Costa Rica Trip Report
- Submitted by: Steve Cisler
- Submission Date: 10th Feb 2005
Paths that lead to the most profound destinations, to moments of illumination or change, have nothing to do with actual travel, but rather a mental geography.
2/16/93 San Jose, California to San Jose, Costa Rica
I have not traveled alone for 25 years. It was 1967, my second trip to Europe, just after two years as a Peace Corps teacher in Togo. I rode across France and Spain on my new BMW motorcycle. By the time I reached Lisbon I heard that the draft board wanted me back in the U.S. No graduate school and a few more years of government service in a different tropical country.
Now I'm heading for San Jose, Costa Rica, for a short vacation. I am traveling cheap and light: riding the bus and staying in hotels that average Costa Ricans use and eating in modest restaurants. A tame trip to a popular destination, judging by the number of travel books in the book store. Half the people I mention this to have been or want to go there. A couple of months ago a German tourist came to San Jose, California, expecting to be met by her daughter who lived on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and had been waiting at the San Jose, Costa Rica airport. A hotel clerk who spoke German helped her catch the plane to the correct San Jose.
The ticket agent for my flight had been there in late 1992. Her impressions: 'I overpacked. We traveled a lot and we met people.' Gesturing at another agent, 'She met a bartender. We had a blast.' Hmmm...
My flight goes through Reno, Dallas, and Miami, and I arrive about noon. I was surprised how full the flights were on all the legs. We passed over the Bay of Pigs, Cuba, and as we reached the coast of Costa Rica, a scattering of small clouds began at the beach and thickened as we headed inland. As we landed I thought of the opening of the Sean Connery movie 'Cuba' where he's rolling a cold glass of rum and coke across his brow as the plane touches down in 1957 Havana. People cheer as we touch down, more out of happiness to be back than because of the flight. No time at all in customs (for North Americans). No inspection at all. The ICT (Costa Rican Tourist Institute) has a little booth with maps, tabloids, the Tico Times (an English Language newspaper), and pamphlets. The man working there was incredibly helpful, and telephoned a couple of hotels to find me a room. Instead of a $10 cab ride, I catch an Alajuela to San Jose bus for about 35 cents. If you have more than a suitcase or backpack, use a cab. It ended up that the Costa Rica Inn which had not responded to my fax nor answered their 800 number in the U.S. had a room for $20. It's clean but a bit dark. The streets are jammed, and the sidewalks are narrow. Quite a bit of traffic with pedestrians having no special leeway once they venture into the street. Lots of American fast food containers in the gutter, but overall I have a nice first impression.
InfoNugget: In 1971 the National Museum claimed 21,000 people supported themselves by robbing graves and selling artifacts.
I'm sure someone has studied the effect of American, Japanese, and European demands for tropical hardwoods. Teak farming is one of the many investment opportunities/schemes in Costa Rica. The Swiss are helping to design a $15,000,000 8000 acre teak processing plantation in Nicoya on the Pacific coast. Teak can be harvested in 7 years, and a new shoot will grow from the stump.
2/17/93 La Selva Biological Preserve
I took a taxi to Moravia (300 colones) to the Organization of Tropical Studies HQ. At 8 a.m. a Toyota diesel van left for La Selva about 90 km. and 90 minutes away. It passed through Braulio Carrillo National Park and then through farm land to the 1500 hectare preserve. OTS is a consortium of 44 academic institutions that promote research in tropical biology. In 1992 there were over 18,000 overnights by visitors to La Selva.
Jack Longino teaches part time at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and has a project collecting and cataloging ants using parataxonomists. The argument is that there is not enough time for the few experts to gather everything before it becomes extinct, so there is a need to train amateurs and paraprofessionals for six months or so to collect specimens. The lab has several Macintoshes on a 4D database, and each entry can have a scanned image from the microscope. Another building houses a Sun Sparcstation running GIS software, and the staff is trying to get an ethernet hooked up so the two systems can communicate.
