Daily February: Day 5


September 12-13 2011

We arrived in San Jose late afternoon; it was pouring rain. As we cleared immigration, I experienced a bit of trepidation at whether there would be someone outside the airport to meet us and take us to our hotel. This is after all a foreign country, and my anxiety was brought by a bad experience from a Cancun trip where the guy who was supposed to meet us did not show up at all and we had to arrange for our 30-minute ride to the hotel by ourselves. We had been reimbursed by the hotel later on, but the grief that brought us was traumatic. However, the setting was the same, late afternoon arrival and pouring rain – déjà vu.

But not this time. The minute we stepped out of the airport to the open gates, we immediately saw a guy holding a cardboard with the name of our travel group/agency. We approached him and he checked us off his list and handed us folders for our itinerary. That was the “aha moment” when I knew this was going to be a good trip.

There was another couple in his list and so we waited awhile, not long, for them to get out of immigration. In the meantime, we chatted with this very friendly 20-something guy who told us the Red Hot Chili Peppers were performing in San Jose that night and how much he is a fan of the group but how he was unable to see them because he didn’t have the money to buy the tickets.

The 20 or so minutes drive to the hotel was punctuated by traffic jams, for which the guy was apologetic. We were hitting rush hour traffic in a downpour. We were dropped off at Crowne Plaza, which also houses the convention center and a casino, both can be accessed through the lobby.

The lobby alone was telling me that this would be beyond my price range – given my pecuniary difficulties. The friendly reception lady made our check in very smooth and painless. We rode up the elevators to our 3rd floor room – very elegant, a junior suite. Plenty of room for a one-night stay.

We freshened up and got our clothes ready for tomorrow’s trip. It had to be done now since the trip would start at 6:15 am.

When the freshening up and prepping for tomorrow’s trip was over, we had to go out and find someplace to eat. Off the reception area is a full service restaurant and there is also a separate lounge bar near the casino entrance. We don’t want those choices. We were told there is a grocery store across the hotel. We just have to cross the busy street, and boy was it busy. And the dark has set in while the drizzling continued.

We went inside the grocery store and browsed at the merchandise. My husband couldn’t resist purchasing a bottle of the local booze called cacique which is like a rum made of sugar cane. We bought a few other things and suddenly we spotted restaurant/cafeteria part of the grocery store, where store workers and other locals eat their meals. We looked at the selection, read the menu and found you can have like a combo meal. I thought that this dinner our first one in Costa Rica would consist of junk foods, apparently not!

My first taste of Costa Rican food reminded me of how much it tastes like Filipino food. The chicken dish that I had with my rice tasted like afritada – same tomato based sauce with minor differences in spice combination. That was a very illuminating detail that pleased me. I knew I wouldn’t have trouble with food – not that I have any by the way. Still, the taste of the food gave me comfort and a sense of familiarity.

We had our food in take out boxes, but we chose to sit there and eat where they had two tv sets for eaters to enjoy. On one I saw that a new show was about to start, we have paid for our items by this time. So when I saw that the Miss Universe Pageant was starting on, I told my husband that I’d like to see this one in full and if we could just carry out our meal and eat in the room where we could watch the show and eat in peace.

So there we were eating inside our room and watching the live telecast of Miss Universe. I had facebook on – free wifi – and posted how very disappointing it was for Ms. Philippines. I immediately got a reaction from my “friend” that they have been waiting to see it and it won’t be on for another 2 hours, California has it delayed telecast. Apparently, I spoiled it for her.

Part of the package was free breakfast, and we were afraid we’d have no breakfast since the pick up time was 6:15 am. However, the breakfast buffet is open from 5:30 am every day. I think it’s because many business travelers stay here – we saw pilots checking in at the same time we were – and they have to leave early hours too.

The spread was nice, fresh fruits, meats, cheese. Breakfast was rushed as you can imagine. When we got back to the room to get ready to leave, our phone rang and was told the guide was waiting downstairs to pick us up. It was 6 am. Change of plans it seemed. We didn’t get down until 6:15.

