Monday, January 21, 2008


TERRIFIC NEWS! Remember the great hotel where I was staying in Nicaragua? Well, besides the wireless internet and world (OK…neighborhood) famous pancakes, I found another asset to add to the plus column. That is, they’re located within walking distance (i.e. two blocks) of the Ticabus terminal! Ticabus? What’s that you may ask? The Ticabus (named after the slang word for Costa Ricans) is how I planned to get to Costa Rica. So on Wednesday morning, without a hitch, I rose with the sun, said my final goodbye’s to the Cisnero family, and rolled my belongings down the pothole laden street to Terminal Ticabus. Within an hour, I was on the road. Within another 13, I was stumbling off the bus into yet another TB terminal…….this time, San Jose style.
Since my ultimate destination was Panama, and I had to go right through Costa Rica to get there, I thought “why not see San Jose for a few days?” Besides, I’d never been to SJ, and there was the added bonus of being able to visit an old friend who is living there for a few months. On top of that, who wants to ride the bus for TWO full days in a row? So with that logic on the brain, I checked into Casa Ridgeway (more on that later) and opened up the Lonely Planet: Costa Rica to chapter two…….San Jose. Ultimately, I was able to spend five days in the city. Below are a few thoughts/experiences I thought you (or ME, if I’m the only one reading these things) might enjoy.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Remember the struggling city that I described Managua to be? Well, everything that Managua is NOT, San Jose IS. All in all, it’s a modern metropolis in every sense of the word. There are highways, sky scrapers, hotels, parks, museums, shopping malls, statues, pedestrian malls, and PLENTY of culture to go around. The parks were green, and the buses were new. To say the least, I was nothing but impressed.

CHIQUI CHIQU MONKEY: Although I rode the bus or walked most of the time, I did have the pleasure of riding in several taxis along the way. My favorite BY FAR was the one that had a large TV screen mounted to the dashboard for the passengers to watch. I think it’s fair to say that a TV screen in a taxi is a treat under any circumstances. What made this one so great though was what was ON the TV. A bit of background…….remember the 80’s in America? The decade of Reagan, mall rats, parachute pants, swatches, and some truly horrific hair styles? Although this decade was known for many great things, music was certainly NOT one of them. So if you can imagine the absolute WORST music from the 80’s and then record it in Spanish (no, I’m not talking about Menudo), you have a style called Chiqui Chiqui…………. Now, if you were to record this music and then film a bunch of people lip syncing to it while clad in the WORST of 80’s fashion and dancing on a playground, you have a Chiqui Chiqui music video. Finally, if you take ALL of these things and then record the off-key background vocals of a random taxi driver from San Jose, you will have EXACTLY what I experienced on that fateful night……..the perfect storm. Que Horrible!!!!!!!!
And speaking of taxis, I was also able to use them as a barometer for my success in the city. Here’s what I mean. When I arrived in San Jose on the bus from Nicaragua, I paid $7 for a ride from the Ticabus terminal to Casa Ridgeway (yes, I do hear the collective gasp going out across the internet). Four days later, when I traveled the SAME route on my way BACK to the terminal, I only paid $2. AAAHHH….the sweet smell of success.