After a tour of the station Jack and I walked around the preserve for an hour or so, and he gave me background on the land and the program. I saw some peccaries (little bush pigs), a tiny poisonous eyelash viper--colored bright ocher, and of course lots of insects including a huge black stinging one known as the 'bala' or bullet ant. It was about an inch long. Jack picked it up with tweezers and the ant held the ends closed for five seconds before releasing its hold.
Food is served cafeteria style: salad, rice, black beans, carrots, steak, and cookies. About 50 people were in the hall at any one time. Young researchers joked and told tales of eccentric collectors of yore. I have not studied biology. I don't know the names of birds, and it was refreshing to feel stupid and have lots of people supply information on a great breadth or depth of topics.
Most of the buildings have polished tropical hardwood floors that are very beautiful and simple. The rest of the construction is wood and screens and some louvered windows. I'm sitting in the main meeting room where Deborah and Dave Clark, the co-directors of La Selva, are giving an intro lecture to young ecologists from Spain and 15 countries in Latin America. It's in Spanish, and I find that it really stretches my vocabulary.
After 6 p.m. the jungle noise increases, and darkness is almost total. You are lost without a flashlight. My room overlooks the river and seven kinds of beautiful birds hang out near my window. There are hundreds of kinds of birds and 58 varieties of snakes. Everybody here is collecting and naming the species within their focus. A couple from U of Costa Rica said, 'We might as well do the flies, nobody else will.' People use a variety of sheets and tents and funneling devices to get specimens. A black light on a sheet is sort of like television here. You turn it on and see what flies out of the night to land on the sheet. Turn it off in the morning.
2/18/93 La Selva
I met a guy from the Bronx Zoo, hunting for snakes. His friend, a mason, practices Karate in the early morning on the riverbank. Both are very unpretentious New Yorkers. When we return from hikes, we compare notes, and because they know where to look, what stones to lift, they seem to have more to report. Today they saw toucans and spider monkeys, and I saw some agoutis--rodents about the size of a cat. One fellow saw an ocelot, and that was pretty rare.
I spent some time reading the La Selva Advisory Council 1992 minutes. Most of their funds come from the National Science Foundation (over $1 million per year) and as the place has grown they are trying to plan for the future when researcher space will not meet the needs of all the applicants. There is pressure to handle more eco-tourists, do more high tech research, but they will need a systems manager to help them keep their networks running smoothly: to link up the Macs, DOS, and Unix machines and improve their connection to the Internet. Now it consists of BITNET accounts on the U. of Costa Rica VM machine in San Jose.
Before dinner I took a short stroll and became encased in a tube of water demarcated by the diameter of my umbrella. It was an awesome downpour for 30 minutes.
You really have to like green to be happy here. The gradations of green take on new meaning, and the relief provided by the bright flowers and birds is most welcome. Randall Downer saw 37 species of birds today. I don't know how many I saw, perhaps 15, but I'm glad I brought the binoculars. If you come to Costa Rica, bring a pair.
2/19/93 La Selva
This morning a researcher from Harvard chewed out a tourist in our cabin complex because he was talking. The rule sheet reminds us tourists that some people must work at night and sleep by day, but this guy claimed he had not read the sheet.
I walked by the river along orchards, garden plots, and some old farm huts rotting into the jungle. La Selva annexes land as they can afford it. Encroachment by farms is a big problem because many of the species need huge areas to roam. On my return I heard and saw about six toucans. Amazingly beautiful, even at a distance.
After lunch the Toyota van took ten of us back to San Jose in two hours, with a heavy rain pounding the vehicle. I hiked to the bus depot for San Isidro de el General and got standing room on the three hour bus ride over the highest pass on the Central American highway. Unfortunately, mud covered the outside, and the passengers fogged up the inside, so I did not see any grand views, just the pink and orange vestiges of a dramatic sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
San Isidro is the biggest town in the south. Hotel Chirripo is on the town square and is noisy but only costs $7 a night. Lots of handsome young people stroll around the town square or cruise in their pickups, Land Cruisers, and other 4WD vehicles. I ate in a Chinese restaurant and had a simple but tasty chop suey with chicken. Surprisingly, the owner's mother ordered a dish and then used a fork to eat it. I asked him if they used chopsticks, and he showed me a few pair and asked what they were called in English.
