Day 2 (Jun. 5):
San Jose, Costa Rica
Today it was time to officially leave the comfort of my cozy efficiency and take the first steps of this one month journey. I'm not exactly sure what to expect, but I do know that there will be a number of mistakes, a little bit of trouble, and hopefully loads of work to be accomplished. The first task of the day was to catch the local bus for a quick 45 minute ride down the road to the capital city of San Jose. Catching the bus is simple, right? I do it almost everyday in Gainesville, but this time things seem much different. How do I know that I am heading in the right direction and how far into the city does the bus go? The only way to answer these questions was to hop on and see what happens. This is where I learned lesson #1 for the day.
Lesson #1: The unknown is stressful only because it is unknown.
Throughout this trip I will continue to express how I am unsure of what to expect and that I am really just letting my instincts decide where to go next. Naturally, with this comes trepidation. As I waited for the TUASA bus to take me into San Jose I felt a bit of that emotion. Was there something to be afraid of? No. The bus rolled in to the bus stop and I hustled across the street and stumbled up the steps with my pack swaying from side to side. I quickly shuffled my way to an open seat towards the back where I could watch the bus and get a good feel for the flow of life here. The bus sputtered down the highway and at its frequent stops I made an important note: a bus is a bus. No matter where you live bus riders are all on the same agenda...Get where they need to be. While this statement is rather simple, I think that it has larger implications for the way I approach this trip. What lies ahead only seems mysterious and frightening because it is unknown. Once you jump in and let the veil of the unknown slip away, you realize that there is really nothing to worry about.
Before I knew it the cab driver was feeding me a typical line of bullshit about a protest that was blocking the main route, forcing him to travel around the city to get to the Hostel Toruma- my accommodation. I followed our moves on my GPS and my stomach began to wrench as I recognized our trip growing longer by the minute. The driver was aggressively weaving through traffic explaining to me the everyday comings and goings of the city. After a long, drawn out trip, we arrived at the Hostel and the driver casually mumbled that my fare was 33,000 Colones (about $60). I immediately expressed my astonishment with a quick “your fucking crazy.” This asshole was trying to tell me that a 10 minute trip through the city was $60, while a 45 minute ride from Alajuela to 25 blocks within my destination was only $1. So much for feeling good about saving a few dollars on the bus this morning. A taxi from my initial starting point would have only cost me $25, but I was being stingy and thought I could handle this. I continued to argue with the cab driver in an attempt to buy some extra time while I thought about my alternative options. Considering that I was sitting in his cab with a large backpack in the middle of San Jose, it was clear that jumping out and running was not an option. However, I decided to come up with an alternative. I fingered through my wallet and handed him the equivalent of $40 and told him that I was fresh out of cash. The driver wrinkled his face in a way that indicated that he was very upset, but that he would take the offer. He had obviously performed this act often and had perfected the drama of the act. I quickly grabbed my bag and hopped out as I left the driver with one last pleasant phrase: “Tenga un buen día, fucker!” Lesson learned. Stick to buses. If the buses are sketchy, always negotiate your cab fares before loading up your bags.
Lesson #2: Be mindful of city taxis. This has always been a golden rule of traveling for me and today I paid for an expensive reminder of why this is. After my wonderfully cheap $1 ride on the rumbling, red TUASA bus from Alajuela to San Jose, I was feeling confident about public transportation in this region of Costa Rica. The bus had taken me relatively close to my next accommodation in San Jose, but I still had a 25 block jaunt down the Avenido Central to reach my destination. My initial intention was to finish this trip on foot, but I was feeling a little uneasy as I strapped on my pack and waddled off of the bus into the bustling street. For some reason, I felt awkward walking down through the crowds reeking of the backpacker vibe while everyone else went about their daily business. I know better than to worry about looking like an idiot, but it's early in the trip and an ego is a difficult thing to breakdown. While I stopped to consider the possibility of taking a taxi, I felt the light drops of rain that signaled the start of the Costa Rica downpours that sporadically flood the streets throughout the day. I impulsively flagged down a cab and hopped in without negotiating my fare ahead of time; a rookie mistake.
Lesson #3: Stay in a private room if traveling early.
I stormed away from the taxi cab and aggressively made my way across Avenida Central to my next accommodation. This time it was one brief night in Hostel Toruma- the mansion of Ex-President Jose Figueres that had been converted into a hostel. I arrived around 2p.m. and needed to be at the TRACOPA bus station at 4a.m. to catch the first bus to the Costa Rica/Panama border town of Paso Canoas. When I booked this room I wasn't considering my travel plans and simply booked the cheapest available room, which happened to be a 6 bed dorm for $10. I spent the majority of the day planning my next moves and strolling around town looking for good food and interesting pieces of city art. Returning to my room later that evening I decided to cash it in early since I was expecting a chaotic day tomorrow. My alarm went off as planned at 3:30a.m. and I had about 30 minutes to get my bag packed and meet the shuttle to the bus station. This is when I learned lesson #3. It is difficult to efficiently pack your things in the middle of the night while also paying respect to the fact that there are other people sleeping in the room. I used my cell phone as a flashlight as I attempted to semi-blindly gather my things before the shuttle arrived. From now on, it's private rooms so that I can go about my business on my own accord.