Welcome to the Jungle

From December 16th to the 30th, I accompanied my sister on a trip to Costa Rica. I’m not exactly sure what the big draw was, but I had nothing better to do and she had no one else to go with. In accomplished my two main goals – not to get murdered and not to get lost, in that respective order – we had a pretty awesome adventure in the process.

The Itinerary
12/16 – Left L.A., stop in Phoenix, arrived in San Jose, 7:00 pm local time.
12/17 – Exploration of San Jose, including various museums.
12/18 – Bus to Poas Volcano and back.
12/19 – Bus to Cartago (old capital) and back.
12/20 – Sister arrives, bus to La Fortuna. Arenal Volcano and hot springs.
12/21 – Van and boat ride to Santa Elena, nightwalk tour.
12/22 – Monteverde National Reserve and Sky Trek (canopy tour).
12/23 – Bus from Monteverde to Puntarenas, then over to Quepos.
12/24 – Visit Manuel Antonio National Park.
12/25 – Rained in. Movie marathon!
12/26 – Bus to San Jose, then to Limon.
12/27 – Boat through Tortuguero canals to the village.
12/28 – Boat tour of Tortuguero, back to Limon and San Jose.
12/29 – Souvenir shopping in San Jose.
12/30 – Left San Jose, stop in Phoenix, and back in Los Angeles.

When I arrived at the airport, I was confused as to which check-in counter I was supposed to go to, so I decided to ask some people already in line. The first group didn’t speak English, or at least, not well enough to help. I approached a second couple. Nope, no help there either. This was at LAX! Anyway, my belt set off the metal detector, subjecting me to a special one-on-one search. Luckily, it was not of the full-body variety, which meant that unlike the scene in the Beavis and Butthead movie, I did not end up asking myself, “Did I just score?” Not good times. Awkward times.

If you ever want to feel popular, just head over to the airport over at San Jose. Within two minutes of my exiting the terminal, I had at least eight cab drivers swarming all over me, asking if I needed help with my luggage or a cab or so forth. When I informed one of them I merely wanted to get to the ATM, he followed me practically halfway there. I couldn’t cross the street to get there without more drivers looking for business. This scene repeated itself at the docks in Moin, as various boat drivers (boatmen? whatever the fuck) actually started yelling at each other as we tried to get an estimate. Nice to be wanted, I guess.

On my second full day, I wanted to head to the Poas Volcano outside San Jose. Only one bus went back and forth daily, and the tour book suggested that I arrive early for the 8:30 am trek out. I woke up at 6:00, and made my way to the bus station by 7:00 am. After waiting nearly an hour and a half, I got pretty nervous. All these local buses kept coming by, but not the one I was looking for. Finally, at around 8:25, I asked one of the employees where this bus was. He then pointed out a second bus station… across the street. I hurried over there and approached a man. He said something in Spanish, then took off running. Unsure of what was going on, and urged on by another individual, I followed him. It turns out that the bus had just taken off, so we ended up chasing it a block down the road. It stopped at an intersection where I was able to get on. I was never able to thank the guy properly, but thanks, man.

I don’t think I spent my Christmas any differently than I would have in the States. It was raining hard, so I stayed indoors pretty much the entire day. I saw Kermit’s Swamp Years, this hilarious movie which involved a rescue at a biology class, and Sweet Sixteen, this terrible Olsen twins movie that wouldn’t end. Then I joined my sister for lunch at a restaurant that was showing Spider-Man and blaring Shania Twain. After that, it was back to the hotel for Ocean’s Eleven, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and half of Kate & Leopold and Joe Somebody. And finally, the Lakers game. The difference was that I got two Hispanic guys on Spanish ESPN instead of Al Michaels and Doc Rivers, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Feliz Navidad.

The fast food over there is a lot different. Not only is KFC as huge as McDonalds, but there are even several Papa John’s in existence, which came as a huge shock since I figured there were barely seven or eight of those places here in the States. Later on in our journey, my sister and I ended up eating at a sit-in Pizza Hut, where the menu included everything from lasagna to pasta, from sub sandwiches to fruit smoothies. There was even a horribly disgusting looking “hot dog pizza,” which was basically a stuffed crust pizza… only stuffed with a wiener.

If you think the traffic is bad in Los Angeles, it is absolutely cutthroat in San Jose. Drivers honk for no reason. Crossing the streets is like committing suicide. There aren’t any pedestrian lights, so you go by the street lights. However, since they hang overhead in the middle of the intersection, you can only see the light of the street you’re about to cross. Thus, without any warning as to whether it’ll suddenly turn green (and ensure your death, or at least, lots of cars honking at you), you gamble as to whether to cross. At the same time, paradoxically, the people are so incredibly friendly. Bus drivers wave at locals, who greet tourists, and everything feels so relaxed and laid-back. It almost feels like a simpler time.

