Saturday, July 7, 2007
Our Trip From Costa Rica To Nicaragua
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Editor's Note: In retrospect, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. This last leg was a bit of both, but not much of either as well. Actually, truth be told, it was neither; it was more of a middle of the road trip-- not enough really, really great things to be amazing, not enough really, really bad things to be funny. We did have some great times, and saw some fun stuff, but the journey was dogged with overcast & rainy weather, never-ending mechanical problems, communication conflicts, and the ever-present exigencies of clearing customs & immigration.
What follows in the next few entries is my best attempt at describing what took place, written too long after it happened, by someone with a feeble memory to start with. This trip didn't allow for much introspective writing time. I may have the order out of date on some items, maybe gotten some dates wrong, forgotten some funny incident I should have included, or reported only my perspective of it. These things do happen frequently in blogs, but I will try my hardest to recall everything properly, limit my imagination as much as possible, and omit as many dull moments as is necessary.
I arrived the morning of the 6th in San Jose: Costa Rica's capital city, just in time for the muggy weather. I had wanted to celebrate AnnMarie's birthday before I left, so we pushed back my departure date as much as we could. It would have probably been better to have had the extra time in Golfito, to prepare the boat, but I'd just spent most of the summer away from her and didn't want to leave any sooner than I absolutely had to.
The flight down was long and boring and uncomfortable. I always hope I'll meet someone fascinating while traveling on planes, but very often I end up sitting next to that paunchy, balding guy you see standing behind a booth at a textiles manufacturing convention, or the middle aged, retired grandparents from Ohio who are visiting their new born grandson for the first time. This ride was no different. The flight stewards were bored and going through the motions like automatons, the ride was about as exciting as a nasal polyps documentary and at one point I found myself secretly hoping for a small, on-board electrical fire.
We landed, breezed through customs, and I walked outside looking for the ride I was told would be there waiting for me. I scanned the press of cab drivers holding up signs for various clients. I had arranged with the hotel to be picked up by one of their favorite cabs, which is sort of a racket in Central America, but there were no signs saying "Robb", "Kane, "Triton" or even "Dumb Fuck American Tourist", so I grabbed a cab of my own (see my earlier posts about how traumatic a task this was for me) and rode to The Hemingway Hotel, a place I had stayed at a couple of years ago when AnnMarie, Holly K. & I were vacationing in C.R.
The hotel is a very comfortable Bed & Breakfast, with clean, quiet rooms, reasonable rates and decent restaurants nearby. It even has a hot tub, which we took advantage of the last time we were here and I was certainly looking forward to this trip. As it turned out, I never had the time. The hotel does a great breakfast that includes lots of fresh fruit, the local version of beans & rice, delicious tamales, fried plantains, decent coffee and various baked goods.
There are a couple of moderately good restaurants within a block or two, but if you had to stay there for more than a couple of days, I think you'd get bored pretty quick. San Jose itself isn't a tourist mecca, and for good reason. The area is kind of dingy with run down architecture. Ghettos are strew throughout the city. It has high crime and little else to recommend it to the casual tourist besides the cheap wares one can find for sale on the sidewalks.
At night the prostitutes come out in droves (I believe it is, if not completely legal, at least tacitly approved of here) and one gets the feeling you can obtain pretty much anything you want or desire. Unfortunately, I didn't desire much more than a good nights sleep, even though it was only about noon.
When I arrived at the hotel, the front desk clerk told me that they were very upset because I hadn't used their cab driver (even though there hadn't been anyone there waiting for me when I arrived) and expected that I would pay them. I explained that I waited around for someone, there wasn't anyone holding a sign with my name on it, that I had not been given any confirmation or contact info even though I asked for this beforehand, and asked what I should have done instead. The clerk just shrugged.
Surprisingly, this situation has happened to us a number of times now, and reminds me a lot of the cabs we found in Trinidad and Panama. It appears to be a standard con in Central America. I asked a number of "native" friends about this and was told by many that it was typical for the shadier cab drivers to claim they made the trip to the airport, then demand payment for their efforts. At worst it costs them nothing if you refuse, and at best they get paid for an expensive trip they didn't make. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't bother pre-arranging a ride except in the most rural or extreme of situations.
