The last leg of this air trip finds me starting to feel slightly cranky because I’ve been up longer than 24 hours. Once again, the plane is crowded with only a handful of seats empty and fortunately, one of these is the middle seat between myself, at the window, and the woman sitting in the aisle seat. I notice that she is transferring information from a calendar to a journal and ask if this involves her work. She informs me that this is the record of raising her kids year-to-year and she processes the memories into a hard-cover journal so that she can recollect, relate and reconstitute them whenever. Her kids are now 20, 21, and 22. I can’t imagine having that much information and that many books (one for each year?) to record all the negatives and positives in my life and in the life of my kids; there’s a lot of water that’s gone under that bridge that I’d like not to replace with any deficient memories.
I lose my glasses on the plane! I honestly cannot locate them and am glad I brought two pairs.
We land in San Jose, go through customs (middle of the afternoon rush) and I go to the tourism desk for a map and to the taxi window to get a cab. The driver is very charming and he keeps calling on his cell phone to “Sandra” and asking her if she’ll be ready at siepte, hocho, nueve? I ask him if it’s his girlfriend. He says yes. He also calls a hotel where he thinks I’ll be better situated than at the Casino Morazon. Heck, I say, I’m so tired, OK. It’s nice and its quiet and I fall asleep but not until I notice a slight smell of cheese? Or is it old socks?? (Isn’t this what my son said about the first hostel he stayed in? “It smelled like old feet!”)
After I sleep for a couple of hours, I’m hungry and I leave the hotel to look for something to eat along the Public Mercado. Believe it or not, every fast food chain from Burger King to Wendy’s is available here and there are even Costa Rican knock-offs that sell fried foods on numbered menus. And the pizza and Italian food doesn’t seem to be an option because of its appearance. So, I settle for a few cold things from a Supermarcado. On this short excursion into the main section of San Jose, I count five beggars and see a blonde prostitute in a short, blue-sequined dress, followed by her black pimp.
In the morning, I’ll be catching the bus to Fortuna.
Buses are inexpensive in Costa Rica. The bus to Fortuna is supposed to leave at 6:15 a.m. but doesn’t actually arrive at the station until 6:45. It heads for the outskirts of town over and around winding blocks of metal-roofed shanty-type shacks cornered by cement casas with iron-gated driveways until we reach the freeway bound for the north. The driver of the autobus races down the triple-lane freeway and we’re fortunate not to be coming in the other direction because it is rush hour and backed-up because of a two-car accident. Several moments later we’re taking a four-lane highway, which becomes a divided two-lane road.
As the bus climbs up the grades, I notice that there are banana trees, fields of sugar cane, coconut palms, agaves and avocado trees growing on this narrow plateau lined with verdant, lush vegetation and the valleys reach deeply on either side. While the altitude is increasing, we ride through bits of rain and drizzle and can see the Vulcan Arenal in the distance.
Fernando is a Mexican pilot who I met downstairs in the Hotel Inca Real this morning at 5:30. When I ask him where he’s going, he mentions Arenal. Because I am going there, too, I asked if he’d like to share a taxi and he agreed. The bus to Fortuna will take 3 1/2 hours and appears to be a local because it stops and picks people up along the road almost every five minutes, it seems. By the time we reach San Carlos, everyone disembarks, and those headed for Fortuna board another bus.
When we arrive, there are, perhaps, 12 to 15 people trying to hawk places to stay, mainly lower-costing hotels. I walk to Gringo Pete’s, a hostel just around the corner and pay the money for two nights at the ridiculous price of $12 per night and it’s a double room with a bathroom and it’s super clean. Since I had hardly eaten for twenty-four hours, I went out and found a soda where I had Arroz con pollo and then I looked for a towel, having forgotten to bring one…