The square in San Isidro is surrounded by many little stores--clothes, hardware, video rental, toys, electronics, and furniture. I am impressed by the number of bakeries. Three girls staffed one by the hotel: one served, one rang up the bill, and the prettiest one talked on the phone and was only paying attention to the guy on the other end of the line. She wasn't really with the rest of us, judging by the expression on her face.
I got some guanabana ice cream for about 90 cents. It was in a very elaborate high-tech place in the square. Inside were toys and a slide for kids. One girl sat at the computer screen and placed orders, another served the cones.
That night I used ear plugs for the first time because the scooters were quite noisy. the plugs were not too uncomfortable and did dampen the sound. My bus was going to leave at 5 a.m., just half a block away. I was heading for San Geraldo de Rivas at the entrance to Chirripo National Park. This park contains the highest peaks in Costa Rica, and temperatures can drop very low at night.
2/20/93 San Isidro
The 90 minute ride (160 colones) was slow because of the load and the steep grade. As soon as I got to San Geraldo, everyone jumped and ran up the trail. I trudged up later with my pack to see a hundred runners begin a race to the summit. I walked after them, carrying my pack and climbed slowly for a couple of hours to the first runners' rest station where I realized I did not have the energy to make it to the summit 12 km. further. This lower part of the park is mainly deforested, and dairy cows roam the green hills. One of the course monitors had picked a sort of tropical strawberry in the meadow and offered these to me. Each day I was struck by the kindness of so many of the Costa Ricans I met, either in the city or country.
Heading back down strained my legs in a different way, and I walked carefully as they turned to rubber. Falling would have been a quick way to end my vacation. I passed over a bridge built with USAID funds; this was not on a strategic road, but it is an example of the foreign aid that made Costa Rica the country that received, after Israel, the most per capita from the USA. Much of that was during the Reagan years when Nicaraguan Contras staged operations from Costa Rica and Honduras. Just as I got back to the finish line the first runner appeared followed by a Red Cross truck with sirens going. I headed back to the bus stop and flopped down at the 'soda' (little refreshment stand) and had a drink. I hoped to get a ride back early, but no bus was due for hours. If you sit and wait, kids and other curious people come up and begin to talk. A skinny old man introduced himself as the brother of the 'soda' owner, and then he began his life story:
Many years were spent working in Costa Rica and Panama with the United Fruit Company, a very big force in Central American history. As a field worker he was sprayed with insecticides and herbicides by company planes, and the maladies he developed were serious enough that he went to Peru for diagnosis. Somehow, he ended up in Cuba (which does have very good medical care) and had several operations in the 1970's. His recuperation took place in Czechoslovakia and Moscow! He went through all his documents and passports showing me the stamps and tattered currency from his trips almost twenty years ago. Now he farms coffee and beans, and visits his relatives.
Several peaceful hours passed under the tree, and one of the runners gave me and several others a ride back to San Isidro. The 90 minute trip was cut to 45 minutes, so I had plenty of time to shop. The central market is excellent, and many fruit stands post their prices. Oranges were 3.5 cents and a big pineapple was 65 cents. Cold drinks cost a few cents more than unchilled ones. I drank one in the public square and a retired merchant marine worker sat down to tell me his story and practice his English. He was taking a correspondence course and has no one to practice with. I finally left to get a pizza at El Tenedor (the fork). The crust had a cracker texture, and there was no tomato sauce. Cost was 500 colones for a medium.
