Sinus infections and flight chaos were the last things on my mind as I felt the 85-degree heat smack me in the face. I quickly thought and forgot about all those suckers back in negative 85-degree Chicago.
My boyfriend and I were determined to travel like locals and take city buses everywhere to save money and shame. Not unexpectedly, we were bombarded with cab offers the second we walked outside. I guess a white girl and an Indian guy with huge backpacks don’t exactly look like Costa Rican locals.
Utilizing broken Spanish language skills, we quickly found the correct bus stop and hopped on board. Apparently, buses are THE way to get around in San José. They felt clean and safe, and there was a ton of them going in all directions throughout the city. The best part was that a bus ride only cost about $1 USD!
I don’t think I’ll ever pack an oversize wheeled suitcase ever again. Making use of my previously under-used REI backpack was the best decision I could have made. The streets of San José were narrow and crowded. I bumped into enough locals as it was, so I can’t imaging navigating with a monstrosity on wheels.
We exchanged some dollars for colones and strolled the streets in search of cheap grub. There was lots of traffic (mostly scooters) and I nearly died on several occasions crossing the street without looking both ways.
Growing hungrier and crankier, we stopped at some nameless hole-in-the-wall for sandwiches. I nabbed a Costa Rican version of a ham & cheese sandwich and a beer. This was my first experience with Imperial. The light, standard-tasting beer is made in Costa Rica so while I’m a bit of a craft beer snob back home, I drink like the locals when I travel.
Two sandwiches and two beers, plus tip, cost us about 4500 colones….which comes out to about $9 USD. Not bad! The bad ’80’s pop ballad music blasting throughout the basement restaurant was a nice touch as well.
After lunch, we went on a hunt for a place to sleep. Advance research advised us that there were plenty of hostels in San José, so we weren’t overly concerned with booking one in advance during non-peak season.
We picked a hostel called Hotel Musoc and stayed in Room #34, which cost only 10,000 colones ($20 USD) for a private room with a double bed and bathroom. One additional bonus…a baby crib!
When we arrived at Hotel Musoc in the early afternoon, we were told that the electricity was out in the whole neighborhood. The hostel owner held a flashlight over his daughter’s head while she checked our passports and took our money.
The hostel may have been priced so cheaply because it was located directly over an incredibly busy bus terminal. Fortunately, the chaos died down about 9pm, just in time for slumber. That’s about the time that the electricity and running water started working again too.
From that one dark, dry night in San José, I clearly remember the hazy sky, looming clouds obscuring distant mountains, persistent honking of scooters, and constantly being approached by locals asking if we needed directions. With minimal advice, we survived the night and found our way to a 5am bus headed for the Arenal Volcano the next morning.
To be continued…