Should I rent a car on arrival at SJO
Well someone wanted to fly in one evening and drive 4 hours to Uvita.
"We will be arriving this Saturday around 7:00Pm and will be driving to Dominical after picking up the rental car. Which is the fastest route to take and how long should it take? "
This topic falls under another famous discussion on the idea of Costa Rican "standard deviation" or this one about "standard timeframe" when it came to standard timeframe for getting permissions to build a house viz:
Um Jim . . ."standard timeframe" . . . . "standard" and "timeframe" are two words not used much here on their own . . . and when co-joined at the hip they have never been used - well except today :-))
For your plan plan, you need to have a friend who is an architect, so all in all this will take longer. There are no end times here, only beginnings. Again as I mentioned earlier where you do this deed will have a huge effect on it's viability and timeframe. People who live in Escazu think it works one way, people who live in P Jimenez think it works another.
Berni, In Alajuela where it rarely works (and never the way you expected) but when it does you are thankful
Anyway - getting back to the "after dark" arrival at SJO airport . . .this is how we do it:
. . . as you arrive a huge temporada baja storm will be passing by causing you to circle the airport for an hour while the pilot debates should he/she bypass to Panama. If the pilot is Latin American he at some point will get bored and will dunk down and land as quickly as possible. If he/she is a gringo airline carrier they will wait for a bit at least until the large spikes of electricity are at least 1km off the runway.
The plane will be late. So will 4 other planes that all now land simultaneously dumping 500 people into passport control simultaneously. An hour or two later you will squirt through to baggage and one of your party will insist they need a chip from Kolbi for their locked non quad band Verizon super phone that is guaranteed to work everywhere except Costa Rica. Your baggage will be scanned and discovered to contain a jar of peanuts which will cause a long discussion in Spanglish delaying you further. You will exit the terminal finally and be jumped on by 20 idiots with big smiles and eye patches, tri-cornered hats, parrots etc yelling "Pura Vida, I have your car/taxi/boat/hotel" (whatever it is you may have mumbled a moment ago to the pushy baggage handler guy you just wrestled back your luggage from).
Your guy from Yahoo Rentacar will not be among the hoard of guys you now notice have earrings, facial scars and peg legs. You find a sympathetic person who loans you a phone (as your Verizon clearly cannot work and no chips are to be found). You call the Yahoos and they say they did not expect you any more and nobody is available. You spot JoSchmos Rentacar guy and grab him and beg him for a car - he says sure I have an excellent Lada 4WD in red I can bring you to in 2 minutes. You are soooo thankful you forget to ask him "what exactly is a Lada?" He would have replied if you had asked, "the perfect car for the steep hills behind Uvita and it is only $20 a day to you."
Around midnight you are in the back lot of a darkened bar on the back airport road trying to stuff your bags and offspring in the non existent trunk of the little Lada and asking why the car rental is $145 a day. Jo Schmo tells you it is a government problem and you have to pay the full insurance too. He tells you this with a slightly hostile air implying you should have known about crazy rental insurance in Costa Rica.
Around 1am you are set. But you have a stupid rentacar map which seemingly shows there are only 3 roads in all of Costa Rica, there are no street lights, there is not a single sign to be found and it is a moonless night.
Your spouse is yelling, the offspring are crying as you discover you managed to drive in a complete circle during the last 20 minutes.
Now to be serious for a minute . . . I have a map . . . it shows you how to navigate from the airport to Hghway 27. I can email it to you. It is a little complicated and requires you can recognize a football field and "Super La Garita" on a possibly moonless night as there is not one single sign between you and the "fastest route". You can't make this stuff up.
Other than the roads with drop offs there is one more hazard to this night time adventure - there are 3 toll booths between you and your destination. They want "colones" BUT you have already been advised by your friends in Uvita not to use the cambio booths in the airport as they charge a frightening exchange rate?
This simple bit of data will not be of much help as your spouse yells at you "they want 600 *****G colones, what were you thinking they would want."
OK sorry couldn't help it - most of these things happened to me at some point,
Let’s Not Forget History
For it is likely to repeat itself – just not here? April 11th is the celebration of the Battle of Rivas (actually the second battle of Rivas on April 11 1856) that made Juan Santamaría one of a very few Costa Rican national heroes. Cuba has just one or two - like Jose Marti and Guevarra - why so few?
