Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Welcome to Costa Rica

Question #1: Why do I always manage to catch a cold in the tropics? This one is mild, thank goodness, not like the monster I caught in Thailand that nearly made my head explode on the flight home. Three days later and I'm mostly back to normal. Still, I don't get it.

At the moment I'm in Ciudad Colon, not far from San Jose, Costa Rica. The big lesson so far: whenever possible when traveling, go stay with someone who lives in the country in question, particularly if the happen to be affiliated with a university which happens to be affiliated with the UN, like the University for Peace here in Colon, where my friend Samantha happens to be a student. Major perks. The rundown so far:

My plane to San Jose left JFK at 5am Friday morning, so I booked a Supershuttle to pick me up just before midnight at the apartment. Everyone else would be sound asleep by 10, I figured, so why not get out of the house early and catch a few hours' sleep at the gate rather than staying up late to wait for a shuttle at some ungodly morning hour, or worse yet trying to wake up at 2am to catch it. Well, that didn't work. My first mistake was a rather strong rum drink at Cuba Cafe with Monika earlier that evening, which made even midnight a difficult target to stay up for. I slept in the van on the way in, but when I got to JFK the security checkpoint to my gate was closed. Terminal 4 has a nice shopping concourse down an escalator from check-in but still outside security, so I wasn't stuck by the doors to outside (unlike a similar early-morning flight experience going to Bermuda senior year), but the concourse was bustling enough with airport workers and families taking 2 or 3am flights to god knows where - their gates, unfortunately, were behind different security points than mine - that sleep was impossible. The store just down the corridor whose theft alarm kept going off didn't help either.

(Side note - I was chilly there, so I wrapped my scarf around my head to keep warm. I definitely got some less-than-comfortable looks from passers-by. And yes, I took it off before I went through security - 3am enhanced TSA patdowns were not high on my to-do list.)

Just after 3 security opened to my gate. Surprisingly enough they didn't question the block of tempeh in my carryon. That would have been a fun explanation: "Well, officer, it's kinda like chunky tofu... Yes, you eat it. Well, I do anyway." Boarding was just after 4, and 5am we were in the air. I was out cold.

Copa Airlines isn't bad, by the way. The food's no better than you'd get on, say, Delta, but they give you real metal silverware, which I appreciate, and the leg room's no worse than any other coach seat. I'd fly them again.

Quick layover in Panama City and I got in to San Jose at around 11:30am local time. Taxi to Samantha's, and I chatted with the landlady for a bit until she & her fiance, Arvil, got home from class. After lunch we took the bus up the mountain to the UPeace campus, which is lovely. That night was an Asian cultural night, with food and performances from all over the continent. This being a UN school, they actually have students from quite a few countries - including one from Kyrgystan, whose food tasted Russian, full of dill (not that that's a bad thing), but whose traditional dress was awesome. From Indonesia there was a poco-poco dance and chicken sate; Samantha and I both wore batik.

Saturday morning we went to the market and had lunch at a soda, a traditional Costa Rican cafe-type place. The food here is nothing spectacular, lots of rice and beans and avocados and fried plantains, but it's good in a low-key sort of way. I had a drink made from the cas fruit, which tasted like the love child of a guanabana and a grapefruit. In other words, delicious. That night was a surprise 50th birthday party for the landlady, complete with a mariachi band, giant dancing traditional puppets, and the most spectacular birthday cake I've ever seen, all for about 80 of her closest friends and family. The puppets were the best part, big cloth-covered wire constructions that sat on the wearers shoulders with big paper-mache heads shaped like skulls, devils, policemen, and in one case, no head at all but just a bloody neck. The point seemed to be that they twirled and jogged around to the music and chased people, and occasionally snuck up behind you and bent down and tapped their head against you in an indescribably unsettling way. The pictures came out great.

Sunday was rainy and cool so we stayed in, struggled mightily to get some work done, and watched the Star Trek movie. Monday Samantha & Arvil had 6 hours of class, so I took a bus into San Jose. I saw the jade museum and the museum of pre-Columbian gold, which were pretty neat, and the central market, which wasn't bad, and wandered around for just long enough to realize that San Jose isn't that great a city, and took the bus back. That evening was a reception for UPeace students at the Dutch ambassador's house (again, the perks of UN affiliation), and they were nice enough to invite me along. Good wine, good hors d'oeuvres, a productive chat with one of the professors, and I get to say I went to the Dutch ambassador's house in Costa Rica. Not bad at all.

And today: packing, mostly, then at 2:30 I get on a bus up to the Monteverde cloud forest reserve. I was hoping for the beach but it's supposed to be rainy all week, so I figured I may as well go somewhere where the humidity's always 100% regardless, so what's a little rain gonna do? Already got the zipline canopy tour booked. Will post later re: monkeys & such.

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