Today is April 19, 2015 and I am currently on a plane from San Jose, Costa Rica to Houston. I spent ten days in Costa Rica between Manuel Antonio and Monteverde. As with every trip I take abroad I have gained valuable insight into the way other cultures add to the social fabric of the world. I think the most important takeaway from this trip (other than not to trust the taxi drivers) is that regardless of how much I want it to be, tico time does not conform to GMT. No one is ever on time for anything. The public buses are closer with only five or ten minutes off schedule but everyone else? Not so much.
Yesterday I was trying to get back to Alajuela to catch my 0630 flight out this morning. Here is how it started: I had splurged and taken a shuttle from Manuel Antonio to Monteverde because I simply couldn’t take the heat anymore in Manuel Antonio and I needed A/C for a break. I really liked the company after my first trip so I decided to book with them again: Monteverde Shuttle Bus. The owner, Antonio, was my driver on the way up to Monteverde and we got to chatting about family and the local history (Monteverde was originally settled by Quakers) and it turned out he was the owner of the company and the rest of his family helped run the business. He didn’t speak much English, and I speak less Spanish, so we had a fun time trying to translate between the two. The Spanish word for church is iglesia, and he had a hard time trying to say church because it sounded like “shoe” to him (the ‘u’ is oo in Spanish) but then that launched us into him trying to explain tiburon as a big fish that sounds like ‘shoe’ or ‘church’ but he couldn’t remember. He was looking for ‘shark.’ The whole conversation was like that and since I was the only one on the shuttle we stopped more often and I got to take pictures of crocodiles (holy begeezus, they were HUGE, I’ll post a pic). After trying to explain that he hadn’t had a chance to eat on the way to Manuel Antonio, and my finally grasping what he was trying to tell me, we ended up stopping for dinner with other shuttle drivers on the route. Long story short, it was really a great trip up to Monteverde.
So, I decided to book with them again to get back down to Alajuela. It was another splurge but a much safer option so I was okay with it. I went to the website after failing to get through on the phone, saw that they had a 2:00pm shuttle into San Jose, and booked the reservation. The next day, after trying to rescue a beagle pup (an entire story all by itself), I sat outside my hostel and waited for the shuttle. At 2:18pm I went inside and asked if the shuttle being this late was normal and he said not likely but I should call. Again, no one answered. He called and, of course, someone answered – turns out no one will answer an international phone number in Costa Rica. The lady, Antonio’s daughter, informed him that they don’t use the website for reservations! I have a confirmation number, I said. You should have booked over the phone, she said. Why have a website to start with then, I said. We don’t even have a Saturday afternoon shuttle going to San Jose, she said. Ack!! The guy at the desk, who also explained that I should have had him call (why have a website!?), explained that the last bus to San Jose was about to drive past the hostel and that I could just stand out front and flag it down. One good thing about everything being ad hoc in Costa Rica, there was no reason for me to actually go buy a ticket, I could just stand and wave and the driver would pull over and pick me up. And he did about three minutes later.
I made it back down and successfully got on a flight this morning. Though there are many notable things about Costa Rica, besides the stunning beauty of the country, the Costa Rican Customs Control people are ten times worse than TSA. I didn’t think that was possible but there they are in their dark blue police-looking uniforms eyeing everyone suspiciously. To get into Costa Rica they want you to have a return flight – no one way trips allowed (I always book one way because I never know how long I am going to stay – not ok with Costa Rica) but to get out is like trying to get into the White House during Inauguration week. First, you go to the Departure Tax desk to pay your exit fee. My fee was 15,600 colones ($29USD). Then, you go have your tax form signed off by a customs agent, then you go get your boarding pass (because they will not allow you to get one until you pay the departure tax), then you go through security. Security is just like usual security but then once you get to your gate they check you again before getting on the plane. No liquids of any kind. It doesn’t matter if you just bought a coffee at the café attached to the gate – no liquids allowed. They have tables set up to search your bags after you pass the gate but before you get to the plane. And if you have something that they won’t let you have they just take it from you. They don’t ask or explain why, they just take it and say thank you and walk away. I had a little screwdriver confiscated at the first security point that I had brought along for GoPro mounting. The security guy opened my bag, fished around, found what he was looking for, took it out, said thank you miss and walked away. Seriously. I didn’t even get a ‘have a safe flight’ or whatever the Spanish equivalent is. At least they’re straight to the point. What a trip.