keeping my bag in front of me, and acknowledging any comments.

We arrived to the hostel where were welcomed by a skinny Dutch lady who spoke pretty good English and very broken Spanish. We got our keys, changed and got the information about the most important – a party.

A bunch of older white people and beautiful dreadlocked locals were singing, dancing and of course smoking at Reggae Bar on the other side of the village. The kids were running around playing soccer, the dogs were coming in and out, the grill was steaming and the party cooking. We had our bottle of Imperial, bounced for a few hours and headed back to the hostel as on Saturday we were off out and about to the National Park of Cahuita early in the morning.

It took us about 5 hours to walk 10 km, climb a palm tree a few times, play in the ocean, and take a picture of every bug and bee we saw on the way. After a long hike we had more rice and beans, 5 beers for 3800 colones, and life reggae music at Coco Bar. I was so much fun that we couldn’t resist to come back after a siesta to dance some merengue and more REGGAE.


*** I have to say that so far I haven’t had any luck dancing with any one in Costa Rica. Maybe I just got spoiled by all the Cubans and awesome Americans who can dance?

On Sunday morning we were up at 7:30 am, made 15 scramble eggs, packed, checked out, and took a bus to Puerto Limon. There, everything was closed besides a church and shoe stores. Was not worth going. 

Day Trip to Volcan Poas

This is probably the most beautiful place I have seen in my life.

Bus Schedule: http://www.liberiacostaricainfo.com/BusScheduleCostaRica.html

It was an hour ride from Alajuela. We stopped to get breakfast and then, before the national park, to get the tickets.

-Uno, por favor, I said to get a ticket.

-Nacional?

If you are confident with your Spanish you might as well say yes and hope they don’t check your ID.

The difference between the national ticket and the tourist was about $9. I wish I could have lied but I said I wasn’t from there and paid the full price. We had about 4 hours at the park. That was enough to hike each of the two trails two times, to have homemade ham sandwiches, and take a bunch of pictures.

It always amazes me how much satisfaction and peace you get from looking at the nature. It’s so powerful! Standing only a few kilometers away from an active volcano makes you realize how little and insignificant you are. It gets deeply into you.

Pharmacy in Costa Rica

If you saw my huge burn on my back from a recent trip to the beach you would be speechless. I look like a lobster with a huge blister all across my back. I can barely sleep, move, dress up, lean on the back of a chair, or bend down. I have to literally stand still like a Queen’s Guard at the royal residence to feel good.

On Saturday I thought I will be fine without sunscreen, on Sunday I put the sun screen on but thought I should be fine on the beach for 5 hours, on Monday I bought a tube of Aloe Vera and today I had to go the pharmacy for real medicine. It’s a second degree burn.

When I stepped my foot into a pharmacy,  a very nice guy asked what he can help with and I told him that I have blisters.  He looked at my feet and I had to specify that it was on my back. I got burned.

-How did you get burned?

-It’s sunburn and I might need antibiotics, I said.

He went to the back and brought a professionally looking cream of Sulfadiazina de Plata Genfar and another tube of Aloe Vera.

-Let me ask if the doctor can see you, he said.

I was thrilled. After a few years of living in the States there was no such a thing as giving medicament without prescription or seeing a doctor without even knowing your name. A nice lady came out, took me to the back, looked at the blister and said:

-Wow! That’s the biggest blister I have seen.

She gave me a few creams, painkillers, Aloe Gel and said to check back in a few days!

Hopefully, the blister will go away pretty soon. But experiences like this make you get better even faster. PURA VIDA!

Courage, En Pied and Jaco

I gotta tell ya: « It takes a lot of courage to travel by yourself.” This weekend I went to Jacó, a surfing beach on the Pacific side.

I woke up at 4:45am, had a plate of gallopinto (rice and beans), got dressed and took the bus to San José. Not knowing where to go I run around looking for el Terminal Coca Cola to buy a ticket for $2065 colones ($4) to Jaco.

-One to Jaco at 7am, I said in espanol.

-We only have 7:45am “en pied” or the other at 8:45am.

-En pied?

-Si, en pied.

A bunch of ideas went through my head. Does this bus just go to Pied? Not to keep the line I gave the cahier $50,000 colones (about $100) and got the ticket for 7:45am. He gave me the change and I rapidly stuck in my pocket. Who cares to count, right?

While waiting at the bus stop there were a lot of gringas and I was dying to ask where “Pied” was.

