Friday, March 30, 2012

Liberia and a Lesson - Travels in Costa Rica (Part 4)

March 11, 2012
The 6:00am bus rumbles and bounces down the mountains from Santa Elena. I like how much you can see from a bus. Especially a rickety old bus that goes so slow. The houses in their bright colors, with metal roofs and curtains covering the windows, capture my attention. Most homes seem to have a dog, and sometimes a chicken or two. Fences stretch out alongside the road, boundaries for cows or horses, or declarations of ownership. The fences use living trees for many posts, the wire digging into the trunk and bark growing around it. A living fence.

We’re supposed to get off at Lagartos and catch another bus to Liberia. But which stop is Lagartos? We don’t know (there are no signs), and the bus driver doesn’t feel like telling us. Even though I asked. Twice. So we ride the bus to Puntarenas, forty kilometers and an hour out of our way. We figure it’s better to reach another town, rather than risk getting off at one of the unmarked, unnamed stops, where who knows when the next bus will pass. I am still frustrated when we arrive in Puntarenas, a small city with a huge cruise ship docked at the beach. More than anything, I think I’m bothered by the bus driver’s nature, his overt apathy to my helplessness and situation. It would have taken so little of his effort to listen to me, to help me understand. I don’t understand people like this. I am saddened by this nature. Thankfully, a stranger on the sidewalk is nothing like him, and he kindly shows me the way to the Liberia bus, making sure I walk to the correct one. We’re in luck - this bus leaves in just twenty minutes. It’s another few hours on a bus, this one newer and faster, at least. Now we travel through flatter land, with lots of farmland and farm stands that I wish we could stop at. The piles of watermelon and pineapple are so tempting....

Finally, finally, we arrive in Liberia. Miraculously, we walk straight to the hotel Freddy recommended, even though we have no idea where we are going. We rinse off in the cold trickle of water that passes for a shower here and then are ready to wander around town.
There’s not much to this town - basically, a large, modern, white church with a few blocks of stores and restaurants around it. I heard there is an older church nearby, but we don’t come across it (we also don’t really look). Finding food that sounds good AND is reasonably priced is proving to be difficult in Costa Rica. The local soda looks dark and dreary inside. The restaurant on the corner with the really nice upper deck serves a $10 bowl of soup. No thank you. We eventually settle on grabbing some pastry and enjoy our late lunch on a bench in the large park next to the church. Afterward, we pick up some pineapple and mango to eat for dinner and drop it off at our hotel. On our way out to walk some more (what else is there to do?), we inquire about the shuttle to Rincon de la Vieja, the national park we plan to visit tomorrow. We’re told - to my horror - that this park isn’t open on Mondays. What?!?! I’ve never heard of a national park that closes weekly. I am shocked and dismayed. Disappointed. Discouraged. The only reason we’re even in Liberia is to visit this park. Of course, we have the option of staying an extra night and visiting the park on Tuesday, but what would we do all Monday? We’ve already pretty much seen the town, and a shuttle to another national park, such as Palo Verde, is way too expensive ($85). Plus, we’d also lose a day at one of our beach destinations, which we’re not willing to give up. So, essentially, all the frustrations we went through earlier were for nothing. My whole body deflates. We walk, and I work on getting over my disappointment. I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, that I should remember I’m on an incredible adventure in Costa Rica, but I can’t help it. It’s my fault. I’ve wasted our time and energy. I apologize profusely to Nick because it was me who planned our itinerary. I never in a million years would have thought to look at a national park’s schedule. This is a good travel lesson to learn: Just because something is one way in America, don’t assume it’s the same way in other countries. Which brings me to a good life lesson: Don’t make assumptions. And if you do, be prepared to accept reality, preferably with a positive and optimistic attitude. Unlike the sulking manner I now display.
We find a seat on a bench in the park again, where an orchestra - complete with conductor - is setting up in the gazebo. As the throngs of people filter out from the church doors after Sunday mass, they begin to play. I sit, listening to the music, watching others sit and listen, too, watch the children riding bikes, the older boys riding skateboards, and then I remember. I remember the beauty of traveling is immersing yourself in another culture, and sometimes it doesn’t look like much. It’s an ordinary Sunday evening, and we’re just here, enjoying the warm weather, the pink sunset, the music. Me and them. I am able to relax into the moment, enjoy just being a part of their evening. Sharing the ordinary. I realize it’s one of the first moments since our arrival that I feel like I’m actually experiencing Costa Rica, not just witnessing it. And I’m grateful for this moment, for remembering.

Nick has gone off to buy some water, and he returns with it, but also chips, a local fruit, and a bottle of wine. He even remembered to buy a bottle opener. He is trying to cheer me up, and I love him for it. The fruit is small and green, kind of like a grape but larger, with slightly thicker, mottled skin. The skin is tart, but the flesh is sweet and juicy. They are messy to eat, having to tear the flesh from a large pit, and juice dribbles down my chin. We bring the wine and chips back to our hotel room, adding them to our mango and pineapple dinner. The wine, a Trapiche Pinot Noir from Argentina, is good, bold but smooth, and we drink it from the improvised cup Nick created by cutting off the bottom of a water bottle. (If you’re checking a bag, it’s handy to travel with a knife.) The day, despite its ups and downs, can only be called a good day.

Hotel Liberia
One block from Parque Central, Telephone: 666 0161
The hotel is a renovated old house with a lovely inner courtyard. A room with a bathroom cost us $36 a night. It’s very close to the church, shops, and restaurants, so it’s very convenient. If coming by bus, get off at the stop just after you pass Hotel Boyeros (the next stop is the bus station, but it’s a further walk). Take the side street at the light (on the same side as Hotel Boyeros), follow it a few blocks, take a right at the shop/hotel with a deck on the second level onto Calle Central, and you’ll see Hotel Liberia on your right.

Panaderias (Bakeries) - Pan y Miel is a local bakery with a small selection (the pastry filled with chicken was very good, but the bread roll was very dry). Musmanni is a bakery chain found throughout Costa Rica with a much larger selection (the pineapple strudel was yummy, but the beef empanada wasn’t that good). They are across the street from each other, about a block from the church, so you can easily check out both.

Rincon de la Vieja National Park
IT’S CLOSED ON MONDAY!!!! At least that’s what we were told by the clerk at Hotel Liberia... When I look at the website, it doesn’t say anything about being closed on Monday. Hmmm, I sure hope I didn’t miss out on Costa Rica’s version of Yellowstone for no good reason... Well, if you get to go and need a ride, there are shuttles available. Hotel Liberia offered a shuttle for $20. Since I didn’t get to go, I’m unsure if this price is one-way or round-trip.

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