Day One: 05.01.05
Indulging in a hot but thin shower with the Bliss products LB gave me, I started the day fresh and hungry. The hotel offered an all-you-can-eat buffet that consisted mainly of gallo pinto (black beans and rice), fruit (marvelous mangos, piquant pineapples, and pass on the papayas), eggs, toast, and all-you-can-drink Cafe Britt.
Tummies full, we took a circuitous tour of the historic Barrio Amon neighborhood and the center of town. Located in the Central Valley, San Jose is arranged in a grid that is bisected by north-to-south Calle (street) Central and east-to-west Avenida (avenue) Central with all of the odd streets to the east, even streets to the west, odd avenues to the north, and even avenues to the south. Good luck finding the street signs which are more often than not spray-painted over, mutilated, or completely missing. We were in the north-east quadrant at Calle 5, Avenida 11 so our first stop, a mere three blocks away, was the Parque Morazan at Calle 5, Avenida 5. The centerpiece was the Templo de la Musica which houses concerts but which, today, was empty. After sidestepping some of the many homeless people sleeping on the streets this early Sunday morning, our next stop was the Central Park where the birds in the trees were having quite a heated debate.
Nearby, we saw several police officers clustered around an ice cream vendor's cart.
TP: (shaking his head) "Look at those cops shaking down that vendor."
Me: (ever the optimist) "Maybe they just want some ice cream."
TP: (Debbie Downer) "No, everyone in power here is corrupt."
Me: (triumphantly) "Look! They are paying him money and getting some ice cream!"
TP: (reluctantly) "Yeah. This time."
We passed by an open-air market where one Tico (Costa Rican) claimed the long cotton shirt with the Indian elephant motif was worth $13.00 (yeah, right, you know how much I can get that for in Pakistan?! Interrodesi!) on our way to where the two Center streets intersected. The sun was getting pretty intense, the crowds were picking up and by the afternoon, the bottomless cups of coffee were making their presence known. Falling back on a habit I picked up in Paris, we ducked into a fancy hotel to use their facilities. We couldn't find any on the main floor, so we headed upstairs. There was an open and completely empty room around the corner with the maid's cart nearby but no maid to be seen. I thought we could totally get away with closing the door, attending to business, and leaving, but Prudence McPrude wouldn't hear of it. Dios Mio! So back out to the main street we went until we found a bustling restaurant with unattended bathrooms below.
Amid the shoe shops, the clothing stores, and the pharmacists, we saw Pops, touted by one of the travel guide books (can't remember which one, I just grabbed a bunch from the library before we left, jotted down some notes, and returned them - I loves me them free books!) as being the best place to get ice cream. It was ok, but it was no gelato. Mango = C, Raspberry = B.
Since it was International Worker's Day, it was only fitting that we stumbled across the TLC (Tratado Libre de Comerio) protest march against the U.S. Central American Free Trade Agreement.
We watched as some of the 4,000 protesters chanted slogans, waved banners, and stomped their way across the city center. A look at our unprotected faces told us we had been in the sun too long so, for our last sight, we climbed up to the top of the hill near the Children's Museum, (where, despite my hatred for him, I pitied a poor sweltering Barney and his friends who must have been dying in their thick, foam costumes under the burning sun) to get a view of the city below:
After a stop at the supermarket for some water and juice, we returned to the room to find it bereft of electricity and just lay in the dark until the blades of the ceiling fan slowly started moving again about an hour later. We got our fill of the Food Network, CNN en Espanol, and Animal Planet en Espanol before we showered again and changed into some fancier duds (i.e. not jeans) for our dinner with TP's former Spanish professor, Magda, and her family.
When TP came to Costa Rica ten years ago to study Spanish, in total nerd fashion, he befriended his teacher. Since the unspoken rule is that every country we visit must have someone we are related to or at least know who lives there, we contacted Magda and arranged to meet her and her husband, Cilo, and their seven month old daughter, Estella. That evening, after exchanging names, kisses, and presents, we were whisked away to experience a typical Tico restaurant. On a Sunday night, the place was not crowded at all and we were seated on some rickety wooden chairs (mine precariously balanced and teetering over the edge of the platform) and served immediately. The standard fare was good and filling: beans and rice; chicken and beef; cheese and chilies. After dinner, the waiter brought out an interesting instrument when Cilo ordered coffee. Called a chorreador de cafe, the traditional Costa Rican coffee maker was basically a wooden frame supporting a cloth filter suspended above a carafe. I would liked to have tried some of the rich, steaming coffee, but (a) I had already scalded my tongue sampling Magda's Agua Dulce - hot sugar cane juice -and (b) I was on Estella duty carrying her around the restaurant to check out the bored mariachi player, the forest of onions hanging from the rafters, and the smiling, friendly cooks behind the counter.
We had a lovely time with the family, learned more about the protest we witnessed that afternoon, and called it an early evening at 10:30 p.m. Back at the Hotel Dumb Inn, we packed our belongings, counted out our few remaining colones (the bit we got earlier from the ATM was blown on the we-take-no-credit-cards dinner), and slept to the dulcet sounds of our neighbors bellowing "whar's mah cigarettes?" which were only slightly drowned out by the buzzing whir of the ceiling fan above.
Next up: Go west, young man! And then, head south. And then, go east when you hit the ocean.