This week was my first time venturing out of the city, and it was a great adventure! There is one student in the province of Guanacaste, in a city that’s about a 5 hour bus ride from San Jose. I wanted to get out to visit her, especially because it sounded like her host brother had been away in San Jose for part of the time, and I wanted to make sure that she was doing well out where she was.
We have an account that we can use for travel, but need to be fairly frugal to stretch it as far as we can. I didn’t want to invite myself to stay in the family’s house, so I planned to head out there on Tuesday, have one overnight in an inexpensive hotel, and come back the following day.
So on Tuesday morning, I caught the bus out there. There are two bus lines with service to that city. One was listed as “4-5 hours”, the other as “4 hours”. I couldn’t find much information about either company online, so I assumed that, everything else being equal, the 4-5 hour one was likely the better bet. That bus line was “Tralapa”, which reminded me of “Trololo”. That should have been a warning!
Anyway, I got on the bus, headed to my assigned seat, and all was going well until we stopped to pick up a few people. A guy sat down in the seat in front of mine, which instantly fell into me. It turned out that the seat was broken and that there was no way to hold it up! I used my bag to sort of wedge a little bit of space for my knee. It was a full bus, so there was nothing to be done. Luck of the draw.
Then it started heating up. Guanacaste is known for being very warm. I don’t know if it’s cooler in San Jose because of the elevation, or just the mountains holding the clouds in, or something else, but it was getting hot now that we were out in the country!
Without AC and a full bus, hemmed in by people and my bag, I really felt like I was in the tropics. There was a window that I could open, but then I got the full blast of wind in my face. At first, I was opening the window when the bus was stopped (cars, construction, people getting on/off, or WTF why are we stopping again), and closing it when we got going. Finally I figured out the trick of leaving the window open but the curtain closed. This let the air in, but it didn’t blast you in the face. I did still spent quite a bit of time looking out the window to see the scenery, even with the wind.
We had one stop by a little cafe, which was a nice chance to stand up and cool off a bit. I got some plantain chips and a soda, and got to catch just a little bit of that day’s world cup match before heading back to the sardine tin. (It turns out later that the locals call this bus line “Tralata” because you are packed in like you’re in a can, or “lata” in Spanish).
When I arrived, the family called just as I was getting off the bus to ask where I was. It turned out that the bus line I had taken was so bad, they didn’t even think to ask if I had been on that one, they just assumed I’d taken the good bus and would be there (an hour earlier) in the other station. Oops! Live and learn, I guess. The other bus line is faster (though their itenerary is more honest, which is why it looked like the longer line on paper. I think it’s even cheaper, too. I suspect that it costs more to run old, broken down, less fuel efficient buses.
After getting a quick tour of the town, I got the the family’s house. I instantly felt more relaxed after a couple of weeks in the city! They live just a few minutes out of town, but on a farm where they grow watermelons, cantaloupe, and corn. The cantaloupe and corn were just ready for harvest.
The family offered to let me stay there, which was so kind of them. They wanted to take me to the beach the next day, and since I wouldn’t have the hotel expense, it made sense for me to stay 2 nights so that I wouldn’t have to rush back. I did want to be back in San Jose by Thursday, because I wanted to connect with some of the more local kids before they headed back in to school next week (the past two weeks are the mid-year vacation for students here in Costa Rica). Getting in at night isn’t a good idea, because getting from the bus terminal to my house is either expensive (by cab), or sketchy (a combination of walking and city bus).
The next day, we took the bus to Playa Conchal, which was about an hour and a half away. It was hot, but there was a breeze, so it didn’t feel too bad! And Conchal was gorgeous! The sand is made up of small bits of white shells, which are lovely, and the water is very clear and light blue.
I am not usually much of a swimmer at the beach, but the other really nice thing about this spot is that the waves are hardly there at all. I knew that the water would be warm, but after getting used to Oregon and California beaches, I didn’t realize that the ocean could be so calm! You could go out into the water and float if you wanted. It was so relaxing!
Of course I hadn’t packed a bathing suit since I had only been planning on staying for the one evening, but again the family was so hospitable and I had borrowed one from the mom. Their warmth and generosity was just so wonderful!
We got back in that evening, had a final dinner together, and we went our for granizados. Those are sort of like a milkshake combined with a snow cone- crushed ice, fruit flavor, evaporated milk, and powdered milk (we got the “dos leches” variety, I don’t know what other kinds there are). Yum!
The next day, I got up in time to catch the 3:15 AM bus. That had been the family’s suggestion since I wanted to be back in San Jose by Thursday. They only live 5 minutes from the bus station, so the suggestion was to pack the night before, get up and head straight for the bus, get on, and go back to sleep. By morning, I would be in San Jose and have gotten at least a reasonable amount of sleep.
I’m happy to say that it worked! The Alfaro bus was much more comfortable and friendly. Sleeping on a bus isn’t the easiest thing to do, but that combined with the sleep I had gotten before getting to the bus was enough for me to be ready for a full day back in the city. The nice thing is, I only had to do it once. Some of the people on the bus were clearly commuting to work that way. They got on and went to sleep, and as we got closer to the city they woke up, put makeup on, and were clearly preparing themselves for work or some other busy day. For me, it was just travel, not day to day life.
All in all, I am very happy that I had this opportunity to get out into the country!