We made it. Finally. For the first time since we began planning this year of travel over 4 years ago we have actually made it to a foreign country. And, as fate would have it, the country where we find ourselves is actually the same country that we initially booked flights to when we began planning in early 2020, pre-pandemic; Costa Rica!
After spending some time with both of our families’ over the holidays and getting some work done on Wilda in early January, we finally pulled the trigger on a pair of one-way tickets out of the country (with plans to stay in Costa Rica through March). We unintentionally selected my birthday as our departure date and took off from BWI early on January 13th for San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.
Our flight arrived in the early afternoon which gave us time to make our way to our AirBnB and get some much needed rest. Our plan, or what little of this leg of our trip had actually been “planned” as of our arrival, was to spend a week in San Jose to get our feet under us and go from there. Our AirBnB was located just on the outskirts of downtown San Jose in San Pedro, but was still close enough for us to walk downtown if needed. A small apartment in a small two story complex, it had everything we needed; a family room, small kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and a nice back patio that was completely enclosed but also allowed for some fresh air.
For the next few days we spent time exploring the neighborhood a bit. Our best find during this time was Soda Yogui’s (a “soda” in Latin America is a “small restaurant”, whereas “la gaseosa” is what we USA folks call a “soda”). Yogui’s offered “la comida tipical” including “casados” (combo platters including white rice, beans, a salad, and a protein of your choosing), “gallo pinto” (literally translates to “spotted rooster” but is typically a mixture of white rice and beans, and comes from a tradition where yesterday’s leftovers are prepared the next morning for “desayuno” or breakfast), and empanadas.
Besides eating, which we love, we also signed up for a walking tour to see and learn about some specific parts of the city. Our guide walked us around San Jose and showed us buildings and locations of importance including the train station (that would bring people from the coasts), the national liquor factory (where they made rum and guaro, a clear tasteless liquor made of sugar cane), and several small neighborhoods that have recently been rejuvenated into shops and restaurants. Additionally, of note, we learned that Costa Rica (and several other Latin American countries) fought off an upstart Tennessean by the name of William Walker who had come to Central America with hopes of building a canal and establishing English-speaking colonies in his control (this was pre-Panama Canal). Needless to say his efforts failed and the Honduran government put an end to his expeditions, and his life. Our guide told us Costa Rica was very proud of this victory. Another interesting fact: as of not long after that battle, and still today, Costa Rica has no active military. Our guide told us that the government put the former military budget towards education and healthcare.
After spending the first week getting to know the city and getting a feel for the country in general, we decided to sign up for some in-person Spanish classes during our second week. The lessons were taught by a Costa Rican and focused on basics that would prove useful for a new Spanish speaker in Latin America, including common questions, food, locations, directions, and descriptions of people. I find that I am much more proficient at reading (and, to some extent, listening to) Spanish even after only four days, while the ability to recall something from memory while trying to speak to someone in person is much more difficult. While challenging, the classes were very much worth our time and as of this writing, we are officially graduates of the CRLA (Costa Rican Language Academy).
At our school, and at every other place we’ve walked into, (restaurant, grocery store, building lobby, mall, etc.), everyone wears a mask and is required to either use hand sanitizer or wash their hands at a small mobile sink and get a quick temperature check upon entering. We’ve also seen hardly any people walking around without masks. Fortunately most restaurants are open air anyways, but overall there seem to be more Covid-related restrictions here (and more people following them) than any place we traveled to in the US over the past 3 months. Unsurprising, Covid-rates are significantly lower here.
And so tonight is our last in San Jose. We’ve got a pair of bus tickets to Puerto Viejo on the southern end of the East (Caribbean) Coast of the country where we will spend the next 10 days. A nice local man named Ricardo with whom we struck up a conversation en el supermercado (in the super market) could not speak highly enough about the Caribbean coast and even offered to provide us advice and suggestions for the duration of our stay in the country. He even said we should expect to see sloths. Just around. For free! Sounds amazing to me.