Why did I like San Isidro? Maybe because everyone I saw seemed to be living within their means, or at least in a more modest way than most people in Silicon Valley. I also liked seeing people outside, people together, people in church, people jammed into a bus, and people flirting and conversing. Much of my interpretation may be caused by my poor knowledge of Spanish. For all I know everyone was really wishing for a cellular phone and unlimited credit at Nordstrom's.
There is no movie theater, but the video rental places offer new films with Spanish subtitles. Most of the titles were American or Mexican. The bookstores offer school supplies: copy books, rulers, backpacks for kids, and no books. Costa Rica has a much higher literacy rate than the USA, but I'm not sure where they get their reading matter besides newspapers and a few magazine stores that offer a lot of photonovelas and comics.
At 6:30 I headed for the bus station three blocks away and paid 225 colones for a seat to Dominical, 25 miles away on the Pacific Coast. While I waited a farmer came up and tried to sell me his 'finca' (farm) because he thought Americans were good people and would enjoy taking care of his plot. I told him I had already sold my vineyard and did not have time to tend another. During the scenic trip down the mountains I sat next to a German secretary from Munich who had been in Costa Rica for four weeks and wished she had three months to see all the sights.
Dominical is on a gravel road and only gets a relatively small number of tourists. I'd say there are about 50 hotel rooms in the area. Willdale Cabins cost $20 each for a single or double and have a fan, porch, boiled water for drinking and a device to heat the water as it comes from the shower head. I turned off the heat to cool down. Three showers a day was the norm in this place. Richard Dale is a retired photographer and stays with his son while he rents his house some miles away on the ridge over the ocean. His son has trucks and bulldozers for earth moving and hauling building materials and has lived in Dominical for several years. The office overlooks the estuary of the River Barru about 300 yards from the beach. A great place to sit and watch birds and lizards sunning and eating. Today is Sunday and many groups of people have come from other cities to spend a day on the beach. They arrive in by bus, truck, car, and van and leave by evening. Some campers stay longer. The beach is known for a dangerous rip tide, and it took the life of a German diplomat this month. I did not have any trouble, but the water is refreshing only as long as you are in it. Because it is so warm, you don't really cool down too much.
About 2:30 I decided to hike to the Escalera, the high road that rises 1000 feet above the ocean and is the home of a number of ex-pats. who have set up forest retreats for visitors. The turnoff was not evident, so I hiked down the coast about five miles and then back to Dominical. On the way back I watched a classic sunset and actually saw the green flash just before the sun sank into the Pacific. Hundred of cattle egrets populated one tree on a stream bank. Pelicans dived in unison for fish. Three fishermen carried a 50 lb. red snapper up to the restaurant to try and sell their day's catch.
I went to another restaurant and ordered a fish fillet, but they only would serve the 'pescado entiro' or whole fish. One waitress showed me how big the fish was, and the cook widened his arms as he showed me. I wasn't that hungry, so I settled for a pork chop and fries for 325 colones.
I awoke about 8:30 and went for a swim in the tepid surf. The undertow did not bother me, and the Sunday crowds were absent. About 15 people were visible on two miles of beach. This is a place to relax away from the crowds, and a few surfers seem to have discovered the town. Jungle Jims is owned by a fellow from Manhattan Beach, California, and the ads boast satellite TV sports and the most beautiful bartenders on the Pacific Coast.
Richard Dale and I had a long talk about ham radio, the CIA influence in Costa Rica, sailing, Tsunamis, immigrants and land prices. A woman got 20 hectares of forest preserve only to have a German software company owner buy the adjacent parcel so that he could build a Thai restaurant for his wife to run. His wife is German and used to cook on private yachts for crowds of 12--a little different than running a restaurant. The parking lot will be next to the preserve. Most of the people I talked to loved the town and its tranquility, but figured it would go away in a few years, especially after the road was built. It's too bad they can't come to some agreement about how the place should be developed or preserved, but there is no town government. Mail delivery happens when the 'guardia civil' heads into San Isidro and picks up the week's collection.
