Monday, April 16, 2012

Alajuela, where this journey reaches its end - Travels in Costa Rica (Part 8)

March 19, 2012
We are sitting at the bus stop, pondering the bus that just drove away. As it approached, we stood up and flagged it down. “Nicoya,” I called out to confirm. “No,” the bus driver responded, wagging a finger at us. He drove away. The sign on the front of the bus said “Nicoya.” It was near the scheduled time of 6:30. But it’s not our bus...Huh. We are wondering if maybe the bus drives to Nosara and then comes back this way when a car stops on the street. “Where are you going?” a middle aged man calls out. We tell him Nicoya, and he says that’s where he’s going, passing through on the way to Liberia. “Do you want a ride?” he asks. Our response is an immediate and grateful yes. It is so pleasant riding with Rick the Canadian. No frequent stops, no dust drifting in through the windows, no stuffy heat gradually building as the sun continues to rise. And it only takes us an hour to get to Nicoya, instead of three. Such an incredibly kind gesture from Rick; I’m happy for our good fortune.

We’re waiting in Nicoya for our next bus to arrive, which should be any moment because it’s supposed to depart in five minutes (assuming it’s actually on time). A tico randomly approaches us and asks where we’re going. I wonder if maybe we look lost or confused. San Jose, we tell him, and he points to a bus, telling us it’s that one. What?!?! The bus with “Santa Cruz” written across the top of the windshield that has been parked here forever??? Indeed, he is right. I touch his arm, look him straight in his eyes, smile warmly, tell him, “Muchas gracias.” I use every gesture possible to express my gratitude. Without him, without his little bit of thoughtfulness, we would have missed our bus and not even realized until it was too late. Good lord, we’re completely at the mercy of the kindness of strangers here.
It’s ironic that we were at the station an hour and a half early, yet we’re still left standing on the bus, but at least we’re on it. The bus jostles and sways, making my body jostle and sway, so my shins are banging into the stairs over and over. Thankfully, I only need to endure an hour of this before a man preparing to get off the bus gives me his seat.
It’s difficult being in a foreign country and not knowing the language (or how their crazy bus system works). There are many moments of confusion and feelings of helplessness. Lots of uncertainty, and situations that are normally easy become complicated or even impossible. It seems that now and again a person will be disgusted by my lack of comprehension or conversation skills, expressing disdain with a mutter, by the roll of the eyes, abruptly turning away. Maybe they could admire me instead, because I believe in the worth and beauty of their country. I visit their home despite my inadequacies, in spite of the vulnerable and ostracized position I place myself. Do they think I don’t care, that I don’t wish I spoke their language? How much easier it would all be! Not to mention just how nice it would be to have more conversations, meet more people, be included. But how can I do that? Learn them all? I try to learn words, bits and pieces, practice phrases, but an entire complex and sophisticated language for each new place? I will admit and apologize for my limitations here.
A four hour bus ride and a short taxi ride finally get us to Hotel Pacande in Alajuela. We are starving, but no sodas appeal to us - we never gained an appreciation for Costa Rican cuisine. (Maybe we just never found the right restaurant or ordered the right dish, or maybe truly good Costa Rican food is only found in the home, prepared by the matriarchs of the family.) Nick settles for a steakburger from Burger King, but I just can’t bring myself to eat at a fast food chain, especially an American one. I make a lunch out of an ice cream cone from a heladeria, a candy bar from a pinata shop, and an orejas from a panaderia. Mmm, dessert for lunch. We walk awhile more; I like the city. It’s big without being overwhelming, has a laid-back vibe, and there’s a panaderia on every block. :) We eat dinner in our room, a soft, sweet bread filled with bits of ham and pineapple that we picked up at one of the many bakeries we passed. Dessert is gummy candies covered in sugar, a sweet treat I discovered in Playa Guiones and found again at the pinata store.

March 20, 2012
We wake up an hour before the alarm, we’re so used to waking up at daybreak. With our time, I decide to take one last walk through the streets of Costa Rica. Not as nice as the beach, but it’ll do.
It’s a quick taxi ride to the airport (why we chose this hostel), where I discover Costa Rica charges you to leave! $26! You should be warned about things like this, I think. We spend our last five colones on coffee beans. It’s been a good trip. I’m sure not gonna miss the buses, though. A create a collage in my mind of the perfect place, a combination of places we’ve been: staying at the Las Tortugas hotel but with the KayaSol restaurant in the town of Santa Elena next to the Playa Guiones beach. And a horse to run like the wind.

Hotel Pacande
To get here, take the bus going to San Jose, but get off at the airport (this is one of the more obvious stops). Then, take a five-minute taxi to Hotel Pacande (there’s another hotel called Pacande Hotel, so make sure you ask for the right one or have the address handy). I think it’s a good idea to stay close to the airport the night before departure, so that’s why we stayed in Alajuela our last night.

Panaderia Santa Clara
This is one of the better bakeries I ran across in Costa Rica. The display cases were full of tempting breads and pastries. I really appreciated that it wasn’t only the typical drier baked goods.

Hotel Pacande serves a light breakfast that’s included in the cost of your stay - coffee, juice, fresh fruit, and airy crusty bread.

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