Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bienvenido a Costa Rica!

I arrived in San Jose two days ago and have since explored the city a little and had a jump start on my Spanish (which is still reasonably non-existent). 

As far as I can tell the East coast of Mexico
I met a lovely American woman named Patty on the plane who was traveling with her son back to Costa Rica. The family moved here 7 months ago and after establishing that my hostel wasn’t far from their house she offered me a ride. This was particularly nice as I speak no Spanish and was travelling on about two hours sleep. 

After warning me about the crazy drivers, lack of road markings and not to go wandering at night she dropped me at the door of my hostel. I had been offered a place there by email but hadn’t actually had a reply to my acceptance and was turning up about a week earlier than planned so wasn’t too sure of my reception. Luckily I was warmly welcomed and told that people generally just turned up on the doorstep.
I’d better explain – I’m not actually staying at the hostel, I’m working at it. Six hours a day, four days a week in exchange for accommodation and breakfast. This is a good way for me to travel cheaply and alone (I get to meet people)!
Breakfast in the courtyard

After settling in I basically slept for 15 hours. The next day I ventured out to find a sim card. I managed to do this but given my utter lack of Spanish I don’t know what my phone plan or number is or whether I currently have credit. Knowing no one comes in handy now as I use my phone exclusively for photos, checking the time and wifi at the hostel rather than calling or texting!
 I later went out to grab some dinner which was delicious and cost all of $6. While I needed my dictionary to order the food, I managed without it to find and then buy ice cream!
These are some kind of Spanish lotto and there are about three per block on the main street, with the vendors shouting the prices at passersby

My first dinner: grilled fish with garlic, black beans, rice and plantains/vegetables.

Some statues in one of the squares that I haven't read the story of yet.

Sunset from my window on the first night I was conscious to photograph it!

Today I was shown what I had to do in the morning and in the afternoon a fellow volunteer took me around the city. He speaks very little English (though still more than my paltry Spanish) so we communicate in a jumble of Spanish, English and French (a strange addition as he doesn’t speak it at all but sometimes it sounds like Spanish so I tend to give it a try).
This resulted to a large extent in me looking blank while he explained something in depth in Spanish and him looking equally confused when I explained that I didn’t understand in English. Luckily we managed enough that the tour was still beneficial!

Martin, Tita and me just after lunch and pre-exploring.
We wandered into the centre of town past the Parque Central which was full of jugglers (malabaristas)! Apparently they are there every day practicing. Martin, my guide, pulled out a strange leather cup and told me it was ma té (I may not have the spelling right) an Argentinian drink that he liked. He added some green herbs and hot water then took a sip from a metal pipe placed in the drink that had a filter at the bottom – rather like a reverse teapot.
I tried some but didn’t like it at all – too bitter!  
The parque

If you look closely you can see a juggler to the left and some batons on the ground in the far right. There were also some hoola-hoops brought out after I took this photo.

Can't say I was a fan. Still don't know what it was.

The drinking pipe was pretty awesome though. The bottom flattened out almost like a spoon but with little holes to act as a sieve.

I also got a photo with a local policia who was so reassured by my presence that he kept his hand on his gun the entire time.
We kept going to the Parque Morazán which was beautiful and full of statues whilst still a little bit wild, as was the Parque Nacional just a few blocks up the road. From there we doubled back via the Asemblea Legislativa. I was super excited and immediately wanted to go on a tour but was informed by the security guard that I would need to come back wearing full length pants if I wanted to be let in. So much for short shorts always being beneficial!
This is a coffee plant, I got a photo purely because I'm not sure I've ever seen one before.

I loved how semi-wild the parque was.

One of the many statutes of Latin-American heroes that were explained to me by Martin (a geography teacher by trade from Argentina), this one splattered in yellow paint.

The same statue shown in its wider setting.
There is some pretty cool street art all around San Jose, this was a particular favourite as it featured V.

The plaza of free elections!

Random bird house that I found exciting in the Parque Nacional

A scene depicting one of the battles for independence from either the British or the Spanish (the communication barrier kicked in a little here). Apparently the locals would tip boiling water and (maybe?) acid onto the passing enemy soldiers. You can't really tell in this photo but the guy standing on the right is about to hack at someone with an axe and a few people in the front are cowering.

Parque Nacional

Pretty light through tress - Parque Nacional

Some of the street art we passed

A new take on Mickey

I really don't know what this is!

I will visit another day armed with pants!

We walked on and stumbled across a live brass band in the Plaza de la Democracia so stayed to listen to a couple of songs. It was great fun, lively and varied music with a jolly conductor even if I didn’t understand a word. 

The blue building you can just see in the background over the musicians' heads is where the market we visit next is located.

This is just to show the hills in the background - something I hadn't seen for three months while I was in Florida!

The Costa Rican flag!
One block further there was a market of sorts. Having decided that I want to use my three days off to travel the country I realised that I needed a backpack that zipped rather than just my purse. Costa Rica is generally pretty safe but it has a high level of random crimes, mainly pickpocketing. So we jumped into the brightly coloured but narrow corridors of the market in search of one. Eventually I tracked down a gorgeous bluish-greenish number, which says Costa Rica on the pocket :D This market would have been the perfect place to pick up little souvenirs if only I had room in my bag for any! 

This was the main walkway and was lined with tiny crowded shops. There were a lot of things made from polished wood and much of it seemed to be of reasonable quality - very little plastic here which was a nice change!

One of the tiny shops branching from the main path. Almost all were this size and this crowded!

Some masks that I thought were awesome
We walked closer to home via the Plaza de la Cultura which is home of the Teatro Nacional. This had some of the coolest greek-styled statues inside. One each for dance, music, comedy and tragedy. I thought tragedy looked more pissed than tragic but maybe that’s the Costa Rican way.

The "I don't know what to do with my hands" pose. Not to be confused with the similar "trying to touch the statue" pose.

A nicer photo beside 'music'.



Tragedy. Look closely at his face and the way he is holding his left arm to really get a feel for the outrage he is emanating.

The entrance to Teatro Nacional. Very impressive and apparently only 3000 colones to see a performance (~$6) though I may have misunderstood and it cost that much to tour further inside.
We finally arrived home after a short stop at Pali (the local grocery store) where I picked up some much needed chocolate, and a convenience store where I bought a very strange drink. It seemed to consist of frozen grenadine layered with milk powder and topped with condensed milk. The Costa Ricans (or Ticos as they call themselves) really seem to like milk. The night before I tried a dessert I’d seen a few times called “Tres Leches” or “three milks”. It seemed to be a milk-soaked sponge cake topped with whipped cream. It was delicious. The crazy drink con dos leches was also surprisingly good though I still haven’t made my mind up about the powdered milk. 
Granizado con dos leches! The top layer is condensed milk, the middle is milk powder and the rest is grenadine slushy so far as I could tell from the taste. Cost about $1.20 (600 colones)
I promptly flopped into bed and committed to writing this blog! I may be able to wander around for four hours without a second thought back home, but when you are surrounded by people shouting in Spanish, crazy drivers (and pedestrians!) and nothing familiar the stimulus is exhausting. That said, it was a fun first exploration of Costa Rica!

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