Eventually I was given a room and crashed into bed and slept for a few hours. I woke up later that day and tracked down Stuart, one of the crew for this next leg, who had already checked in the Hemingway the night before. We were going to take a puddle jumper over to Golfito the next morning to avoid the six or seven hour car ride there. The plane was leaving at 11am, but we figured we could at least hang out that evening, see the sites, maybe grab a drink and dinner.
Stuart was someone I'd just met through a mutual friend. He had done a little bay sailing, had no blue water experience at all, but he seemed eager to give it a try and has a very happy-go-lucky, easy going manner about him. On first impressions he seemed like an ideal crew mate and I was really looking forward to spending more time with him.
He was also the very first person, weeks before anyone else, to definitively say he was going sailing with us and buy his ticket, but in an odd bit of crossed wires, he somehow didn't understand that we had already gone through the Panama Canal and the boat was now on the West Coast side of Costa Rica. He spent some amount of time asking very odd questions before we all understood what was going on. This realization occurred only days before we were ready to leave, but he just laughed, said it was no big deal and that he still wanted to go anyway. It made me a bit nervous that he hadn't understood this, since we'd written quite extensively in our blog about it, including lots of photos, but we figured it was just one of those goofy things that happens when you make travel plans.
That afternoon and evening we wondered around the city on foot, checked out various shops, Stewart bought this weird SpiderMan mask, but mostly we just talked about ourselves and where we were in life, love, careers, etc. It was a great conversation and we really seemed to click. I really enjoyed being able to have very frank discussions about the realities of non-traditional jobs (we are both independent contractors in the computer industry), non-traditional relationships (neither of us live the typical "married with kids" life), and many other similarly "outside the box" interests.
One thing that was kind of difficult for me was that Stuart seemed to get irritated by my experience and knowledge. "Everything we talk about, you've done to the Nth degree, or are an instructor in, or have a license for, or was part of the crowd that invented it!" he complained. Although he was very good-natured, and I got the impression he meant it as a compliment, it is still something I'm a bit sensitive about. I have done a lot of things, and I am pretty well versed in a lot of areas, and over the years I've managed to collect a lot of certifications and licenses for various endeavors, but I've found that being even moderately competent at too many things can be very off-putting to others. The funny thing is that for almost everything I've ever tried my hand at, I'm only mediocre. Sort of a jack of all trades, master of few.
That doesn't stop folks (especially "alpha male" types) from thinking I'm showing off. So when, at the end of the evening, I noticed a group of deaf folks signing to each other, I wondered whether it was really a good idea to let on that I knew some sign language. Eventually, after watching them for a bit to make sure that the "dialect" they spoke was similar to American Sign Language, I wandered over. Every country, contrary to popular belief, has relatively different sign languages and/or dialects within that sign language, much like verbal languages vary from country to country and region to region, sometimes so much that someone from one part of a region might not be able to understand someone from somewhere else quite close by. I walked over and introduced myself, and after a few minutes of repeatedly asking them to sign very slowly for me, and after a few confused moments as I came up to speed, I was able to grasp the gist of what they signed.
It turned out that there was a sizable deaf community in San Jose, and that they used "LESCO", a sign language dialect where about sixty percent of the signs are similar to ASL. At first Stuart kidded me that, yet again, I could do something impressive, but after a while he caught on just how little sign I really knew and then understood that I was really "only one page ahead in the playbook". Sort of a "Me Talk Pretty One Day" kind of broken sign language.
In fact, one of the women was able to speak and hear enough that she could translate a bit for Stuart, so while I "chatted" with the group, she was able to keep up a sort of running commentary with him. They were warm, gracious, funny people, most of whom were locals working or going to school in the area, and we spent another hour hanging out with them and having a great time. Plus, I got to practice my ASL, which is something I don't do enough of. What great fun!! We wandered back to the hotel and agreed to meet for breakfast at 9AM and a 10AM ride to the airport.