I took another walk, this time to a waterfall off the road, on the way up to the Escalera. The pool was about 25 meters across and the falls are 10 meters high. Two Ticos came to swim, and I did not want to leave my camera and binoculars unattended on a rock. After they left I enjoyed a cool swim (much more refreshing than the ocean) and headed back, meeting one peasant: barefoot, machete over his shoulder, beat up cowboy hat. God, the road must have been hot for him!
6 p.m. Jungle Jims 4 pm happy hour. Two Heinikens for 150 colones. This is a 'no pants, no service' kind of place. Everybody but one is wearing shorts (that's rare in San Jose). Theme from Summer Place is pumped out at 90 db. I just finished a great Dorado fillet for 750 colones. Another great sunset. Iguanas doing pushups nearby. Life hurries by 3000 miles away at home.
Traveling alone gives me more time to think, to write, to observe. At night the dreams come in greater detail with themes submerged by the busy professional life and family responsibilities. I'm re-reading 'Life During Wartime' by Lucius Shepard. It's a grim look (1987) at a future war in Nicaragua and Guatemala as told by a Psicorps specialist, and it contrasts sharply with what I see for the future in Costa Rica.
Item from newspaper: Airport closed because of cattle on the runway in Tamarindo, Nicoya peninsula. The Director of civil aviation was shocked to find a car speeding down the runway in front of a landing plane to shoo the cows off the airstrip.
2/23/93 Quepos and Manual Antonio National Park
I am at the bus stop across from the estuary, next to Jungle Jim's. Iguanas are sunning themselves. A woman I had met the day before is eating breakfast at the Soda across the road. She lives part of the year in upstate New York, part in Carmel, California, and most of the time in Dominical, where she is building a house. I tell her that I am heading for Manual Antonio National Park up the coast. 'Why are you going there? You'll be back here the next day. We have everything that Manual Antonio has, but we have not ruined the area.'
Heading north on the gravel road we crossed several bridges built recently by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Panama. After Israel, C.R. used to receive more aid per U.S. capita than any other country. Locals believed that the bridges were built in case the U.S. was going to invade Nicaragua, and the military wanted to have more options than just the Pan American Highway (which we helped build too, decades ago).
The scenery on the two hour trip: mainly farms, cattle, palm plantations with company towns every half hour or so. Woodframe houses neatly surrounding a soccer field. A few dozen bicycles parked outside the palm processing plants indicate this industry still employs quite a few people in the rural coastal areas.
Quepos, a few km. from the park, is pretty dumpy. I found the hotel down a street I call Avenida Cuerpo de Paz, or Peace Corps Avenue because it looks like the kind of poor urban area where Peace Corps Volunteers would live, or at least be photographed for publicity shots. Lots of kids playing in the street, men working on small houses, a guy overhauling a diesel engine outside the hotel which is clean and comfortable. I paid $14 for each of two nights and headed for the park. The ride was crowded but short and we passed dozens of inns, rooms for rent, hotels, bars, and cabins grabbing onto the side of the hills. The final 400 meters before the park entrance were t-shirt vendors, cabins, horse rental, coconut stands. Complete chaos.
The beach, however, is gorgeous. Lots of Europeans sunning themselves in multi-colored jock straps. Quite a few Yanks right beside them, wearing big balloony surfing shorts. Few people are stirring except on the path through the park. To enter the park you cross a spit of land that can be submerged in several feet of water at high tide. Pay your $1.40 and roam the paths or head for one of many beaches. I was disappointed in the bird population, but I soon saw an armadillo and then a sloth, high in the treetops. Army ants were porting thousands of fragments of a leaf across the trail. I climbed a hill to look out over the Pacific and of course met someone from the county where I used to work (that always seems to happen on mountain tops or cathedrals or museums). Monkeys were everywhere, and they earned their keep jumping, wrestling, eyeballing us as we photographed them. The park closed at 4 p.m., and after my two hour hike I decided the woman from Dominical was right, that I would not stay two nights but head to San Jose the next morning. That night I walked around Quepos, bought some souvenirs and fruit, and had dinner at George's Bar and Grill (Dorado burger for $2.75 and a beer). Recommended for the food and fast service. As I nursed my brew I could watch people go by (always important). Across the street was a health clinic with a large billboard 'Avoid Cholera' with a series of diagrams showing how to do just that. Costa Rica has a very good health system, one that American retirees use too. Years ago I met a doctor high up in the agency, and she said that the influx of Nicaraguan refugees during the Contra war had placed a burden on Costa Rica because they brought diseases that had been stamped out in the 1950's in Costa Rica, and that their doctors had not had to deal with them for a whole generation.