When the time came to board I climbed on the bus and sat behind an obviously American girl. Two minutes later I realized that people were looking for a seat number on their tickets. I looked at my ticket and all it said was:

“En Pied.” Hm…

I leaned forward to the girl:

-Excuse me. Do you speak English?

-Yes!

-Is there supposed to be a seat number?

-You are En Pied! Standing!

CARAMBA!

I took my backpack and moved behind. The bus moved. 10 minutes later an older gentlemen from the front seat waived at me.

– ¿Yo?
– Si, si, tu!

I grabbed my pack and slowly, as a drunk salesman moved to the front of the bus.

A bus driver turned around:

-You don’t have to ride “en Pied”, you can seat next to me.

That was a VIP spot! I could see it all: mountains, volcanoes, bikers, runners, even crocodiles! Needless to say, I got to practice my Spanish with the nicest tico bus driver. That lasted for about an hour until the seat next to the ginga who helped me with that entire “en pied” thing became vacant. We started talking.

When we arrived to Jaco, two other girls met us at a ticket office to buy the return tickets. There it occurred to me that the cashier gave me change as if it was from 5000 colones ($10) and not 50000 ($100). Here is a lesson: COUNT YOUR MONEY BEFORE WALKING AWAY!

We headed to Taco Bar and had a delicious breakfast for $3. Then we headed to the beach where I got to know the girls and we got hit on by 5 ticos with a bunch of beer.

Here are the most common questions in Costa Rica:

-Where are you from?

-How old are you?

-Do you have a boyfriend?

Well… even with moving my ring to the left hand and saying that I have a serious boyfriend in Ukraine they wouldn’t leave us alone. We had to take off ourselves. The girls went to the bus stop and I went to find a hostel.

As much as I hate shopping I hate looking for hostels. I walked to the first one by the beach and got a room for $12. Then I went for a walk. While strolling on the main avenida I saw a cute guy with a backpack. We exchanged looks.

When I went back to my hostel guess who was my roommate?

-Do you smoke weed? He asked.

Who is this man? – I thought to myself but with open heart and sincere smile we ended up talking for at least 2 hours. He was a 24 yo Swedish truck driver who came to Costa Rica to surf.

The Sunday was spent on the beach and I GOT BURNED! Ouch ouch ouch… It was a real pain to get back home on the bus. When I got back there was a new a girl who arrived to Catalina’s house. She is 18 and did not speak any espanol!

After telling Catalina all about my trip she said that the cashier didn’t give me the wrong change. There is no 50000 colones in Costa Rica. Only 5000. AZUCAR! At least it will teach me to pay attention.

With pain, courage, and open heart it was a great weekend!

Cheers!

Where am I? – around San Jose

Maybe on the MOON! Costa Rica doesn’t have street names or numbers. EN SERIO! The address would be something like this:

From that tree that was there 15 yrs ago, head north about 100 meters to the white house with black little dog. From there turn left and walk south-east 200 meters until you see a Pharmacy. My house is the pink one with white columns.

Early in the morning after having a cup of delicious Costarican coffee and a plate of gallopinto (rice and beans) I went for a short walk. Good thing I remembered that I passed a random green house and our house had white flowers in front. If not I would be still walking in the neighborhood of San Jose until someone would ask if I were lost. And even then I would never be able to explain where I lived… NO IDEA!

I guess it’s time to learn my north, south, east, and west.

Tomorrow is a big day! I am going to start a Spanish class at 8 am. The biggest thing is that I found a DANCE class!

DANCE CLASSES IN SAN JOSE: Merecumbe http://www.merecumbe.net

SPANISH SCHOOL SAN JOSE: Epifania

http://www.epifaniaschool.com/

HOMESTAY SAN JOSE: Ask me

Getting around Costa Rica and San Jose

Costa Rica doesn’t have street names or numbers. The address would be something like this:

From that tree that was there 15 yrs ago, head north about 100 meters to the white house with black little dog. From there turn left and walk south-east 200 meters until you see a Pharmacy. My house is the pink one with white columns.

Early in the morning after having a cup of delicious Costarican coffee and a plate of gallopinto (rice and beans) I went for a short walk. Good thing I remembered that I passed a random green house and our house had white flowers in front. If not I would be still walking in the neighborhood of San Jose until someone would ask if I were lost. And even then I would never be able to explain where I live… NO IDEA!

I guess it’s time to learn my north, south, east, and west.

Tomorrow is a big day! I am going to start a Spanish class at 8 am. The biggest thing is that I found a DANCE class! Hallelujah! I will go and try out to see where they can place me.