At the lobby we met our group – 7 of us. A couple from Baltimore, a couple from Sacramento and his mother from OC, and us. Just 7. Our friends from Philly attempted to sign up for this same trip, same group and was told that the trip was fully booked. 7 people and it’s fully booked. Interesting.

A big tourist bus was waiting outside the hotel, which means we were’nt the only ones going to Tortuguero. Our suspicion was right because after they loaded us and a few others in front of our hotel, we drove around San Jose picking up more passengers from different hotels and hostels, which wasn’t a bad thing. It was sightseeing for free as I saw it. Nice to see the city streets not crowded in the early morning hours and the city waking up.

The whole process probably lasted an hour or so and the long ride to Tortuguero began. It wasn’t long when we left the urban sights of San Jose into a more rural landscape. Pretty soon we were traveling into dense forest. Our guide was Julio, he was pretty good with his spiel. I was not listening the whole time. I was letting my eyes drink in the passing scenery. Verdant lush green treetops, dense wooded areas, part of a forest/jungle also a national park, houses along the highway. Difficult to get some shots, some parts of the road were curvy and I was getting a little dizzy. I don’t get car sick, but the airconditioning was weak and the bus was full. I wanted to sip water but I was afraid I’d pee. From the looks of it, there wasn’t any place for pit stop.

Around 10 am we were pulling up into a gated compound. Beautiful garden filled with tropical plants and flowers and trees and ferns, all so green and colorful. We stopped at El Ceibo restaurant in Guapiles, midway from San Jose to Tortuguero. This breakfast – our second breakfast, we’re hobbits – was again buffet style and was part of the package. Filled in on eggs and ham and rice and beans.

We gobbled down our food rapidly so we can have time to explore the surroundings and make a stop at the restrooms. It’s so beautiful out there, clean air, butterflies fluttering about and birds singing and other unidentifiable bugs chiming in to the symphony of tropical sounds. Then another sound was distinct. There was running water somewhere. A little creek runs behind the restaurant, we got to take a peek. The orchids are simply adorable and are everywhere.

Apparently everyone in the bus with us would all be going to Pachira Lodge and we were loaded again after breakfast. I was so glad to be back to the comforts of the AC bus after that brief exploration of the garden because the sun was bearing down at full force and it’s not noon yet.

The rest of drive to Tortuguero was more enjoyable for me, the sights of real Costa Rica. Houses along the way have their front doors wide open – which reminded me how we have them back in our province. I told my husband how the minute my mom wakes up in the morning, she would open our front door and then go to the kitchen and cook. That front door will not be closed again until we go to bed that night. Same holds true for everyone’s house in the neighborhood. Oh how I miss those times, how safe we all felt.

We passed by banana plantation where we stop briefly to watch a guy pull bananas for packaging. We also passed by a pineapple plantation. We saw grazing lands and beautiful landscape. The road was unpaved and we were crawling at about 15 km an hour, could be boring but all the scenery were new so I guess if I wasn’t bored none was.

Finally got to stop at another restaurant by the canal. We saw boats unloading passengers and luggage. I got it. We were going to switch places with this group – we’re taking the boat, they’re taking our bus. The restaurant where we stop offers meals and cold beverages, but we were still full from the second breakfast. Therefore we only availed of the facilities.

Soon enough we were getting boarded on the boat that will take us to Tortuguero. By plane or by boat the only ways you can reach Tortuguero. I’m guessing it’s pretty neat to arrive by plane, but arriving by boat was simply fantastic. The sceneries and landscape and skyscape were tremendous. Birding was excellent, seeing locals go about their daily living by the canals was enjoyable, reconnecting with familiar sights and smells was precious. The 2 hour boat ride to Pachira Lodge went by quickly and I wasn’t ready to disembark.


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