There is a statue of Juan Santamaría in the central park of Alajuela, his hometown. He was killed (though historical reports are conflicting) the last time anyone attempted to seriously invade Costa Rica. The expedition in 1856 was managed by a lunatic called William Walker with backing from some of his southern US friends. Their (though funnily enough not Williams' original) goal was to set up a slaver confederation of Central American states as time was soon to run out on slavery in the US.
William Walker was merely a charismatic fool with grand ambitions and I am guessing a tiny dongle (make me President or Emperor of anything, pulease). Walkers' army made up of disillusioned US gold prospectors from San Franciso steamers and the Nicaraguan army marched south and were defeated at La Casona. You can visit a "replica" (the original was burned by poachers) at the Santa Rosa park in Guanacaste. The very same park used by Ollie North and his crew of retired CIA "farmers" to supply the "contras" fighting in Nicaragua in the 1980's. With the support of Cornelius Vanderbilt, President Mora's Costa Rican troops (numbers vary between 3,000 and 6,000) pursued Walker's troops to Rivas in southern Nicaragua and defeated them there.
Unfortunately unsanitary water (caused most likely by stashing dead bodies in wells, a known poor sanitary practice) caused the death of many of the Costa Rican soldiers and the subsequent cholera epidemic wiped out 1/10 of the population of the country when the remainder returned.
A hundred years later, in 1955, another failed (though not terribly serious) attempt to invade from Nicaragua was actually precipitated by Costa Rica and ended at the Santa Rosa park too. No other attempts will ever be made.
A hundred years later, in 1955, another failed (though not terribly serious) attempt to invade from Nicaragua was actually precipitated by Costa Rica and ended at the Santa Rosa park too. No other attempts will ever be made.
Because the time for such behaviour has now passed?
Feb 22nd - THE DINNER SERVICE
Innkeeper, it should be noted that the following dinner scenario, played out on the afternoon and evening of February 22nd, is not what you would have expected the morning of Feb 22nd.
So please do not let this tale dissuade you from pursuing the noble art of Innkeeping :-)
We were already full and had guests wait listed so we sent some folks to the Buena Vista some days previous. Just our first indicator that we'd be busy tonight. We are a tiny hotel with a private restaurant so there are limitations. We have 6 rooms/casitas with a capacity of about 20. Many nights we serve dinner on request and with advanced reservations.
Dinner service is usually a fixed menu for the night - we go to the market that afternoon and select what we like personally. Of course we make space for those with dietary issues or those that must avoid more meaty things (the veggie folk). We cook everything fresh from the market.
Feb 22nd started with the delightful Adamson couple who will need to eat again tonight (they ate last night too). They'd also wanted us to take them with us to the farmers market this afternoon but one of them is sick and won't be going. Dinner planning needs to avoid any ingredients from last night. The Adamson's need to get to their flight to the Osa at 6:45am the next day. And we need to make them 2 breakfasts to go. Off we go with Mr Adamson to the excellent Plaza Ferias (farmers market) in Alajuela at 3pm.
The gentle Germans are coming back and, we must remember, do not eat any fish. There is another component of my wife's Venn diagram for the night. They were with us 2 weeks ago so my wife must avoid any dishes from their meal of 2 weeks ago as well as the fish.
On returning from the farmers market with a ton of fresh veggies and produce we start unloading and processing the food for tonight's dinner service. The Gentle Germans do not like getting up early and insist they only need 1 hour at the airport the next morning, I insist otherwise. Some discussion ensues as we work behind the scenes on food and Venn diagrams. They are to leave at 5:30am. Oh, we need to make them 2 more breakfasts to go.
The Stadlanders have booked 2 rooms and the parents have already arrived - the kids come soon. 6 persons altogether in the Katydid and Volcano rooms. They need a late meal on arrival later tonight but there are complications - they do not like mushrooms and 3 of them are also vegetarian. So we need to cook a late meal when the kids get here, right after cooking our 3 course gourmet dinner for the Adamsons and the Germans who don't like fish. A nice grilled chicken over a fresh salad from today's expedition to the farmers market with a delicious mango passion fruit dressing for 6 persons will be served. My wife is working up the vegetarian option in the kitchen.