SUMMONING THE QUAKER WITHIN: I mentioned before that while in San Jose, I stayed at a place called Casa Ridgeway. Casa Ridgeway is a nice little hostel located very centrally in San Jose. What I didn’t realize initially though was that it was a QUAKER hostel. Now, like me, I’m sure you are asking the question of “what exactly IS a Quaker?” Also like me, you may be thinking that the answer to that question involves something with bonnets, clothes from the 1800’s, and a diet unusually high in oatmeal. But as I stayed at the hostel and started to read the various pieces of Quaker propaganda handing on the walls, I started to realize that I MIGHT BE A QUAKER!!!!!! AND I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW IT!!!!!!!! OK, so maybe I’m not actually a Quaker, but I really did enjoy hearing more about their ideas, and I certainly found myself agreeing with pretty much everything they stand for. In fact, connected to the hostel was their “friends for peace” center, where they regularly hosted various gatherings in the name of world (and local) peace. Pretty cool stuff.
Perhaps my favorite exposure to the Quaker lifestyle though came in the form of a Quaker party. “What? You were only in SJ for four days, and you were already invited to a party?” Hey, that’s exactly what I thought. But, even though it was really through my friend Connie (who had been there for a while), I still took it as a good sign and put on my best party clothes for the special occasion. When we got there, it was pretty much just the three of us (me, Connie, and the host), so I happily pitched in with the preparation of the shish kabobs that were on the night’s menu. As the guests started to arrive though, I couldn’t help notice that something was amiss. And although it took me a few minutes to figure out what that “something” was…….. well, let me just explain it like this. Being the young (yea yea I know….just humor me on that one) single guy that I am, I’m always finding myself “looking around” a bit at the various parties I attend. The Quaker party was no exception. So as the guests started to arrive, I found that the ODDS were REALLY in my favor! I mean this party had a GREAT female to male ratio! In fact, after a few moments, I found myself noticing a certain young lady from across the room. Not long after that, I found that in addition to her attractive outer appearance, she had some other things going for her. She had lived in CR for a while, she had a good job, she had a car, and a pretty nice personality. But as I began to listen to her conversation with the other guests, I started to lose a bit of interest. More specifically, when I overheard her discussing her concern over her post-menopausal estrogen/progesterone levels with another guest, I started to think that we may not have much in common. And with that, maybe I should mention that this young lady, who happened to be the YOUNGEST of the arriving guests, was 64! Now I certainly don’t mean to offend anyone out there who happens to be carrying an AARP card in their wallet. It’s just that after being at this party for a while, it finally dawned on me as to why we had such a great party “ratio”. All the Quaker MEN had died!!!!
Oh well, the night wasn’t a TOTAL bust. In addition to learning ALL KINDS of things about the early to mid 20th century, I was also well rested for the next day.

I AM……4 YEAR OLD: Another experience I had in SJ was seeing a movie. Like I mentioned before, SJ has a number of movie theaters, and all of them appeared to rival any theater we have in the states. Not wanting to miss out on this aspect of the CR culture, I headed over to the local Cineplex to take in a product of my great country. The movie on that night’s agenda was I AM LEGEND with Will Smith. The movie was OK, but I couldn’t figure out why everyone in the theater seemed to be discussing the movie while it was in progress. Seriously, it was apparently completely acceptable to have a running commentary in your “outside voice” about what was happening on the screen. Oh well. At least it was an action movie, so much of the conversation was drowned out by the stereo sound.
My favorite moment of the evening though was when I decided to head to the concession stand to sample a bit of “palomitas Latinas”…..or Latin popcorn. You see, sometimes I begin to feel pretty good with the Spanish. Maybe I’ll have a nice conversation with someone in Spanish…….or maybe I’ll understand the lyrics to a song…..or maybe I’ll find myself being able to read something without getting out the ol’ diccionario…….Whatever… can take on many forms, and when these things take place, I find myself experiencing a bit of much needed confidence with my language skills. Unfortunately though, things can also go the other way. My popcorn experience would certainly fall into the category of the latter.
So there I was, standing in the concession line, practicing my upcoming speech. Palomitas……palomitas……palomitas…….the Spanish word for popcorn. I was SO excited because I LOVE popcorn, and I had just learned the Spanish word for this great delicacy. So there I stood, practicing over and over…….palomitas……palomitas. Finally, the moment came. It was MY turn to order las palomitas. The initial request actually went pretty well. “Small popcorn please?” “Hey, that went pretty well”. “Nice job, Spanish Jason” But as the girl behind the counter began to ask me “something”, I just couldn’t get it. “What?” “What?” Another……”What?” Uh oh...things were getting tense. It was as if some internal culture alarm was beginning to sound in the far reaches of my brain. Before long, all I could think of was “ABORT! ABORT! ABORT! NO PALOMITAS! NO PALOMITAS! GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN!!!!! But I couldn’t do ANYTHING! And before I knew what had happened, I found myself standing there at the counter, uttering PALOMITAS over and over again. It was all I could say! PALOMITAS! BUT to make matters worse, I couldn’t understand how much it was going to cost! So was in this horrible place I found myself, uttering the word PALOMITAS over and over again, while dumping more and more change on the counter. I was suddenly reduced to the four year old standing at the counter in the candy shop with empty pockets and a bag of change dumped on the counter. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if the girl at the counter had asked my how old I was at that very moment, I would have responded by holding up the appropriate number of fingers along with a well timed “this many”.
The good news was that like all things, this too did pass. Ultimately, I dumped enough money onto the counter and, and in exchange, was given a bucket of popcorn. This icing on the cake? The bucket that overflowed the CARAMEL corn. I HATE CARAMEL CORN!!!!!!!
AAAHHHH….good times. You have to love the learning curve associated with a new language. I’ll tell you this though…..after a few days in recovery, I’m ready to get back on the horse! Bring on the palomitas!!!!

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