Hi,

Tomorrow is the anniversary of Erma Bombeck’s birth anniversary (1916), Malcolm X’s assassination (1965), Richard Nixon’s trip to China (1972), Nicaraguan guerrilla leader Cesar Augusto Sandino’s assassination (1934) and the dedication of the Washington Monument (1885).

Well, the adventure in Paradise finally came to an end.  As the howler monkeys said good bye on Friday, the toucans did the same Saturday morning as we met with Maria to turn the keys over just outside the gate.  We had seen several toucans fly through the yard during our stay, but they never stopped to get their picture taken until our last ten minutes:

Beautiful creatures.  Here’s some observations on my trip, I know many people consider going to Costa Rica for a vacation and since returning, I’ve had many people question traveling there.

#1 I’m in love with the Costa Rican government.   Anyone that reads my blog or knows me, knows the environment is huge to me and they were one of the first governments to embrace a green life style.  Unlike many Caribbean countries, they “spread the wealth” around the country.  Jamaica has invested heavily in tourist spots like Ocho Rios, Mexico has invested heavily in tourist spots like Cancun, etc.  Costa Rica hasn’t focused on one particular location so all their citizens have an opportunity.  They are huge with infrastructure.  Their nationalized electric system, Ice, years ago invested in green hydro-power and more recently in wind generated electricity.  Anywhere we drove, you would see new power lines and even fiber optic lines installed.  I was anticipating dirt roads everywhere.  They are a poorer country (far from a third world nation) and spend money as they can.  Again, instead of spending a lot of money making fancy roads in say their capital San Jose, all the little towns we visited had paved roads and they do have a network of connecting “highways” around the country.  I read somewhere that they have the highest literacy rate in Central America (possibly South America as well).  I don’t know about higher education, but they can all read and write.

#2 Crime, no big deal as far as I could see.  I felt relatively comfortable in San Jose and very comfortable in any of the little towns we visited.   As far as I can tell, there is a fair amount of non-violent crime.  Mainly theft and of stupid people.  :)  It’s a poorer country, don’t leave your iPad on the seat of your car when you leave the car.  Don’t leave cash and valuables in your lodging room (particularly the smaller mom and pop kind of places).  They frequently have a place at the front desk you can secure it, take it with you in a back pack or fanny pack or leave it in the trunk of your car.  There is violent crime there, but not to the extend often seen in other countries (including the United States).

#3 The water was fine.

#4 Costa Rican currency is the colones, it is very easy to convert to US dollars in your mind.  The conversion rate hovers around 500 colones to $1.  Most places take colones or dollars, frequently when you pay in dollars they give change in colones.  Credit cards are accepted in  many, if not most places (Visa seems most popular, I heard AMEX being denied).  Before planning a trip, check with your bank on the terms of use in foreign countries.  Some credit cards charge you conversion fees as well as a cash advance fee.  Some run  it just as a regular credit card charge.   By law, restaurants are required to charge and post both tax and 10% service charge on all checks.  Most restaurants present their checks in both colones and dollars.  One restaurant we went to posted “Service charge not included in the menu price”, which you may conclude that the tip would not be in the check.  It is, it’s not in the line item price of the entree on the menu.

#5  Shame on you for everything you miss.  Always have a camera close by and always watch all around you.  Orchids growing like weeds in roadside gravel, humming birds buzzing all over, bromeliads in the trees, cow shelfs in pastures, :) just about everywhere there is something to appreciate.

#6  Driving, they drive on the same side of the road as us, generally there are no sidewalks except in the cities.  There are very little usable sides to the road, in fact, due to the quantities of rain they receive in their rainy season, there are some pretty big culverts that could total your car.  Four wheel drive is a good thing, many times you will travel through some maintained, but rough terrain.  Also, if I understand it correctly, although it is illegal to drive drunk, it is not illegal to drink and drive.  Someone said a good rule of thumb is to assume the on-coming car is controlled by someone inebriated.  Lots of tight turns and bends in most roads and traffic seems to keep at around 30-40 kph.

#7  They have “Sodas” all over the place.  Sodas do not necessarily refer to the drink, it is a term like we use convenience store making a blanket generalization.  Sodas are generally open air with a counter and tables with chairs and provide refreshments and substances.  They may or may not have actual sodas, coffee and other beverages.  They generally have food of some kind that they make there.  And Sodas are everywhere in the countryside.

The rude United stewardess that replied with a sharp “No” when I asked to borrow a pen on the trip down was redeemed but the ticket agent at the check-in gate on our return home.  I told the ticket agent that United had changed the first leg of our return trip and we only had a 1/2 hour to get through customs and to get to an entirely different terminal between flights.  She looked at her screen and said she could get us in a flight in a half hour giving us an hour and a half to accomplish this.  She then went down to Tony and Sue’s agent and arranged the same flight.  And we definitely needed the extra time.  We had to go through customs, naturally and then pick up our baggage and have it re-checked for the next leg of the journey and then we had to go through screening AGAIN, even though we never left the secure part of either airport.  Either TSA doesn’t trust the Costa Ricans, or they like wasting manpower.  We needed every bit of the hour and a half to get through the process.

Sunday morning, we all went down to Kelly O’s for breakfast in the Strip (she took over the building that housed Jo-Jo’s that caught fire last year).  I love the new place.  All of the staff worked as a team, they all had their own stations which was their main focus but I constantly kept seeing them helping each other.  The place was busy and all the staff was up beat and johnny on the spot.  Our waitress knew the menu inside and out.  We met Kelly O at the door, imagine the owner of a restaurant actually taking part in the operation of her restaurant, what a novel concept.  (Obviously I’m being factious here, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a restaurant where not only wasn’t the owner present, frequently a manger wasn’t present as well.  AND if one of these persons have been present in the restaurant, they did nothing.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched poor service [intentional or otherwise] and an owner/manager in the room and should have seen it, not do anything.  This is my background, it absolutely drives me crazy to watch.  It really is so easy to run a restaurant, a lot of work, but the concepts are easy to follow)   Kelly O’s is  a seat yourself place, but there was five of us, after several of the staff asked if they could help Kelly came up, introduced herself, and when she heard we were five, she said she had a table in the back and they were finished and should be leaving soon.  In fact, she said, it’s time I hustle them out.  Which she did quite successfully and tastefully (they left laughing and happy).  I had her asparagus and crab omelet special, what a work of art.  I highly recommend Kelly O’s.

Have a great one,

ed

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