Well, the rich coast was every bit as beautiful as last time. No major problems. Upon arriving: Customs was a little curious why we had packed a couple thousand dollars worth of electronics without declaring anything. A lot of friends we have, and goods in the United States are cheap.
They were clearly on the fence over two conflicting orders:
1. Catch people bringing undeclared items through.
2. Don't upset amigo's de los Estados Unidos.
After they spent a couple of minutes talking amongst themselves, they decided it was best not to upset the North Americans.
Next we rented a Rav4 for a lot more money than our reservation had promised. Unlike most places; they force you to buy their insurance regardless of what you have for coverage plus add a $1,000 security deposit
So, be prepared if you plan on renting a car. We saw one young couple that clearly couldn't afford the difference and I suspect it really put a damper on their vacation.
Personally, I recommend against renting a car at all. There is ample public transportation; many shuttles for tourists and taxis are very inexpensive. Plus, since there is not much parking and few street signs, it's kind of a pain to drive your self anyway.
We stayed at the Best Western Irazú (again). I highly recommend this hotel to any who visit, especially if you are uncomfortable with low security. For $79 per night you get a nice clean room, free happy hour, caged and guarded parking and an incredibly friendly staff. At least a dozen employees recognized us from our last visit.
There appears to be a very low turn over rate because I believe I recognized 2-dozen of them. Incidentally, if you like to make last minute decisions, this is a great place to start. In the open lobby you can book tours to most of the attractions, rent a car, purchase goods and there is always a taxi standing by. Also, buy a "COSTA RICA SPANISH PHRASEBOOK WITH TWO-WAY DICTIONARY" (published by "lonely planet") in the lobby and regardless of how little Spanish you speak; you'll be communicating with the "Ticos" in no time. It doesn't take much because Ticos use their hands and facial expressions brilliantly when communicating. One explained to me that this is customary because they use a much smaller vocabulary than most Spanish speaking Countries, which was of course music to this Gringo's ears. Also, the average Tico seems to really enjoy helping you learn
or seemingly to help you do anything.
In the last year; the economy has gotten substantially worse. There are a lot more expensive cars driven only by the privileged few, but the average Tico appears to be earning the same amount in Colones, despite their ever-decreasing value. Do not bother to change any money from US dollars because US dollars increase in value every day and are accepted everywhere for everything. The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is expected to be ratified soon and I believe this will help a great deal. In the meantime; most Costa Rican's still appear to place a pretty low value on money anyway. "Enough" is all that seems to matter.
Do keep in mind that they are fairly well off by South American Standards.
The city of San Jose, is a melting pot of South Americans. In el Centro you will meet people from Panama, Nicaragua, Columbia etc. Interestingly, the Ticos like to point out that it is these Latin American immigrants that are responsible for the increase in violent crime. I suspect there is some truth to this prejudice, because Native Costa Rican's appear to be very passive in the face of aggression and I know they have a very non-violent history. People from poorer, more aggressive countries seem to take advantage of this passivity. On the other hand; one of my favorite amigas was from Nicaragua. :wink: Following the lead of my Tico friends, I too simply ignored the people who seemed to want to instigate trouble. It is common to be asked for the last bit of soda in your bottle and giving it doesn't seem to invite further begging. Again, following the lead of my Tico friends, I gave a small "Colones" coin (10-25 cents) whenever beggars asked me for money. Invariably, this was met with a sincere thank you
not another request like it would here in Florida. Overall, there weren't too many beggars anyway.
The business districts are struggling. Venders, who didn't get their electronics from Panama (apparently as cheap as the US), were interested in buying our goods, but really didn't have any money. "Tico Time" is something that you must accept. They will happily discuss things for hours whether they have any money or not. Appointments are never on time and no one cares. Every thing they do seems to be at a snail's pace. We probably spent too much time goofing off, but the results of the "import/export" experiment were abysmal. There may be a small market for State-of-the-art high-end electronics, but I don't know if I'm willing to take the risk. Store space is quite expensive despite the terrible economy. I suspect I will have to think of another way to earn a living.
The widely used term "Pura Vida" (Pure Life) can be used to express everything from it's translated meaning to hello. When spoken by a tourist, it always generates a smile on Tico faces. It is a way of expressing positive feelings, harmony and well being
all in one word
and it appears to be the very definition of Costa Rican life. Despite the relative poverty, a happier populace, I have never seen.
I revisited the restaurant "Ram Luna" and it remains the nicest restaurant I have ever seen. High on a mountain overlooking the city of San Jose; the views are breathtaking, the décor is beautiful and the staff define perfection. The Wine selection is good and the food is even better. They too, remembered us from our last visit (amazing). If you enjoy the nightlife; you have to visit "El Pueblo". This is a gated area with restaurants to suit every budget, gift shops and about 3-dozen bars of various sizes. Ticos live to dance, laugh and have a good time. Every third woman is beautiful and many are not to shy to tell you if they think you are too. :wink: The reception I receive is nothing short of incredible by Ticos and Ticas alike. Attempts at speaking their language are always warmly welcomed. I'm told there are so many expats living in Escazu that it is much like a US community. I'll take their' word for it because I can't imagine why anyone would prefer to go there.
Until I can come up with a better way to make a living there, online or some other way, I'm going to have to put off planning a move.
This makes me a little sad because I remain hopelessly in love with the Ticos in general and their Pura Vida.