I return to the hotel in the dark. The room has a fan, beautiful hardwood ceilings (just like the guidebook promised), and is very quiet. I translate the guidebook description into Spanish for the proprietor's wife.
2/24/93 Quepos to San Jose
I overslept and woke 25 minutes before the bus was to leave. I had bought a ticket the day before ($4.20), so I dressed without a shave or shower and went outside to find the compound locked up tight at 5:45 a.m. I jumped over the metal fence with my pack and hoofed it up to the bus station in plenty of time to cool down and wait for the bus. The ride was comfortable, but if you are over 6 feet or have long legs, most of these bus seats will be a bit small. The driver used his horn every few feet and almost nailed a pokey tourist standing in the middle of a bridge.
Hotel Bienvenido is in the heart of the bus/market district in downtown San Jose. The room was $14. Very convenient, if you have just arrived and aren't sure where to go. I wandered the streets, enjoying the activity and did some shopping for gifts before I headed home. Ecuadorian musical groups were playing in the Plaza de la Cultura, selling their cassettes as they do in Boston, Stockholm, San Francisco, and probably Fargo, North Dakota. It was beautiful music, but nobody bought their recordings. A old man on a walker tried to stir up things by dancing, but nobody else even tapped their foot. The Jade Museum is housed in an office building near the National Library. I had not realized the Mayan culture spanned two millennia. Great collection of phallic flutes and figures, a reminder how sexuality always manifests itself in art.
My last full day was really quite nice. I took the bus to the airport and then headed for a rent-a-car outfit to try and get a car for one day. He had no cars and told me that three days was the minimum for most companies in Costa Rica. I took the bus into Alajuela, one of the largest towns in the country, and found a room in Hotel Alajuela, just off the Central Park. I dumped my gear and headed for the Butterfly Farm, started by an ex Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1980's. The tour was $9 (less for locals), and I joined a party of old Americans on a tour. The guide was fluent in English and Butterfly. I learned how to sex butterflies, how they reproduce, what sort of camouflage they use and how they can appear in one stage or another as a snake's head, a leaf, a bird dropping, poisonous berry, or owl eye. The firm exports pupae to Geat Britain according to the guide who is an MBA student at U. of Costa Rica. All of us photographers were bumping into each other trying to shoot the huge, blue morpho butterfly that never seems to stop flying. Larvae eat 60 banana leaves a day! Hummingbirds use 2000 calories a day. The guide showed us a narcotic tree called Queen of the Night; it is favored by butterflies, but the government is trying to eradicate the species.
Back in the city park I walked around and leaned back with my binoculars and watch a family of green parrots bicker in the palm trees and on the nearby church. They yammered and played until dusk when even more people came to enjoy the park. A troupe of traditional dancers, accompanied by guitars and accordions, performed in the park. It gave me a great pleasure to watch them for a short while. Later that night a 27 member band played for an hour while several hundred of us listened. Kids played or sat up at the musicians' feet. Palm trees rustled, and taxis stopped to listen to the music. I strolled around the park during the last two numbers, and for some reason I felt like Fred Astaire in 'Flying Down to Rio' stepping around a tropical park to the sound of a big band.
I'm glad I was away from computes, electronic mail, television (for most of the trip), and American papers and magazines. It was a total diet change for this information junkie, and my new input of sounds, tastes, smells, and sights and personal reflections were the substitute. I feel like changing my work ways: less computing and more people. At the same time I am thinking about how to do the electronic version of this trip report so that the reader can see some of the pictures as well as read the text.
