(Hover over the photos for descriptions.)
Costa Rica was interesting. I wish I could say that I had a great time and could chalk this trip up as one of my most memorable experiences, but really… eh. I worked the entire time, and didn’t get to see anything other than the area between the hotel and the factory. So, it really was a good thing that I didn’t bring my camera – it would have been useless. My cell phone did a decent job, though. Other than the nightmare that is customs (seriously, is it really necessary to go through security FOUR times to get back into the country?), the currency (colones), the language (Spanish, of course, and since I live in Arizona, well, the language wasn’t much of a shock), and the use of the metric system (“What’s “cold” in Celsius? I don’t know what to set my AC to…”) there wasn’t much about this trip that screamed, “You’re in a foreign country!” We arrived at the beginning of their rainy season, which is their version of “winter” at that point near the equator. It was mid- to high-seventies the entire time, and there were brief thunderstorms most afternoons.
Costa Rica is a developing country, though according to co-workers who have made the trip multiple times over the years, the country is improving upon their infrastructure at an amazing rate. There were certainly areas that were disturbing in their poverty. Every window and every door in every home had bars across them. The affluent neighborhoods also had fences and gates around their entire property lines, with armed security guards monitoring entrances and parking lots. There were armed security guards at most of the public parking lots – restaurants, malls, etc. You paid the guard to watch your car. If you didn’t pay the guard, he’d watch all of the OTHER cars and then look away while someone broke into yours. With hundreds of cars to choose from, it’s interesting how the thieves know JUST which car didn’t pay for protection…
Things that make you go hmm.
Driving in Costa Rica is best left to the natives, referred to as “Ticos”. Horns are frequently used, though never in an irritated way. It’s the primary way that a small car or motorcycle lets the larger vehicles know that they’re there, about to come around them, or about to be hit by them. The lanes on the road are mere suggestions, with cars darting around one another without warning and with a mere breath between each other. Trucks stopped in the middle of the road in a way that would NORMALLY stop traffic but instead just created an eddy in the stream, and motorcycles rode between lanes of traffic – including ONCOMING traffic. Two-lane roads were reduced in width by parking on either side, but somehow the drivers had a double-dutch rhythm when taking turns along the narrowed lane. One morning our shuttle bus broke down on a hill, and the driver coasted backwards for a good 100 yards, trusting the cars and bikes behind us to just move out of his way. Which they did. Then we shimmied off onto the side of the road, disembarked to await our new shuttle bus, and stood around taking pictures of each other (and the cows in the field next to us) with our phones. THAT got us honked at; you could tell the Ticos were thinking, “Stupid gringos.”
Anyway! We ate out a lot… well, I guess we had no way to eat IN, unless you count the hotel’s restaurant. Which was very, VERY nice, even though the ubiquitous Imperials cost the equivalent of six bucks each. Oh, and they had unfortunate taste in entertainment – two guys with a slide guitar and a keyboard, singing Lionel Richie and Journey… phonetically. There was a nice breakfast buffet each morning (with cafe con leche, please!), lunch was either on-plant or a trek to a nearby food court (they love them some food courts!), and dinner was either the hotel restaurant or another nearby restaurant. We went to a Peruvian restaurant the second night we were there. Though I’m not sure how the way they prepped my salmon was uniquely Peruvian, it was still delicious. Other meals: seafood chowder with a plethora of little baby octopi that got gently laid to the side, a seriously fabulous slab of fillet mignon, a strange spin on an American Cheeseburger (the bun was more like a large, soft cracker), and TRES LECHES. If I could find a place in Arizona that served a decent Tres Leches I’d be in heaven. I meant to have ceviche but completely forgot until it was too late. I also followed advice and didn’t drink the water, eat the cheese (which is often un-pasturized) or eat raw vegetables, and managed the trip without a jot of digestive distress. My co-workers ate and drank everything and didn’t have a problem, either. I figured I’d be better to be safe than sorry, even though they made fun of me for constantly ordering bottled water. Or… other bottled things.
There are no Starbucks in Costa Rica. In the same way that there are no Red Lobsters in Maine. I brought home several pounds of coffee. And a couple of shot glasses. And t-shirts. And Jeepin’ hats with the Imperial logo emblazoned on the front.
Everyone was really, really nice – even when they had to suffer through my assassination of their language. The country purports itself as “The Happiest Country in the World”, and to be sure I didn’t see a single grumpy person. Oh, I’m sure they had to be there, but I didn’t come across them. I would have liked to have seen the coast, or the jungle, or the volcano, or gone zip-lining. Something tells me this isn’t the last time I’ll be sent there. So, maybe next time.
Here are some more crappy cell phone pictures.