Shaunie, the single booked in the Rain Forest, emails us from her pod that her plane is delayed by snow in California (!) but she will be in late and needs a late meal. This is fine except we seem to have run out of tables. She doesn't care what she eats (oh thank you thank you Shaunie, we worship the ground you walk on) which is good as we have no food ready - but we do have a really nice chicken soup pretty much ready to roll. So chicken soup with a fresh ciabatta bread from the market does the trick.
The 3 course gourmet dinner for the Adamsons and the Germans is an asian salad with stir fried pork belly, a marvelous Pad Thai with chicken from a recipe found in only 2 places in Costa Rica (both of which are my wife's recipe) and a poached pear with Belgian dark chocolate orange white wine sauce. This dinner on its own sets new challenges. The chocolate stirring alone takes forever if you want to avoid a pasty gooey mess.
The Hales will be arriving soon. They would like a late meal too. Except they have gluten allergies and can't tolerate dairy. Hmmm OK we know how to do that . . . but their plane lands in the middle of dinner service. I envision a surreal Chef Juggler morphing from Alice In Wonderland with a Rabbit's ears, a chef's hat and Mario Batali rubber shoes.
Gustavo calls in the middle of the chaos in the kitchen. His timing is exquisite. He is coming to visit the Stadlanders at 7:30am tomorrow morning. So we need to make 6 more breakfasts to go for the morning. Best do that after the various dinners.
The food chart for this dinner service.
- 2 market tours/1 cancelled
- Don't serve dishes from a dinner on Feb 10th.
- Avoid ingredients used in the big dinner Feb 21st.
- 3 vegetarians (not vegans) as late meals
- 1 no gluten
- 1 no dairy
- 3 late meals we prepared for
- 1 no mushrooms
- 1 late meal we did not prepare for
- Must avoid fish.
- Cook everything without gluten.
- No dairy ingredients.
- Make 10 breakfasts to go (for who?).
- Who the hell is Gustavo?
Actually that was a cake walk. The following is an actual email from a guest some time back. I keep it handy any time I think "geez, that was a complicated dinner service!" Names have been removed to protect the innocent bystanders, all text has been retained for posterity. I think I shall request this on my tombstone as my "Innkeepers Epitaph". It is soooo good I think I shall hold off the planned cremation:
"Hi sooo here is the info...arriving on flight us airways #356 from phoenix,Arizona at 7:20pm in San Jose...would love a pickup at the airport of course, thank u....as far as a meal at ur restaurant...if that is possible..my friend is open to anything u guys feel is good except for veal, she says...myself--verrrry simple, a large vegan raw salad with, for example, raw lettuce/salad greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers (not green plz), carrots, a few different kinds of avocados, cilantro, and for salad dressing just fresh orange and lemon/lime juice with some olive oil and sea salt and pepper...honestly if I only get 3 things off that list it would b avocados, tomato, and lettuce greens, anything more will just make my smile a little bigger thank u!!!!!
One last thing and if this last request is too much, plz don't worry about it---while at the market if u could pick up a few extra, ripe avocados, papayas, mamey's, guanabanas, and cherimoyas, that would b verrrry appreciated and not only would I pay for everything but I also will tip whomever $25 US for doing that extra shopping...again I don't want to inconvenience anyone, soo don't worry if its too much to ask...thank u for everything! Very much appreciate it. Oooh and p.s. if its possible to get the green papaya salad made that I saw listed on ur sample menu without sugar (maybe honey?), That would b awesome as its one of my favorite dishes...could eat that and that big salad with pleasure!!
Again my friend is not vegan and will eat whatever u put in front if her (except veal) if it taste good . . . wishing u all at Pura Vida Hotel a wonderful day."
About the Mail
We do not get mail in Costa Rica.
We do not send mail in Costa Rica.
This is a conceptual model that could have saved the US billions last year in cost overruns at USPS. Sometimes it is the simple ideas that count.
A new gringa in town had some meds mailed to them from "up north" and they had not arrived in a couple of weeks. "It was mailed in a first class envelope," she exclaimed! I am presuming she believed that "first class envelope" had some meaning in a country that doesn't use mail.
I suggested (though too late to be of any real service) on our local message board, "personally I would not send anything important or unimportant by mail. And I have asked nobody send me anything by any express service e.g. Fedex as the extrication process is beyond my tolerance levels."
