Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Welcome to Costa Rica!

Sunday evening, our group began to converge on Richmond International Airport. Katy and Steven made their way from Northern Virginia while Tanner, Joe, Kasey, and I left Blacksburg (almost) immediately after tear down was complete following the last Northstar service on Sunday morning. We knew we would be cutting it close to get to Richmond in time, but we still had our priorities in order and stopped for Popeye’s for lunch (you may recall the previous Popeye’s related incident in Alaska last year).

We arrived and made it through security, with Tanner and I walking up to the gate just as the plane was boarding. The flight to Fort Lauderdale was uneventful, and even arrived 20 minutes early. I was about to have a few smug words with Joe, who had been skeptical about flying Spirit, but, unfortunately, that opportunity was voided when we then proceeded to sit on the tarmac for 45 minutes while we waited for the gate to be cleared.

After a little bit of hassle finding some dinner, we had a game or two of Go Fish before boarding our late night flight to San Jose. A few hours and one time zone later, we landed in Costa Rica around 1:30 AM Monday morning. As we approached the airport,  I noticed the scattered pattern of lights around the airport that was different from anything I’ve ever seen on approach - not to mention the joke of a perimeter fence around the runway.

Fresh and ready!
The customs officers were somewhat strict, but our interaction with them was ultimately uneventful. We made our way outside and waited for the shuttle to our rental car company for about half an hour. We eventually caved and hired a taxi van (roughly the size of a Honda Fit) to take the six of us and our luggage to the office. After a little bit of haggling over the “required” hand written liability insurance policy, we walked away with a twelve passenger van with the horsepower of the same Honda Fit.

Waiting on the shuttle we were assured was "on its way."
After dropping off the other three at our AirBnB, Tanner, Steven, and I mounted an exploratory expedition for morning breakfast food (and a tube of toothpaste for Tanner). We found some nice men preparing newspapers for delivery at 3:30 AM and Tanner proceeded to inquire about any “supermercados” that may have been open at that ungodly hour. We were informed that we would have to wait until 6:00 AM the next morning. Undeterred, we were able to locate a 24 hour gas station and made do with what we found there.

The next day, after a morning jog around the neighborhood, Joe, Tanner, and I headed out to the airport to pick up Haley, who had just arrived. The streets of San Jose were alive by this point, and we saw quite a few interesting sights, including a man on a moped, pushing his wife along on a bike with his outstretched foot. True love and Costa Rican ingenuity.

We managed to locate Haley without issue and headed to the nearest Kolbi shop to attempt to procure a local SIM card. After having a few words with the nice man, we were redirected to another counter with a helpful young guy who quickly set me up with a 2 GB SIM for about $10!

On our (joyful) return, we walked to a local lunch spot from our apartment. When we arrived, we were greeted with a barrage of Spanish. After seeing our confused looks, the two ladies we were speaking to conferred, and we heard “Ricardo, Ricardo.” Tanner said, “Si! Yo neccesito un Ricardo!” Luckily, Ricardo spoke enough English to help us through the ordering process. The food was delicious, and it felt like a genuine Costa Rican experience. It was obvious this restaurant had had tourists before, but it was not a regular occurrence. Tanner said, “As long as we keep finding Ricardos, we’ll be in good shape.”

Lunch at La Trufa
After lunch, we visited the Doka Coffee plantation, roughly an hour outside of the city. We enjoyed a tour of the farm and being guided through the manufacturing process, all the way from picking the beans, to separating, drying, and roasting them. Afterwards we were greeted with free samples of all the various flavors the plantation produces, and, although I tried several, I admit I still do not see the appeal. Before we left, we spent time checking out the butterfly garden and stayed long enough to watch the sun set behind the mountains over the plantation.

Butterfly hunting
On the way home, we stopped at the local Walmart (yes, Walmart) to stock up on necessities and groceries for dinner covering the next few evenings. We had some difficulty locating ground beef and sausage, but walked out with a good selection of food for the next couple of days. One of the innovations we implemented on our trip to Alaska last year was to divide and conquer the purchasing of each meal between the group members. This has two purposes. First, it decreases the amount of time it takes for us to shop for several days. Second, and more importantly, it prevents every little purchasing decision being made by a committee of seven members. If it’s not the meal you're responsible for, you don’t get say.

Dinner was a delicious breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon, prepared by Kasey, Steven, and Haley. We ate in the courtyard by the pool behind our apartment, and enjoyed hanging out and just talking with each other. So far, a good first day in Costa Rica.

The sun sets over the coffee plantation

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