This is the first part

This is the first part of my travel journal. There are no photographs yet, as I did not take any on this very short leg of the journey. It always takes me a while to get into picture-taking mode: even though I had my miniature digital camera with me at every moment, it took me days to build up that little extra oomph that compelled me to whip it out at the sight of something scenic.

The city of San Jose, Costa Rica is not particularly scenic, in any case. The only thing that halfway tempted the shutterbug in me was a sign protesting the war in Iraq, but it was raining when we stumbled across it, and I didn’t want to get my camera wet.

Lastly, you may want to check back on this entry later because Rob mentioned something about wanting to annotate my account with his own comments, but we just have not gotten around to that yet.

Anyway, without further ado . . .

Costa Rica: San Jose

“Poor Rob.”

That was the theme of our first few days in Costa Rica.

Rob was almost denied entry into the country because of his two middle names (the sullen, bureaucratic immigration officer could not determine how to enter them into the rigid Microsoft-based form). Rob’s luggage was lost by the airline (and when it was delivered to the hotel the next day, he realized that someone had stolen all of his socks in transit). Rob’s finger was smashed by a window falling shut (and he spent a cranky morning wandering San Jose in search of some arnica to soothe the horribly bruised digit).

Rob was bemused by his patch of bad luck, claiming never to have suffered so before.

“Welcome to my world,” I said.


San Jose is a bustling, vaporous city, not any more charming or exotic than 37th Avenue in Queens. The people are largely quite kind to tourists, although tourists are also, apparently, the primary victims of crime: a tottering old woman fell on me as I walked down the street, and I confess I found it more prudent to keep my hands on my wallet than to help her arise.

Nonetheless, it is a good place to visit for a day or two. The surrounding mountains—clad in low-lying clouds—are nearly always visible, and we enjoyed our trek through the lovely network of parks and museums. I think we both agree that the highlight of San Jose was the dessert offered by the Café Mundo, the restaurant across the street from our hotel. The guidebook says their chocolate cake is the best in the city, but I beg to differ. It is the best in the universe.


Costa Rica is the size of West Virginia but lacks at least one of the latter’s common features: two-lane roads. Not having rented a car, Rob and I decided to take the bus from the capital to Lake Arenal, where we were to spend a week. The beginning part of the four-hour journey was comfortable enough, but when the bus kept stopping to pick up additional passengers on the side of the road, and all of the seats were filled, they had no choice but to stand in the aisle with their butts in my face as Rob leaned smugly against the window and fell asleep. I rode in fear that I would be asked to stand so an old woman or nursing mother could have my seat, but this need was taken care of by other charming citizens. It was just as well: the day before, I had borrowed some of Rob’s bad luck and slipped on the sidewalk, painfully wrenching my back.

Against all expectations, the roads as far as Tilaran (the last stop for the bus), were fresh and smooth. We had heard nothing but horror stories about the hideous condition of the country’s roads, and it was partially on the basis of this that we decided not to rent a car (and that I had picked up a box of Dramamine while in San Jose).

The taxi ride from Tilaran to Nuevo Arenal was a different story, however. Our driver, a friendly and energetic man named Rafael, maneuvered between potholes like an acrobat, a feat made slightly more harrowing by the fact that he had only one arm, and he kept taking his single hand off the steering wheel to gesture in punctuation of his stories.

Rafael is about my age, and he looks like a Tico version of my brothers’ friend Mark. He has three young children, and he pointed out his house as we drove past it—a cinder-block square painted a dull lime green. Throughout our forty-five minute journey, he attempted to maintain a pleasant conversation in Spanish, but I was so tired, and the car was so loud, that I could not hear half of what he said (not that I necessarily would have been able to respond if I could: my Spanish is quite erratic, rapid and fluent in some situations and as hesitant as an infant’s in others).

At last, after asking for directions in the pueblo of Nuevo Arenal, we pulled up to our hotel, the Villa Decary. It had just begun to rain.

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