Pulpology: Mark & Sonia's Intercontinental Absurdities!


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23 July 2007
A Red Umbrella travel day
Time to hit the other coast
Today I found myself thinking of Barney and Jill and the rest of the crew from Marriott eCommerce who worked on the Red Umbrella project. No surprise, you guys nailed it: travel *is* hard, even when it´s great! I had one heck of a Red Umbrella day today.

Apparently I used up all my good bus karma getting into Alajuela, because getting out was a royal pain in the tuchus. First, I waited for the neighborhood bus -- which was supposed to run every half hour or so -- which would take me to downtown Alajuela. And I waited. And I waited. Just as I was about to give up, the stupid bus finally arrived. Even though I was the only person on the bus, the driver grumpily made sure I was aware that the first seat was for elderly and disabled passengers ONLY. Yes, you´re so right! I´d better move to the back of the bus and make room for the hordes of senior citizens who are not on this bus. Good call!

I had explicit instructions from Margarita about where to get off in Alajuela to find the bus to San Jose, but something got scrambled along the way and I wound up a good five or six blocks (up a steep hill, of course!) from the station. Buses in Central America are never centralized from one terminal, and you always have to hunt around to figure out what block your bus is leaving from. So I wound up asking three or four times and had to walk an extra two or three blocks to find the "direct" bus to San Jose. By the time I flumped on the bus, I was a sweaty exhausted mess.

So I get to the big bad capital city, with no idea which terminal we´re at. I know I need to get to the Terminal al Caribe, and I know where *that* is on the map, but that doesn´t help when I don´t know where *I* am on the map. I asked a woman sitting on a nearby bench, and she just looked puzzled. (One of those "I know how to get there, but I don´t know how to explain it" looks.) Finally she said that it was too far to walk, and I should just get in a cab. Hallelujiah! First good advice of the day.

OK, so I arrived at the Terminal al Caribe, and it seems to be pretty clearly marked as to which bus goes where. One problem: there are two spots labeled Puerto Viejo. Um, which is it? I tried asking someone, and got another of those puzzled stares. Then I remembered that there is another Puerto Viejo, closer to San Jose, and I definitely wanted the *other* one near Cahuita, so I got in line at that bus. I loaded my bag in the belly of the beast... uh, bus... and got in line to board. Only when I got to the front of the line did the driver inform me that I had to buy a ticket inside. Great, with about three minutes to spare! Please don´t leave with my stuff!!! I dashed inside, and of course the guy at the window was on the phone with no reason to hurry and help me. I nearly reached inside the small window and shook him by the collar. Fortunately, there was no need for violence, and I managed to make it on the bus in time. Whew!

The ride took about four hours, and I could feel it getting hotter and more humid as we approached the Caribbean Coast. By the time we reached Puerto Viejo, it was downright sticky and so was I. Mmmmmmm! I got off the bus and realized I had no idea how to find my hostel, the infamous Rockin J´s. It was written up in my book but not on the map. I stopped at the first cafe I could find, and asked for directions. Oh, it´s about a 20-minute walk down this road, on the left side. Great! Twenty more minutes of walking around in this heat with this infernal backpack, and I just might keel over.

Puerto Viejo beach at sunsetI managed to make it there without collapsing in a heap by the side of the road, of course. And was pleasantly surprised to be reunited with my long-lost travel sista Julia! It´s always nice to see a friendly face after a long hot dusty transport day. A quick dip in the ocean, right next to the hostel, also helped improve my attitude immensely. All´s well that ends well!
Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments


22 July 2007
Resbaloso Cuando Está Mojado
An expensive but splendid day at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Yes, I think today has been my most expensive travel day yet, but it was totally worth it.

After a leisurely and thoroughly delicious breakfast, and a chat with one of Margarita´s other denizens, David the socially awkward former law enforcement guy who has relocated to Costa Rica and seems to have taken up permanent residence at Casita Margarita, I set off for the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. My guidebook informed me that there was a bus there from downtown Alajuela, but I neglected to see the important detail that the bus only ran Tuesday-Saturday. Today being Sunday, I was SOL.

Margarita to the rescue! She found me a ride with a trusted cabbie. The trip would cost $35 round trip, but she insisted that that was a reasonable price. He would also take me to the Poas volcano for another $25, but since (a) that seemed a bit much for one day and (b) I´d already had my fill of viewing cloudy volcanoes, I demurred.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens visitor centerThe 60-minute ride there was incredibly scenic, passing through beautiful mountain scenery and small towns. And, true enough, I didn´t see a single public bus along the way. I did, however, encounter the first speed bumps I´d seen since arriving in Costa Rica. Didn´t even know they believed in those things down here! We arrived at the La Paz visitor center, which was jam-packed full of gringo tourists, just as it was starting to pour. My helpful driver offered me his umbrella, since I´d stupidly forgot my jacket, and we agreed to meet back at the center in an hour and a half.

don´t stick your tongue out at me, mister!And what a stellar hour and a half it was! Entrance to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens is about $30, and worth every penny. The first part of the park is a self-guided tour through the various "garden" exhibits: birds, frogs, butterflies, orchids. Had the potential to be really boring, but it was put together in a really fantastic way. They have these huge open-air (but enclosed) structures where the critters wander around in something resembling their natural habitat, and you can get right up next to them. The bird exhibit was cool -- parrots and macaws and toucans, even a few monkeys. But the butterfly exhibit was the Bomb Diggety. Tons and tons of butterflies, all over the place. Huge morpho butterflies that are spotted brown on one side and an incredible otherworldly blue on the other. Orange ones, red & black ones, brown-striped ones, all over everywhere. Just hangin out, like ya do. It was possibly the most tranquil place I´ve ever been. I didn´t want to leave.