Surprisingly, at least for me, I woke up, even before the alarm went off at 8:00am, was showered, dressed and already eating by quarter to nine. Stuart wandered down not too long after that and joined for breakfast. We had decided we would grab a cab at 10am, which would get us to the airstrip with plenty of time to spare. As we ate, other hotel patrons came by and we began chatting with them, one of whom was Beatriz, a lovely woman from L.A., who had spent the last two weeks in C.R. taking advantage of the inexpensive but quite good medical care available there. Then a German tourist who was backpacking his way through Central America, and an older man who had retired to C.R. and spent a lot of time in San Jose joined the conversation.
The time flew by and suddenly we noticed it was 10:30. We rushed to the front desk, ordered a cab and jumped in. Stuart explained where we wanted to go, gave him the name of the airport and airline, and even explained that it was right next to the main airport. Now, this is probably just coincidence, but the cab driver couldn't understand anything we told him, and insisted he call his boss, who gave him instructions on how to get to the airport. There are two fucking airports in the town. It is smaller than the New Jersey town I grew up in, and the cab driver and his boss had both lived in San Jose all their lives, yet "by accident" they took us to the wrong airport.
When we pulled up we both knew it wasn't the right one, so I refused to get out of the cab while Stuart checked out where we needed to go. Sure enough, it was the "other" airport. As we drove over there the cab driver informed us that we needed to pay for both trips. We just laughed and laughed, but I don't think the driver found that very funny or comforting. When we got to the second airport, we had already missed our flight. We then had to be taken back to the hotel, and they charged us for the ride there and back, but we refused to pay for the extra trip to the airport, or to use their services again the next day, when we'd rescheduled our flight.
So, that left us the rest of the day to wander around some more. We also made plans to have dinner with Beatriz, the woman we'd met earlier at breakfast. We wandered around some more, bought some trinkets, found a fun little place to eat, spent the evening chatting amiably and eventually wandered back to the hotel and sat talking in the lobby a while longer. We stayed up way too late, eventually dragged off to our rooms, agreeing to meet at 9am, yet again, for yet another breakfast and cab ride to the airport.
This time we made it on time to the right airport, and were waiting for our flight, when Roxanne and Jacob walked into the waiting room of the airport. They had just arrived and were hoping to be able to catch the same flight as us. Jacob is an engineer working for Google, and Roxanne (who also once worked there as well) now has her own thriving Web Design business. I've known them both for several years. They are folks I've always enjoyed spending time with, being witty and charming not to mention well read and well educated. As it turned out, they were able to get on our flight at the last minute and we all flew to Golfito. When we landed, a cab took us all to Land Sea Services, where we had left the boat a few months earlier.
The flight took was a bit bumpy, which never makes me feel great, but we landed safely, and found a cab and loaded it up with all our gear. The waterfront is still just as charming, quaint and picturesque as before, although I think you will see this changing very quickly now that the fishing industry and high end resort homes and golf courses have discovered this little nest egg of a harbor. Below is a picture taken off the bow of Triton, not long after we arrived. To really appreciate this, though, you should first get in the shower, turn on only the hot water and then drink rum and cokes.
We dragged our bags down onto the dock and found Tim & Katie, our gracious hosts, who have been tending Triton while we were away. They ferried our possessions and ourselves out to the boat, and we began the long process of unpacking and settling in. Triton looked none the worse for wear, but there was a bit of mold inside the boat, and the batteries were all dead. After looking about for a while, we realized that one of the bilge pumps must have stuck on and drained them. It was very disappointing, given that they were all brand new, and no amount of charging improved matters.
We will be spending the next few days getting her ready for the sail north to Nicaragua, and are still waiting for Ian, and possibly this British fellow we'd met sailing in Panama. His name is Jodie Allan Robinson, but he goes by "Rob" or "Robinson'. The weather is pretty typical for this time of year, with gorgeous mornings that devolve into rain showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon that last into the evening. It is very hot, very muggy and without batteries we need to run the engines whenever we want lights or fans. Not the best start to a sailing adventure, but at least we aren't in Baltimore, or Trinidad!
We'll post more as the adventure unfolds, but for now we wish you all as much excitement as you can tolerate, as much challenge as you can face, and as much joy as your heart can hold.
Cheers for now,
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