I'll get to that another day. Or at least why it is I have a peculiar response to the statement, "Fedex has a package for you."
I do like the idea that Costa Rica has a mail service modeled after normal mail services . . . you know "counters", "lines", "commemorative stamps" etc but there the resemblance to normalcy stops. It's like walking into a store front from 'Men in Black'. They look normal but what goes on behind the wall is from another planet.
A year before I discovered Kindle, I had subscribed to WIRED magazine knowing full well the vagaries of the Costa Rican postal service. I had presumed that with a real postal box and a real post office (here in Alajuela) and a magazine nobody locally could give a hoot about, I might have a chance. I was OK with the magazine being a month or two late as the likelihood of the technology I was about to read up on was likely to bypass Costa Rica anyway. 3 of 10 issues arrived at my PO Box that year. My wife and I discussed this at renewal time. Her patience with me was demonstrated by her actually agreeing to renewing the subscription - fortunately for me they invented the Kindle just in time.
The US Postal Service seems to have decided that the solution to their financial problems is to focus in part on increasing promotions for junk mail. It just goes to show you that our, near useless, postal service is less dysfunctional that that of the USPS.
Heck, could it be possible that Costa Rica is in fact a model of what the USPS could become years from now. When a tourist asks me "how is it possible to run a country without mail?"
"First," I reply, "let's run a test."
"OK," they say wondering what the mad innkeeper might propose next (as they already believe the previous conversation is bordering on the surreal).
I stop the next staffer walking by and ask, "when was the last time you sent a piece of mail?"
The answer is always, "never".
"So you see, I have definitively proven you do not need a postal service for a country to function. Ask anybody you meet the same question."
You can see more of how it works by clicking here (it ain't pretty but it kind of works).
I'm Going to San Rafael and Perez Zeledon clarified
Sue Anne tells us she is going to visit friends in San Rafael. And asks "where is it?"
We have 47 San Rafaels in Costa Rica according to the last count . . . I have a tour of the San Rafaels of Costa Rica if you are interested. Every day we wake up in San Rafael and every night we sleep in another - you get to see the whole country yet always wake up in the same place.
She says, "it is the one near San Isidro."
You know there are also numerous San Isidros - there are two very close to us here in Alajuela.
Sue Anne explains, "it is the San Isidro that people call Perez Zeledon."
Ah of course that one.
Your San Isidro is, in actual fact, Perez Zeledon - I'm pretty sure that is correct as I was on the historical Perez Zeledon web site recently. It is named after a famous guy most people have forgotten. People down there call it Perez so it must be. They say "I'm going to Perez on Saturday." They do that because the real name is San Isidro de General and it is too long to say. A Tico explained it that way to me. A Tico is the way to say Costa Rican because "Costa Rican" (in Spanish) is too long to say.
This is the town in the Zona Sur where all the taxis are painted like race cars. Did you know we also have a San Carlos that is really Ciudad Quesada and a Muelle that is Muelle San Carlos until they changed the name to Ciudad Quesada. I am guessing it should be called Muelle Ciudad Quesada? But that would be too long to say?
The good news is that since we have almost no road signs and no mail service it really doesn't matter what they are called. Well until the day you try to find San Rafael :-)).
Wot No Army?
A guest wrote us today: " For us - Mediterraneans, a country without enemies and no army, no guns is too strange..." For Costa Ricans the alternative may be also "too strange".
But let's start with a digression from a famous non-Costa Rican - Alexander Skutch. There are ongoing debates on the subject locally primarily from gringos who have only been here a short time or are thinking of moving here (by "gringo" I usually mean anyone who is not a Costa Rican, this is not technically correct but who cares eh?). My guest reminded me of a beautiful book any traveler should pick up before coming here. Perhaps they will discover some insight as to why we do not need an army - A Naturalist in Costa Rica.
"But I wished to do more than learn facts about living things that surrounded me here; I wished to dwell in harmony with them. The concord that I desired intensely to achieve was more than ecological balance with my environment, which some people mistake for harmony. This ecological balance or stability, wonderful enough in its way, is in reality a balance of disharmonies, violence held within bounds. It is preserved by the merciless decimation, by predators and parasites and other natural checks, of any species that threatens to become so abundant that it will cause the deterioration of its environment by bearing too heavily upon its resources. Such ecological balance with our environment is indispensable for our survival as organisms, but it is too often achieved by means that distress an awakened conscience."
It went on . . . . and he closed with (after he has built his rude cabin in the backwoods) . . . "Here I hoped to have the leisure to mature my thoughts on these baffling problems."
This section written around 1940 . . . A Naturalist in Costa Rica, by Alexander Skutch (click link for my book list) - the most influential naturalist to wander the forest and hills of Costa Rica.
Alexander also traveled to the only place a Costa Rican army had marched to in anger in 1856 - Rivas, just north of the Costa Rican border, in Nicaragua.
"Rivas is one of those happy places without a history, save such as was connected with its name. It was evidently named for the Rivas in the neighboring republic of Nicaragua where Juan Danta-Maria had advanced under rifle fire to ignite the building in which the army of the filibuster, William Walker, had fortified itself. That campaign to hurl the North American adventurer from Central American soil, few as were the men engaged in it, furnished the epic theme of Costa Rican history. Happy the nation which can recount no more sanguinary wars."
Alexander Skutch and many ex-pats/gringos etc felt as comfortable as I do with the idea that armies are unnecessary if you can get the circumstances working in the right direction and be at one with the ecology. Once there was an army BTW, but they were abused by the government in an effort to circumvent a democratic election in 1948.
The country was retaken by force, a small militia of 2000 led by Don Pepe Figueres, in 1948. In 1949 he turned the main military barracks into a museum and abolished the army for their poor behavior.
From Wiki: "abolishing the army (as a precaution against the militarism that has perennially thwarted or undercut democracy in Central America) Figueres said he was inspired to disarm Costa Rica by H.G. Wells "Outline of History", which he read in 1920 while at MIT. "The future of mankind cannot include armed forces. Police, yes, because people are imperfect.", he declared.
From a local message board, the question was asked,
"Is Costa Rica ready for a Swiss style Army?"
The respondent opined during our very noisy christmas season that starts in early December and ends some time in the second week of January,
"I've been thinking about this. As I've been puttering around in my garden this weekend, and trying to get some sleep at night, I've heard an unending stream of parties with mariachis, marimbas, and cimarronas, not to mention the fireworks and other noisy forms of merrymaking.
Ticos should go with their strengths, which is to party hearty. What would happen if a Nicaraguan invasion force was met at the border with 100 tico cimarrona bands armed with several thousand cases of Cacique? My guess is that any red-blooded Nicaraguan soldier would lay down his arms and join in the merriment. --Steve, trying to keep his sanity in S. Rafael de Heredia
So I'll continue with my disconnected musings on a Costa Rican Army. For CR to need an army it needs to really upset someone else. There is no right side of THAT equation in Costa Rica. This discussion prompted me to do a first hand survey with 5 Ticos who happened to be standing around having breakfast today. The question was simply, "give me your first reaction to an army in CR?"
The best one was along the lines of "we don't want to teach our children military ways, there is already enough violence in the world. They would grow up to be different people." This was an interesting take and had the room nodding in agreement. Another, "It is better to talk than to fight." The room was adamant about the lack of need for an army and everyone agreed the effect would be negative for the country. It isn't up to us or our gringo opinions.
They might also respond with "soy Tico" (I am a Costa Rican), and that perhaps sums it up. It is easy for the Tico to give up on the army idea . . . for others it is more difficult. Every now and again a strong character shows up on the local scene, in 1948 it was Don Pepe Figueres. He had a good idea and as he had just saved the country from loosing it's soul in a failed election, the populace was more than happy to go along with his brilliant and simple idea.
One respondent, obviously new to Costa Rica opined some time back, "I am wrinkling my eyebrows now at the thought that CR has no army. Do you really feel safe there? I mean, there are ideologies that seek to dominate the world and it seems to me that CR has no way to defend herself. Don't you feel terribly vulnerable?"
I pondered, "Um for the life of me I can't see why any country would "take over" Costa Rica today? In a world of city states (lets say circa 1456 a.d.) there was a great need to accumulate more cities and territories in part because a city state was non viable and needed some economies of scale, room to graze more cows, score additional slaves or just vent the frustrations of young men with too much aggression or allow old men to score points. Nobody takes over other countries any more (well ALMOST nobody). Its truly passe, makes a mess of the local landmarks, interrupts the only thing that separates us from cavemen (schooling) and pisses off the neighborhood."