Estimated cost of the 10 day trip, excluding the frequent flyer airline ticket: Hotels $106, Taxi/Bus $13, Food $60, Souvenirs and gifts $100.
Afterword: This contains recommendations for the prospective traveler.
learn some Spanish
normal health shots and malaria drug taken before, if you plan to visit Atlantic region where bananas were grown. Very few cases of malaria in C.R. but more in Panama and Nicaragua.
Costa Rican tourist Assn. in the U.S. was not helpful and only sent a superficial pamphlet, in spite of a more detailed request. However, the airport office in San Jose was extremely helpful in all ways and got me a room just as I got off the plane. Also had maps and magazines for tourists.
waterproof case for valuable papers. $5.00 Wear it around your neck. Good if you travel alone and plan to swim or shower and don't have a safe place to leave the money/documents. However, it is warmer than a cloth or nylon container.
Gear to take:
Of course this is very personal but you might consider this advice: binoculars (light weight). I used them all the time and had I not talked to a bird watcher I would not have known to bring any.
beach towel. All hotels supply a towel but some are about as big as a hand towel. You can also buy some big toucan or parrot towels once you get here.
camera and film (35 mm or video) Film is cheaper in the states. If you want to shoot the wildlife you will need some big lenses. I got a few shots with my automatic 38 to 110 Olympus, but big telephotos are a necessity. Whether you want the burden of thof that gear is something else.
I took a snorkel and mask but did not get to use it this trip. Next time I plan to head for some nice reefs on the Pacific coast.
umbrella. Even in the dry season, it can rain a great deal.
shoes: for the wet I had rubber boots with leather uppers (L.L. Bean made these famous). Everyone else used all rubber boots which are cheap, but I guessed my shoe size (11 1/2) would be hard to find. I also carried low cut hiking shoes and surfer shoes. In C.R. cowboy boots, sandals, and other shoes seemed to be cheap.
ear plugs: for noisy hotels (or the traffic outside)
clothes: I only saw a few people in San Jose in a coat and tie, but many women were very nicely dressed. You can be casual without being a slob. If you wash clothes in a sink, they may take more than 24 hours to dry in a humid hotel on the coast. If you are in a group or have a lot of clothes most hotels will have some inexpensive laundry service.
Food: if you crave anything special bring it with you or look for it in a San Jose supermercado. Biggest bargains: fresh fruit in season and 'plato del dia' in restaurants. Bread and pastries are very cheap; beer and soft drinks are comparable to U.S. prices. Wine is higher. A fifth of 12 year old rum is $5.00. Water: I drank the water at La Selva and used pills or bottled water elsewhere. That may be overly cautious but I had no stomach upset at all during or after the trip.
Books: I read four travel guides and browsed two others. I bought Beatrice Blake's 'The New Key to Costa Rica' and found all the advice to be useful, or as someone said about the Lonely Planet guide, 'His reality corresponded to mine.' Lonely Planets prices were outpaced by inflation even more than Blake's indicating that the research was more recent for Blake's book. However, since prices are so reasonable, that may not matter whether a hotel is $20 or $22. Once you are in country pick up some of the travel tabloids and a copy of the 'Tico Times' for a good sampling of local news, letters from tourists and ex-pats, and tales of crime, bribery, and news of economic success and failure. Lots of investment schemes aimed at you: pacific land, 'learn teak growing in your spare time', retirement seminars and the like.
Check your local library for history and geography books such as the American University country guide for Costa Rica. Bone up on the American adventurer, William Walker. He was one of the first in the line of gringos to disturb the peace of Costa Rican life (Robert Vesco, Ollie North, John Hull came later). With so much strife going on elsewhere in Central America you will appreciate the love of peace and peace-making that the friendly Costa Ricans have had for many years.
Steve Cisler, email@example.com
March 6, 1993.
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