Before I opened my eyes this morning I could feel the perfect spring-like temperature that I have known each morning for eight years. Considered to have one of the most ideal climates on the planet, Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, is in a large central valley, the Mesita Central. Formerly a tropical rainforest, this lush central valley is a kilometer above the Pacific and Caribbean, surrounded by green patchwork mountains on the Central American isthmus between Nicaragua and Panama. It is ten to fifteen degrees Fahrenheit cooler here than on the humid coasts.
As the sky slowly lightens, the nightly silence is replaced by a small and insignificant sampling of the million year old communications that have separated the 850 species of birds that inhabit Costa Rica, sounding in unison then breaking into a jumble. From nowhere comes a flock of small green parrots, screeching, dominating the air, rolling and twisting in high speed aerobatics, the wildest birds of all. A hole, high on the side of my house, once for a water pipe, is the annual nesting place for a pair who sits on a nearby avocado tree squawking demands at each other, babies peeking their heads out.
Each morning in the rainy season I enjoy watching the new shapes that billowy clouds form as they roll in over the mountains to the north and east, silently drifting overhead.
Today will be busy at our little downtown bed and breakfast hotel as a group of ecology students and professors from the University of Georgia studying the Costa Rica ecotourism landscape will be staying with us, a two night stop over before month long studies in the cloud forests of Monteverde, all for course credits. Many tourists prefer to take advantage of our San Jose B&B on their first and last nights here. Our inn is located in Barrio Amón, San Jose’s historic quarter. Our eighty year old Spanish style building was built by a coffee baron to house his large family. Within walking distance are the National Theatre, the Jade, Gold and National Museums, shopping along the pedestrian walkway, the Central Market, an eclectic array of local and international restaurants, the “Gringo Gulch” bar scene, and even the Simon Bolivar Zoo (which badly needs upgrading). San Jose is central to many of the exotic one-day tours.
I find it convenient not owning a car living a few blocks from my inn. The roads in the central core of San Jose are grid-like and nearly all are one way, and a single fender-bender can tie up traffic several blocks in all directions. Construction, parades, strikes and demonstrations can make it next to impossible to get easily from one location to another. Traffic in the inner core of San Jose has been so bad that recently initiatives to limit the number of private vehicles have been enforced. Cars present constant worries when they are not parked behind locked gates or secure sites. Auto parts can be difficult to acquire, especially for the older models, taking weeks to be shipped from out of country, if the right part arrives. Thieves will often break the windows to steal things as small as the knobs off a radio, or a t-shirt in the back seat.
I enjoy the interesting walks in San Jose, the temperature is pleasant, and being self-employed with my little San Jose, Costa Rica hotel, there is seldom a need to rush. The public bus system is convenient, and gives one a chance to relax and enjoy the scenery and the people. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive. Outside of the central core, roads twist and turn in every direction because there is no zoning and the terrain is hilly. There are several different ways to get anywhere, and taxi drivers often show some great creativity. The black top is very thin on most Costa Rica roads, meaning in the rainy season, pot holes emerge quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if the pot holes are often used in lieu of speed bumps.
After a “suicide” shower (with the electric heater in the shower head and illegal in the US), I walk to work along the quiet meandering road above the zoo that leads to the inn. I can hear the lonely African lion roar out of boredom, imprisoned in his small concrete cage far below. A dozen dogs behind fences and bars know me well because I give them a daily treat.
Today at my little San Jose Costa Rica hotel I went through the normal routine of checking the daily front desk reports. I talked to our maintenance man about cleaning out an eavestrough (canoa) that has been leaking over an angry neighbour’s front door after a heavy rain. It is difficult to stay ahead of the afternoon floods in the rainy season, especially in such close quarters with the neighbours.
Next, I was handed a note that a staff member found a fried cockroach (cucaracha) in the gallo pinto that we were to serve this morning for breakfast (thank God it was the staff!). My maintenance man has been buying the gallo pinto each morning on his way into work at 6am at a nearby soda that I now find out has a serious cleanliness problem.
Later I discussed with the chambermaids if it is better to fix our old washing machine or buy another one (try to fix the old one was the decision), then double checked the University of Georgia reservation about to arrive. Then with the aid of our big map in the lobby I discussed a possible Costa Rica travel route with a couple from Colorado who have rented a car and may do a Pacific circle route I suggested.
Later today I walked a few blocks through the garden-covered Morazan Park and talked to a Tico friend that now leases the Morazan Green Bar, San Jose’s oldest restaurant. He has been struggling, trying to turn it around and clean it up. I ordered a serving of gallo pinto, which was delicious, and nicely presented. Apparently it needs yesterday’s rice and beans to make it have the correct stickiness. We left the price to be determined, but he will be our new supplier of gallo pinto “sin protein”.
After solving my gallo pinto problem I strolled along the busy pedestrian walkway through the commercial district for a few blocks. I enjoy watching the colorful smiling Ticos going about their business, window shopping, the street vendors selling their hand-made costume jewelry, ornaments and pipes all laid out on a blanket, the street stalls with their neatly stacked fresh fruits and candies, and the high tech beggars moaning into a microphone with amplifier and speaker. An annoying self-proclaimed minister clutching his bible passionately preaches in Spanish to anyone just wanting to sit and rest on a park bench.
Later, escaping the preacher, I strolled to the Central Market, the best place for Costa Rica shopping and unique souvenir hunting, at the west end of the pedestrian walkway. I felt better shifting my backpack so it was held securely under my arm as I entered the crowded market. It comprises an indoor city block, and off-shoots into different surrounding blocks. It is a maze of unorganized stalls selling everything, hand-made knapsacks and shoes, gold jewelry behind glass cases, sewing needs and Christmas decorations, freshly butchered beef (including testicles), various ocean fish with Spanish names and seafood on ice, and fresh roasted coffee. There are eating places that prepare Tico dishes, cluttered pet shops selling chicks, ducklings, puppies, aquarium fish and bags of feed. There are spice, herb and health food stalls, pots and pans, and much more, all at prices far below elsewhere. Exotic fruits and vegetables are mostly sold from outside stands. I had an Olla de Carne at my usual stall, then filled my knapsack with some new guppies for the hotel fish tank, a half kilo of white marlin for ceviche, a kilo of warm roasted peanuts in the shell, and a huge sweet pineapple that cost only 200 Colones or less than fifty cents.
After accomplishing everything in the Central Market, I walked through the crowded streets to the Banco San Jose. It took only ten minutes to do my banking, and even less time to pay the phone and internet bills around the corner (Wednesday and Thursday afternoons are usually best). I then bought some wicker door mats and walked back to the inn carefully crossing the busy streets unscathed!
The university group has arrived, and they are young and excited. I was introduced and welcomed them at their meeting in the lobby. A few were practising their Spanish with the chambermaids, while others were planning their evening festivities at a disco. All were content, and time for me to go home.
As I leave our inn tonight, I take the quiet meandering walk home along the top of the zoo. The African lion is silent, probably sleeping. Hopefully his dreams let him escape to a peaceful life on the Serengeti.