But wait, there´s more! The frogs were OK. Not as copious, and split into nocturnal and diurnal species. They cleverly tagged the spots where the nocturnal ones were snoozing with little informational cards. The wide-awake ones were a bit harder to spot. The orchid garden next to the frog hut was beautiful as well.

oktapodi digs the fallsAnd, of course, the waterfalls truly rocked the house. There are five all together: El Templo, Magia Blanca, Encantada, Escondida, and La Paz. You follow a downward path (mostly stairs) past each one, and they´re all clearly marked. (Another Costa Rican first!) I think Encantada and Escondida were my faves, because they sorta join together for a two-fer. But they were all totally amazing. A goooooood day.

Back at the Casita, I decided to stroll into Alajuela to find an internet cafe. Margarita had warned me that about the road, which had gotten a bit damaged during recent storms, but I was completely taken aback by the giant gaping caved-in portion of road with fresh sewage running by. Lovely! The nearest internet cafe was running Windows 98, maddeningly. And it started to pour on the walk back. Never mind, when I got back to the house, my laundry was all clean and dry, and there was a fantastic dinner awaiting. All is right with the world again!

Oh, and for those of you who couldn´t take the time to visit Babelfish and translate "Resbaloso Cuando Está Mojado," it means "Slippery When Wet." Take that, Bon Jovi!

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments


21 July 2007
Skeeters and David Hasselhoff
From La Fortuna to Alajuela

I have to say, I am pretty glad to be leaving this place. It´s not just the sweltering humidity, ants everywhere (I don´t think I´ve ever seen ants in a microwave before), or the strange geisha-like relationship grumpy Gringo Pete has with his Tica helpers. Nor the fact that Julia has headed off in a different direction, and after traveling with her for about a week I will definitely miss her stellar company. No, the worst thing about this place is that the mosquitoes are absolutely VICIOUS!!! And thanks to those hearty Zamborsky genes I seem to attract every bug in the country, no matter where I go. I´ve noticed that the skeeters are different in different parts of Costa Rica... on the Pacific Coast, they left little red bumps that only started itching a few days later... blessedly there weren´t any in Monteverde... and here in La Fortuna they actually create a puncture wound. I nailed one of ´em in the shower yesterday and it left a nasty bloody splat on the wall. No amount of bug spray seems to help, either. Thank goodness for chloroquinine! Maybe I should take up drinking gin & tonics...

Anyway... as glad as I am to be heading out, I´m a bit nervous about hitting San Jose. It´s supposed to be a pretty nasty place, especially after dark. There´s a direct shuttle there from La Fortuna, but it was full today, so I´m taking the public bus and from there will need to find my way to Alajuela, a suburb of San Jose where a recommended guesthouse is located. I was prepared for a series of misadventures.

Kathrin knows the way to San JoseHowever, it went much better than expected! Sometimes that happens, and you just have to be glad for it. For starters, I had a companion on the trip, a German girl named Kathrin who also found us a faster bus into San Jose. The "directo" was scheduled to leave around 12:30 and get into San Jose around 6pm. However, she discovered a not-so-directo bus that went to San Rámon, at which point we´d switch buses and the one I took passed right through Alajuela. So not only did I get into Alajuela about an hour earlier, I didn´t even need to set foot in San Jose. Sweeeet!

La Jefe de la Casa, MargaritaI arrived at Casita Margarita by taxi from the Alajuela bus station, and was ferried into the house by a very sweet 50-something woman, none other than Margarita herself. She was surprised to see me so early, as I´d told her the previous day over the phone that I didn´t expect to be there much before 7pm. She poured me a cup of coffee in her kitchen, and I chatted with her for a few minutes before her 86-year-old mother shuffled in. We continued to have a pleasant conversation, during which Abuelita was duly impressed that I had a 96-year-old grandmother. Hearty peasant stock strikes again!

Oooooh, David Hasselhoff is dreeeeeeamy!I also met Steffi and Fabian, two German students who were studying Spanish and working at the bird sanctuary next door. But the highlight of the tour of the house was the signed photo of David Hasselhoff, who apparently stayed at the guesthouse a short while ago. Not sure what he was doing at a $20/night guesthouse in the suburbs of San Jose... maybe it was Margarita´s excellent cooking that brought him there. Who knows? Anyway, it was a source of amusement for all, and many Baywatch jokes were bandied about. 

This place rocks. The $20 price tag was a bit steeper than I´d been used to, but when you consider that three stellar homecooked meals and laundry were included, not to mention a private bedroom & bathroom with the hottest shower I´ve encountered yet, it´s actually a bargain. And it´s nice to be in a home where you are treated as part of the family.

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments