Survivor’s Guide to Taxis and Hostels

January 21, 2016

in Central/South America, Costa Rica, Heather Brevard, Winter Intersession 2015-16

El Blog de San José #12

sábado, el 9 de enero 2016

La hora local: 21:45

I think they should change Costa Rica’s moto from “Pura Vida” pure life to “Despiértese Temprano” Wake up early because that’s what I had to do again today on my last full Saturday in Costa Rica. But for a trip to “Volcan Poas” Poas volcano, I suppose it was worth it.  Luckily, it happened to be a relatively clear day so the enormous crater reeking of sulfur was easily seen from the fenced in viewing area.  There would be no coming back from a fall into the crater filled with rainwater which boasted a PH of only 1.  Once we’d all obtained our pictures in true tourist fashion, we were hiking the two miles up to the lookout point of the nearby lagoon.  On our way up we were consistently confronted by a green carpet of enormous, relatively round leaves.  Our guide noted that its colloquial name is the Poor Man’s Umbrella, because people in the countryside would use it to shield themselves from the rain.  We all found this somewhat ironic considering the leaves were full of gaping holes.  The joke was on us though as our guide explained that usually there are no holes, however here by the volcano, the holes are common thanks to the acid rain….. Lovely.

Volcan Poas Crater

Volcan Poas Crater

Chilling at the Crater

Chilling at the Crater

Poas Lagoon

Poas Lagoon

As we climbed, I could feel the layer of oxygen in the air growing thinner and thinner as my lungs started relentlessly complaining.  I wasn’t the only one who felt that way and the strain of moving vertically up the mountainside for little over half an hour wasn’t helping.  No wonder my mother passed out during a swim race on top of a mountain in Colorado.  It was nothing short of a miracle we all made it to the top only to find a lagoon with a PH of a much less impressive 2.  On the way back down the mountain, I slipped and cut my knee where a previous scab had just finally healed.  Oh well, at least I didn’t manage to attract any bug bites.

After another bus ride, we were winding our way through the backyard of the most scenic hotel I’ve ever seen.  Even their bathrooms were rainforest themes, complete with waterfalls for sinks, flowers and animal statues.  Oh, and that backyard I mentioned was really more of an extremely glorified zoo that made one feel as though they were taking a nature hike rather than scrutinizing animals in cages.  We wandered through atriums home to free to roam birds, butterflies and frogs.  There were also monkeys and large cats, by which I mean ocelots, lynx and jaguars, all of which are native to the rainforest in which the hotel was located.  Following this array of animals were five waterfalls, each cascading into one another.  And of course, after that, as always, was the overpriced gift shop.

Bevo and I

Bevo and I

Wouldn't Want to Find this in my Bedroom

Wouldn’t Want to Find this in my Bedroom

We're Pals

We’re Pals

Toucan Too

Toucan Too

They Used to Transport Coffee this Way... Now this is my Ride to School

They Used to Transport Coffee this Way… Now this is my Ride to School

Papyrus

Papyrus

Hanging in the Rainforest

Hanging in the Rainforest

Duck

Duck

Dat Water Tho

Dat Water Tho

Caught a Butterfly... Or Maybe it's a Moth

Caught a Butterfly… Or Maybe it’s a Moth

Caracatas

Caracatas

Now this evening, my friend and I were scheduled to bus to Manuel Antonio, the national park notorious for the cleanest, prettiest beaches in Costa Rica.  One minor issue we encountered towards that end is that I had forgotten our pre-purchased bus tickets at my host family’s house which meant we had only an hour and half from arriving back at Maximo until we had to be at an unfamiliar bus station in town San José.  So what did that mean for us? Taxis. That meant we were now forced to take taxis.

Now, some of you may have noticed the extreme success Uber has had, particularly within the last two years or so.  Let’s just say Uber has combatted the terrible reputation that taxi drivers have all over the world, and not without reason. San José is no exception and taxi drivers here are notorious for any and all manner of scamming of foreigners.  They will “forget to turn on the meter” so that they can make up a high price to charge you.  They will take an unusually long route to charge you extra. They may try to pick up other people while you are still in their car.  They may pretend to not understand you and take you the wrong place (this one is a bit tricky though because there may be a chance that they actually didn’t understand you).  So short of calling an Uber if you have an account, how does one safely take a taxi abroad while minimizing the risks of getting cheated.  Here’s how we did it.

Step number one: avoid speaking English if you can and doing anything that singles you out as a foreigner.  The second my friend and I got into the back seat of the taxi we had hailed, every word we spoke was Spanish until we left.  I gave the driver the “address” (which are really more of a series of landmarks in Costa Rica) to my host family’s house and his first question to me was “Ha estado alla antes?” Have you been there before. “Claro, yo vivo alla” Of course, I live there, I replied, knowing full well that if I’d claimed to not know where we were going he probably would have taken an unusually long route. I guess that is step two then: always at least pretend to know where you are going and better yet, actually know where you are going.

We reached the house without incident, got the tickets, grabbed a bus to Maximo and found a taxi driver there kind enough to help us find our bus terminal in downtown San Jo by taking the most direct route.  We reached our destination with 5 minutes to spare and were loaded into the two front most seats of the ungodly hot bus just in time to pull out of the terminal into the dim city lights.  At a rest stop, I purchase a Minute Made drink with Aloe Vera in it.  I wasn’t entirely sure Aloe Vera is edible, but I still appear to feel fine.  As we kept driving, the driver would at times stop at the side of the road to pick up random women who would sit on the floor near the front of the bus in the dark where the security cameras wouldn’t see them.  As we eavesdropped on their conversations out of curiosity it was determined that these women were his family members being picked up on the way home from work.  I suppose you gotta do what you gotta do.

Desafortunadamente, we ended up in Quepos which is near, but not quite in Manuel Antonio.  Our hostel was nowhere in sight.  We approached a taxi driver and asked him if he was familiar with Backpackers Hostel and he didn’t seem to come to anything conclusive.  This, my friends, is the moment when it’s really rather valuable to have an international phone plan with at least a little bit of data built into it.  Thank you, Daddy.  A few megabytes of 4G later, I was showing the taxi driver a map displaying the exact route from our location to our destination.  That seemed to be enough to jog his memory, so off we went.  Now this sly old fellow had driven us a few blocks without ever resetting the meter.  I speak up.  “María, por favor” meter, please he looks resigned and resets it.  That brings us to step number three: mind the meter.

It was pitch dark and pouring by the time we rolled up to the small strip mall that featured Backpackers hostel in its basement.  I’ve never stayed in a hostel before. I wasn’t thirty seconds in the place before I realized why we were able to stay here for $12 a night.  The lobby, if you can call it that, was full of torn posters, pamphlets and hand painted salutations of all sorts lining the walls.  There was sand and mud everywhere and my personally favorite part were the small lizards that were scuttling all over the ceiling. We were each given a set of bed sheets, a pillow case and a key and personally shown to our room by the unsurprisingly hermoso Tico who’d been manning the desk.

Our room had three sets of bunk beds which meant we were each left with a top bunk.  The other four were occupied and although the room was reported to be co-ed a quick survey of the belonging littering the beds and floor lead us to believe our four other roommates were likely women.  By the time we put sheets on our bed it was already 9:30pm, so we readied ourselves for bed prepared to wake up in time for free breakfast at 7am the next day.  One of our roommates came in and introduced herself as a Canadian who had started in Ecuador and was lazily weaving her way north to back home during a three month journey.

The window in the corner of the room by my friend’s bed had no window pane, only a curtain, and there were a crowd of people on the other side of it making an awful lot of racket.  A young man knocked on our door and asked if we’d like them to move before they started smoking.  Smoking what, we didn’t ask, but we took them up on their offer to move. Ah, the people you meet in hostels.  Maybe we’re paranoid, but both my friend and I slept hugging our belongings in our beds to avoid them growing legs and crawling away with the lizards into the rainforest canopy and then beyond the beach below.

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