Five years of Spanish down the drain. My second day over there, I realized I needed to purchase bath lotion. I had brought over a Johnson’s Shower 2 Shower thing, but it turned out to be a fucking powder. I don’t even know if it was supposed to be used in the shower. I mean, it was called Shower 2 Shower, which only confused me further. Does that mean that it preserves your skin between showers? Or while taking them? Anyway, so I walked into this store, where I attempted to ask this saleslady for soap. I used the phrase “el sopa” like a billion times, but ended up empty-handed. Three days later I realized that the word was “el jabon.” Sad.

On second thought, my English wasn’t all that great either. When I first used the airport ATM, despite English translation beneath the Spanish words, I ended up with 100 U.S. dollars instead of the colones that I wanted. Luckily, knowing myself to be the dumbass that I am, I purposely had requested substantially less than the $300 daily limit. Later, when I got to the hostel, I was introduced to this guy whose name sounded like “Rob-something.” So I went, “Robert?” He mumbled, “Rob-something.” I went, “Yes… Robert.” I found out later through another person that his name was actually Robin. I think. It’s definitely Rob-something, though.

We did a lot of nifty nature stuff. There’s nothing like paddling along in a tiny canoe, looking for animals in their habitats. The swaying back and forth with a wave was just so damn cool. We had a motorboat tour as well, which is like that shitty ride at Frontierland, only not shitty and three hours long. There was a nightwalk tour: imagine walking through the forest on an almost invisible trail, Indiana Jones-style. Perhaps the most insane (and coolest) thing was the canopy tour via zip lines across the forest with nothing but a harness and handlebars to hold onto. Scary times. In fact, I got stuck on one of them about 50 feet from the landing area because I was too skinny and didn’t get enough momentum, so they had to get this guy on a harness out to retrieve me. Embarrassing. But hey, we saw snakes and porcupines, birds and monkeys, sloths and lizards. Oh my.

There is such a thing as too much information. When I got to Phoenix for my connection, the America West agents announced a delay. The plane we were taking was coming from Vegas, and weather conditions there prevented it from leaving on time. Plus, thanks to the delay, by the time they got here, the crew would be violating an 8-hour piloting rule. They allowed us to board, whereupon the stewardesses told us we were literally all ready to go except for the fact that the backup crew had not arrived. They said when the captain got here, it would take him about “10 minutes to get ready.” So in other words, we were getting the B-team, waiting on the runway for a pilot, who would have barely a moment before getting us in the air. Comforting.

Hodgepodge. A city-wide horse parade means that the sidewalks will reek. Nothing is more surreal than having to stop because a cow is in the middle of the road. Coca-Cola in Costa Rica should be renamed Orgasm Coke. Homemade pizza made from scratch is insanely good (mmm… fresh pineapples). Little wave jumps and sharp turns in a fast motorboat are hands down the coolest feelings in the world. There is nothing more awkward than sitting next to a woman breast-feeding on the plane. Casados are the fucking national dish of the country – a plate of rice, beans, meat, etc. And finally, there are lots of cute Hispanic girls everywhere.

By the Numbers

420. Colones (official Costa Rican currency) for every American dollar.
4. Times that our wake-up call was at 5:00 am.
40. Total hours, approximate, spent traveling in either a bus or a boat.
6. Freezing cold showers taken during the trip.
2. Of the above, number taken because there was no running hot water.
1. Times the hot water stopped running in the middle of a shower.
5. Cost in dollars of an a la carte chicken sandwich at the damn airport Burger King in Phoenix.
20,000. Colones my sister withdrew, thinking it was equivalent to 500 dollars… it’s 50 bucks.
6. Amount, dollars, of an average meal for two, including drinks for each.
15. Days without eating a single serving of fruit, in any shape or form.
2. Times I had to run after a bus.
6.1. Richter scale measurement of an Panama earthquake we slept through in southern Costa Rica.
7. Times, approximate, that I beat my cell phone “Deep Abyss” game.
90. Extra minutes spent in Phoenix because of the delay.
5. Length in hours of the longest bus ride taken.
0. Times I did laundry on the entire trip.
4.58. Amount I had on the plane ride home, leaving me 42 cents short for Santa Clause 2 earphones.
6. Belgian guys I roomed with for two of my first four nights in San Jose.

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