An excerpt from my Latin American Phrasebook says, “If you don’t want to be kept waiting, you could ask, when arranging to meet, if the appointed time is a la hora inglesa (on English time) meaning promptly, or a la hora latina (on Latin time), ie, approximately half an hour later than specified. This hilarious comparison of time describes my first couple days in San Jose, Costa Rica perfectly. To us people from the United States it would seem a bit out of the ordinary for things to run slowly, but down here its just makes sense that way.
So I landed in San Jose, Costa Rica yesterday after a flight from Denver, and a 2 hour layover in Houston. The flight was easy, cheap and smooth and so low flying that I could see spectacular views of what I think was Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula from the plane window. Although I was exhausted from 2 days of going away partying I spent most of my flight chatting to an older American woman who kept apologizing for sitting next to me because she wasn’t a hot young girl and that’s what she thought I should be sitting by??? Although I agreed with her I was confused at this thought, and listened to her motherly worries as I described my planless Central American adventure. As I made my way through customs I watched in jealousy as all my fellow passengers collected their baggage and happily made their way to hotels. As I waited and waited for the empty baggage claim to finally produce my beloved backpack I had spent the last day packing my entire life into, I watched in dismay as the machine eventually turned off and realized my sweaty t-shirt and shorts would ultimately be my only possessions for the next who knows how long.
What worried me about the whole situation was that I had yet found a place to stay for the night in San Jose. I had connected with a girl from Costa Rica through couchsurfing.com who said I could sleep on her couch for a few days. She left her number and told me to call her upon arrival. The issue was that I did not have a phone so my plan was just to collect my bags, head downtown and find a payphone to reach her. When you loose your bag at an airport they ask for the address of where you are staying or the phone number to reach you at. To the bewilderment of the baggage worker I had neither so he gave me a claim form and his number to call him when I figure out my life better.
As I exited the airport slightly confused I decided I needed to find internet ASAP to get a hostel address where I could tell them to send the bag. Just so you know I’m a blond-haired, blue-eyed, half American, half English boy so to Costa Ricans I look like THE SUPER GRINGO.
You can Imagine the moment I left the airport I was a magnet for taxi drivers who wanted to be my “amigo”. Another mistake I made was not doing any research what so ever about Costa RIcan currency before exiting the airport. I had been so exited to go to Panama, I neglected to research my first week or so in Costa Rica and forgot they had a different currency. A taxi driver pointed me to an ATM and I used my strategy of choosing the bottom left button as the quantity of money hoping I didn’t just take out my life savings by accident (this happened to me in Albania!!!). The friendly taxi driver helper guy understood my problem and told me there was a hotel a few minutes away where I could get wi-fi. He told me it would be a $2 cab ride and sent me off in a friend’s car. Before leaving he asked for some money for helping me out and although I did think he deserved a couple bucks I still didn’t know the exchange rate for Costa Rican Colones. Of all people to ask I asked this guy what the exchange rate was and he said 500 Colones to the dollar, so I handed over 1000 Colones praying that was the real rate!!
I made it to the hotel which confirmed the exchange rate, but told me I couldn’t use their internet because I wasn’t a customer. Luckily, across the street was a Denny’s where I could use wi-fi. Sitting in Denny’s looking at large American Tourists eat “Moons over my Hammy” while I drank my first Costa Rican beer was a strange and sad experience, but I found a hostel online and got the waiter to tell me how to take city buses to that location to avoid more cab fares. I arrived in an interesting hostel, paid for a dorm bed and attempted to call the number given to me to tell them my address. To my dismay the number was either busy or didn’t answer for the remainder of the night.
I was given a bag tracing ID for the continental website, but my bags status was “searching for bag” for the entire evening. I strolled around, ate some local food then spent the evening chatting about NBA basketball with an Israeli guy… Not sure where my possessions are stay tuned for my next story…