The idea continues today with our current president Laura Chinchilla. The country responds to aggression in peculiar and hilarious ways (link to blog posting on the border incident) - Nicaragua stole a bit of land from Costa Rica and Costa Rica thinks of it as a "fire on the border" and sent 14 fire fighters to patrol the fire.
I can only smile. Skutch's words ring out today 70 years later "But I wished to do more than learn facts about living things that surrounded me here; I wished to dwell in harmony with them"
The Road Less Traveled
Some time last year I realized that I had never been to Upala.
For that matter I did not know anyone who had been to Upala . . . at least nobody who ever went there deliberately as in, "Today I am driving to Upala, can you tell me the way?".
A huge majority of guests will ask me "how long does it take to get to Arenal?" or "which way to Arenal?" or "what is the fastest way to Arenal?" or my favorite, "which way do you like to go?". I mean 1000's of guests have asked one of those.
But "can you tell me the way to Upala?". Never once.
Now I know plenty of people who have "come from" Upala. A couple of our staff and some former staffers "come from Upala". But nobody goes there. My imagination of course, over the years, constructed this vision of a ghost town somewhere near the Nicaraguan border . . . devoid of population except perhaps 3 or 4 grandmas waiting for their kids (our staffers) to show up at Christmas or Easter. There might be one bar, one church, one overgrown soccer field with banana trees growing in the goal areas and one street with a sign "Alajuela 100km". This was my vision of Upala until I decided enough is enough and I will be the first to say "Today I am going to Upala!".
Which is what I did and guess what?
My vision was pretty much accurate. Although there is also a quite nice little regional hospital in town too. I found Upala and I found it to be delightful!
Anyway . . . in the news today is word of an even more remote journey that is now being made possible thanks to Chief Nutjob of Nicaragua, Ortega.
Finally a road that is really less traveled! In fact never traveled.
I see a road trip on the horizon . . . from today's news at Insidecostarica.com:
Costa Rica Building A Road Parallel To the San Juan River
Almost a year later after the discovery of an alleged invasion by Nicaragua of Costa Rica's side of the San Juan river, raising an international incident that is currently before the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ), Costa Rica is building a road parallel to the river so that residents and police do not have to use the river.
The road stretches some 120 kilometres on the south side of the river.
There is no question that the river clearly belongs to Nicaragua. But, the south bank of the river is Costa Rican territory and Costa Rica has the right to navigate the river, both a source of friction between the two countries for more than a hundred years.
The gravel road will connect the communities of Los Chiles and San Carlos in the province of Alajuela and Sarapiquí in the province of Heredia. Those communities never have been connected with each other by land.
The road stretches from Los Chiles to the Delta Costa Rica, just ahead of the Isla Calero, the area of the current conflict, alleged invaded by Nicaragua.
Once finished, hopefully by next year, the road will be passable by four wheel driver vehicles all year round.
"The idea is to continue to enable border and isolated populations that have only have had contact by the river", said Francisco Jimenez, Minister of Public Works and Transport, and ensure the movement of police and other authorities.
The project will cost ¢7 billion colones, will be 14 metres wide built on a 50 metre wide right of way and will include storm drains. Six bridges will be constructed to allow traffic flow.
The money will come from the emergency relief agency, the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias (CNE) and the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad (Conavi) - transportation department.
Asked about the possible paving of the road, minister Jiménez was candid in his response, "highly unlikely in the short term".
The residents of the communities of La Trocha (Los Chiles) Tiricia (San Carlos) and Trinidad (Sarapiquí) have something in common that they never had before, the movement of large machinery everywhere, equipment hired for the job
Reports from the area say farmers and those living in isolation in the area are stunned to see this type of movement in the area, the only big machinery they ever saw was dredges, now the area is filled with loaders, trucks, bulldozers, graders, compactors, etc.
The road building work is being carried out in 12 to 16 kilometres section, with some of the sections already finished.
You must admit it is sorely tempting
"Those communities never have been connected with each other by land.". How many places left on earth can you make such a statement about?