Thursday, August 17, 2006
Travelogue: San Jose
Even at 1:30 in the morning, my fellow flighmates believed in cologne. And, apparently, a lot of it. I sat in the departure lounge and tried to rest my nose after the olfactory overload of the security checkpoint. Surprisingly, five different passengers came up to ask me questions .... in Spanish. Somehow, my telling them that I didn´t speak Spanish didn´t phase them at all. They continued in Spanish.
A guy from my school met me at the airport. I walked out of customs to find him with a piece of paper with my name pressed up against the glass. I felt like such a big wig! Of course, a big wig would never use the word "big wig."
Carlos drove me to the guest house and passed on safety tips ... which were all tips anyone who has traveled before, or frankly anyone who has lived in a city before, would know. But it was kind of sweet, kind of like having a local father. Driving from Alajuela (where the airport is) to San Jose proper, I was shocked by how much the area reminds me of Malaysia, and to a lesser extent India. The flora, the smells, the architecture, the "style of driving" etc.
San Jose does not have a lot going for it - it is a crowded city with absolutely no street signs. The address of my guest house? "Near the Pizza Hut, Paseo Colone" Not that you'd ever know it was the Paseo Colone. Not exactly tourist friendly.
I'm very glad I did the welcome package offered by my school. My first full day in Costa Rica, I went on a highlight tour with two other women staying at the guest house and some other tourists. We saw a coffee plantation, the Poas Volcano, La Paz waterfall, had lunch in a rainforest lodge (complete with tree frog sightings!) and took a boat down the Sarapiqui river. On the Sarapiqui, our guide would hightail it near shore everytime he spotted fauna he thought we should check out. So we saw big-ass iguanas, caimans (!), a crocodile (!!), bats, howler monkeys, etc. The animals here are a little unbelievable. For example, the tree frogs look like toys - teeny tiny and so brightly colored. I knew that they would be, but it's still difficult to look at one and think "You're so cute. When you are stressed you sweat out a deadly neurotoxin that can be absorbed by skin." Caimans and crocodiles? Yeah, that's Discovery Channel/Nature special type stuff. Logically, I always knew that they really existed, but coming face to face with it is a different story.
On Saturday, I went river rafting on the Rio Pacuare. Class III and IV rapids. Um, I've never been river rafting before. Why did I only realize that this could be an issue when our van was bumping down towards the boat put-in?? The road is on private property and was so steep dropping down to the river that it had switchbacks. Our guide was telling some apparently riveting story to the driver, who kept half an eye on him. I watched the drop, inches away from our tires, and wished that I could say "eyes on the road, buddy!" Of course, he's absolutely used to the drive (at least that's what I kept telling myself.)
Our group consisted of a bunch of American girls, and French guys. Not sure how it worked out that way (none of the Americans were traveling together.) The guides split us up into two groups. Not surprisingly, the girls got the male guide (the captain of the Costa Rican rafting team, I'll have you know.) The guys had the female guide (a member of the Costa Rican women's rafting team.) With about 5 minutes of explanations (NOT ENOUGH), we were on our way. Manuel was an awesome guide and gave us a really good ride - whenever we went through some really great rapids, we'd turn to watch the French guys. It always seemed like they were having a tamer time.
There was a slight mishap after lunch, our "safety kayak"er had his paddle break while he was in the middle of an eskimo roll, while he was stuck under he struck a rock really hard. With his chin. He came up bleeding, but with his teeth intact, thankfully. The kayak was stored on the French boat, and he hopped in with us (and yes, more than one person ribbed him by saying that if he wanted to paddle with the girls, he could have just asked.)
At one point, Manuel and Luis stood up on the edge of the raft to look at something down river. This, of course made us really nervous. When asked, Manuel said "well, there'a class V rapid that I think you could do." Uh, WHAT?!?!?! Yeah, well we did it. Later on, we went through a potentially dramatic situation. Somehow, we got stuck on a rock - you could hear the rubber squealing. Time slowed down - the woman sitting in front of me turned to look at me, and said "Oh shit" as the front of the boat went underwater. Somehow, we all got through that with everyone in the boat!
I was pleasantly exhausted after rafting. It really was a lot of fun, and it gave me a much better impression of how lush the area is. I've been meaning to go rafting in California, and now I'm more motivated to make that happen.
The next day, I headed to La Fortuna - near the Arenal volcano.