When I was feeling antsy and desperate for a getaway last year, but couldn’t take off enough time to escape very far… I set my sights on somewhere a bit closer. My sights landed on Costa Rica! I was still bummed about a birthday trip to Costa Rica that fell through the cracks, so this was the perfect opportunity to finally experience all that this lovely country had to offer. The rainforest! The outdoor adventures! The untouched, protected nature! Oh yeah… and monkeys!
Since I planned my trip a bit on the spur of the moment, I didn’t have time to really consider who I wanted to travel with… or an itinerary actually! I have no fear of solo-travel, but after hearing some good feedback, I decided to have a go at a G Adventures trip. Generally, organized tours are far from my preferred method of travel, but reading more about G Adventures, it seemed to consist of like-minded travelers that enjoy the conveniences of having some of the planning taken care of, yet flexibility to spend your time how you like upon arrival. There was no hoarding of passengers following a brightly colored flag here.
The plane finally touched down in San Jose, the first person I met (who would happen to become my roommate) was Annie. I’m amused to have flown to Central America and instantly meet a fellow Californian… residing a mere two hours up the coast in Los Angeles. We get to know each other on a terrifying van ride through the crowded streets of San Jose. The absence of street signs (oh, so fun when looking for directions) and lines on the road results in cars, motorcycles and buses simply making space for themselves wherever they’d like in the street! Vehicles sneak out into intersections as cars continue racing by… as traffic lights are sparse. Scary! I tried not to pay much attention to the driving. Driving through the city center, our driver points out the very few key sites in San Jose. Sabado Park (a large urban “Central” park), The National Museum (a bright, orange structure) and the pride of all Ticos (what Costa Ricans call themselves)… Teatro Nacional.
Shortly after checking-in, meeting our very cool guide, Christian, and regaining mental composure, Annie and I head out to wander San Jose until meeting the group later that evening. We successfully managed the precarious walk to the city center, only being nearly run over two or three times… and eventually emerged into the bustling Mercato Centrale. This pedestrian only plaza is lined with stores and food shops. At first impression, San Jose reminds me of a combination of Mexico and Sicily. There isn’t actually much to see here, but we wander a bit aimlessly looking for a play to enjoy comida tipica… typical Costa Rican food: casado. Casado is a common meal consisting of meat or seafood, with gallo pinto (beans & rice), salad, and often fried plantains.
Hopelessly lost, thanks to the lack of streets signs and numbers, we just pop into somewhere with an inviting look. Minutes later we’re sitting at a wooden table in a large airy restaurant, partially outdoors, decorated with bunches of fruit.. and onions along the wall. Small metal coffee cups string down from the ceiling amongst the hanging flags of multiple countries. While we wait for our meals, we discuss plans, ponder what our other travel mates will be like, and watch the street scene outside. Sipping a refreshing and delicious sangria, filled with fresh papaya, pineapple, and watermelon, Annie and I toast to our new friendship and the exciting time ahead of us!
So full that we practically need to roll out of the restaurant, Annie and I decide it’s in our best interest to walk it off. We walk in the main square of the museum and find a street market that we commit to return to on our last day in San Jose at the end of the trip, then wander a bit more. Once back at the hotel that evening, we arrive just in time for the short group meeting where we meet our fellow 8 travel-mates Christian greets us with beer in the hotel’s small courtyard, proceeds with the business end of things and tells us of the festival in town at Sabado Park. This art festival only comes around every two-years, so we were lucky!
We jump in cabs and are soon at the park. Rows of tents hold a variety of artwork, crafts, and music album. The large food courts boasts food from all around: Mexico, France, Nicaragua, Brazil etc. We gather at a table and chat, while Christian pours the rest of the beer we brought and then offers us his Nicaraguan rum. It smells EXACTLY like rubbing alcohol… so I pass. My favorite part of the evening is watching the bands perform. Chinese lanterns are hung and people stand, sit, and dance all around us. The music is Caribbean. My favorite band of the night, Christian tells me, has band members representing Costa Rica, Belize and Nicaragua. One of the band members is playing turtle shells! Seriously, there are 4 turtle shells strung together like a strange bongo strapped to his chest. Two Caribbean women dance a quick footwork on stage. The crowd is large, the vibe is free. Everyone smiles and dances together. We had a wonderful time. How lucky to arrive and enjoy this festival on our very first day. Pura Vida is the phrase for all greeting here in Costa Rica and I find it very fitting.
Over the next 10 days, I was about to have one of my favorite trips ever and make some AMAZING new friends that I’m so, so happy to have met.